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Talking Kumzari in Tehran

 

I was invited to speak about my Kumzari research at Tehran University for their annual conference on Contemporary Iranian Studies — a great honor and joy. I always love speaking at Tehran University — usually twice a year! Kumzari is an endangered language which is spoken mainly in the village of Kumzar (accessible only by boat) in the Sultanate of Oman (where I was a professor for a number of years) and Larak Island in Iran. 

I was so fortunate (and grateful) to take an otherworldly voyage to Kumzar — which sent me ’round the bend (that’s where the expression comes from — Telegraph Island where isolated British soldiers went insane).  Here is a map to show you Kumzar’s special location in the Strait of Hormuz.

My latest Kumzari research has just been published in an exciting new volume on the many understudied languages spoken on the Arabian Peninsula. I am looking forward to sharing my book link with you soon.

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NYU Talk: Before Emotion

I was so grateful to be invited by Professor David Konstan, my Brown University dissertation adviser back in the day, to give a talk about my latest research on emotion in ancient Egypt for New York University’s Ranieri Colloquium on Ancient Studies in the Center for Ancient Studies. The colloquium, “Before Emotion II: Further Conversations in Pre-Modern Cultures,” provided a platform for a stimulating discussion on the discursive category of “emotion” across languages, cultures, and histories.

My dissertation, which was the first comprehensive study of emotion in ancient Egypt, apparently inaugurated a whole new field in Egyptology, as I found out when I was congratulated and celebrated at a conference in Europe for paving the way. To reunite with Professor Konstan for this NYU event was a dream come true, and it really made it feel like our intellectual collaboration had come full circle, as it was his research on emotion in ancient Greece and ancient Rome that made my research on emotion in ancient Egypt possible.

Sadly, this spring, much to our shock and dismay, our beloved colleague Prof. Konstan unexpectedly passed away — he had been planning to spend the summer teaching in Europe and continuing his grand global adventures. We were all devastated.

At the time, I was going through a medical emergency (with lifesaving surgery and a hospitalization to boot), so I still have not really had time to process his passing and our immense sadness at losing not just a brilliant colleague but also an outstanding human being (the very best of humanity!) — he was always so generous in helping young scholars around the world expand their knowledge and advance their research.

When I was teaching in China during the pandemic, I beamed Prof. Konstan into my classroom at Sichuan University to enlighten my students about emotion and understandings of mental health and illness in ancient Greece (as you’ll read in my new book on China). Similarly, last year, I invited him into my Parami University classroom to discuss Plato’s “The Theaetetus” with my Burmese students in civil war torn Myanmar. Prof. Konstan is and will continue to be greatly missed by us all — in his honor and memory, we will be publishing the research we presented on ancient emotion at the NYU colloquium in a collected volume.

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Remembering Alice, RIP

I am so sad that Dr. Alice Slotsky (my wise friend, stellar Akkadian professor at Brown University, and goddess mentor) is gone.

Her zest for life was unmatched, her fashion sense divine, & her Pollyanna positivity inspiring.

I loved her dearly, and I am so grateful for her support all these decades.

She really was a fairy godmother — can’t even believe she was real!

Even in her final days, Alice was still buying stylish new dresses — she kept up her positivity til the end & the way she lived her life, with such pizzazz & zest (as if every day was her last), was as much a lesson to us, her fan club, as her riveting Akkadian classes at Brown.

Alice was a phenomenal professor & scholar. Her Intro to Akkadian
class had over 100 students–the largest in the world. She taught more
students than any Assyriologist ever. Her love of teaching & pedagogy
of fun continue to inspire me in the classroom. She will be missed by
many.

We took the group photo (of my Akkadian classmates and me) with Alice at her annual Babylonian feast for hundreds which she cooked from ancient Babylonian recipes preserved on cuneiform tablets at Yale to
give us an authentic taste of Mesopotamian cuisine (her cooking segment on BBC is sadly off Youtube now).

In her office, she kept a Sports Illustrated clipping of an
interview with a former football student who took her Akkadian class.

“What was your favorite class at Brown?” the Sports Illustrated
writer asked him.  “Babylonian, hands down,” he replied.  LOL —
Brown didn’t offer Babylonian, only Akkadian.  Even though that
kid had no idea what course he took, it was his favorite because
of Alice…

Alice first saw Anubis when he was just a few weeks old (she used to smoke on the front stairs of our Egyptology Dept and always saw him coming and going) & she loved having him in our Akkadian class each week at Brown. It was so fun to fly with him & her thru the streets of Providence when we returned to USA after many years abroad to be at Yale. Now they’re both gone…

Whenever my mom would come to one of my graduations at Brown,
we’d take Alice out to dinner (yes that’s CAV in Providence
in the photo).  I treasured her academic brilliance & joie de vivre —
I learned so much from her on how to have fun & LIVE.

Whenever I’d fly back to USA from Beirut or Oman, Alice would insist
on throwing me a mad tea-party in her Providence loft–w. quotes from
Alice in Wonderland on the plates & walls. Her zany playfulness &
sweet generosity made me feel so seen & supported. Devastated she’s
gone…

When I came home to the US for a visit after living abroad in Beirut,
Alice threw me a party in her downtown Providence loft &
had me invite all my mentors & friends.  A meeting of many worlds —
she was such a generous & supportive friend.

After I returned to USA from years in Beirut & Oman to be a Yale Law School fellow, globe-trotting Anubis & I took the train to see Alice in RI — a very happy reunion for us all (see: Abu sleeping on her pillow and with us at lunch)! So glad we got to spend time together before I moved to China & COVID-19 changed life as we knew it.

Alice & I are birthday sisters & it was her birthday tradition to go to McDonald’s for takeout & get a Big Mac & fries lol — she was such a character. On our birthday last year, though, she said: “Abandoned McDonalds & am now a Wendy’s girl!” Will miss her on our bday this year…might have a Wendy’s burger in her honor.

Let this be a lesson to you: Alice, my exceptional Akkadian professor
at Brown, didn’t get her PhD from Yale until she was in her 50’s I believe.
After she retired from teaching at Brown, she went straight to get her
bartending license lol (she didn’t even drink!).

Oh, and Alice rode her VESPA to her bartending classes lol — she was
probably in her 70s at that time!

It’s never too late to go after your
dreams!

Her passing is a tremendous loss not just to Assyriology, her colleagues, and
students — but the world…a free spirit who empowered us to free
ourselves from self-preoccupied worry and have FUN!!! 

Be like Alice — follow your dreams, live every day like it might be your last, be generous and kind, and most importantly, make every moment ZANY & FUN!!!

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Rumi’s Birthday

This week, from Konya to Lahore and beyond, lovers of the poetry of 23th century mystic Rumi (b. 1207) celebrated Rumi’s 814th birthday on September 30th. It was delightful to see the ecstatic praises of his poetry and life on social media and among the hearts of devoted lovers of love all week long. To learn more about Rumi’s mysticism and art, you can purchase a copy of my book The Gift of Rumi, which illustrates how his ideas have been embodied and transmitted through the ages.

The Gift of Rumi is available for purchase at Macmillan, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, BAM, and other stores. The audio book is available on Spotify and at Barnes and Noble, Apple Books, Scribd, Chirp, Libro, and 40+ retail and library distribution partners.

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Standup in Hollywood

I had such a blast doing standup comedy with the stars in Hollywood for a fundraiser for the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library. I had to go on after comedy genius Cathy Ladman who has been a guest on The Tonight Show *ten* times — talk about a hard act to follow!

It was amazing to meet Kelly Carlin, and I’m so touched she liked my act — a dream come true! I’m very fond of her work too…

I owe all my Hollywood success to comedy legend Paul Provenza — whose dedication to humor (and being human!) is inspiring and life-affirming.

It was also awesome to meet The Drake from Seinfeld — Rick Overton! I was elated and encouraged by his generous words of affirmation and wise counsel! The whole night was a dream come true — I’m having a total blast being a professional standup comedian in Hollywood!

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The Gift of Rumi in India

The Gift of Rumi in India

How cool is this!?! My friend was in the Calcutta airport — and out of the corner of her eye, she spotted my book, The Gift of Rumi (St. Martin’s Press) in the bookstore! Small world — nice to see they have multiple copies on the shelf too! It’s heartwarming to see travelers in India having this opportunity to whirl with Rumi’s mystic poetry high into the heavens on their global journeys. Please encourage your local (and airport) bookstores to offer The Gift of Rumi too — spread the love far and wide!

It’s really been wild to see my book whirling around the world — from India to Australia and beyond! Here’s a gorgeous review of The Gift of Rumi in the Sydney Review of Books:

The Gift of Rumi is available for purchase at Macmillan, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, BAM, and other stores. The audio book is available on Spotify and at Barnes and Noble, Apple Books, Scribd, Chirp, Libro, and 40+ retail and library distribution partners.

The Gift of Rumi in India
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Life’s a Beach

Since it’s the end of the world, I’ve given up on wearing clothes and now am just living in my bathing suit paired with the wraps I bought in New Haven while a fellow at Yale Law School.

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Wanderlust

Such a treat to finally dig into the delicious delights at Wanderlust in Venice with friends — so tremendously good! This month they have Brown Butter Halva (among other goodies!).

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Save the Sea Lions

Abu and I were really sad to come across a dying sea lion on the beach. Many sea lions and dolphins have been dying the past few weeks from a toxic algae in the water. We wished there was more we could do to help — so sad to see them suffering so much.

We weren’t alone in feeling helpless — this woman waved down a lifeguard to ask for cones to be set around the sea lion so people (and dogs) wouldn’t disturb it while it suffered. Donations are needed to expand what care and services the marine specialists can provide these beautiful and suffering creatures.

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Balinese Blast

Since I’m a concert Javanese gamelan performer, it was such a delight to see UCLA’s Balinese gamelan perform along with UCLA’s Persian music ensembles. My friend who went with me was a Fulbright scholar with me in Indonesia, so the performance brought back fond memories of our time together living next to a volcano on Java and studying Indonesian language (and gamelan in Solo with the masters). These days, I don’t venture out much due to the pandemic, but I made an exception for this impressive Balinese gamelan performance (as gamelan has been such a big part of my life the past two decades)! Getting to see Balinese topeng (below) again too was such a treat — how lucky we are to have access to such life-giving performing arts here in Los Angeles.

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Cultural Diversity in Java

I was honored to be invited by Universitas Gadjah Mada in Java to speak with their students about cultural diversity and cultural heritage. I enjoyed listening to the related student presentations, and the event brought back fond memories of my time in Java on a Fulbright fellowship.

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Reflections from Burma

The reflections of several of my stellar students in Myanmar have been published in the Yale Southeast Asian Movement Spring 2023 Issue — put together by Yale’s Southeast Asian Movement and the Parami Social Issues Club. You can read their writing here. I was so blown away by their final plays that my dream is to have them staged here in America — stay tuned!

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A Door onto Sur

When I was teaching in the Sultanate of Oman, I stumbled upon this stunning handcrafted window frame from the port city of Sur and just knew I had to get it. It’s now whirled around the world to join me on the beach in California — and makes me smile every time I look in its direction…

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Beach Days

Beach days are here again — feels great to have the ocean temperature hitting 67 this week. Trying to spend every day in the ocean!

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