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Diana Tigerlily

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    I've had two life dreams: live at the ocean, and become a published author. I finally live at the ocean and am now happily working on goal #2.

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  1. Opening Scene: Introduces protagonists, antagonists, secondary character, tone, a core setting, and foreshadows primary conflict The water was boiling over. Leila skidded over to the stove and lifted the pot of rolled grape leaves off the burner. She turned down the flame, returned the pot to the burner, and went back to layering phyllo dough for the baklawa. She was excited. This was her first professional catering gig. A wedding. The bride, Naya, was the daughter of her mother’s cousin’s sister-in-law, who was the niece of somebody Leila was supposed to know but couldn’t place, despite her mother’s elaborate descriptions. Anyway, she was Lebanese-American, the bride, like Leila. They were about the same age and Leila’s mother said she and Leila danced together at weddings when they were young girls, back when the Lebanese community of Cedar Grove was still small enough that the whole community would be invited to every wedding, no matter how distantly related. Leila remembered those weddings, dancing the dubka with the beautiful women and the dramatic men leading with their shiny stomping and swirling handkerchiefs and ululations, everyone shimmying in rhythm, pulsating within the acoustic landscape of the music. Boom boom tekka tekka boom tekka tek. So long ago, that time period in Leila’s life. Some moments she could recall in vivid perfection, as though watching them on a home movie. Other moments revealed themselves like an old photo album, the images faded, torn or just plain missing. She did have one snippet of a memory of a girl at a wedding. Was this the same girl who is the bride of the wedding Leila was catering? Leila remembered she was dancing with her mom and sisters and cousins when she saw the girl sitting on a chair at one of the empty tables surrounding the edge of the dance floor. Leila noticed that her light blue dress looked scratchy and uncomfortable. The girl was staring at Leila and her sisters, watching them dance. “Go tell that girl to come dance with us,” Leila’s mom urged. “She wants to dance with us.” “But, Mom…” “Go on. Be nice. She wants to dance. I think that’s Huguette’s niece. You go, Leila. She looks like she’s your age. Go. Hurry, before this song ends.” Leila was embarrassed. She hated when her mom made her do things like this. She didn’t want to stop dancing, and she didn’t want to bother this girl, and she certainly didn’t want to invite her to dance. Not because she didn’t want to dance with her, but because, what if the girl didn’t want to dance? Leila approached the girl. “Hi.” The girl smiled. She had a dimple in her right cheek. “Hi.” “My mom wants to know if you want to come dance with me and my sisters.” The girl hesitated, “Do you want me to?” Leila shrugged, “I don’t care. If you want to.” Then she added, “It’s fun.” The girl stood up. “Okay.” They were the exact same height. They noticed this because their eyes locked and the shock of it made them giggle. “Leila, habibti! I’m here!” Violette shouted from the back door, interrupting Leila’s memory. “Where do you want me to put these trays?” “Just set them on the shelf there for now,” Leila called back, wiping the flour from her hands and moving to greet her aunt. “Don’t stop,” Violette insisted as she entered the room. “I know you’re busy. Just tell me what you need me to do.” Leila kissed her aunt on the cheek. “Do you want to start making the dumplings for the shish barak? I just finished the dough, and here’s the spiced meat mixture.” She placed a large bowl at the end of the table. Violette was already at the sink washing her hands. “Yes, yes. I love making the little hats,” Violette said, referring to the shape of the dumplings. She dried her hands and settled in at the table. “I just need to get the laban warming on the stove and then I’ll help. Let’s roll as many dumplings we can within the next hour, and then start folding the spinach pies.” “So organized, einee!” “I just want everything to be perfect,” she said, dipping her pinky in the milky foam of the laban—homemade yoghurt— to test the temperature. It was still too cold. “It will be. Your food is culinary ecstasy.” “Oh, Violette.” “It’s true!” “Well. Thank you, then,” Leila said politely. Violette clicked her tongue. “Stop with the formalities and believe me. One day you’ll see. You’ll see your power.” Leila didn’t know exactly what her Aunt Violette meant about power. Leila admitted to herself that she was a pretty good cook, especially based on people’s exclamations upon tasting her food. But, power? Indeed, Leila was cautious about her mood while cooking, just to be sure she only passed along love and good wishes. Still, she recalled more than a couple angry occasions stirring batter, and nobody started fighting upon eating her cake. “So, Violette, tell me. How are you?” she asked as she continued stirring the laban so it wouldn’t scald. “Fine, habibti, fine. Inshallah, I will stay fine. And, you! Look at you! Look at this! Leila’s Café and Catering Kitchen!” Violette dramatically announced the formal name of Leila’s kitchen, and swept her generous arms through the space, “Your lifelong dream!” Leila appraised the scene through Violette’s eyes: the exposed brick walls and copper pipes, the cedarwood countertop and domed oven, shelves lined with spices and stacked with French cookware, Turkish dinnerware, Mexican pottery. Leila had risked everything to purchase this building, and she felt grateful and terrified every day. “I always told your mother that you would grow up to make us all proud,” Violette continued as she wrapped the dough around the meat. “Your first wedding! How is the bride? Has she been easy to work with?” “She seems fine. Truthfully, we’ve only spoken on the phone. I was rather surprised that she didn’t want to discuss the menu face-to-face. She said her mother’s cousin gave her my number.” “Yes, that was probably Najeebe.” “She didn’t really seem to care what was on the menu. I’d suggest things, and she was basically like, ‘That’s fine’.” “Well, you know her marriage has been arranged?” “What?” Leila was shocked. “No, I didn’t know that. I didn’t know people still did that.” “Well, I don’t actually know that they do in the U.S., and it’s definitely not as common in Lebanon as it used to be. But Lina was telling me that two years ago, in 2012, Naya’s family learned they have an old debt from three generations back with another family from our home village in Lebanon.” “Really? How did they learn that?” Leila punched down the dough for the spinach pies and turned it out on the floured table. The dough was satisfyingly smooth. “And how does your sister Lina know that?” “Lina is very close to Naya’s aunt, Maria. Maria and her siblings were approached by the Hanna family from Lebanon. Maria told Lina the whole story. “The story of the debt?” “Yes, and more importantly, the story of how Naya’s marriage came to be arranged. It was a surprise to everyone.” “I’d love to hear it.” “So, apparently, all those years ago in Ehden, Naya’s great, great-grandfather, Khalil Elias, who was a very wealthy man, made an agreement with the patriarch of the Hanna family, Sarkis. In exchange for rare Phoenician purple silk, aged cedarwood, and marble blocks, Khalil Elias promised to marry off his first-born granddaughter-- his son’s daughter--who was five years old at the time, to Sarkis Hanna’s first-born grandson, who was not yet born, as payment. Sarkis didn’t like this proposal at all because, while it was true that his son’s wife was pregnant and would be giving birth any day now, the marriage would be far away. He wanted his payment sooner, and if not sooner, then bigger. So, to fatten the deal, Khalil added the caveat that upon their marriage, they could own and live in the cedar and marble house he was building with the materials he was purchasing from Sarkis. Khalil Elias was a master stone carver and wood artist with a nationally respected reputation in Lebanon. Sarkis Hanna knew the house would be beautiful and of great value, and so he happily agreed to the deal. Both men felt the fairness and the value of the trade, but neither man anticipated that the newborn would be a girl--as were the next four babies after that. Sarkis Hanna’s only son fathered five daughters and not a single son. One month after his fifth granddaughter was born, Sarkis Hanna died. Khalil Elias wondered if the deal and the debt died with him. The five Hanna daughters matured and married and most relocated to the villages of their respective husbands. The deal seemed to have been long forgotten.” “So then, what happened?” asked Leila, realizing she had stopped stirring the laban and almost scorched it. Violette handed her the trays of shish barak dumplings, which Leila tumbled into the laban with crushed mint and garlic and gently resumed stirring. “But first, tell me, why would Khalil give away the house he’s building with the materials he’s purchasing. How does he get his profit?” “From the Phoenician silk. It’s very rare, very precious. The fact that it was purple means it was hand-dyed Tyrian purple. Tyrian dye was used by the earliest Phoenicians and has always been greatly prized because the dye doesn’t fade, rather it deepens with age. Tyrian dyed silks were reserved only for royalty. Any Tyrian dyed Phoenician silks that remain in modern times are not only rare, but very expensive. Khalil Elias was obviously a shrewd businessman, as well as a bit of an historian. This silk would likely have been worth more than double the value of the cedarwood and marble combined.” Violette looked up from rolling the dough. “Do you want these pies folded into crescents or triangles?” she asked, as she pinched a bouquet of spinach dripping lemon and oil and placed it onto the small, flat circle of dough. “Triangles,” Leila answered. “Always triangles.” “Yes, I like triangles best, too. They remind me of my Sitti’s spinach pies,” she mused, folding the bottom third of the dough over the spinach filling, then closing in the sides of dough like curtains, pressing together the edges between her thumb and fingertips, making a point at the top, then a center ridge traveling down and outward like a Mercedes logo. “But, anyway, I got sidetracked. Let’s see,” Violette continued, “so Sarkis Hanna’s oldest granddaughter, Maya—” “Wait. Who?” “Maya. She’s the granddaughter who everyone was expecting to be born a boy and marry the rich Khalil Elias’s granddaughter.” “Oh, right,” said Leila, sliding a tray of spinach pies into the oven. “Maya grew up being teased and shamed about how she was supposed to be a boy and stabilize the family’s wealth, but was born a girl and cost the family riches. The teasing turned to taunting, and the taunting became entrenched as the narrative of disappointment, the belief everybody held, including Maya, that Maya would forever disappoint her family, as she had from the day she was born, and that she would never bring wealth upon her family, only debt. As it was, Maya fell in love with a brick-layer, the son of a poor, hard-working family. Maya’s father forbade her to marry the brick-layer, claiming she had already brought enough disgrace upon the family. In tears and defiance, Maya ran away with the brick-layer to a neighboring village and they were married in a small stone chapel by the resident friar.” “It’s like a storybook romance,” murmured Leila as she brushed the tops of the unbaked spinach pies with olive oil, “or is it a tragedy?” “Well, it wasn’t all love and bliss. And making it even harder were the recurring angry dream visits from her deceased grandfather, the patriarch Sarkis Hanna, who bellowed soundlessly at Maya from a black void, demanding his payment for the silk, stone, and cedar; warning her that he expected his payment of the house that Khalil Elias owed him and wouldn’t rest in peace until the deal was made right. His anger scared her. Sucking the air with him into the void, he would vanish, jolting Maya awake in tears. At first, the dreams—on top of her feelings of family rejection and displacement— took a toll on her energy. But in true Maya fashion, she transformed that energy so that it fueled her. She became more resolute with each dream visit that she would make the Khalil Elias family pay their debt and also redeem herself to her family. She rationalized that if she gave birth to a son, he in turn could marry an Elias to make good on the deal with that family and simultaneously make things right in her own. ‘After all,’ she often told her daughters, ‘he would be the first son born in the family line from the time the deal was made. He would be the first son of the first daughter of the first son of Sarkis Hanna. He would be Sarkis Hanna’s great-grandson.’ And then, one day, at age 49 and with great surprise, Maya realized she was pregnant, and to her even greater surprise, she gave birth to a boy.” “Whoaaa,” Leila exclaimed. “Yes. That was Sayed, the groom, born in 1978. Maya gathered up her family and boldly returned to her village to announce that the Hanna family would finally earn their payment.” “But,” said Leila, “how did the Hanna’s know that the Elias’s were going to agree to the deal after all these years? And how was it decided that Naya would become the bride? Violette looked at the trays and trays of folded spinach pie triangles. “There is a slow art to stories, just like the making of Lebanese food. Just as we respect the folding of each spinach pie, we must respect the unfolding of each story.” Leila went to the stove to stir the laban. “I suppose we should,” she murmured into the pot. “I just cannot believe my first catering gig is for an arranged marriage. This does not feel good. This does not feel good at all.”
  2. FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement. Two Lebanese-American women and one Lebanese man, strangers until entangled by an arranged marriage, must grapple with questions of homeplace, identity, and desire as they resist, embrace, and rewrite traditions of family and relationship. SECOND ASSIGNMENT: in 200 words or less, sketch the antagonist or antagonistic force in your story. Keep in mind their goals, their background, and the ways they react to the world about them. The antagonistic force is patriarchal tradition and familial obligation embodied by antagonists Sarkis Hanna and his granddaughter, Maya. Sarkis Hanna, the deceased Lebanese patriarch and shrewd businessman, has haunted Maya’s dreams to ensure an old debt is paid. Maya, now 86, was expected to have been born a boy and marry the first-born granddaughter of Khalil Elias to complete a transaction between the two patriarchs. But because she was born a girl, the marriage never took place and Sarkis Hanna was never paid for his Tyrian-dyed Phoenician silk, Lebanese cedarwood, and fine marble. The payment was to be a marriage of the two bloodlines and the house built by Elias with these materials, sealed by the birth of a baby to merge the families’ legacies. Maya, ostracized by her family and haunted by her grandfather, has made it her life’s mission to enforce Hanna’s will and make right on the deal set forth by the two patriarchs. When she gives birth to Sayed—first son of first daughter of first son of Hanna—she puts into motion necessary elements to finally make this marriage happen, lay Hanna’s ghost to rest, and redeem her family’s honor, no matter the cost. THIRD ASSIGNMENT: create a breakout title (list several options, not more than three, and revisit to edit as needed). The Scent of Orange Blossom Water Marriage of Marble, Silk, and Cedar The Arranged Marriage of a Lebanese Lesbian FOURTH ASSIGNMENT: - - Develop two smart comparables for your novel. This is a good opportunity to immerse yourself in your chosen genre. Who compares to you? And why? Crescent by Diana Abu-Jaber An Arab-American woman living in L.A. and working as a chef in a Lebanese Café, falls in love with an Iraqi exile, evoking questions of identity and homeplace. My novel is comparable to Crescent’s themes of identity, love, and homeplace; its lyrical tone and sometimes magical elements; and the strong infusion of cooking and Lebanese food. You Exist Too Much by Zaina Arafat This debut novel follows the life of a Palestinian American woman navigating cultural, religious, and sexual identities. While the plot is very different from my novel, the themes of family, identity, and desire are resonant. FIFTH ASSIGNMENT: write your own hook line (logline) with conflict and core wound following the format above. Though you may not have one now, keep in mind this is a great developmental tool. In other words, you best begin focusing on this if you're serious about commercial publication. Set in contemporary United States and Lebanon, a Lebanese-American woman and a Lebanese man are required to sacrifice their free will by dutifully agreeing to an arranged marriage that honors an 86 year contract signed by their respective families. On the morning of the wedding, the caterer reveals a secret, and the three must grapple with questions of homeplace, identity, and desire as they resist, embrace, and rewrite traditions of family and relationship. SIXTH ASSIGNMENT: sketch out the conditions for the inner conflict your protagonist will have. Why will they feel in turmoil? Conflicted? Anxious? Sketch out one hypothetical scenario in the story wherein this would be the case--consider the trigger and the reaction. This novel has three main protagonists: Naya, Sayed, and Leila. Their inner conflicts and scenarios are sketched below: Naya Inner Conflict: Naya, U.S. born second-generation Lebanese-American raised in a strict Maronite Catholic household by parents raised by Lebanese immigrants, has always felt the constraints of family expectations to get married and have children. She has never felt accepted for who she was—an independent, organic gardener who loves working with her hands and building her business. She has created her own chosen family and has no desire to ever marry or have kids. In her extended Lebanese-American family and community, her lifestyle is an anomaly, an aberration, a “selfish phase”. Over the years of trying to communicate with her parents, and after many tears of misunderstandings and struggle, she believed they’d finally come to a comfortable place of acceptance of her way of being. So, when her parents inform her that she is required to marry a Lebanese man she’s never met to fulfill a generational debt; that she would have to leave her home and live in Lebanon; andis expected to give birth, she feels not only the deep gash of betrayal, but a severe sense of injustice. Worse, she feels that once and for all, her worst fear has been revealed to her with certainty: her family does not understand her and would never see and respect her for who she is. She always wanted acceptance by her family and from the larger culture. She loves her parents and wants them to be proud of her for who she is. Deep down, she wants to please them. But she has no idea how to reconcile her own personal desires and agency with these deeply entrenched familial obligations. She doesn’t want to marry or leave her home, but she also doesn’t want to deny her family loyalty. Underneath her sadness is a deep-seated sense of anger and injustice she has carried with her by virtue of living in a heteronormative world, enforced microcosmically by her own family. Naya Scenario: Naya absent-mindedly nestled the bundles of pineapple sage into the basket. A year ago she had launched her grand opening with the mums and pumpkins. Nine months ago she learned she is expected to marry a stranger. She still had the scrap of paper with the man’s name. She still hadn’t contacted him. She had been too angry. And anyway, she really couldn’t see the point. To contact him would feel like compliance, and she refused to comply with the arranged marriage. When her dad tried to distinguish this as an arranged marriage rather than a forced marriage, Naya had wanted to scream. That distinction might work for people who are raised with the knowledge that their marriage will be arranged and that they would have the option to choose among the suitors their parents presented to them. But her situation was different. Even if she met the guy and liked him it didn’t mean she’d want to marry him. She didn’t want to get married at all, and especially not to a man. Marriage had never been part of her plan. And so the entire situation felt forced—forced upon her. She felt she was being unfairly forced to be the one responsible for upholding her family’s name and honor, at the expense of her choice to be loyal to herself and to her own well-being. But she knew self-loyalty wasn’t really an option that came without repercussions, not in her family. As contemporary as her family perceived themselves to be, Naya knew they were still very conservative and very traditional. Loyalty to the family had been an overriding value for as long as she could remember. Naya walked out of her garden and sobbed. Sayed Inner Conflict: Sayed, a sought-after Lebanese stone sculptor, was raised on the narrative that his obligation was to marry a descendent of the renowned Khalil Elias and inherit the great house Elias built that was promised to Sayed’s family as payment on an old debt. Sayed uncritically has accepted this fate, and is ready to marry without giving it any thought. It isn’t until he meets his future bride, Naya, for the first time, that “bride” is no longer an abstraction, but a very real person. When he realizes how much is at stake for Naya—who doesn’t want to marry and has a full life in the United States— he becomes torn. Sayed is an intuitively compassionate man with much integrity, and he quickly grows to care deeply about Naya and Naya’s feelings. At the same time, as a fellow master stonecarver, he covets this architectural specimen of a house that has always been promised to him by his mother, Maya. Moreover, he feels further pressured by his mother, who has faced lifelong persecution from her family and would finally be redeemed by the marriage between Sayed and Naya. Sayed wants to set his mother free from her long-term suffering from the family’s judgment. He feels that he alone bears the unique responsibility to do this and can attain it by following through with the marriage. Even still, as his awareness for Naya’s well-being deepens, he begins to question his own ready compliance to the marriage, and for the first time in his life, he begins to ask himself what it is that he truly would want if he was free from this lifelong narrative of obligation. Sayed Scenario: Sayed stood back up, his heart racing. He read the message once more, trying to decipher its tone. Something about the words “I’ve been informed” struck Sayed right in the center of his heart, but he couldn’t pinpoint exactly why the words jangled so hard. Then suddenly he knew: “I’ve been informed” signifies that this woman had been told just once about the debt and the wedding. A single moment in time. Sayed thought about what it would be like to experience a sudden unexpected burst of information, a directive, about one’s own future. It makes for a completely different story for her than for Sayed. Sayed’s entire upbringing, his everyday ongoing narrative, was organized around the debt and the wedding. He startled at the contrast: Sayed’s life was infused by this narrative. Naya’s life was interrupted by it. This American woman’s life, comprehended Sayed. It must be pretty unbelievable for her. He scanned the words,“we are expected to marry” “attempting” “confess” “reluctantly”. He suddenly felt a surge of great compassion for this woman. While his focus had always been on the house rather than the marriage, the actual so-called bride was always an abstraction in his mind. Not a real person with a name and a life and a home and routine, a country and loved ones. The tangible meaning of all of this was sinking in for Sayed. He knew if he were her, he certainly wouldn’t want to be told he had to leave his country and marry a stranger. Leila Inner Conflict: Leila is a progressive Lebanese-American chef who is catering her first wedding and is dismayed to learn that the wedding has been arranged and the bride has had no say in the matter. This information puts a sour taste in Leila’s mouth, as she is sensitive to the betrayal Naya must be feeling from her family. For Leila, preparing and presenting Lebanese food is one of her primary love languages. She loves creating pleasure and sensuality through the culinary arts. How can she create a feast and support an occasion that feels wrong to her? To complicate matters, her dreaming life, which has always been vivid, even lucid, has intensified in the days and months leading up to the wedding, revealing seductive secrets involving both the bride and groom, and blurring the once distinct line between Leila’s dreamlife and her reality. Leila made a promise to herself long ago that she would always do her best to live in truthfulness to herself and others so that the spices in her cooking alchemize perfectly and the food digests easily. But now, on the morning of the wedding, Leila finds herself in the midst of an existential, and possibly culinary, crisis. Leila Scenario: Leila tried to focus on her task at hand, but really, how could she possibly continue arranging spinach pies on a platter for this wedding after what just happened? How could she serve up this sumptuous feast in celebration of two people she loved with all her heart, when to do so would mean that Sayed and Naya, who do not love each other as husband and wife, would have gone through with the marriage and would be disappearing across the ocean, where she might never see them again. How could she bear to live without Naya, especially now that they’ve met in person? How could she bear to live without Sayed? She felt the lump in her solar plexus swell upward and lodge itself in her heart. She could barely breathe. A sob escaped her. And then another. Suddenly she was crying those deep convulsant sobs, where breath and tears locked up and shook her, one hard sob after another, as though not a single hope remained. She was leaning on the prepping table, but even that couldn’t support her. She felt herself sink to the floor and retreat into fetal position. Her breath unlocked and she started wailing. She had waited her whole life for this love. She had known them her whole life through her dreams. Never knowing if they were real or not, but always sensing that they were. And now to have finally met them. And now they would be leaving. She couldn’t bear this pain. She couldn’t bear any more loss. She had to pull herself together. She had to pull this food together. And should she tell them? But how? And how much? And when? She wanted to tell them everything. In her heart, everything was pure. But she was more unconventional than most people. They might not understand. She looked at the clock. It was 11:06. The wedding would be taking place in less than two hours. Next, likewise sketch a hypothetical scenario for the "secondary conflict" involving the social environment. Will this involve family? Friends? Associates? What is the nature of it? Leila, Naya, and Sayed do not yet know each other. Unbeknownst to the three of them, they’ve each experienced intense, vivid, and recurringly-themed dreams their entire lives. In the past two years before the wedding date, the dreams have intensified for them all. The dreams are often evoked by and/or are accompanied by the scent of orange blossom water. The dreams always take place in the same elaborately constructed house that none of them have seen in their waking lives. The dreams are not exactly dreams, but shared dreamspaces with another individual, always the same stranger—blurry, indistinct, yet intimately familiar— recognizable only by a palpable energetic imprint that has increasingly strengthened in its perceptibility in recent years. These energies are unnamed in dreamspace, but if they were named, they would be known as the energies of Naya and Leila, and the energies of Sayed and Leila. The energies of Naya and Sayed have never met in dreamspace, and Leila has not met either Naya or Sayed in waking life. Even during the wedding planning, Leila has not met the bride nor groom. She has spoken to the reluctant bride briefly on the phone, but most of the bride’s limited correspondence has taken place over email and text. Leila has been in love with both of them—and they her—nearly her whole life in her private intensely lucid dreamworld, never knowing with certainty if they are more than her imagination. When she meets them in person just before the wedding, she is shook to her core. It is Friday evening before the Sunday wedding that Naya and Leila unexpectedly meet in person. Naya is bringing the flower arrangements from her garden and the orange blossom flowers she specially ordered, to the reception hall to store in the refrigerators. Naya has just finished placing the vases of flowers on the shelves inside the walk-in cooler. At the exact moment that she exits the cooler and turns to close the cooler door, Leila enters the kitchen wheeling in a cart laden with pans of rolled grape leaves and baked kibbe to be refrigerated. Focused on steering the cart between the prepping tables, Leila glimpses somebody at the cooler and calls out, “You can keep that door open for me please, and I’ll wheel this cart in.” At the same moment that Leila’s voice reaches Naya’s consciousness, Naya’s eyes meet Leila’s, and their hearts leap in an entangled moment of energetic recognition. “Naranj,” Leila whispers. They stare at one another for an eternity then float toward each other like apparitions. They collapse to the ground in an awestruck tangle of limbs and tears. They spend the entire evening fluctuating between heightened arousal, grounded comfort, and deep conversation, marveling at the surrealism of knowing each other forever while also experiencing each other tangibly for the first time. They lament with painful sorrow that just when they’ve finally met, they will be separated by a marriage and an ocean. Their personal existing reservations about the wedding further deepen in even more immediate ways, and each one secretly fantasizes ways to stop the wedding. Two days later, early morning of the wedding day, Sayed arrives at the reception hall to install the surprise wedding gift he has made for Naya: an exquisitely sculpted calcite alabaster orange-blossom flower. Meanwhile, Leila, still reeling from the confusing emotional whirlwind of erotic adrenaline coursing through her from meeting Naya two days earlier—and seeing her both days since—dutifully drags herself to the reception hall to prepare the food and arrange the platters. She enters through the back loading dock door that enters into the kitchen, then makes her way into the front banquet room to check that the chafing pans are set up on the buffet line. Scanning the room with an appraising eye to check that all the tables are correctly positioned and clothed, she sees a man at the gift table setting up some kind of sculpture as the centerpiece. His back is to her, but something about him seems familiar. She contemplates how she might know him, but can’t place it. She turns to the buffet tables and begins counting the sternos when suddenly the back of her neck feels as though it is on fire. Her legs feel wavy, as though she has just run a marathon, and her heart is pounding against her chest. She is breathless as though she has just sprinted across a finish line. She turns to face the man and is disoriented to find him still standing by the gift table. He is staring at her. Before his voice even reaches her ears, she hears him say two words that travel thickly across the room, sounding the way syllables sound when talking underwater, distorted as his image in dreamspace yet simultaneously just as recognizable. His words splash her, and she gasps as though coming up for air, already awake, not dreaming this time, no door between them, visible as a clear window, loud as a crash of symbols, “It’s you.” The heat between them has condensed all distance and in one swift movement they are in each other’s arms. Neither Naya nor Sayed know that the other has been in a dreamspace relationship with Leila; and upon meeting her in person, they each relish the opportunity to finally pursue this relationship with the love of their lives. Leila doesn’t know how to tell each of them that she is in love with them both. Meanwhile, there is the issue of the upcoming wedding. FINAL ASSIGNMENT: sketch out your setting in detail. What makes it interesting enough, scene by scene, to allow for uniqueness and cinema in your narrative and story? Please don't simply repeat what you already have which may well be too quiet. You can change it. That's why you're here! Start now. Imagination is your best friend, and be aggressive with it. The setting takes place in two primary locations, the contemporary United States and Lebanon. In Lebanon, the setting takes place in the mountain village of Ehden, home of the Cedar Forests of Lebanon. Within Ehden, the primary settings are Sayed’s stone sculpting studio, and the house built by the master stonecarver Khalil Elias that is part of the contract made by Khalil Elias and Sarkis Hanna 86 years ago. This setting of the house spans continents because not only does it physically exist in Ehden, it is also the setting of the vivid dreams that each of the characters share. Within the United States, the setting takes place in a (fictionally named) northern midwestern city named Cedar Grove that has a large Lebanese-American population and is located two hours outside of Chicago. Within Cedar Grove, the majority of scenes occur in Leila’s Café and Catering Kitchen, where we see and taste the sensual aromas and rhythms of Lebanese food preparation, and in Naya’s garden, bursting with abundant colors and textures rooted in the depth and patience of soil. Below are sketches of the settings: In Ehden, Lebanon Sayed’s Stone-Sculpting Studio Sayed sat on his swivel stool and meticulously chipped away at a marble block standing seven feet tall and three feet wide. He was in his element, his workshop, his zone. The floor was thick with an accumulation of marble dust as were the shelves and the single wooden chair. His black hair, his work boots, his blue jeans, everything was coated in the fine dust. The studio had a roof and three walls, high ceilings and no door with one side completely open to the outdoors so that Sayed could maneuver the large sections of marble. Currently, he was at work on multiple projects, some commissioned, some personal. At stations in his studio stood stone pillars and angular chunks of marble at varying stages in the carving process. Some had faint wisps of pencil sketches. On others, facial expressions emerged like apparitions out of the hard surfaces, and plump clusters of grapes appeared deceptively juicy despite their obvious stone origins. When Sayed needed to get air, he’d walk out of his studio, down the narrow, winding cobblestone streets past rows of small stone houses where old men sat in their doorways smoking hookahs; past the street vendors at the corners with bushels of green apricots, plums, and apples; past the wrinkled woman tossing large circles of dough between her hands, throwing it on top of the glowing hot dome oven, spreading it with spirals of olive oil and zaatar, then rolling it in paper and handing it to passersby. Finally, Sayed would reach the edge of the village. He’d trample easily through the dusty fields and drying grasses, navigate crumbling stone walls and duck through gnarly branches, until he’d reach his spot among the ancient olive trees. He’d found this abandoned olive grove long ago when he was a young boy and had immediately exhaled into a sense of peace. The feeling of being in solitude, unseen and alone, facilitated his sense of self, helped him to feel that he had an identity and a destiny all his own, different from his mother’s and sisters’ stories of who he was expected to become. He had found the biggest tree and cleared away the queen anne’s lace and wild zataar growing around the base and made a sitting spot where he would go every day and lean sleepily against the slanted trunk, daydreaming upward into the silvery green leaves. On his way to his sitting spot, he would collect small stones from the old ruins of unsalvaged homesteads and then arrange the stones under his tree. By the time Sayed reached his early teens, he had built a small circular wall around his tree and had begun collecting larger stones that he chipped away at every day, finally making the grey shapes into pictures he could begin to understand. Now an adult, his inspirational “sitting spot” was his swivel stool; his sacred “olive grove” was his indoor workshop; his “small stones” were now exquisite pieces of marble transported with cranes. Every once in a while, but very rarely, much more rarely than when he was younger, Sayed would venture further still, to the spot where the great house built by the master stonecarver Khalil Elias stood. The Great House Built by Khalil Elias Sitting in a coveted, exquisite location atop the terraced mountainside, the Great House built by Khalil Elias overlooks the village of Ehden, the valleys, the Cedar Forests, and on a clear day, views of the Mediterranean Sea in the distance. The house, built with Elias’s signature carved marble blocks and signature arches, is an expanded and ornate version of the traditional Central Hall house, a style considered a national heritage of Lebanon for the way its architectural elements coexist with the natural landscape. The passageway of the tripartite arcade connects the house and the views, and five exterior arches span the front entrance. The ornate triple set of mandaloun windows on the third floor lead out to a marble balcony rimmed by a wrought-iron railing overlooking the grape vines, the terraces, and the ancient cedar trees that populate the property like sentient guards. Along with the finely carved blocks and the smooth marble pillars supporting the balcony, the rectangular exterior has turquoise accents around each of the windows and doorways, and a red tile roof. The massive front door is made of intricately carved cedarwood, depicting both historic Phoenician scenes and, some say, Elias’s rumored prophetic visions. The door opens into a spacious interior, with the main hall boasting mosaic floors inlaid with glazed tiles of turquoise, yellow, green, and white against a cobalt blue background. Looking directly above the mosaic, the hand painted ceiling depicts vermillion floral medallions at the centers of large ivory squares rimmed in gold and bordered by sky-blue. The walls are a display of ornately sculpted marble shelves and altars, and hand-planed, hand-carved built-in cedarwood chests and drawers. Inside one of the many cedar chests, and unbeknownst so far to anyone alive in the family today, Khalil had saved back and carefully stored one of the very expensive, very rare Tyrean dyed purple Phoenician silks he got from Sarkis Hanna. Naya and Leila have yet to see the house in waking life. In dream life, they often travel through the house, not knowing that this is the Khalil Elias house. Sayed has seen the house in waking life, but only the exterior. Never the interior. But he does not recognize the Elias house as the house in his dreams, because his dreams are often distortions of the house: “Have you seen the house?” This question was posed to Sayed more times than he could count, and it was less a question requiring an answer than it was a declaration of appreciation for the house’s exquisite craftsmanship and beauty. In truth, Sayed not only had seen the house but had studied it with careful awe ever since he was a small boy. Sayed still remembered the first time he saw the house. He was five years old, and his family had finally moved back to the village where his mother was born. To say that Sayed Sarkis Hanna Hitti loved the house built by Khalil Elias would be an egregious understatement. One might say instead that the house nurtured his aesthetic sensibilities, or married his passions of precision and eccentrism, or fed his desires for beauty and function, or quite simply, inspired Sayed’s very life path. Sayed was a stone sculptor raised by a bricklayer, destined to live in a house built by a master stone carver and woodcrafter, and fed stories—by a wounded mother—of the greatest house in the land. She began the stories when he was stardust, and then a nebula, and then a galaxy, and then finally, when he grew to be as big as the universe, he swirled into light and form, welcomed by his mother’s fervent whispers, “You are the Man of The House.” So by the time Sayed was five, not only could he mix mortar and eye a level by himself, and steady a wheelbarrow with his father’s help, he could recite his mother’s descriptions of the house so perfectly that both he and his mother would need to be reminded that neither of them had yet to have actually seen it. For young Sayed, the house was an intimate part of his reality; it occupied the landscape of his days and the dreamscape of his nights, and was essentially larger than life. It’s not hard then to imagine the excitement that ensued the day his mother told five-year old Sayed they were moving back to her village where he would finally see the house built by Khalil Elias. Sayed marched triumphantly around his bedroom with his chest puffed like a barrel, then feasted with his family on the special meal his mother cooked in celebration: his favorite: kibbeh nayyeh, bread, and fattoush, with mint tea and orange blossom cookies for dessert. That night, young Sayed dreamed he was standing at the foot of a rugged stone staircase, from out which towered an immense wooden door hand-carved in a quilt of symbols. Sayed easily climbed the first step but realized the next step was tall as a ledge, so he had to reach with his hands and pull himself up. Breathlessly, he reached the next step, relieved to see the third step was a normal height, but as soon as he stepped up, he saw the wooden door was suddenly smaller. He looked again and understood that the door was not smaller, it was further away, standing in the distance atop dozens of stone steps that were rapidly multiplying. He began to climb faster. He felt an urgency to reach the door. Maybe he could outrun the multiplying steps. He needed to get to the door. There was something, somebody, behind the door, and they needed him. Heneeded them. But the faster he climbed, the further away moved the door, until finally the door was a pinhole of blackness and the steps nothing more than a ribbon of gray. Panicking and heartbroken, Sayed stood on the steps and screamed at the door, “But I’m here! I’m here! Please! Open the door! I’m here!” And then he crumpled into the hard stone, his tears turning to pleas, “Please open for me, please,” and the stones began shaking under his feet, shaking his entire body. “Sayed!” His mother was shaking his shoulder, “Sayed, habibi, wake up! You’re having a bad dream. Wake up!” Leila’s Café and Catering Kitchen: Leila knew she’d be taking a financial risk to realize her dream of owning her own commercial kitchen, but she couldn’t pass up the opportunity when her uncle told her he’d heard the old feedstore was going up for sale. A brick storefront in the renovated Warehouse District along the riverfront in the city of Cedar Grove! She scraped together all her savings and maxed out her credit cards to plunk a down-payment and secure a loan, then she immediately went to work to uncover the beauty of the historic building complete with the original, high tin ceilings; windows rising up from wide walnut sills, and old oak floors polished from wear. She removed the sections of plaster cracking on the walls to expose the original brick beneath—three shades of tomato reds with marblings of pinks, and old white plaster and cement layered in. She collected used but timeless tables and chairs on Craigslist, and soon populated the café portion of the building with an eclectic assortment of cast-iron, round-wooden, and glass-topped dining sets, that all somehow aesthetically matched. She kept the open concept of the building so that when one walked through the café toward the back kitchen, they could see her at work, chopping, rolling, and preparing foods behind the cedarwood counter and glass display cases filled with her locally-famous Lebanese pastries of honey-infused pistachio baklawa, sugar-powdered ghreybeh, and buttery date-stuffed maamoul. When restoring the back kitchen, she preserved the historic components of the building where she could: the tin ceiling, the original windows and woodwork, the exposed brick walls and copper pipes. But when it came to her appliances and accessories, she wanted to create a spacious, inspiring, and efficient kitchen with ample length and space for her professional catering jobs. She installed commercial countertops, prep tables, coolers, sinks, and stoves. She had a traditional brick oven built so that it would get hot enough to bake traditional Lebanese bread. For most of her kitchen surfaces she chose stainless steel, but much of her cookware was of her preferred copper pans and enamel coated cast iron. Her shelves artfully displayed her collection of colorful stoneware, crystal platters, porcelain demitasse cups, antique platters, vintage goblets, bowls, saucers, and even some brass candlesticks, along with a few matching dinnerware sets, including Turkish ceramics and French Le Creuset. In front of the bay window by the double-sink, she nestled a refurbished, ornate cast iron plant stand stacked with terra cotta and Talavera pottery sprouting parsley, mint, basil, cilantro, rosemary, lavender, lemon balm, nasturtium, anise, and chives. She kept roses and tomatoes on the back patio when the weather was right, and unsuccessfully tried to grow a lemon tree. In the windows at the front entrance, she had an ornamental fig tree in the corner; violets and geraniums on the sills; ferns and philodendron in hanging pots; and a vase of fresh flowers on each table. At the heart of this visual beauty in Leila’s Café and Catering Kitchen, was the fragrance. As soon as the patrons entered through the waft of the doorway’s wind chimes, they were enveloped by the scent of orange blossom water. No matter what was cooking on the stove or being served piping hot on platters—beyond the earthy pungence of garlic and onions singing in olive oil, beneath the cumin wafting from the baked kibbe mingling with the mint and lemon hovering above the tabbouli, enhancing the cinnamon rolled into the grape leaves—the subtle scent of orange blossom water infused each patron and intoxicated them in an embrace of welcoming, nurturing love. People remarked that even if all that existed at Leila’s was a single lightbulb hanging from a wire, a metal card table, and a bucket turned upside down for a chair, the aroma of her kitchen was enough to call them back like a baby calf again and again to its mother at the location it first nursed. Even now, the scent of orange blossom water permeated the kitchen where Leila was humming in happiness. She was gliding her extra sharp knife through an extra-large sheet-tray of freshly layered baklawa, singing along to Whitney Houston as she evenly sliced parallel one-inch lines down the length of the pan. She belted the chorus, not caring that she was off-key, and rotated the pan a quarter turn, intersecting the initial lines with a new set of knife lines to make diamonds. “Don’t you wanna dance, hey you wanna dance, don’t you wanna dance…dance.” Leila was in her element and thrilled. This batch of baklawa was saturated in floral fragrance and exuding golden perfection. It was going to look beautiful displayed in her glass case. Half of this batch was going to Gloria’s Coffeehouse for a baby shower across town. Leila’s baklawa tasted especially sublime served with a demitasse of Gloria’s signature Lebanese cardamom coffee. Leila carefully packaged the platter of diamond pastries to make it travel-ready. As she gently covered the baklawa with parchment paper, the buttery rich aroma of sweet pistachio mingling with orange blossom infused the air, arousing the memory of Leila’s dream from the night before. Leila had almost forgotten the dream, but then realized quite the opposite: the dream had been lingering all day. She’d been living in it, much like she lives within a fragrant kitchen. Naya’s Gardens Naya spent years building her gardens. She laid wide pathways of old brick that led to sitting spots with romantic wooden benches in her oak grove, and cast iron tables around the pond. She created meditation areas with goddess statuary nestled between evergreens and sandstone altars of amethysts and rose quartz. She planted a raucous variety of texture and color that rotated its display like the turn of a kaleidoscope at each season. The purple crocuses opened the show in early spring, blooming through the snow, later joined by the chorus of yellow daffodils, red tulips, and blue iris. When May rolled around, Naya drank in the visual beauty of the dripping wisteria, lazy peonies, and brilliant orange poppies. By summer solstice, the lilies were in bloom, the oregano was ready for another harvest, and the blueberries were ready to pick. Along with a bouquet of sunflowers, she marked summertime with blueberry pie, fresh tomatoes with basil drizzled in olive oil, and cucumbers and laban (homemade yoghurt) tossed with fresh mint. At the end of her long days of weeding, watering, and mulching, her favorite thing to do was to lay in her hammock, look at the stars and inhale the night air, heavy with the fragrance of tuberose. She couldn’t grow orange trees living so far north, but the sensuality of tuberose seduced her the same way as the orange blossoms. This morning, Naya was sitting on a fading wood bench among cosmos plants and magenta celosia, between fruiting asparagus ferns and flowering fountain grasses. October sun soaked into her while a leg’s distance before her a bee somersaulted in its struggle to escape a sticky web, writhing and twisting frantically. Centered in the web, just inches from the bee, a giant garden spider sat in heightened stillness, waiting, its arms and legs splayed in yellow and black display. The spider’s quiet anticipation amid the bee’s struggle aroused Naya. The breeze kissed her bare skin and carried away her breathing. In the rustle she heard a faint plud and her eyes followed the movement. A praying mantis had landed before her on a bed of soft leaves near the web. She looked at the web and did not see the bee. She saw the spider had not moved. Her eyes scanned the textures of web silk, leaf wax, petal fur and found the bee, luxuriating, on the celosia plant next to the web, tugging and sucking on a magenta bloom. She lingered with the free bee, the praying mantis, the splayed spider, the breezy grasses, the berried ferns. “Today is going to be a good day for both of us,” she said lazily to the busy bee.
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