Meet Dina Al-Hidiq Zebib Author of Crossroads
By Norm Goldman of Bookpleasures.com
Published April 21, 2015
Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest Dina Al-Hidiq Zebib author of Crossroads. Dina works in the field of education and professional development. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in education, and a Master’s degree in clinical psychology.
Norm: Good day Dina and thanks for participating in our interview.
What purpose do you believe Crossroads serves and what matters to you about the story?
Dina: When I started writing Crossroads, I wanted to shed light upon the universal struggles of women who are trying to manage their different roles as mothers, wives, career persons and individuals. My purpose was to provide an experience of ‘universality’ that would serve as a growth-enhancing factor, to allow similarly struggling women to feel more connected. Through my personal and professional experiences, I learned how other women in the world face similar issues, even though decisions made at ‘Crossroads’ might vary from one woman to another. I am approached frequently by women who express their concerns about certain decisions that they make in their lives. No matter which country they are living in, women are taking up multiple roles, and determined to skilfully manage most of them.
However, this is not an easy feat; consequences could be detrimental and might include behavioral problems or psychological disorders in children, as well as marital problems that may lead to emotional devastation, divorce and broken families. These are issues that matter to me and that I feel we should seriously worry about.
The decisions that Sara made in Crossroads were her own and are entirely subjective; they do not aim to exemplify the “right” choices that a woman should make, but rather portray a route that I have seen being chosen or contemplated by many women. Other women may choose, or have chosen other fulfilling paths, and they may have different priorities that are more meaningful for them. I hope that Crossroads will speak to others and be thought-provoking enough to help women reflect on what makes them happy, while considering possible consequences and the price that might be paid with every decision made.
Norm: Is there much of you in the story?
Dina: Of course, there is a lot of ‘me’ in the story. I believe there should be much of any writer in an authentic work of fiction. My writing is inspired by a combination of personal and vicarious experiences that have been incorporated into my character, shaping my thoughts and ideas. I am a mother who is entirely dedicated to her children; a wife who is deeply in love with her husband; a woman who is attentive to her needs and fascinated by the world; an ambitious professional who is particularly focused on progress and human development.
Nuances of my story characters’ personalities and feelings as well as story settings and events are influenced by these experiences. Also, as I mentioned before, I am approached frequently by mothers who express their concerns about certain decisions that they have made and want to make in their lives. They ask me for advice, even though they are the only ones who are capable of making the right decision that is most suitable for them. These are all channels through which I access valuable experiential information about the human condition that I use in my writing.
“Norm: With the high divorce rate, do you believe couples don’t work hard enough of keeping their marriages together, if so, please elaborate?
Dina: When couples first meet and fall in love, they are seized by overpowering emotions, affection and sexual desires, that drive them to sanctify their bond through the social union of marriage. Before getting children, couples are still able to tend to each other’s needs, and spend plenty of uninterrupted time together in activities they both enjoy such as sports, partying or traveling. It is when the first child comes along that their relationship becomes tested. Parenthood is a challenging and full-time commitment that many couples are not ready for. It might be a misconceived notion that we learned from our parents’ and grandparents’ generation who handled parenthood differently. Where I come from in the Middle East, mothers were fully devoted to their parenting role, and fathers were the sole bread-winners of the family.
This family structure changed drastically while I was growing up. The generation of women that I am a part of was encouraged to pursue higher education beyond the bachelor’s degree, and was advised to be an active contributor to society through work and career. We did not look upon ourselves as full-time mothers anymore, but as diligent providers and meaningful specifics whose relevance extends beyond the home.
However, throughout history, women were solely responsible for making sure their husbands and children were well taken care of. So, what happened with my generation? We as women continued to be expected by society to carry out this nurturing role, in addition to our second role as empowered, self-actualizing individuals. We are facing a challenging dilemma. Our husbands also have conflicting expectations, because they grew up in the same generation as we did, and experienced the same transitions we did.
Do I believe couples don’t work hard enough to keep their marriages together? I certainly do! First and foremost, couples lack the knowledge and education necessary to sustain healthy relationships. They are discouraged when faced with marital difficulties that give rise to the conflicting emotions that they grew up with. The easy way out is usually divorce or separation. It takes a tremendous amount of effort to keep a relationship going. Communication is key to making a marriage work. Every partner has the right to express his needs, yet in the most respectful and considerate way. What happens is that couples tend to communicate their needs through anger and outbursts. This never works. The brain will refuse to listen to what the other is saying. Respect should never be lost, and hurtful outbursts will only create gashes that won’t be healed easily.
Firstly, couples need to wait until they are calm before they can communicate their needs. It is hard and quite a challenge, and needs to be practiced. If we do not (explicitly, calmly and respectfully) express our needs and thoughts, how can they be understood?
Secondly, if couples are clueless, hopeless or helpless, they should consult a therapist or marriage counselor. It really is worth the money and time. Thirdly, and very importantly, couples should recall their initial bonding moment, when they were consumed with love, passion and sexual desire. They should not let these sparks die down as they grow older and become preoccupied with life commitments. They must make an effort to spend uninterrupted time together to keep their flames alive, no matter how old they get.
Norm: What served as the primary inspiration for the book?
Dina: As I have written in the ‘Foreword’ of my book, I have always wondered about my role in life—my role as a woman, wife, mother, daughter and an individual—and what I wanted my role to be. Society is a powerful force in our lives in the Middle East; equally so is the condition of female empowerment and women’s rights. The common struggles of women that I was witnessing, as well as my own struggles in trying to find the right balance among all my roles, was the main inspiration that made me start writing Crossroads.
Norm: How has your environment/upbringing colored your writing?
Dina: I was brought up to be strong and brave, yet sensitive and introspective. I was always encouraged to learn about life through experiential learning and self-reflection. This strengthened my inner voice and developed in me an emotional and passionate self, which I wanted to be apparent in my writing.
Norm: What was the time-line between the time you decided to write your book and publication? What were the major events along the way?
Dina: I started writing my book five years ago. I already had my master’s degree in clinical psychology, was working as a counselor, and was managing a child care and professional development education center in Beirut. Since then, my family and I have relocated several times to other countries, and I had my second son during that time. My book was published in March 2015.
Norm: How did you develop the characters of Sara and Hani? Are they based on anyone you know?
Dina: As I mentioned before in this interview, nuances of my characters’ personalities and feelings are influenced by my personal and vicarious experiences, and my understanding of the human condition that I have learned through my studies, interactions with people, and my inner voice. So Sara and Hani are a mixture of many people I have met, heard about and felt with my heart.
Norm: Did you work from an outline?
Dina: I do not work from an outline in its strict sense. I start out with the message I want to convey to people. I then craft out a storyline that is vivid and expressive, with realistic characters and intriguing settings and descriptions.
Norm: In fiction as well as in non-fiction, writers very often take liberties with their material to tell a good story or make a point. But how much is too much?
Dina: Personally, I do not consider that writers, who take liberties with their material, could go overboard when telling a good story. Writers are quite sensitive, insightful and imaginative people, and each has a unique story-telling or information-giving style. Every writer has a certain audience—they do not have to aim to please all readers. I do not expect myself to enjoy all books or all genres, nor do I expect that my book would please all readers. Different books satisfy the diverse needs that exist. Since making sense out of the world we live in is the ultimate need that describes the universal human condition, people could find answers and arrive at conclusions that are catered to their personal desires and concerns through different books.
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and Crossroads?
Dina: I have a WEBSITE and BLOG, where I post thoughts related to myself and to Crossroads: Comments and participation are encouraged. Also, I have a Facebook fan page where I post updates about Crossroads and my writing activities and events.
Norm: What is next for Dina Al-Hidiq Zebib?
Dina: I am currently working on a new story that examines another kind of marital crisis.
Norm: As this interview draws to a close what one question would you have liked me to ask you? Please share your answer.
Dina: I have really enjoyed this interview, and I do not feel there is anything more you could have asked. Thank you for your time.
Interview by Susan Violante for Reader Views (05/15)
Susan: Welcome Dina, Thank you for being here today! Let’s start by telling us about yourself and your road to becoming a published author?
Dina: Thank you for having me, Susan. It is my pleasure to be here. Becoming a published author has always been my dream while I was growing up—a vision that I did not know how to fulfill. I majored in education and then earned my Master’s degree in clinical psychology. After I graduated, I developed an urge to reach out to others in my community and help educate them about best practices in education and child-rearing practices. This is how my career became focused on professional development training.
Along the way, I met my soul-mate; we got married and started a family. It was not an easy feat to maintain the career I love, support my family, and to fulfill my dream of becoming a published author. I constantly reminded myself of the words of the ancient philosopher Confucius, “It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop,” and this is how I went on my road to becoming a published author. Even though I went slowly, I did not give up on my dream.
When I was finally ready to write “Crossroads,” I wanted it to be a platform on which I could reach out to the world and explain how important it is to create balance in life if we want to pursue our dreams. Nothing in life is constant except for change—life is constantly changing, and we should be in constant motion with it. We need to have the motivation, willingness and drive to face life’s obstacles in order to adapt and adjust to this change. Storms will eventually calm and hardships will be overcome—we just have to believe that they will. I like to remember the words of the thirteenth century Persian poet and Sufi mystic, Jalaluddin Rumi: “Hardship may dishearten at first, but every hardship passes away. All despair is followed by hope; all darkness is followed by sunshine.”
Susan: What is “Crossroads” about?
Dina: “Crossroads” is a story about a woman and how she struggles as she tries to balance between her role as a wife, mother, individual and career person. It is meant to be a thought-provoking and introspective account of the familiar challenges that are associated with married life and starting a family. The story depicts some of the struggles of modern-day women, and how important it is to create balance in life, if we want to pursue our dreams. Sara did not give up; she sought help from a therapist and made use of the wealth of knowledge and experiences she had, using her insight and her “voice of the world”.
Susan: How much of Sara’s character was influenced by your personal journey?
Dina: I was raised to be ambitious, strong, brave and resilient, as well as sensitive and introspective. I was taught by my parents that I am in charge of my life and the choices I make. However, as with many of us, we face challenges and unexpected turns in destiny when we meet our life-partner, and plan to start a family. We might feel that we are losing balance and control of our life—which is the first and ultimate challenge. The need for a sense of control is one of the deepest human needs. When we start a family, we become responsible for a living, breathing institution—the family. It is quite a challenge for new couples and mothers, and it takes a lot of self-evaluation, careful monitoring and flexibility to make sure that they do not lose their sense of control. They need to remain on their path, which is directed towards their ultimate goal: to raise a happy, healthy family, and to be happy themselves. This reality is what I wanted to be portrayed in “Crossroads,” through the character of Sara, whose qualities are influenced by a combination of my own personal and vicarious experiences. Sara’s character is inspired by my own emotional and passionate self, as well as those of women I have encountered in my personal and professional life—women whose stories I have heard and who consulted me, as a professional development specialist, for advice. I assimilated all this valuable and experiential information about the human condition to create Sara’s character.
Susan: What was your biggest obstacle writing “Crossroads?”
Dina: Losing my balance and sense of control were my main obstacles while writing “Crossroads.” As a dedicated mother, a loving wife, and a committed professional, it was a huge challenge to complete my book. Confucius said “The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones,” and that was what I did. I lost my balance and my sense of control so many times, but I got up and tried again, keeping my goals in mind, adapting to life’s constant motion, and remaining positive and hopeful. It took me five years to finish writing “Crossroads,” but I eventually did.
Susan: What do you hope readers take away from “Crossroads?
Dina: The message I sent out through “Crossroads” was based on my personal journey as well as on the struggles I have heard about from women and mothers throughout my years of working in the field of education, counseling and professional development. The story I wrote reveals the issues that most women and couples face: coping with the stresses of daily life, adapting to new lifestyles and circumstances, trying to embrace individual differences in our partners, taking on the full responsibility of our children whom we decide to bring to the world, adhering to our duties towards ourselves and our partners and giving them our full support, the need to be loved and supported by our partners, and the essential need to follow our dreams and never give up.
A marriage is a blessed communion based on vows made to support through thick and thin. The culture in the Middle East continues to place the responsibility of the family balance and success on the woman, which is not fair in my opinion. She has needs too, wants to be supported by her partner, and yearns to actualize herself. “Crossroads” is an attempt to show readers that there is always hope for couples, if they are willing to take on the challenges, and use the insights of the love that brought them together in the first place. Isolation and the lack of communication could easily lead to couples breaking up.
Susan: You worked long and hard to become a published author, and you have accomplished this while having a full-time career, and being a wonderful wife and mother. What advice can you give to women about never letting go of your dreams?
Dina: I see and hear a lot from women that they are devoted partners and mothers—but where is the ‘she’ in the equation? Women must take care of themselves and listen to their needs if they expect to be happy and healthy individuals that are able to provide love and support. Giving up their dreams will result in them being bitter later in life. This is why we find some couples divorcing or separating, sometimes after a lifetime of being together. It is all about balance, setting reasonable expectations for yourself and your family, and listening to your heart. We must listen to our heart and our needs, communicate them to our partner, and listen to the needs of our partner and children. When your heart prescribes what you should do, listen to it. Do not try to do too much—you might just break.
I have been married for 14 years, and we have had our ups and downs. I strongly believe in the importance of dedication and commitment to the family. It is a choice we must make the moment we fall in love and decide to share our life with our life-partner, and then decide to have children. Children are not byproducts, but living breathing entities that need our love and attention, if we want them to grow up into healthy and productive members of society. However, this is where some women go wrong: either they forget their dreams for the sake of raising their family, or they choose their career at the expense of their family. The reason for this is that striking a balance is very challenging. I shared an article in my blog titled “How to go on when you can’t: A personal story of mine.” It talks about my journey to becoming published, how hard it was to remain on my dream path—to support my family, and to pursue my dreams. You may read the article here: http://www.dinaalhidiq.com/blog/
Susan: Your bio says you enjoy making a difference in the world. What do you feel has been your biggest contribution as of today?
Dina: I have always been a humanitarian at heart, seeking to help the world become more compassionate and peaceful. How do we do this? How can we reach out to the entire world, of millions of people? We can do this by starting with ourselves and changing the immediate surroundings we are in. If each one of us who can, tried to develop a group of people in our community, those people will impact those in their surroundings, and eventually we could reach out to the whole world. The secret is in how useful and productive we can be. I am quite an idealist, but a strong believer in that magic can happen when we believe in it.
I have been an active professional development trainer in the field of education for ten years. I train individuals, parents and teachers on some of the various themes and issues that appeared in “Crossroads.” Some of these topics include problem-solving, stress management, positive thinking, motivation and confidence building, in order to develop more cultivated and meaningful members of society, and children who are happy, successful and compassionate.
Susan: Dina, what do you like to do for fun and relaxation during your down time? That is, if you have any down time!
Dina: I barely have any down time during my regular working days, so I try to make the best use of my evenings, weekends and annual holidays. Evening times are special for me and my husband. We spend them together unwinding, sharing thoughts and catching up. I also like to spend my evenings playing classical music on my piano, going for a jog with my husband, or spending time with family and friends. Weekends are cherished times that I spend with my husband and two boys. We are in love with the sea, and we are fortunate to be living most of the year in a warm country, so we spend our weekends at the beach. Throughout the year during our summer, winter and spring breaks, my family and I travel together to different countries to learn about the cultures of the world.
Susan: Do you have plans for another book? If so, what can you tell us about it?
Dina: I have already started writing my second novel that will examine other forms of marital crises. I am still in the process of crafting the storyline and shaping the message that I plan to convey to my readers.
Susan: Before we wrap up, please tell us about your website and what additional information can be found there about “Crossroads” and other works.
Dina: My website www.dinaalhidiq.com includes a summary of “Crossroads,” an author bio, links to purchasing my book, the “Crossroads” book trailer, a blog page where I post articles and my own thoughts and reflections, as well as reviews about my book and author interviews. Readers are encouraged to post comments and share their thoughts on my blog page.
Susan: Dina, it has been a pleasure having you with us today. You are truly an inspiration and I look forward to seeing more work from you in the future.
Dina: Thank you for having me, Susan. It was a pleasure for me to be interviewed by you.