Reflecting Courage and Compassion – a Wordle

A new video has been produced by Single Arrow Productions, called “Mona’s Story” which is part of the Angels of Iran series. It sheds a more personal light on Mona’s story. Please enjoy this digital story…

Wordle: Amalia Giebitz

 This is the story that created the above Wordle:

Mona Mahmudnizhad

Mona Mahmudnizhad, Martyred 18 June 1983

“Mona Mahmudnizhad was a seventeen-year-old girl who was executed on 18 June 1983 in Iran, along with nine other women.  She had been in prison with these other women for one year, and though she was the youngest in prison, she was the one who ‘most frequently reassured the other women and helped them to be steadfast during their periods of imprisonment and interrogation’ (Perry).  During the third stage of her trial, the religious magistrate accused her parents of deceiving her with their religion, the Baha’i Faith. She responded that, though she learned of the Faith from her parents, in this Faith one adheres to religion after investigating it independently.  He demanded to know why she had abandoned Islam, and she calmly and peacefully explained to him that the foundation of all religions is one, and that Baha’is uphold the truth of Islam. ‘But,’ she said, ‘if by Islam you mean the prevailing animosity , murder and bloodshed in the country, a sample of which I have seen in prison, that is the reason I have chosen to be a Baha’i ‘ (Perry).

When she was arrested with her father after a search of their home, her mother protested, and begged to know why they would take a child to prison.  According to one account, one of the Guards replied, ‘Do not call her a child. You should call her a little Baha’i teacher. Look at this poem. It is not the work of a child. It could set the world on fire. Someday she will be a great Baha’i teacher’  (Perry).

On the night of their martyrdom, each woman was again given the choice to abandon her Faith and save her life. Mona asked to be the last so that she could pray for the others’ steadfastness as they faced their deaths, and so the last thing they heard in this world would be prayer. When her turn came, she was asked again to deny her Faith, ‘No,’ was her reply. She kissed the rope hanging before her and placed it around her own neck.   As her soul took its flight, silence echoed through the night.  Her crime had been teaching children the Baha’i Faith.”

The story of Mona Mahumudnizhad’s arrest, imprisonment and execution because of her refusal to deny her faith was first shared with me when I was fourteen.  She was only two years older than me when she was arrested in Shiraz, Iran.  More importantly, we shared the same faith, the Bahá’í Faith, and it was because she refused to deny that Faith that she died.  It became an important story to me again last month because I learned that the seven Bahá’í leaders in Iran, who have been imprisoned for two years without access to an attorney (one of whom is Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi), were sentenced to ten years this month.

Photos courtesy of

I am sharing this story because, though Americans are constantly made aware of Iran for its political and military aspirations, they are rarely aware of the official Iranian objective to obliterate the Bahá’í Faith from the planet.  The emotions I wanted to evoke were admiration for Mona’s courage and sympathy for the plight of the Baha’is in Iran.  The creative process began with trying to decide what story to tell.  I heard a song about Mona, and decided that was it.  In the writing of it, I had to do some research to remember details, and to decide which to include and what structure to use.  Then in importing it to Wordle, I had to think about what visual impact I wanted to make.  I wanted it to be a somber mood but also to illicit some of Mona’s personality.  By chance, the structure that appeared when choosing the font I settled on looked like upside-down lips.  It reminded me of the kiss she gave the rope that she placed around her neck before she was hung.

Finding the right story was the most challenging aspect of this assignment.  It was also the highlight of the experience.  Before I knew what story I would tell, I agonized.  But in the telling of it I was exhilarated and compelled to do the story justice.  I learned two important things from this exercise.  First, let inspiration be my guide.  Don’t force a story that doesn’t want to be told.  Secondly, let the technology do some of the inspiration.  Sometimes a random choice can be the best one.  But also, don’t rely on the technology to tell the story.  The words of the story make all the difference in Wordle, so choose them carefully.

Baha’i International Community. “Trial of Iran’s Seven Baha’i Leaders.” Bahá’í World News Service. Bahá’í International Community, 17 Sept. 2010. Web. 27 Sept. 2010.
Also used in research of Wordle story:
Perry, Mark. “The Story of Mona Mahmudnizhad.” “A Dress for Mona” Home Page. Web.  22 Sept. 2010.

The Blind Leap Back into the Periphery: A Call for Compassion

“What was I thinking?!”  It would be so easy to berate myself.  I could bash my forehead on the wall for doing it to myself again- for settling.

I accepted a job as the editorial director for a city magazine I helped start three years ago.

How is that settling, you ask? Because doing so put me squarely on the periphery of writing, where I have always been, where it is safe and where I will get a regular paycheck.  I could do this job well.  I could help this publication develop into a world-class bi-lingual city magazine.  Or at the very least, I could help make it profitable.  I have the knowledge and experience in project and publishing management.  I believe in the mission of the magazine.  And I know good writing when I see it, and can help writers get there if they need help.

A buzz began in the center of my being  after they made their first offer.  I thought it was a signal to me that this was an “important” opportunity.  After I accepted their final offer, my heart rate and blood pressure  surged whenever I started thinking about the work.  I began to lose sleep and my appetite.  Was it the stirrings of love for a fulfilling career?  Was it the jubilant excitement of working in my calling?  No.  It was anxiety, plain and simple.

Though I did well enough in the first weeks, which involved editing pieces that should have been edited months before and working late night after late night with a  designer who had no time to fix errors, I found my health deteriorating rapidly.  I attributed it to the extraordinary work load of working two other jobs and a full-time course load, plus mothering and wife-ing.  But as one job and the courses ended, blood continued to pound in my ears, my jaw and throat clenched, and the buzz at the center of my being inched towards migraine-status.  It wasn’t simply the momentum of perpetual busy-ness. Something was wrong.

Then one night I was looking at the recommended texts for an upcoming course on The Writer’s Craft.  As I reviewed each book to choose the five I would use, I started to mourn the writing I would have to give up once I graduate.  At some point, the insanity of that notion hit me.  I went in to my husband’s office, sat on the couch, and ranted.

“I’m a writer.  What I am doing editing this magazine?  I’m a writer!  Even if it was the New Yorker, I should not be editing a magazine.  I am a writer!  I am settling again, goddamnit!”

He listened patiently, with compassion, then asked me what I was going to do.

My whole life, I have found convenient, peripheral ways to write – managing the business end of an alumni magazine, writing a staff newsletter, formatting or writing technical documentation, writing copy for websites.  I even found professional pursuits that would be “noble goals” and would allow me to write for non-profits – grants, promotional material, etc.  But as I’ve said before, there are things I need to say.  I have found my voice.  I know it now, and so this blind leap into the next peripheral job nearly strangled me to death. Living close to my truth nearly killed me.

I gave my boss notice two days later.  I am no longer the editorial director of a magazine.  I will help finish up the planning and documentation over the next week or two, and then I am free.  I am breathing easier already, and my sleep has improved.  My heart even flips occasionally for joy as I take my first steps into a writing life.

So I am blogging again.  And will pursue the publication of several essays. My Creative Non-fiction instructor, Jeffery Cahan, wrote of my last assignment:  “Amalia, this outstanding literary analysis written in classy creative nonfiction style inspires me to suggest that you may want to write more of these (analyses) and see if any literary nonfiction websites or print publications would  be interested in publishing your critiques (as well as your essays in the genre).”   I’m going to cling to those words as I receive the rejections that are inevitable, and then submit somewhere else!

This requires compassion.  I screwed up.  I accepted a job that I was ideally suited to based on my previous experience.  I am just not ideally suited to it based on the calling I am finally answering.  And if I were to berate myself for that mistake, I would defeat the “Lush growth with heart/mind” that I have encouraged by this spontaneous attention to the well-being of…me.

Cop-out? I hope not…Reflections on caring

A crowded train during Chinese New Year

Standing room only - people traveling home to see their families - Read more by clicking picture

I should have posted something last week on “Caring”.  Yet in the last post I spoke about freeing ourselves from the “shoulds”.  I created a “should” for myself without taking into consideration my life schedule. 

I am at a friend’s family home in a small city near the capital of Lioaning Province.  Spring Festival is upon us.  We are spending time getting to know the family, resting, and enjoying wonderful food!  I have no time to create a digital story about caring because I am too busy being cared for.  I am also caring for our children, trying to make sure they are not-overindulged by their surrogate grand-parents, or over-disciplined by an overly critical mommy.  My children are learning to care for another family’s home, and my son is learning to care for the fish in the family’s aquarium.  I am learning how to take care of my responsibilities while still caring for the relationships that are so critical in this culture.  I have a lot of deadlines for my coursework, but they are not as important as spending quality time with the people who consider this period as cherished as the Western Christmas holiday. 

Family is important in China.  A friend told me that more people are transported in China before Spring Festival (to be with family) than all the people transported during World War II.  This is, of course, an uncited statistic, but it begins to explain the logistics involved in getting train tickets.  You do not book them online.  They go on sale at a certain time each day.  But not any ticket, only the tickets for trains leaving ten or fewer days from the day.  Today I bought tickets for my return trip from Shenzhen on the 10th.  In two days time, I have to buy the ticket for the connecting train that leaves Heichang around 40 hours after the train I just bought tickets for.  It’s confusing, and there a lot of people in line also trying to get tickets.  There is a shortage because there is a shortage of trains.  The government can’t justify making or buying a LOT more trains just for a two-week period every year.  They care, but it just isn’t fiscally responsible.

So.  My theme of caring for last week has not been explored as thoroughly as I would like, but not because I don’t care.  See you all after I get back from the loooong train ride south!

Reflecting on Beauty: If I were a planter of trees

A Planter of Trees

Click on the picture to see the story


If there is light in the soul,

There will be beauty in the person.

If there is beauty in the person,

There will be harmony in the house.

If there is harmony in the house,

There will be order in the nation.

If there is order in the nation,

There will be peace in the world.

-Chinese Proverb

Last week, I found my voice.  I discovered something about beauty this week.  We all have great beauty to offer to the world.  This digital story is in the form of poem.  I created it using VoiceThread.

My whole life, I have been asking myself, “What should I do to serve humanity?”  There was always a sense of sacrifice there, as though I can’t do what I really want to do, what means most to me.  I should do what will serve most.  But I have been beaten nearly to death by the “shoulds” of life.  Something has been niggling at my soul each time I asked that “should” question.  “What about your heart?  What about your dreams?  What about what you have to say?”  I  have avoided paying attention to that voice by telling myself I was being noble and service-oriented, by wanting to speak for others.  I see now that those are excuses to hide from my fear:  “What if what I have to say isn’t helpful, or beautiful, or meaningful enough?”

But I am listening now, and I realize that my true voice, the voice of my heart, is most beneficial to the world.  When I listen to that voice, it always helps me.  Why should it not be helpful if I share that voice with others?  Even if it helps only one person, I have served from the center of my being, instead of slightly off to the side with the “shoulds”.  And I can be of more benefit to others if I help them find their own voices instead of speaking for them.

I was sitting with my husband  in Cafe Copenhagen, a local European cafe, when I realized this.  It is an elegant and delicately sophisticated place, sparsely but comfortably decorated.  Colorful paintings by Danish artists accent the clean, white surroundings.   I had just eaten an exquisite meal of linguini carbonara.  Soulful music played quietly in the background.  All that beauty was speaking to me.  “This is for you! Share yours!”  The thought that I had to share my voice, instead of bow to the “shoulds” that always swirled in my head, gave me such a feeling of joy and freedom that I was overcome.  Tears spilled from my eyes as I laughed and laughed.

 We all deserve beauty in our lives…the beauty of an orderly, balanced life, the beauty of a true voice, the beauty of a peaceful meal with loved ones, the beauty of a magnificent sunset…

New Mexico,Tramonto Sunset

New Mexico,Tramonto Sunset, by Paolo Motta

When did you last share the beauty in your heart, even with yourself?

What can you do to bring more beauty into your life?  Even if it’s just a few picked wild flowers on your table in the morning, see what a difference beauty makes in your life.  Here are ten things you can do to bring more beauty into your world:

  1. Watch the sunset.
  2. Do the dishes for someone, (including yourself).
  3. When you are eating food you love, chew it thoroughly, enjoy every bit of flavor.
  4. Share what is in your heart with someone.
  5. Dance in the rain. 
  6. Plant a tree or a flower, or just go and be with some.
  7. Look at your child.  Really SEE her at least ten times a day.
  8. Breathe in deeply when you smell something wonderful.  Take the time for roses or cookies or linguini carbonara.
  9. Luxuriate in the sensation of touch.  Let the feeling of something wonderful touching your skin really sink in.
  10. Look for beauty in every moment.  It is there.  Where is it?

Reflecting Assertiveness: Stand Tall

Why was this story so hard for me to make?  Was it that assertiveness has so many aspects?  There is confidence and calm.  There is repect and true expression.  There is the courage to be yourself and stand tall in the face of bullying, peer pressure and the possibility of being “unpopular”. 

No.  It was not that I had a hard time choosing what to focus on.  It is because this virtue is a real challenge for me.  But in pondering all these aspects, in reading and researching their expression, I found myself being inspired to stand tall. I found myself saying, “Yes, I will support you, but not at the expense of my own dreams.  Let’s find a way to work together.”  I found the courage to stick to my detox diet because I am worth it, even if my sugar cravings don’t think so.  I found the voice inside myself that is so quiet I had to get entirely still to hear it. (Hot baths and good music work wonders for that, by the way.)  That voice reminded me that I am never alone, that I always have a fan, someone who loves me, no matter what the rest of the world thinks.  What surprised me most is that it was my own voice. 

“Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting.”

 (Baha’u’llah, The Arabic Hidden Words)


Reflecting Acceptance: Calm in the face of a storm of rage

Varqa’s story leaped to my mind immediately when I began pondering the virtue of acceptance.  Though some may not see acceptance as a virtue but rather as an action, I see it as a powerful virtue that requires many other virtues to achieve: courage, compassion, love, detachment, discipline, faith.  We must accept ourselves as we are if we are to progress in our development.  It takes courage to look at ourselves honestly.  We must be compassionate with ourselves to break the cycle of guilt and blame.  Love is possible when we are compassionate with ourselves.  With that love, we can find the ability to let go of the constant desire to control our circumstances.  We can more easily accept them for the lessons they are.  Discipline is required to maintain that sense of serenity.  And we must have faith if we are to believe that we are the beautiful, noble human beings God created, and that we can develop, we can advance.  This process applies when we think of those we love as well. 

So pondering Varqa’s story, and that of his son, has been helpful to me to deepen my understanding of the first virtue in this year of reflection.  What are your thoughts?  What lessons has your life taught you about acceptance?  What lessons have other’s examples taught you?

Reflecting on 2010: Digital Story Highlights

Wishing you all light and love in the New Year!

The year is ending on a definite high note.  I am writing this post as the final assignment for my digital storytelling class, which I am taking through Empire State College.  The reason I mention the course is because it has had such a significant impact on me.  It helped me integrate the seemingly disparate elements of my life in to a more comprehensive whole.  It seems appropriate, then, to finish this course and this year with a reflection on my favorite digital stories, and what they have taught me. 

But first, I have to thank my friend and digital mentor, David Truss, and my instructor,  Nicola Martinez.  David started me on this pathway over a year ago, and lit a fire under me to re-engage with a creative part of myself that had long gone dormant.  Professor Martinez has been a most helpful guide in exploring the terrain of digital storytelling.  She provided a rich environment of readings, discussions, digital “field trips” and assignments that made me think deeply, work hard and create meaningful content.  Her standards are high, and both my successes and failures in meeting them taught me a lot.  

Secondly, I have to give a nod to my favorite story tool website:  Alan Levine’s CogDogRoo.  This list of fifty plus story-telling tools not only provides a very helpful description and analysis of the tool’s ease of use, but also provides example stories.  The Dominoe story that Levine tells with each tool helps show the variations in functionality.

 So, let’s start this journey through digital storyland! 

The first digital story that really showed me the power of the medium was a creative and delightful story from a fourteen-year-old boy in Wales named Neil Fitzgerald.  His story, Which Witch, introduced ideas from the pagan religion.  The subject is not what struck me most.  It was the medium, Neil’s engagement in it, and his ability to engage me, a middle-aged American woman in China, in a culture with which I am almost wholly unfamiliar.  The story is part of the BBCs project, Capture Wales, which introduces “average” people in a short time, and made me feel like I knew them like neighbors.

The next big breakthrough for me was Jonathan Harris’ work.  His TED Talk on Collecting Stories showed me a whole new universe of story possibilities.

And speaking of “universe”, here are a few examples of his work to play with and learn from: Universe, We Feel Fine, Love Lines.

The publisher Penguin introduced compelling digital fiction to me, and gave me a “visceral” experience of the many layers and richness of the medium.  They introduced six different works of digital fiction over six weeks in We Tell Stories.  Here, a mystery-suspense thriller is told through a Google map.  The blogs of a fictional teenager and her parents reveal a frightening tale of terror.  A fairy tale is told with your input. All six stories are examples that begin to scratch the surface of possibility in digital fiction.  I look forward to exploring this area much more, and possibly even contributing to it.

A few other sites deserving mention are: The Center for Digital Storytelling and Interactive Narratives.  Both contain collections of engaging and touching storytelling, and are updated often with new stories.

Several sites were helpful in considering how to use digital storytelling in the classroom.  They are The Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling, from the University of Houston, and Digital Stories @ UMBC, from the University of Maryland, Baltimore Campus.  Their examples gave me confidence to introduce digital storytelling to my own students, and I am proud of their work

Digital stories can inspire:

They can be sobering:

They teach me things I didn’t know I wanted to know.

Digital stories are personal stories, biographies, non-fiction or fiction, or they combine all of them.  They are often interactive, and you find them on the internet, on CDs, DVDs, on television and in movie theatres.  They are used for entertainment, promotion, education and training, an even personal transformation. I have only just begun to explore this world, so this list of highlights is missing many examples worthy of mention. The field is brand new and is wide open for development and growth.  This is an exciting time for me.  The next year will help define my place in the field, and I am looking forward to the journey.  I hope you all have a learning-filled new year as well, blessed with stories of all kinds.  Check back here soon for my next installment, and the first of my Virtues in Digital Story challenge.

Wordle: Digital Storytelling in 2010

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