"I secure my head scarf and get out of the car. My driver, Latif, is with me; women don’t drive here. Months ago, when Latif met me at the airport, I told him I came to Kabul to teach English. His eyes brightened and his eyebrows lifted, 'Ah, my granddaughter wants to be a teacher,' he said."
—from "Orphanage in Kabul," Winter 2017 (Volume 58, Issue 4)
Tell us about the first piece you wrote.
I wrote my first piece when I was fifteen. It was about an eighty-five-year-old neighbor who would sit outside on her porch in the same wooden chair everyday and keep watch over all the neighborhood happenings. My high school English teacher, Susan Pascucci, encouraged me to write. I’m very grateful to her. She believed in me and that made a difference.
What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
I think any writer that touches you deeply or opens up a new world for you or sparks something deep within, stays with you on some level and informs your own writing. A handful of writers stand out for me: Mary Cantwell, Joan Didion, Alain de Botton, Julian Barnes, Willa Cather, Vivian Gornick.
What other professions have you worked in?
Campaign manager, communications director, community liaison, campaign consultant, book publicist, instructor, grant writer, non profit director, fundraising director.
What did you want to be when you were young?
I wanted to write and travel. Growing up, when a plane would fly overhead I’d look up and wonder where it was going and think, “I’d like to be on the plane.” Even now, I still sometimes think that.
What inspired you to write this piece?
The experience tugged at me until I wrote about it. When I returned from Kabul, I had to transform my grief and sadness and into some kind of grace and writing is how I do that; Writing, for me, is like a form of prayer; it’s an alchemical process of turning something broken into something beautiful.
Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
I’m drawn to wide open landscapes, the desert, big sky. I feel a sense of spaciousness there—a limitless, a sense of possibilities. I’ve traveled throughout the Middle East and Africa and am particularly inspired by the sprawling sand dunes of Oman; the soulful beat of children singing in Zambia; clanking teacups in Baghdad; the sunset over the Serengeti Plains in Tanzania; the vast Skeleton Coast of Namibia.
There is inspiration everywhere, though. In everyday life, in the smallest detail, in daily tasks like making the coffee, the sound of rain tapping on the windowpane, or the tiny seed of the tomato plant growing in my backyard. It’s just about paying attention.
Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?
I typically write the first draft with no background noise and then edit, rework, and revise with music. Some favorites are I listen to William Fitzsimmons, Deva Premal, David Gray, Hildegard von Bingen, Haux.
Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
I write longhand with pen and paper first. The physical act of writing by hand engages a tangible connection in your body between the hand, the heart, and the head—this creates a center of communion within yourself. The motion and rhythm and of moving the pen across the page spurs thought, meditation, and creativity. I find that it produces a more organic piece of work.
What are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on a piece about the street kids of Kabul. Approximately one in four children in Afghanistan work to help support their family. Author Khaled Hosseini says in The Kite Runner “there are many children in Afghanistan but no childhood.” In Kabul alone, there are 80,000 children who work on the street. Children as young as five spend their days selling trinkets, begging, collecting aluminum cans and trash that can be sold, spraying incense for tips, washing cars.
What are you reading right now?
I usually read a few books a month.I’m currently reading The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How they Communicate—Discoveries from a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben and Jane Billinghurst. This book has changed the way I look at trees. Trees talk to each other, they learn and remember, they nurture each other and have families—I’m constantly reminded of the interconnectedness of everything and in awe at the profound innate intelligence of nature.
I’m also reading Silence: The Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise by Thich Nhat Hanh. I just finished Joan Didion’s South and West and am starting Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.
ROBIN FASANO has written for Spirituality & Health, Ode, and Berkshire Living, among others. She worked in philanthropy and spearheaded cause-driven campaigns for more than fifteen years. She’s lived in ten states and traveled throughout the Middle East and Africa. Most recently, she worked and lived in Kabul.