Incidents and Inspirations

Sunday, March 22, 2015

I've had a bit of downtime from working on events -- the last major one was the huge success of the Feminist Zine Fest (you should definitely check out the photos and interviews with our rock star zinesters that I put up). It's taken me a few weeks to recover from having worked on an event where we estimate that, conservatively, 350+ people showed up and there were 40+ tablers, two readings, and a workshop to wrangle. I'm going to miss the team this year while I'm out traveling! They're really the ones that made this whole thing possible.

Apart from being wiped out though, I have been going through old notebooks to look for the gems of my writing that I might want to craft into stories. I write a lot. A lot. Looking through my old files on my computer and the number of notebooks I go through in a year, hardly any of it actually gets processed into useable work, for the obvious excuses: I don't have time/energy/interest or this is hard/I'm not a good writer/someone's said this before/[insert predictable self-doubt]. But the exercise of going over things has brought to my attention that I actually, sometimes, like my writer voice. And that I actually have one, something that my teenage self couldn't really imagine.

It's brought up a lot of interesting memories as well. Like the time when I printed out nearly 170 pages of written material and presented it to my middle school English teacher for his review. The man asked me "what themes do you have?" When I couldn't answer him, he smiled, gently took the binder, and I never saw it again. But I was undeterred. That same year I had the audacity to send out big tan envelopes with the manuscript (unedited) to agents and editors, all of whom I'm sure thought I was quite cute to at 14 be sending a novel in for review.

I'm interested in getting some of that confidence back. The unintended consequences of having grown up and gone through a creative writing program at college means that I study my words carefully. I worry about things that don't really matter. Essentially, I stop myself before I start.

Lately I've been trying to force myself into genres that I don't particularly like because they seem 'more important' somehow. Sure, I'm an activist and do a lot of other great work for the world, but I realized that even if I got paid to write about those experiences, it would still come out closer to fiction. But sometimes it feels like there's a huge pressure to have my work be useful for society, as LuLing Osofsky says so well in this episode of The Rumpus' Make/Work podcast.

Other people do critique well. And it's fine to not be them. There is space for all of us out here.

Aside from FZF, it seems like this past month was the Month of the Interview for me -- check out the Barnard Center for Research on Women's podcast where I talk zines alongside my lovely zine co-conspirator Jenna Freedman. And also take a look at this video from the a fundraiser I participated in called Colors of Healing, a self-care bazaar where we sold our handmade things to send young queer/trans people of color to the INCITE conference this year.

Come to the NYC Feminist Zine Fest on March 7th!

Monday, March 2, 2015

It feels like it's been eons since last Monday. Last Monday, I was attending a birth and still adjusting my sleep schedule from being a creature of the night back to being a creature of the day. I was also running around trying to respond to a subpoena from the Bronx juror system (more innocuous than it sounds) and fix my broken phone all while doing my regular duties. But! It all got finished and we had a lovely event on Saturday that made up for all the madness.

Organizers of the NYC Feminist Zine Fest really want you to come join us - our creepy hands and all.

Last weekend we had a successful zine reading at Bluestockings with all the organizers of the Feminist Zine Fest, which is coming up this weekend (yes, I did somehow manage to get a draft of my zine down on paper and to keep up with the organizers' tasks!). You can find me, my new zines, and a crew of amazing tablers and organizers there; here are the deets in case you want to check it out:

Saturday March 7th from 12-6pm
Barnard College, 4th floor of Barnard Hall (main building when you walk in)
We have zine readings, workshops, a library tour, and (of course) our tablers! Check out further info at the FZF NYC website.

The Relieving Rejection

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Saturated image of South Asian woman's back, in bikini, as she jumps into oncoming ocean waves.

I wish sometimes that it were a coffee shop revelation – the camera pans away from me as I enter my favorite spot (probably a bookstore café, probably crowded but with a conveniently placed open table waiting for me), where I sit down and start leafing through a bunch of books or magazines. There’s a close up of me looking longingly at those other lives, mostly ones that I wouldn’t want to have but that still inspire some sort of wanderlust. Then there’s a cut scene, and when we come back I’ve run out of the café, dramatically calling my workplace to say “I quit!” right there on the street and booking the next flight to Dhaka.

My brain’s a little melodramatic.

Whether it turns into a television drama or not, I’m leaving NYC at the end of April. I’m taking the year off to move first to Seattle, then to visit Europe, and finally to spend the better half of this year in Bangladesh - where I’ve been trying to go back to for the past two years but haven’t yet succeeded!

My decision started as a little voice nagging at me, whispering “go.” I could not ignore it. But I also couldn’t make the decision myself. I had applied to several grants – ones that would help the move to Bangladesh, ones that would root me in NYC – and held my breath. I waited on emails for weeks and months, and one by one they trickled in. We really appreciated your application… We’re sorry we cannot offer… We look forward to your... Everyone’s gotten at least one of these in their life. For almost all of last year, as I went through waves of un- and underemployment, they made me question my worth and the quality of my work just as much as the cover letters that never seemed to elicit any reply.

I made it through last year, but it was an agonizing experience (stick around for when I tell you about Roachpocalypse). Even when I felt like I was fully committing to the work I wanted to be doing – training to be a doula, organizing zine events, working with domestic violence survivors – money was still a hovering issue. Or rather, the insecurity that I wasn’t “making it in NY” was the issue. If I wasn’t putting in all my time to either monetary work or meaningful work, then what was I doing? I didn’t let myself relax for a second; I made to-do list after to-do list. I loved New York and I resented it.

Then I received an email in January. Oddly, this was at the point when I was most stable – I was paying all my bills with a job at a clinic I enjoyed working at – but my plans were set. The form letter was familiar, but my reaction had changed. It relieved and released me in a way that felt necessary.

My life since quitting my job and working freelance again as I prepare for my trip has not been TV-worthy. Mostly its involved sending a lot of emails from my couch and attending fabulous but unexciting meetings. But there’s also an ever-present excitement underneath that I will really and truly be doing something different with this year. People (my sister especially) have been telling me not to make everything a goal, so I am resisting the urge to draw up an image of the person I want to be this time next year. I am, however, getting an excellent crash course in trusting in other people. More soon!

One of the first things I’m doing this year is crowdfunding to go on a somatics retreat called Oppression in the Soma – it uses a set of body-based healing practices to restore and make you aware of how you move through the world. If you have a few dollars to support, I’d be grateful if you visited my Razoo page. Sending lots of love and gratitude.

I've also gotten something new published over at The Rumpus! It's a short story called Traditional Healing, and you should check it out.

Human Contact

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Brown dog with ears up peering out of shadowed doorway.

The skin of my hands; the skin of her back; the beat in my chest; the long pause. Her breath, shuddering.

There are so many things I found impossible to put into words last year. I massage a woman’s back with a feather-light touch as she labors, her body straining with contractions. On the television, the news anchor describes “riots” in Ferguson. This was in the fall – after Mike Brown’s death, before the non-indictment announcement. My stomach twists into knots, but my anger and grief are not useful here. I look over at the woman, still hooked up to too many machines and switch off the monitor.

We breathe together, then separately. At the height of her contractions, it is like no one else in the world is there. I love the feeling of a woman’s hand crushing mine as the rush moves through her; that’s when I can feel her energy engulfing mine, like two soap bubbles merging.

When I am out at a protest, several months later, I go alone. I want contact, but the energy of the protesters has some other quality to it – a buzz rather than a hum. I feel like I am bearing this weight inside that cannot be shared in language, so I march. Onto the pavement of darkened streets and over barricades and finally onto the West Side Highway where they turn off some of the streetlamps as we continue to move uptown. When I finally peel off, I see from afar that the group is shrouded in darkness, occasionally lit with an eerie purple from the mixed red and blue of the cop cars’ lights.

I feel useless. I babble to myself when I get home, and I cut off all my sentences midstream. To listen to me is unintelligible – metaphor, image, plot, concept, but no character. No contact. The skin of her back; the skin of my palms. I think about the philosophical things. I think about what would be useful to say. I want to write something that would heal my incapacitation, the deep sense of hopelessness I feel while watching the news. The beat in my chest; the long pause.

The baby arrives in the early morning, when we are all just about ready to take a nap. My co-doula and her husband have arrived, and we all take shifts, sleeping on hard wooden chairs. It’s when a new doctor arrives that we are all jolted to attention. She’s funny, and actually looks the mother straight in the eye, rather than keeping her gaze trained between her legs. It seems like in no time at all she’s fully dilated and a head covered in hair is spilling out into the doctor’s arms. I let go of the mother’s leg and the doctor places the baby on her chest.

I have to rock back and forth on my feet to stay awake when we are moved out of the labor and delivery ward; our bubble of shared energy has burst and I have started to feel how heavy my own limbs are. When I arrive home, I collapse into a deep sleep and do not write about it for months.

Everything has a gestation period. I’m seeing it in the actions we’re taking against anti-black racism, and I’m seeing it in my writing. I tend to agree with Lynda Barry: I write not to escape this world but to be able to live in it. And damn, did I want to do some escaping. Then I think about that woman’s shuddering breath, the one that called us to action and I remember. This is about making contact.


Thursday, November 6, 2014

Bookshelf with notebooks and small clay elephant.

She made homes out of old boxes and bleached out pillowcases. She made homes out of too-heavy earrings that dragged down her ears. She made homes out of imperfect things. She made them out of whatever was convenient.

Even now, I wouldn’t even know what to do with a perfect apartment. In my last place, there was a point when I knew it was time to go: the moment when I woke up in the middle of the night to find yet another cockroach had made its way from my bedframe to my shoulder, I knew. I turned on a lamp and stared at the sheets till I could justify the incident as a blessing in disguise – the mom I was working with at the time texted me to tell me that she had just gone into labor. But when I returned the next day, I had no more excuses.

Though I’d been living in the city for four years of college, it felt like a brand new universe when I was on the lookout for places. I had to think about train line access and whether I’d get enough light. I had to make peace knowing that more than half my paychecks would be going towards having a place to sleep at night. And I had to contend with the fact that I will be a gentrifier in most of the neighborhoods I can afford.

Here and everywhere, she was a fixer of things. In a house with painted locks and cracked headboards, she polished the silverware until it gleamed.

“The safest space I have right now is… my home,” says my interview buddy on the As[I]Am podcast. They go on to describe the hard work they have done to make that happen, to spin their own cocoon. That resonates with me. I think about all the homes I’ve been blessed to set foot in this year. In a city where free event space is scarce, people use their apartments creatively. I’ve seen people host salons in their living rooms and workshops on their kitchen floors. Some of the most inspiring art is shared in the tiniest of venues.

When her brothers brought the war into their dining room, she knit her fingers behind her head and hummed a tune. Homeland, homeland...

I continue to think that the measure of a New York transplant is in her apartment stories. The ones I’ve been up close and personal with are the “escape from roommate hell” and the “pest-pocalypse,” with their ever-popular variations. But I've also seen people breathe life into inhospitable places. In a marriage of desperation and ingenuity, we learn to make the city love us. It's not always romantic, but at least it isn't lonely.

While they screamed and kicked each other under the table, she wiped down the tabletops and shut off the lights. In the dark, they fell silent, seething. They felt the walls to get around. She stomped her feet against the floor, just to know she could. It was a comfort, really, to know that it would hold, no matter how heavy.

(experimenting with blending fiction and non-fiction today in my piece about home and homemaking)

"Worried About Your ___?" (or, The Full Retreat)

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A snippet of Lynda Barry's inspiring book What It Is.
If you're curious what the best way is to announce your already-obvious absence, I would recommend writing a journal-style blog post. Here's my take on it.

Working two jobs came to a head for me this month; when my body was in one place, my attention and energy were moving away from it at high speeds. I didn't stop going until I hit desert.

Every book and instructor on creative expression has encouraged me towards discipline in my craft. I've had the discipline, but I still didn't have the right conditions. If I wrote during this month, I wrote single sentences or piled up the same words on different sheets of paper. If I drew, I drew jagged lines on the margins of sticky notes at work. I made my non-work life very small. I got back into watching television. The search for water was on.

Desert animals conserve energy during the heat of the day and spend their nights in great activity. I spent Sundays in front of the stove or the oven, writing in my head, focusing. When you haven't got a lot to work with, sometimes you have to play tricks on yourself to make it through.

At 1am on Friday of last week, when it was all over, I crawled into bed and shut off the lights. If there's one thing that desert animals are good at, it's surviving. But with the work that I do for my day jobs, It's hard to give myself permission to rest and recuperate. There's a huge guilt in not giving your all for other people, and a selfish desire to be wanted. Then on Saturday I re-opened Lynda Barry's book What It Is.

The book has a bit of a history with me - I bought it in pre-college more than 6 years ago as part of a creative writing class that also had me making my first zine (gasp!), and it's one of those staples that I can no longer go without. The book isn't instructional. It doesn't give you exercises for writing or drawing or dancing or singing. Instead, it just asks some very good questions.

When I got to the page photographed above - a comic book panel of an older Lynda Barry (presumably) reflecting on her worries - I knew I had to have it with me everywhere. If I worked at the same desk every day, I would have photocopied and posted it on the wall. Instead I took a picture of it with my cell phone camera and wrote a version of my own:

"Worried about your work?"
"Oh, there's my work, the magazine, healthcare in the U.S., things I did in past relationships, unanswered emails, lost contacts, what a jerk I am, the suitcases cluttering up my house -- and I can't stop worrying about stepping in dog mess."

It made me laugh! Listing out my worries made them seem funny, and manageable. I kept turning the pages of the book and finding new things to smile about. I felt like I'd struck oasis.

It's a process, we all know, to build and re-build your creativity - you try different things, you fail, you rattle around with your worries until you find another set of things to try. Me, I'm looking for stillness. As we move out of my birthday month and into National Novel Writing Month, I'm carefully cultivating my energy, and looking for moments to laugh at myself. Join me, why don't you?

The Day After

Friday, September 12, 2014

Photo credit: Heather Hoppe at Sideways Sunrise

I have a lot of questions about day(s) after. Most of that thinking is about the day after the revolution than the day after my holiday vacation, but both are equally valuable.

Today is the day after the anniversary of 9/11 and, in my experience, the day occurred without more than a blip. Even in NYC, there are large amounts of people that aren't being affected by the constant reminders to "never forget." And yet there are also folks that are acutely aware every year when the date comes up; their families have been directly affected by the loss and helplessness of the moment itself or they've been impacted by the very real hate and violence that happened in its aftermath.

Perhaps it's the healer in me, but the days after always make me think about wellness. What kind of world do we envision, for ourselves and our communities? This thought process has made me feel conflicted -- apart from the violence that comes from "never forgetting" a narrow messaging around 9/11 (read: Islam and anyone read as a "foreigner" is our enemy), there is a genuine helplessness lurking in our collective memory. That helplessness affects how our communities participate in their own healing.

The day after can be one of disaster or resilience. Often, it is both.

As a 5th grader in the Seattle area when the actual event occurred, I remember having a collapse in perspective; in my innocence, I thought that the Space Needle would go down next. But out of that youthful confusion, I grew in sharpness against the Islamophobia I'd seen around me. I gained a specific type of political education, and stubbornness. I never put my head down or took the advice to hide my Islam, and I was rewarded with being able to participate in some of the most amazing community building efforts and activism. In a confusing way, I owe something to that event 13 years ago -- it has sparked many many good questions.

How do we learn to trust again after the immediate crisis has passed? I have the privilege of being physically safe for the most part, and I am at a point in my life where I feel that I'm not just surviving. And yet, there is still this edge of survival mentality that creeps into my everyday life -- from the way I pack my bag in the morning to the way in which I approach responsibilities. I am always planning for the worst, and I am ready to leave at a moment's notice.

I want to live these days after with a renewed sense of vitality. I want to use these critical anniversaries not only to mourn the suffering we have faced, but to recommit to modeling wellness for myself and for my community members. The only way that we'll create a world that will hold us all with the same care/safety is to struggle towards wellness, to fight for it whether our bodies are on the line or whether we are modeling what health really looks like for people that have faced so much oppression.

I am still struggling with how to do this. My questions are still the same, though I have collected a few semi-satisfying answers. For me, the process of trust looks like letting go of some of my old coping mechanisms. I am curious to know what others need in order to feel more whole.

On the day after 9/11, I am getting up to go to work again and feeling tired, but blessed. I am learning as I go.