Ramadan Day 30 – A Studio Visit with Sa’dia Rehman

Dearly Beloveds,

Oh no! and at last! our journey has come to an end.

I hope tomorrow to make a dent in my stash of emails and to eat my way through the day, all the while being grateful that I have food to eat (which I really am) and water to drink (hip hip hooray).

We’ve gone past Ramadan hump day and into the end.

I thought, in the interest of gratitude, for all that each of you has given me by reading along, I would give everybody a break from what La Paloma termed my “bittersweet” musings and instead take you toward the mind of one of my favorite artists, Sa’dia Rehman.

This past Friday, Sa’dia graciously invited me to a video tour of her works-in-progress.

If you go to Sa’dia’s website, you too can take a studio tour.

What’s textually contained below are some reflections inspired by Rehman’s art.

This final Ramadan 2021 post is dedicated to my beloved friend Debbie Kelly who passed away last year. She was supportive of this blog and my writing, and whatever the reason, she loved it most when I wrote about visual art. She’s reading this from Jannah, rest assured.

http://www.sadiarehman.com, image credit: amna akbar

The world is a frightening place right now.

Sa’dia and I met soon before she went to her MFA and soon after I had finished mine in creative writing.

It’s impossible to separate a star from a constellation once you’ve seen the big picture.

Everything afterward is a heavenly line between what came before and what comes next.

One night in Brooklyn, we stopped at Ginger’s and then stumbled down those glimmering streets and into a bodega.

“This works,” Sa’dia said, pointing to a New York Magazine in a stand. “I’m substituting images of my family onto the front page of the papers and then taking photos of the papers in bodegas across New York. Sometimes, I give it to the bodega owner to hold.”

What is newsworthy? she’s always asking. What is artworthy?

Her work ties together the intimacy of a family portrait within the larger geo-political context of being a Pakistani American Muslim. Within the even larger geo-political context of what it means to her to be a member of the Rehman household, its family line.

Family as safety and danger, both. Security and Confine. Love and What is never knowable cannot yet be loved.

One reading of Sa’dia’s work: we are all refugees from our family, desirous of that return to peace and to what once was, afraid that on the other side of liberation we will no longer know where, or who, we are. What brought us here is a letter we’ve been composing in our heads for a very long time. It does not look how we imagined it to be when it comes out.

These images are from the Center for Art and Social Engagement at The Columbus Museum of Art.

Justice in America exhibition detail:

From Doorway to Mihrab

When I see the doorways that Sa’dia’s created, I wonder about the choices of museums and other high art spaces to utilize their featureless white doorways. They seem so bare without the staccato dots, the layering of shapes that blend together to form texture. There is the understanding of alternate timelines. Not only before the doorway and after the doorway.

There are two doorways.

Enter one and you will get to a museum.

Enter the other, habibi, and you will get to Mecca.

She tiles, squiggles and layers her way into meaning.

She creates the structures that will guide your body.

We want not only to go, we want to go somewhere.

What is white and blank has become a stand-in for race and the upper crust/class, presupposing in its dominance that the blank space is also occupied by whiteness.

When Sa’dia draws upon the doorway, it recalls both the wild doodling of childhood, but also a cultural challenge. The door without the drawing takes us to the static and current world order. Her doorways are an act of resistance, portals to a dimension where countless Muslim families reside, and not just those families, but their bars and oppressors too.

Sa’dia invites us to a new land.

We can walk through the same unremarkable doorway everyday. Or, we have a choice, to ascribe every doorway with personal meaning, to make it adventurous and rich, to stop taking for granted that there is a place we want to go.

That place is beyond.

Muslim culture is deeply giving. Did you know about Zakat? It’s a requirement and one of the five pillars of Islam. 2.5% of your personal wealth must be given to the poor and those who have not. It’s an incredible tool for wealth transfer in the world.

I think it’s inspirational. Whether or not you are Muslim, I hope you have enjoyed this year’s writing. Chances are very high that you already give. So I thank you for that, and thank you for at least reading about some of the groups I’ll mention here on this last day of Ramadan.

This Ramadan, once again, my thoughts have centered around abolition. Abolition is part and parcel of what it means to say Black Lives Matter. I ask you to consider donating to organizations that support freedom. Abolition means the end of something.

What speaks to you? What would you like to see come to an end?

copyright Sa’dia Rehman from studio visit 5/7/2021

Superimposition

“I’m using tyvek paper for a lot of my work these days,” Sa’dia told me. “You’ve seen it around many construction sites. It protects the building from all sorts of things, like rain or dirt. As drawing paper, it’s really useful because it’s tough. You can’t punch through it.”

If you look closely at the pictures front and center, you’ll see Sa’dia playing around with juxtaposition.

This confluence of images, especially with the police or military on one piece, and the idea of a huddled mass on another piece, harkens to our current forces of opposition.

Light turns to shadow with a curve.

When Sa’dia stencils the figures, she also places them on top of each other as well as next to each other.

The conversation here is ominous. I too wonder about the cycle of violence, how organizing in a group is frowned upon these days for the purpose of liberty, and yet much of this country sees the image of armed police or troops, and contextualizes it as order.

The borders give way to movement.

A strugggle between the state and the people.

The closeness of the motifs on the right are a message that we must discern a pattern.

We are at war.

We are confused about the facts.

We are at war.

To restore ourselves to stars would require more movement, rearrangement, yet we can see that the etchings are not that far apart, how resistance is the natural outcropping of oppression.

copyright Sa’dia Rehman from studio visit 5/7/2021

DESIRE LINES

I was so struck by this work-in-progress that I asked Sa’dia to send over a photograph.

Yes, she’s re-introducing color back into her work. She’s planning some very cool aqua, chevron drawings in between the red lines.

Yes, those are drones.

“Did you know those red lines are called desire lines? Usually, they’re found on a map to indicate where you would like to go, the route you would like to take.”

Again, that sense of motion, but Sa’dia’s work invokes our dread of the military and also the longing of our hearts.

What could a drone desire?

Drones are unpiloted aircraft. No human pilot is on board.

Sa’dia’s art reminds us of the gravity of the situation. We depersonalize violence with guns, the ease of the trigger. We depersonalize life with drones. The United States military buys many of its drones from Israel.

Israel is soaking in Palestinian blood. It’s the largest exporter of drones in the world.

Perhaps Rehman is reminding us that there is a human operator behind the facade of the drone. It is a human’s desire for power, for greed that charts the course.

Drones are not, as advertised, unmanned.

The opposite is true.

While many of us grew up, rightfully fearing and loathing anti-semitic hatred, we cannot give in to trauma-informed justifications for harm in Palestine. Having your loved ones killed must not justify displacement of people of color. It does not justify killing civilians.

Look closely, sometimes the drones are in focus, and sometimes they soften at the edges.

The speed at which death travels is slow sometimes.

Quick at others.

Sa’dia and I discussed much more of her art than I could place in this blog.

I very much wanted to end on a light-hearted note, but that’s not possible for me at this moment.

The best and worst of blogging is that you really can only write into the moment.

Thank you to Sa’dia for sharing art that is deeply personal and conjuncted so inextricably with current events.

Sa’dia’s art speaks to the terrors of the day and to the trajectories that will arrive if action is not taken. The immediacy of her work pushed my words.

So, I’ll end on this personal request that if you’ve enjoyed my blog, please continue to financially support the organizations that matter to you. Even if the pandemic is ending. Even if Ramadan is ending.

Give sustainably: more important than financial relief, is the call that many groups have made that you not give simply out of charity or a savior complex.

Please look, as Jonathan Livingston Seagull said, with your understanding.

Please set your intention toward awareness, even if it’s daunting, even if it’s overwhelming.

Breathe it in. A little at a time.

True solidarity can begin with a phone call to an official, to a friend, to a family member, to a community member. It can begin by reading a humble sentence.

Please do take a closer look at what’s happening right now in Palestine. That’s as important as a chunk of change. We want people to give steadily, over a lifetime, if possible.

One voice I trust is my friend’s, Professor Noura Erakat. I’m grateful that Noura was a fellow organizer during law school. We were there at a time where even minimal support for Palestinians was labeled anti-semitic. We’ve come a long way due to the hard work of activists such as Noura. I’m grateful for the strength of her voice and her guidance in solidarity with people of color. Here’s a CNN clip with Noura from Tuesday about the situation in Palestine. Here’s a piece Erakat co-authored with Mariam Barghouti about the situation regarding Sheikh Jarrah in the Washington Post.

“The largest prison in the world: Gaza” – Hasaan Zeenni in khutbah for Islamic Center of Southern California

My beloved friend Brass sent along this link to donate to Palestine’s Children Relief Fund. They also sent along a directive to donate to Afghanistan, a poverty-stricken country that just donated $1 Million USD to relief efforts in Palestine. Here’s a link for Muslim Relief efforts in Afghanistan, where 50 children were killed, mostly teenage girls by a school bomb.

Natural disasters are abounding. Here’s one way to contribute to efforts to help out where conflict and extreme weather are destroying the lives of the Yemeni people. UNHCR and Yemen Hope and Relief. To be clear, our politics matter here. Saudi Arabia bombings of Yemen which is responsible for countless deaths was (and is) receiving support from the United States, and while the political situation is unclear, be very aware of companies like Lockheed-Martin where I have family friends who work — and the truth about the continued use of their weaponry to take lives. Here’s one piece.

Please consider donating to groups trying to address the spread and impact of COVID-19 in India such as this awesome GoFundMe for COVID relief directed to trans and hijra people. Here’s an organization providing important support to Muslim communities in India impacted by COVID. Hayath Relief.

Please don’t stop there! Vaccine apartheid is real, and Americans can tell their representatives to lift restrictions on COVID vaccines, vaccine ingredients, and patents to send urgent aid to India now. Here’s an article from Equality labs about the issue.

from Equality Labs: “To Help India Now We Must Act to End Vaccine Apartheid”

ABOLITION NOW!

Let’s all keep engaging and thinking about the possibility of prison abolition. Here’s my most recent post on the subject, Ramadan Day 24 Abolition Art Project.

If you’re more inclined to donate domestically than abroad, there’s plenty here to do.

Again, I urge you to read and to think before acting.

Giving sustainably is about a commitment to giving, more so than one-off’s spurred by emotions.

First, grassroots groups that organize are usually my go-to. Find one in your area that speaks to you. As Angela Davis pointed out, abolition is about more than ending prisons — it’s about healthcare, housing, education. Fund these things. Continuing to strive in those spaces for equity is abolition. Or, please consider your local abolitionists. Critical Resistance does abolition work in the Bay Area, for instance.

Locally, Asian elders are being attacked and killed in Oakland, Chinatown. Donate to a group like Asian Pacific Environmental Network, a group that not only has mutual aid that supports our immigrant communities but builds toward environmental justice to help Asians. Please don’t call for more law enforcement. Shame on anyone who does that in our name!

Second, I do affirm: Black Mama’s Bailout, celebrating the recent Mother’s day? It’s not too late to donate — there are plenty of folks behind bars still momming all year long. #FreeBlackMothers

Third, I also appreciate: Believers Bail Out that frees Muslims from incarceration. My very own Doctor was sent to prison for being Muslim and not giving up other people to the government. I have never met a more generous soul, a more kind one. I know he kept his faith, and as their webpage says:

“And do you realize what is the steep road? It is the freeing of a human being from bondage
(The Holy Qur’an 90:12-13)

Fourthly, I invite you to join friend and beloved activist, Gabriel Arkles by reading about the connection between QT Muzzies and Abolition in Truthout: “For Eid, let’s celebrate the Queer and Trans Muslims working toward abolition.”

As Firza puts it, “Studying prison abolition during Ramadan feels like one of the most Muslim things I’ve ever done during Ramadan.”

“The story of the tracings of all the people before us and after them,” 2018 Performance, using charcoal, ink, water, erasure and graphite on wall, Nars Foundation, copyright Sa’dia Rehman

There is a distinction between earthly matters and spiritual matters in Islam.

Often, the two are opposed.

I leave you with this thought:

You are not leaving, or returning, at this time.

You are being.


Some favorite excerpts from Kazim Ali’s Fasting for Ramadan

And finishing writing–knowing you are at the end

of such a project–is like crossing a border as well,

seeking asylum. You come into the country with-

out any of your belongings, quite unaware of the

customs or language of the new place in which you

find yourself.

(Eighteenth Day)

In this empty month I find myself strangely turning.

From an external life, you would think, to an inter-

nal one, but really in both directions at once.

(Twenty-Third Day)

A month of fasting means you see day after day

through an entire heavnly cycle short enough for

one to experience this as a single “moment” but long

enough to feel it sink in.

And rigorous enough a practice that fasting literally

changes your body’s physical makeup.

You give some matter back to creation as energy.

Twenty-Eighth Day

All of these, the war, the end of time, the incredible

rage of history, the planet itself unraveling–we are

not ment in these times to merely live; to do so

would be as close as anything could be to sin.

Eden is over, if ever Eden was real.

I fast as the very beginning of an awareness of the

disappearing and dissolving world.

Thirtieth Day

EID MUBARAK!!!

If you’re looking for a great virtual Eid prayer — try this one: with FITNA, Feminist Islamic Troublemakers of North America!

Ramadan Day 29 – You Lost that Ramadan’ Feelin’ Now it’s gone, gone, gone, whoa

my dad loved the righteous brothers, so this post’s for you dad.

Friends,

If you have felt that this Ramadan just kinda sucked for you, that it was filled with more odds and ends, than it held any respite, spiritual connection, the good things that life is made of. . .

Join. The. Club.

What a ride. In a 2021 survey of anywhere between 10-15 adult Muslims of various fasting practices, aged 21-75, and some altogether non-observant Muslims, the response to “How’s your Ramadan been?” or “How’s the fasting going?” the overall response has been:

“It’s shit.”

Now, let’s examine the reasons.

Let’s start with my personal stuff. As many of you know I was taking the last 3 days off to travel to Sonoma County and meet the parentals of La Paloma. Excited readers and many friends have requested an update on that situation (with whom I solely communicate through cryptic comments such as “I’ll let you know after Eid” or, more commonly, “Read my blog”).

First off, I’m queer.

Meeting the parentals when you are queer, and in a relatively gender-queer appearing body, of a beloved who has not brought home anybody, much less a woman, is kind of a big deal.

In addition to all the usual anxieties, there’s the added burden of dealing with potential homophobia, heterosexism, or ignorance, not to mention assumptions and word choices that might burn your ears for days.

Maybe it’s because I faced such intense rejection after I came out, and for so many years, and nearly two decades ago — when such rejection was still in its early stages of exploration by even the most privileged among us, the white gay men — I have always lived by a simple understanding of what it means to be HELLA GAY.

Life is about constantly having to come out.

You’d think I’d be prepared.

I’ve wrapped my cloak of banana leaves and bitterness around my pudding body.

I’m shielded by the public invisibility of being a child of immigrants.

I know how to make love, not peace. I prepped for people who think that a hippie is simply a misunderstanding about body hair.

And yet, the most significant part of my weekend can be summed up in some phrases:

GOOD FOOD.

DOG HAIR.

Domingo

GOOD FOOD

But let me start with a word about food. La Paloma’s parents were the picture of, I hate to say it, normalcy.

It was idyllic to the max.

We went with La Paloma’s sister (P.S.) to an outdoor craft fair in Sebastopol.

We ate almost every meal together around a wooden table. All 6 of us. La Paloma and I are both from 3 sibling families where we’re the oldest. That’s where the similarity ends. All her siblings seem to really like each other, and even when they’re annoyed, they’re not nasty about it. (We are.)

We had dinner the first night late, after La Paloma and I showed up 5 hours later than we originally planned because I had an unexpected trip to the doctor delayed by a certain package gone missing from UPS for 4+ hours. (Did I mention how crappy my week was? It was that bad — that was only a small example.)

When we arrived close to 8:30pm her mother was still cooking! They were all laughing and drinking wine and watching tv and chatting. We sat down to dinner together.

I mean we had like a cornish hen the first night for each of us. WHO DOES THAT? La Paloma’s mother knows her wine – she’s a winemaker, so you can believe it was good wine — even though I don’t drink.

We had breakfast pastries on Sunday and dim sum for lunch.

Our chatter felt like rainbow sparkles and our laughter sounded like drops of golden dew.

Her father engaged me in conversation every chance he had. We talked about the bread co-op he works for.

I felt completely welcome. I loved chatting with him! Her mother was saucy and delightful, holding a glass of wine while passing on the family lore and tea, inviting me to be a part of their “mother’s day zoom.”

I couldn’t help thinking about my dad, who died before 60 after having his hearing and taste buds fried off for 10 years due to cancer treatment.

I couldn’t help thinking about how hard it is for me and my mom to talk about anything except work and what’s going on with Ernie’s kids. I can never know if it’s a cultural barrier because we grew up in different countries, or a personality thing.

La Paloma’s parents are people of color, but both are 3rd or 4th generation.

I mean, it was as ALIEN an experience as I could’ve imagined.

More evidence:

La Paloma and I made Lychee Martinis for the parents, La Paloma, and her sister.

That is NOT something that happens or would ever happen in my household.

Her brother works at a Pie Shop and brought back the BEST Strawberry Cream pie I have ever had. Okay, scratch that. It was maybe the best pie I ever had. I’m not kidding.

I’m from what we call (our term for ourselves, you don’t call me this) a “fat family” — meaning we all eat our feelings.

This family had portion control. WHAT?!?! I mean La Paloma’s youngest brother who was already quite thin and tall — even he didn’t go for seconds. I had to have La Paloma surreptitiously scrape me off a piece of her hen carcass, because I was self-conscious of overeating.

Sure, La Paloma’s family was centered around meals, but not necessarily in the same way centered around the act of feeding — more like centered around quality time.

My family hasn’t had a meal together for 2 years, since before the pandemic. I won’t lie, a part of me longed for a sweet reunion with my brother, one where he actually took responsibility and accountability for the harm he has caused.

I won’t lie that I started to wonder if things would’ve been different if my father had a.) ever made peace while alive with my sexuality or gender and b.) if he was still alive.

It was unnerving.

Their happiness got to me.

DOG HAIR

There were two dogs there. 1.) a hyper (slightly fearsome) pit bull/shepherd mix named Domingo who is the size of a mini-pony belonging to P.S. (La Paloma’s sister) and 2.) a sensitive, gentle collie/herding dog named Junie.

They were everything you could want in a pupper. Sweet and kind, attentive. Eager to take a branch and play fetch (Junie) or shatter the branch into a few pieces (Domingo).

At one point during a walk, things got so intense with Domingo that he took a giant shit in the middle of the road. This was after we walked by a house where there was a dog in the yard. Domingo is heavier and bigger than PS. He was lunging and growling so uncontrollably, and she was so freaked out about it, that she ended up jumping on him and tackling him into the bushes.

Later, we passed a horse, and she had to take a side path to keep Domingo calm.

After, she cut the walk short.

I’m fairly allergic to most furry animals, but as a rule, I really love them and I am very good with them. I taught my friend B’Andrea’s dog how to fetch, even though she was a bit incorrigible. I’ve never owned a dog, but I naturally understand that they respect my place in the pack. We’re clear that there’s a heirarchy, and I’m on top. I read that in a dog book when I was in grade school, so naturally, I pride myself as an authority on all dog things.

Domingo presented a new situation, the one that distresses me the most. Which is that the relationship between Domingo and PS is a bit muddled in terms of pack heirarchy. As La Ramadog Whisperer, a new friend and writer who I met through the Unicorns explained, “dogs are looking for their owners to be in charge, and to make a situation safe for them. If the owner is agitated, no matter the reason — even if it’s the owner’s fear that the dog will be out of control, the dog won’t understand why. The dog thinks they need to step up and to protect. And a dog stepping up to do what is right is almost always a bad idea in a human world.”

Dang.

[Enter Scene: La Ramadog Whisperer, a talented writer and generous soul.]

She’s also a fellow Muslim who will be featured with yours truly in the upcoming New Moons Anthology (forthcoming Fall 2021) anthologized by none other than Kazim Ali, the author of everybody’s Ramadan pleasure read: Fasting for Ramadan.

La Ramadog Whisperer had mentioned months ago that she had special skills with dominant/aggressive dogs. She’s rescued dogs and owns Akitas, and she’s self-taught. I remembered that, so I actually put in a phone call on Sunday. And, despite being very busy, when she heard that I needed help — she arranged for a video training session with P.S. and Domingo the very next day on Monday.

She was gentle with P.S., ever so compassionate about the hurt and shame a dog owner feels when they aren’t in control of their dog. La Ramadog Whisperer wanted to begin with a conversation about the psychology of dogs as pack animals. She differentiated between dominant dogs and dogs that aren’t trying to take charge of a situation.

“Dogs aren’t like people. They want security, stability, and order. They need to know the pack order is secure. Anytime they feel like that order is being disrupted, or there’s a threat to that order, a dominant dog no longer trusts your leadership. It tries to step up and take charge which is different than a more submissive dog.”

“I disagree with many trainers who focus on the dog. It’s important to focus on the human.”

Watching her “train the trainer” was an invaluable moment for me.

La Ramadog Whisperer talked about cues – about how a dog needs to listen to its owner all the time, that a dog is always keyed into an owner’s stress. “Your dog should always be paying attention to you.” She video’ed in her beautiful Akita who is usually a very aggressive dog, and who apparently tried to bite her when she first found him. He sat like a sweet baby for her, and looked to her during every moment for validation.”

That if you stop a walk because you are afraid the dog will react to another dog, you will give the dog the message that there’s something worth paying attention to… something “potentially dangerous.”

A good thing to do in that situation is to continue the walk, and act as if nothing has happened. If the dog starts to react, say “Leave it” and keep walking.

How many times could any of us have used this advice, for situations that aren’t worth raising our hackles?

“Leave it, Leave it,” Allah says.

Domingo

ALLERGIES

I was hopped up on the allergy meds. I managed to get through the weekend without an asthma attack, but I had to sequester myself much of the time in a room and monitor my breathing.

I breathed slowly in.

I breathed slowly out.

I forced my breath into individuated beats.

Each one meant I’d be okay.

It wasn’t until I came home to Oakland that I realized I’d been holding my breath for 3 days.

I had an inner monologue the whole time, censoring myself, worrying that La Paloma’s parents would find out about my age (we have a big age difference), worrying that La Paloma’s parents would find out that I’m trying to have a baby (I mean, if I’m being honest, I wish I did have to worry or “have to” hide that I’m actually pregnant, Inshallah to the max).

I was worried that they wouldn’t accept me.

I was worried that if they discovered the “real me” that they would reject me.

Does that sound familiar?

It’s because if any of you have been in the closet before, then you know what it’s like to return there.

It’s a place I lived for so long that sometimes I forget that I am a different person. Growed up. I can choose now.

I can choose what I share and what I don’t share.

If I don’t share something, it doesn’t have to be because I am ashamed.

Or because I am shamed.

It’s MY information. That belongs to me. When I disclose it belongs to me. How close I allow people belongs to me.

The pace of knowing belongs to me.

I can live with my interactions.

Belonging to oneself is a beautiful thing.

I can live with the Ramadog Whisperer’s words: Leave it.

Every house has its unloved corner.

Breathe air into the whole house.

Breathe it everywhere.

Junie

So if your Ramadan is shit, think of the good things, if you are able.

It’s all catching up to us now. The fact that I broke social distance, without masks, because everybody in La Paloma’s house had a vaccination. This wasn’t possible last Ramadan.

Even the thought that we might not be in the pandemic was dangerous.

I asked her mom if it was okay to hug her. Because I was still scared of killing her.

I remember not that long ago when I thought being queer was going to kill me.

I remember when I wanted to hurt myself because I couldn’t live with the pain of loss.

Even the thought that someday I might actually be okay, just okay, was dangerous.

I try not to fantasize too much about the things I desperately want. The Doctor used to tell me all the time to fantasize about it. I’ve learned it’s better to be a stoic, and to put my head down, and try only to address the things i can control.

I guess what I’m saying is this:

We’ve all been out of control for so long. We always were, but then the little things that we thought were in our control were stripped. Going to the grocery store, holding our loved ones, having a conversation, taking a walk.

We’re all feeling sensitive and angry.

Last Ramadan was a respite — a calm in the face of Hurricane Pandemic.

This Ramadan we’re in the grip of a storm. Not the same one we faced before, but one of confusion and urgency and everything but calm.

We don’t know if it’s okay to hope. We don’t know if the bad things are coming for us again.

We don’t know how to live outside of our bubbles and our closets, and we are certain that the storm has changed the world outside.

We don’t know if the ways we made ourselves small serve us anymore.

We are afraid to trust because it hurts. Because we lost our dear friends, our partners, our family members, our health, or even our freedoms we took for granted — we are grieving.

Even the good changes, like a world that cares more for all lives, for Black lives, for giving and for fighting poverty — even those are a change to the world we once knew.

This Ramadan we don’t know whether what awaits us is a menacing creature looming closer and closer or

if it’s Allah whispering, “Leave it, Leave it.”

“You’re safe.”

Shades sent me this poem by Mary Oliver “In Blackwater Woods.”

My friends are your friends this Ramadan. And I am fortunate in the friends I have. Thanks to all of you.

Look, the trees

are turning

their own bodies

into pillars

of light,

are giving off the rich

fragrance of cinnamon

and fulfillment,

the long tapers

of cattails

are bursting and floating away over

the blue shoulders

of the ponds,

and every pond,

no matter what its

name is, is

nameless now.

Every year

everything

I have ever learned

in my lifetime

leads back to this: the fires

and the black river of loss

whose other side

is salvation,

whose meaning

none of us will ever know.

To live in this world

you must be able

to do three things:

to love what is mortal;

to hold it

against your bones knowing

your own life depends on it;

and, when the time comes to let it go,

to let it go.

Ramadan Day 24 – Abolition Art Project

[READER’S GUIDE — SKIP TO THE REMIX and click on the “Sound Recording Here” Hyperlinks and play those for a more visceral blog experience.]

Well, well, well, if it isn’t 8 minutes to midnight and lil’ ole me is signed up to facilitate a queer Muslim Abolition reading group this weekend.

What a gift! Because MadCosmos has curated a kabillion juicy readings together on the subject!

I’ve decided to share with you a few tender morsels from a few delicious thinkers.

Now, I want to encourage strongly that if you are interested in any of these readings, that you consider purchasing the books I discuss here.

If you would like to share an insight or thought after perusing one of these pieces, I invite you to write me your perspective.

(And if you’re a queer Muslim, and you would like to attend the reading group, I invite you to write me and let me know a little bit about yourself and your interests so I can invite you to either this reading group or its next iteration.)


The Black Trans Prayer Book by J Mase III & Lady Dane Figueroa Edidi

You can hit up this website to buy a copy of the Black Trans Prayer Book by J Mase III and Lady Dane Figueroa Edidi

  1. [Sound transcription here]

A quick primer on Yusuf:

Yusuf could predict the future with their dreams. They could see things as they would be in the future, including themselves. Everyday, black trans folks are manifesting ourselves beyond what others have ordained for us. In Koran, it is said, “Yusuf had half of all the beauty of the world.” Is that not a trans experience? It seems everywhere we go as black trans folks, people are focused on our features, the way we move the way we sound. We are captivating to so many who cannot be hold our power without wilting.

Asked by their father Ya’qūb, what kind of gift, they’d like to receive they picked a ketonet passim, which only appears in one other place in the Bible and can be interpreted as a royal dress for a Princess. So in this way we see how use of may be interpreted as a trans character by their appearance, by their choice of gift, and the absolute violence that happened to them when their brother saw them in this effeminate garb. When their brothers saw them in this garment. Yusuf and the garment were attacked. Their brothers, tore it up, covered it in blood and sold Yusuf into slavery.” (J Mase III and Dane Figueroa Edidi)


Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Y. Davis

You can hit up this website to buy a copy of Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Y. Davis.

2. [Sound transcription here]

“If jails and prisons are to be abolished, then what will replace them? This is the puzzling question that often interrupts further consideration of the prospects for abolition. Why should it be so difficult to imagine alternatives to our current system of incarceration? There are a number of reasons why we tend to balk at the idea that it may be possible to eventually create an entirely different–and perhaps more egalitarian–system of justice.” (Angela Y. Davis)


“Philly Stands Up!” By Esteban Lance Kelly and Jenna Peters-Golden with Qui Alexander, Bench Ansfield, Beth Blum, and Dexter Rose of Philly Stands Up! Collective

You can hit up this website to buy a copy of the Beyond Survival, eds. by Ejeris Dixon and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha which includes “Philly Stands Up!” by Esteban Lance Kelly and Jenna Peters-Golden with Qui Alexander, Bench Ansfield, Beth Blum, and Dexter Rose of Philly Stands Up! Collective

3. [Sound transcription here]

“The alchemy of our accountability work is a serendipitous mixture part art part science, to be sure the skill and complexity involved in working on accountability processes is difficult to finesse. Nevertheless, we affirmed that average people, regular folks in communities all across North America can develop and exercise their own processes for making justice, and sexual assault situations possible for their communities. In doing so, our communities can meet more success by any measure, than the state ever has in addressing the chaos of issues, stirred up by incidents of sexualized violence.” (Esteban Lance Kelly and Jenna Peters-Golden et al.)


“Justice” by Mariame Kaba, published in The Feminist Utopia Project

You can hit up this website to buy a copy of the The Feminist Utopia Project which includes “Justice” by Mariame Kaba.

4. [Sound transcription here]

“I live in small place (SP). If someone asked me to describe the sights, sounds and smells of home, I’d say that SP is very green. I mean, you can smell the green and the salt water and you can hear the wind rustling through the trees. We’re family in SP. No, we aren’t all related, but we trust and love each other. While arguments and conflicts happen, we always resolve them. My parents are SPS chief peace-holders. If you’re wondering how one becomes a chief peace-holder. It’s simple really. Anyone over 20 years old is eligible. Every five years, a representative group of SP residents gather to consider candidates. Peace-holders are not special, or better than anyone else in SP. The only requirements are a desire to serve, and a commitment to embody and hold true to our community values. Those values are revisited, reviewed, and sometimes revised annually. Peace-holders’ primary responsibilities are to make sure that all of our conflicts are swiftly and peacefully addressed.” (Mariame Kaba)


BEGIN ABOLITION REMIX


  1. [Sound transcription here] (J Mase III and Dane Figueroa Edidi)

2. [Sound transcription here] (Angela Y. Davis)

3. [Sound transcription here] (Esteban Lance Kelly and Jenna Peters-Golden et al.)

4. [Sound transcription here] (Mariame Kaba)

5. [Sound transcription here] (J Mase III and Dane Figueroa Edidi)

6. [Sound transcription here] (Angela Y. Davis)

7. [Sound transcription here] (Esteban Lance Kelly and Jenna Peters-Golden et al.)

8. [Sound transcription here] (Mariame Kaba)

9. [Sound transcription here] (J Mase III and Dane Figueroa Edidi)

10. [Sound transcription here] (Angela Y. Davis)

11. [Sound transcription here] (Esteban Lance Kelly and Jenna Peters-Golden et al.)

12. [Sound transcription here] (Mariame Kaba)

13. [Sound transcription here] (J Mase III and Dane Figueroa Edidi)

14. [Sound transcription here] (Angela Y. Davis)

15. [Sound transcription here] (Esteban Lance Kelly and Jenna Peters-Golden et al.)

16. [Sound transcription here] (Mariame Kaba)

17. [Sound transcription here] (J Mase III and Dane Figueroa Edidi)

18. [Sound transcription here] (Angela Y. Davis)

19. [Sound transcription here] (Esteban Lance Kelly and Jenna Peters-Golden et al.)

20. [Sound transcription here] (Mariame Kaba)

21. [Sound transcription here] (Mariame Kaba)


BEGIN ABOLITION REMIX + TEXT


  1. [Sound transcription here]

A quick primer on Yusuf:

Yusuf could predict the future with their dreams. They could see things as they would be in the future, including themselves. Everyday, black trans folks are manifesting ourselves beyond what others have ordained for us. In Koran, it is said, “Yusuf had half of all the beauty of the world.” Is that not a trans experience? It seems everywhere we go as black trans folks, people are focused on our features, the way we move the way we sound. We are captivating to so many who cannot be hold our power without wilting.

Asked by their father Ya’qūb, what kind of gift, they’d like to receive they picked a ketonet passim, which only appears in one other place in the Bible and can be interpreted as a royal dress for a Princess. So in this way we see how use of may be interpreted as a trans character by their appearance, by their choice of gift, and the absolute violence that happened to them when their brother saw them in this effeminate garb. When their brothers saw them in this garment. Yusuf and the garment were attacked. Their brothers, tore it up, covered it in blood and sold Yusuf into slavery.” (J Mase III and Dane Figueroa Edidi)

2. [Sound transcription here]

“If jails and prisons are to be abolished, then what will replace them? This is the puzzling question that often interrupts further consideration of the prospects for abolition. Why should it be so difficult to imagine alternatives to our current system of incarceration? There are a number of reasons why we tend to balk at the idea that it may be possible to eventually create an entirely different–and perhaps more egalitarian–system of justice.” (Angela Y. Davis)

3. [Sound transcription here]

“The alchemy of our accountability work is a serendipitous mixture part art part science, to be sure the skill and complexity involved in working on accountability processes is difficult to finesse. Nevertheless, we affirmed that average people, regular folks in communities all across North America can develop and exercise their own processes for making justice, and sexual assault situations possible for their communities. In doing so, our communities can meet more success by any measure, than the state ever has in addressing the chaos of issues, stirred up by incidents of sexualized violence.” (Esteban Lance Kelly and Jenna Peters-Golden et al.)

4. [Sound transcription here]

“I live in small place (SP). If someone asked me to describe the sights, sounds and smells of home, I’d say that SP is very green. I mean, you can smell the green and the salt water and you can hear the wind rustling through the trees. We’re family in SP. No, we aren’t all related, but we trust and love each other. While arguments and conflicts happen, we always resolve them. My parents are SPS chief peace-holders. If you’re wondering how one becomes a chief peace-holder. It’s simple really. Anyone over 20 years old is eligible. Every five years, a representative group of SP residents gather to consider candidates. Peace-holders are not special, or better than anyone else in SP. The only requirements are a desire to serve, and a commitment to embody and hold true to our community values. Those values are revisited, reviewed, and sometimes revised annually. Peace-holders’ primary responsibilities are to make sure that all of our conflicts are swiftly and peacefully addressed.” (Mariame Kaba)

5. [Sound transcription here]

“When Yusuf is eventually freed from incarceration, because their gift is seen as useful to the Pharaoh, their interpretation of the monarch’s dream to be a famine on the horizon, leads Yusuf to be put in charge of a grain program. When the famine comes, the success of the brain program means many must come to Yusuf for food, even Yusuf’s family. Yusuf is so transformed in their power. however, their family doesn’t even recognize them.” (J Mase III and Dane Figueroa Edidi)

6. [Sound transcription here]

“It is true that if we focus myopically on the existing system–and perhaps this is the problem that leads to the assumption that imprisonment is the only alternative to death–it is very hard to imagine a structurally similar system capable of handling such a vast population of law breakers. If, however, we shift our attention from the prison perceived as an isolated institution to the set of relationships that comprise the prison industrial complex, it may be easier to think about alternatives. In other words, a more complicated framework may yield more options than if we simply attempt to discover a single substitute for the prison system. The first step, then, would be to let go of the desire to discover one single alternative system of punishment that would occupy the same footprint as the prison system.” (Angela Y. Davis)

7. [Sound transcription here]

“What we now know, we learned through trial and quite a bit of air, some of the mistakes and missteps we’ve made throughout the years enabled, and in some cases, exacerbated pain towards survivors and communities. We take responsibility for these mistakes. Very few of us in the history of Philly Stands Up (PSU) came to the group with any prior formal experience working on sexual assault issues, let alone working with people who have caused harm. We are average people figuring out how to do thorny work, and our achievements stem from being committed to our values and purpose. We believe that people who have caused harm can change and that we all can play a crucial role in catalyzing that shift.” (Esteban Lance Kelly and Jenna Peters-Golden et al.)

8. [Sound transcription here]

“I mentioned that we’re family in SP. We are a close knit community, but we often get visitors from other places. Last month, for example, a woman visited SP. She is a distant relative of our neighbors. She came from somewhere called Earth, which is very far indeed. There’s nothing memorable about the Earth visitor (EV). Her hair is long and brown. She’s pale like she doesn’t spend a lot of time in the sun. The only thing that stood out is that she walked around SP carrying a knife in her purse. She said that it was in case she “ran into trouble.” She added that on Earth, “women could never be too careful.” I didn’t understand what she meant. What kind of trouble, would you need a knife for? And why would you be in more danger if you identified as a woman? If anything happened, she could just call a circle, and together, we’d address the issue.” (Mariame Kaba)

9. [Sound transcription here]

“Whenever I have heard this story told by a clergy member, it has typically been a story of forgiveness, “After Yusuf is sold into slavery, they use their gift to become a leader of lands, and ultimately forgive their family.” Forgiveness is not what the story is about; it is about the relationship between Yusuf and their family, and the tests they put their family through to decide if they were in fact worthy of forgiveness, and the grain. It is an accountability story. This is a story in which a trans person actually gets accountability.” (J Mase III and Dane Figueroa Edidi)

10. [Sound transcription here]

“An abolitionist approach that seeks to answer questions such as these would require us to imagine a constellation of alternative strategies and institutions, with the ultimate aim of removing the prison, from the social and ideological landscapes of our society. In other words, we would not be looking for prison-like substitutes for the prison, such as house arrest safeguarded by electronic surveillance bracelets. Rather, positing decarceration as our overarching strategy, we would try to envision a continuum of alternatives to imprisonment–demilitarization of schools, revitalization of education, at all levels, a health system that provides free physical and mental care to all, and a justice system based on reparation and reconciliation rather than retribution and vengeance.” (Angela Y. Davis)

11. [Sound transcription here]

“When we say that we work to hold people who have perpetrated sexual assault accountable for the harm they have done, this means that we strive for them to do the following:

  • Recognize the harm they have done, even if it wasn’t intentional.
  • Acknowledge that harm’s impact on individuals and the community.
  • Make appropriate restitution to the individual and community.
  • Develop solid skills for transforming attitudes and behavior to prevent further harm and make contributions toward liberation.

We can conceptualize roughly five phases to an accountability process: the Beginning, Designing the Structure, Life Process, Tools We Use, and Closing a Process.” (Esteban Lance Kelly and Jenna Peters-Golden et al.)

12. [Sound transcription here]

“One day after school, I went for a swim. I got naked and dived in the ocean. I was floating with my eyes closed while thinking about my friend Noliwe, which brought a smile to my face. Noliwe is my most favorite person in SP next to my parents and siblings. I was jolted out of my daydream, when I heard someone approach. I opened my eyes and saw that Evie was staring at me. She had a knife in her hand.

I was 16 when I died.

I was killed by a visitor from a place called Earth who couldn’t believe that there were no prisons in SP.” (Mariame Kaba)

13. [Sound transcription here]

“In Koran, Adam is told every single name for all the animals on the earth before any other creature. In the Bible. Adam is given the opportunity to name all of the animals in both stories by the end. Adam is clear there is no companion for him, amongst all these creatures. What is not clearly written is whether or not Creator knew that before Adam knew. In that place for me, there is a space to imagine that as we learn new things about ourselves and our needs, so does our Creator. Many of us are used to playing small in spiritual spaces, because we have been taught that maybe we didn’t know the rules, or asking for what we needed was seen as disruptive, or the very folks charged to take care of our spirits were merely lining their pockets without a care in the world for our actual well being. It took me many years to know, understand and internalize, that I, in all myself as a Black Trans, Multi-Faith Christian, Muslim, being deserve a spiritual practice that cares less about religious rules to hold onto power, and more about my liberation.” (J Mase III and Dane Figueroa Edidi)

14. [Sound transcription here]

“The creation of new institutions that lay claim to the space now occupied by the prison can eventually start to crowd out the prison, so that it would inhabit increasingly smaller areas of our social and psychic landscape. Schools can therefore be seen as the most powerful alternative to jails and prisons. Unless the current structures of violence are eliminated from schools in impoverished communities of color–including the presence of armed security guards, and police–and unless schools become places that encouraged the joy of learning these schools will remain the major conduit to prisons. The alternative would be to transform schools into vehicles for decarceration.” (Angela Y. Davis)

15. [Sound transcription here]

“Phase 3. Life Structure.

When needed, we emphasize fostering balance and creating structure in the person’s life. If they are unstable, then it becomes difficult for them to be present in the work we are doing together. In such situations, it is crucial for us to take account of the broader challenges in their lives. The more grounded they are, the better their chances of falling, following through on their accountability process.

Toward that end, we create space for them to have a personal check-in at the beginning of each meeting

. . . At times, we have actively passed along job prospects, accompany people in looking for viable housing and giving people rides to therapy appointments. This humbling and more fundamentally “human” work has helped us to see what it truly means to acknowledge that we are all in community together, that a politics of trust, depends on everyday support and interdependence, and that nobody rests outside of these principles in a just society.” (Esteban Lance Kelly and Jenna Peters-Golden et al.)

16. [Sound transcription here]

“For days, members of SP told stories about my life through tears, anger and laughter. There was, however, no talk of punishment or vengeance. Neither would bring me back.

After weeks of centering my family members and friends, and of showering them with love, support, and food. The SP community turned its attention to my killer. EV was included in all of the previous circles. And so she had experienced the community’s outpouring of grief and loss. She heard stories about my life. She knew the extent of the pain felt by my community. After she killed me, she turned herself in to my parents. Her first words to them were: “Where will you put me?” They responded in unison: “In circle.”” (Mariame Kaba)

17. [Sound transcription here]

“A true Black Trans Liberation theology is one in which Black Trans people are seen as deserving of accountability. A true Black Trans liberation theology is one where we are affirmed for our gifts, and not merely someone’s feel good story. A true Black Trans Liberation Theology, gives us space, to be honest about our trauma, our reality, our needs and our rights.” (J Mase III and Dane Figueroa Edidi)

18. [Sound transcription here]

“Thus, if we are willing to take seriously the consequences of a racist and class biased justice system, we will reach the conclusion that enormous numbers of people are in prison simply because they are, for example, black, Chicano, Vietnamese, Native American, or poor, regardless of their ethnic background. They are sent to prison, not so much because of the crimes they may have indeed committed, but largely because their communities have been criminalized. Thus, programs for decriminalization will not only have to address specific activities that have been criminalized, such as drug use, and sex work, but also criminalized populations and communities.” (Angela Y. Davis)

19. [Sound transcription here]

“Often, we would hesitate to wind down and accountability process unless we are sure that whomever we are working with has developed responsible and sustainable systems of support in their life. We look for clues that they have not just one or two, but plenty of decent friends, with whom they can speak honestly. This can include housemates, or family members they trust for support ehen challenges come up, particularly with issues related to this work.

We also work to ensure that they are familiar with the resources available to them around the city. Usually, “ending” a process looks more like phasing it out. Over time we go from meeting each week to twice a month to once a month, until finally we are only meeting to check-in periodically. After an accountability process, the people with whom we have worked know that we are here for them whenever they need us.” (Esteban Lance Kelly and Jenna Peters-Golden et al.)

20. [Sound transcription here]

“When circles have been exhausted. The killer is taken to the ocean, tied up, and dropped into the water. This empathy ceremony takes place in front of the entire community. The immediate family members of the victim are given the option of saving the life of the killer or letting them drown. If the family saves the person’s life, they are then required to take the place of the person killed within the community. They are expected to pay a debt for the life taken for however long the harmed parties deem necessary but they do so within the community, living as integrated members.” (Mariame Kaba)

21. [Sound transcription here]

“I saw my father motion to my mother. He nodded his head. Evie was rescued from the ocean. When we hold each other in our humanity, what other outcome could there be? Vengeance is not justice.

I was 16 when I died. And my name was Adila, which means “justice.”” (Mariame Kaba)


END REMIX


Dear Friend,

Here’s a little prompt to start us off from a June 1, 2020 BIPOC Writing Party.

Psst. Faith Adiele did the layout.

Regards,

Me

Ramadan Day 23 – Go Toward the Queer Light

Shams, The Don, and I had a tradition of getting together at least once a year for Iftar, at Sizzler’s on Vermont Avenue in LA. Been like this for about a decade.

This year, The Don said he went postmates and got some Sizzlers. “Did you know you can get Sizzlers up until midnight? That’s what made me try it again. I ordered some steak and some shrimp. It was so, so salty. It took me three days to finish that salty shrimp. How did I ever eat food like that?”

“You ate it because you weren’t 40 yet!”

We talked about The Don getting his ears pierced and how his mother completely lost it and started attacking him.

“I’m tired. I’m tired of being treated this way and always being made out to be the bad guy. I’m not a bad guy,” The Don said. “I feel like my mom is trying to hurt the spiritual path I’m on. I need to take some space, and I feel guilty about it, but I also don’t want her to keep hurting me. I feel like she’s trying to hurt me. Spending this Ramadan without my family feels really lonely.”

Shams listened with kindness and commiserated about how hurt The Don must be feeling.

It’s really hard to take space from your family, especially during Ramadan, but also when you’re queer it’s necessary — to protect yourself, because over time, the constant negativity your parents express over your being gay will break you.

“She’s worried what people, what the community will think, so she tries to control me,” The Don added.

Our parents are traumatized by us doing anything that doesn’t fit into a role, we all agreed.

“But think of this way, it’s like something we can’t even imagine. Whatever our parents had to go through when they were our age, or even younger, they, especially the women, had to give up their freedom, the jobs they wanted to work, even their happiness, to raise kids, or whatever it is that society expected. Society wins all the time. So when we tell them we’re gay, it’s not that they don’t love us. It’s that they are having a trauma response. It’s reflexive. That’s why I can’t tell myself that they don’t love me.”

“I’m so angry right now,” the Don said. “I need to not talk to them.”

“I agree, don’t talk to them, set boundaries, do whatever will preserve you. But I don’t want you to think they don’t love you. I just want you to know they don’t know any better. They’re in the grip of something that challenges their DNA.”

“It’s like something so fundamental, like maybe there won’t be any pronouns. No, something even more unexpected.”

“It’ll be like if the next generation was like we don’t work. That’s our identity. I think I’d freak out and be like what you don’t ever want to work.”

“Yeah the no-work generation.”

“I’d be down for ending capitalism.”

“No, like if people still worked, but just not your kids as part of a movement.”

“I’m trying to live that life now.”

“Okay, you get my point. For me, work and being a hard-worker is part of my DNA. I don’t want my kids not to know what it means to work hard, but yeah, if it were part of a larger movement where like everyone from lots of different classes didn’t work as part of their identity, okay in that case maybe, but it would still be hard for me to accept the no-work generation.”

“I see you predicting the future.”

“Yeah, you heard it here first – the work-less, generation.”

“What about you Shams?” The Don asked. “We’ve talked about me way too long.”

Shams was married to a white man, and for the last few months she’s been dating La Preciosa, her first relationship with a woman!

There’s generally a lot of delighted squealing from me and the Don about this latest romantic development.

“I’ve been having a lot of anxiety about talking to my parents. It’s like this question of conditional love. It’s hard thinking that maybe what I say might mean they stop loving me. I get really anxious when I spend time being so happy with La Preciosa, and then I start to think oh am I lying to them? Should I tell them? I also know it will be really bad if I tell them.”

The Don said, “You don’t want that with family, you want love to always be there, especially from family. It’s especially sad when the violence is from a family member. Like what happened with my mom. You expect to be loved by your family.”

“I know, I know, you were both telling me to enjoy what I have.”

“We’re just saying to protect yourself and your love. Who knows how much stronger you’ll be in a year? Plus, your parents are probably pretty upset about the divorce.”

“I know, my mom has all these expectations about what kind of mom I should be. She totally lost it about me traveling alone for my birthday this year. She would have been fine if it was me with my husband. She started to say hiking was dangerous.”

“That’s passive-aggressive!”

“She even told me that other aunties were asking about my divorce which was her way of asking me why it happened.”

“It happened because you weren’t happy. That’s all that matters.”

“This is the most Sufi thing I’m probably ever gonna say, but even this terrible anxiety where you are suffering and waiting for change with your parents possibly, one way or another, that is a moment of being alive. It’s a testament of the risks we take when we’re being queer. You’re constantly debating whether to risk that love with your family, or your peace, maybe. It’s also a sign of how deeply connected and loved you are in this moment.”

“All love is conditional.”

“There’s still room for your parents to surprise you, although I wouldn’t count on it.”

“I’m sorry Shams. We don’t want to get you down.”

“I agree with the Don. Protect your love. Set an intention to tell them in a year, and you can check-in then, or whenever arbitrarily. But in that time, prepare yourself, know that you need to build support and tools and think intentionally through what will happen. I think we know enough to know we can expect a very bad reaction, at least at first, so we can use the time before we tell them to build.

If stress is high, then support needs to be high too. You’re not lying to them. You’re preparing for the effects of the truth.”

Parents are so tough.

Being queer is tough for many of us, especially those with immigrant parents, parents of color, parents who had to sacrifice their happiness, to scrape through.

“My mom firmly believes being a woman or mother is about being a martyr. If I’m like hey I’m so tired today, she’s like why are you complaining. That’s what you signed up for. You’re supposed to be stressed. You’re supposed to be exhausted. That’s the job.”

There’s a place between gay and tragedy — we have to find our way to that place.

We build that family with our friends, and we hope for the impossible.

“Shams, do you think there’s any chance that your parents will blame me because I was that gay friend?”

“Pretty sure they won’t. I’ll just throw my ex under the bus.”

“Wait! No, I mean don’t! That’s when you’re in outside company. Here on the inside, he shouldn’t get the credit. I want it to be one of us. Or, maybe we can just say that we’re all headed toward the light.”

“Yeah, and we all keep going, and one day we finally go toward that big queer light.”

“Look, it’s not going to be easy, I know that. Thank you for reminding me to be happy with La Preciosa.”

“And if it gets hard, call either of us. Anytime.”

The pain I felt when my father who was dying of cancer welcomed my sister and her boyfriend, later husband at the banquet table. He was laughing and chatting, happier than I’d ever seen him.

The pain I felt when my brother who is also gay attacked me two years ago, forwarding the violence that he always feared from my father and from other men.

The pain I felt when my mother said unspeakable things to me about myself.

The joy I feel now loving my father, after his passing, choosing to believe that while life robbed him, I let myself believe that if he had lived he would’ve accepted me, and that where he is now, he does accept me, know me, and love me.

The compassion I feel toward myself and my brother for the hurt and sadness over our separation and the suffering of my entire family in the wake of it.

The embarrassment and disbelief and joy I felt to be opening my blog comments,

twenty years later,

to receive this note from my mother.

Tonight has been devastatingly hard on my body and my fertility process, and as a result, I spent most of the night feeling incredible anxiety.

I’m trying to have faith, but not gonna lie, feeling like despite the fast that things are falling apart (again).

If you have the space, I know how hard times are, I would certainly appreciate a prayer.

Ramadan 22 – Extrasterrestrial

May 4, 2021

Feast your eyes on the opening

this alien landscape

the wave of wood and glint

the salt starred and crown it.

Have you ever had one of those days where you dissociated from your body?

Where you worked really hard and you had multiple conversations, and the whole time you were floating above,

above.

I went to the acupuncturist and guess what she told me, she said girl you better have fun no matter what you do, but she’s a fool. Nothing compares to my stress.

Really, that’s what she told me. I protested: “I’m not stressed”

“Compared to yourself you are not stressed, but compared to other people you are stressed. You are used to it, you cannot feel it.”

Of course, this led me to go home and feel very stressed.

I could say she’s wrong, but it’s not that she’s wrong. Mainly, she’s not wrong because she also continues to accurately pinpoint whenever I’ve had food that’s “too spicy.” Even when I’ve forgotten that I’ve had spicy food the night before, she’s like, “Your indigestion is slow! Yore eating is too spicy. It’s in your pulse!”

Have I ever mentioned that practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine tend to practice exactly that? In traditional Chinese medicine, bedside manner is all about telling you how it is.

After arriving home, I barely was able to slather a date with peanut butter and ghee before it was 8:03pm. Fast break. Except what I had next was spicy Pakistani leftovers which really is a heartburn situation. I had no yogurt except some vanilla bean.

Yeah, you know it. I sure did.

Then, feeling like crap from the food binge, I jumped on to a late night writing meetup with two of my favorite people PoetryNotLuxury and LionWrites. All of us have backgrounds working with community groups and in organizing, and yet all of us were exhausted. This was our sacred creative time.

You know what we did? Yep, if you’re a woman of color or non-binary person of color, you guessed it, we spent a good hour and a half having to discuss toxic whiteness. We discussed action steps. We discussed whether even discussing it was harmful to us. We laid out agenda points, agenda points for a future conversation.

Do you know why we had to do this?

Because, yo, this is the labor that conscious, creatives of color have to engage in — why we form BIPOC only spaces, why even when we’re getting together to do something that seems, especially to the white gaze, “raceless” that we still do the work of talking and working through racial power and white supremacy.

That is why I am forever grateful to VONA, Kundiman, Cave Canem, CantoMundo, Kweli, Asian American Writers Workshop, Kimbilio, SAWCC, Radius, Mizna, Hyphen, and so many more. . . because they do the work of gathering writers of color and then dealing with the pushback so that writers of color don’t have to do the work of organizing.

Don’t get me wrong, the phrase “this is why we can’t have nice things” probably originated from how poc can supremely dump on each other. How we often, consciously or unconsciously, take it out on each other when white people, or white supremacy most accurately, is stressing us out!

Because as the writer Mary Jacqueline Alexander said, the question when writing characters is “who has to consider race and who can afford not to consider their race, or the race of others?” This, in and of itself, is a character trait in your books.

Writer and beloved mentor and MacArthur fellow John Keene years ago advised me (loose paraphrase about to happen): “White characters have a race and are racialized, even if the character never talks about or acknowledges their race, even if their race is made invisible. It shouldn’t be only POC characters who are raced. White writers write about race all the time, but we don’t recognize it. If a POC writer writes a great book, people will often say ‘what a great book about race,’ while a white writer can write a book that is completely about the experience of being white in this country and people will simply call it a great book.”

John Keene is one of my major literary influences. He fleshed out questions that I needed to ask.

The truth about writing and MFA programs and workshops is that people, especially writers, like to pretend it’s a space without power dynamics and racial heirarchy Instead, it’s like any other group of people — there is no vacuum of reality created by people steeped in reality, only the fantastical fiction of that vacuum.

For those who like to argue that “race” doesn’t need to be a part of a creative’s understanding of their art, I’d invite you to consider two other topics: ignorance and mass hysteria.

That’s like being able to play 50 notes on an 88 key piano.

Ok, maybe it’s 30 notes. Idk.

LionWrites and PoetryNotLuxury and I were like a support group throughout the night, “I’m _______, and I don’t have the bandwidth to deal with white people because ________________.”

When a White person tries to join a poc group, that is not cool. That’s what started the mess the three of us are in.

By the way, if you know me from various BIPOC communities, please don’t think I’m talking about our group or another group — I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of a BIPOC group where a crap ton of my energy is not expended on somehow dealing with either white folks or white-passing folks who don’t want to acknowledge their privilege or who don’t check themselves about taking up space. white-possibility folks.

(I don’t know what category that last one is. I just made it up. Maybe you can help me flesh it out?)

BIPOC stands for Black, Indigenous, People of Color.

Oh wait, that’s the thing. My acupuncturist said I was stressed out, and she’s not wrong. Sometimes, I feel like I’m gonna cry if I have to deal with one more moment of labor that has nothing to do with my book. Other times, I feel so thrilled and happy that I’ve contributed to my communities.

I’m honest with myself — it’s all for myself, the labor and the creativity.

Having racialized labor in front of me, wellllll, that’s just the planet we were born into.

Feast your eyes on this landscape

the pink frondlings alighting

Enjoy the prickly pear and its nettles

the rocky planet and the ladybug upon it.

At this past Monday’s BIPOC Writing Party, host Faria Ali printed out this great poem as part of her prompt.

Feast your eyes on this landscape

Ramadan Day 21 – A Mirror

by Ayesha Mattu

I’m so lucky to have such a soul as Ayesha Mattu in my Umma. She is a divine thinker, a person who wrestles with the word of God and contemplates the everyday with both celebration and solemnity.

After I wrote Ramadan Day 19 – Turn Around Frida, Ayesha sent me these practice sheets for what I can only assume is a larger project. In addition to being a writer and a public figure, she is also a talented visual artist.

Always one to provoke thought, Ayesha sent me a verse on which she’s been reflecting.

by Ayesha Mattu

Ayesha and I have called each other mirrors.

The best of our friends reflect ourselves back to us.

Isn’t it funny how sometimes, especially when things are terrible, we can be scared to speak to the people closest to us?

It’s as if the words, how are you? would undo our containers.

If I were to look into their eyes and see one tear, would I feel my sadness all over again?

Can we pick the mirror in which we appear?


Normally when a horse gets the scent of a lion,

it keeps a distance. But there are exceptions.

Every now and then a horse comes

that will gallop into the blazing moat.

Do not hold back what you know to say

about our inmost self. Say everything,

no matter how much hypocrisy and hesitation

you sense is here. Don’t guard the mystery.

Heat this horse so hot it rises off the track

into the emptiness of the soul.

Jelaluddin Balkhi – AKA Rumi – trans. by Coleman Barks


I glance at my bathroom mirror every day, once in the morning and once at night. I’m so used to the person staring back, that I don’t pay much attention anymore. Sure, I notice if the hair is sticking out, or if I’ve got a spot, or sometimes I stare while I’m flossing to make sure it’s all good.

The inside mirror is more interesting to me.

Friends don’t make us great by association, but more often than not, the advice or wisdom of a friend can make a difference in big life choices. If your friends never chastise you, if they never offer a different perspective, if they never challenge your behavior or choices, if they never hold your hurt and your pain, if they refuse to speak to you after disagreement, if they don’t know how to love you, if they don’t care to get to know you — they are not your friends. They may become your friends.

They are also not the right mirrors.

That’s right, you don’t want to pick one that’s cracked.

“Friend break-up’s are the worst!”

That is a phrase I’ve heard from many a friend. I’ve had my share of dust-up’s. Been the instigator and the recipient.

Some friends drift apart. That’s okay. Often, these friends can come together again.

No, it’s the fissure I’m describing — when there’s some rupture or deeper hurt, and it goes unaddressed, intentionally or not. Sometimes ignorance is the reason why nobody talks about a thing.

The Doctor used to tell me that it was a better world where he came from. He said instead of passive-aggressive gossip, innuendos, and texts, that he and his friends would ask somebody out back for a fight. They’d punch it out, not too hard, and once all that was done, they’d be alright. “That kind of directness reminds me of you,” he’d say. I felt seen.

The Doctor’s world is not my world. If I were to ask some of my friends to go brawl out back when I was hurt or angry with them, or betrayed, that it would likely lead to more gossip and innuendo. It’s not an acceptable form of violence.

Emotional pain has a different quality than physical violence. It can shorten your life too, if you’re not careful.

I read a book Burnout which is about women and stress, and I think the best advice I found in it was about finishing the stress cycle — making sure to not go about business as usual after a stressful period. Instead, there were coping mechanisms such as speaking to friends, exercise, crying, sex, and otherwise marking the stress.

I think losing friends is a loss that we don’t really know how to talk about, in part because we’re scared that it’s an infectious disease — and we’ll lose other friends. Sometimes it’s because our friends know each other. Either way, for all of you going through a friend break-up, I want you to know you’re not alone.

The picture above is my mirror today. Gatolito is the name of the little rubber plant La Paloma gave me. The I AM WHO I AM DOING WHAT I CAME TO DO postcard was given to by Quanyin Lover, another writer, sent while she was on residency. “Tinker” is what I wrote to myself one day when I realized I was taking storytelling way too seriously. The humanoid lego was a gift from Finneon, my 8 yo nephew.


In yoga it’s called the “diamond net of Indra” — all

the ways we are connected to each other through

space and time. In Islam it is called kismet.

-from “Twenty-First Day” in Kazim Ali’s Fasting for Ramadan


Earlier today I received a group email, innocent enough, but it was from Shaykha with whom I’ve not had any but the most superficial contact.

We used to be very close. Our falling out has nothing to do with the most recent interactions we’ve had, a cautious and polite exchange of texts. If I’m being honest, I’m not even sure we’ve had a falling out.

If our friends are a mirror, Shaykha started fogging up slowly but surely over time. I was just too earnest to understand that it was happening.

There was a crack, a fissure first. One made out of jealousy and hurt and depression and also something that I’ll probably never understand. This is a friend who supported me through some of the worst times of my life. She and her partner are people I truly love, but they have not been good friends for years now. The last time I saw them, I cried myself home on the subway. When I’ve tried to talk to Shaykha about hard things, it’s gone nowhere, and my energy isn’t returned.

Why didn’t anybody tell me friendship is so much work?

Friendship is work!

Over time, I’ve lost the energy to keep as many friends close as I used to, though my heart is full of more special people than it ever has been. When a dear friend needs something or wants to talk, I do anything I can to be there. I’m asked a lot by people. I’ve given a lot to people. I’ve also disappointed people. I owe a lot to all the friends who’ve given to me with no expectation (or even hope) of return.

I am grateful.

I’m also grateful that my life is even stable enough for me to start giving back some of the friend love that I’ve been bestowed.

When the crack with Shaykha happened, I couldn’t fix it. I tried, and you can say I failed, or we failed. Maybe it’s a mystery that I’ll never solve. Maybe it’s not something I’ll ever know. Maybe it’s not for me to know, and more and more, I realize that what I thought was personal probably had nothing to do with me.

Most of the times when people do things — it’s not about us.

My friend Vega used to say, all the time, “You can see beyond the mirage that is this world.”

I went to a BIPOC Writing Party session where one member said, “I help people have hard conversations with each other and with themselves. It’s the ones with ourselves that are really hard.”

So much of the time when we want someone to say something to us, so badly, anything to reduce the separation, it is also that we are encountering the loneliness within.

That is part of Faith.

To think that every time you cry, Allah cries too.

If God reflects us, does that mean we reflect God?

Want to acknowledge that every day, at least one person drops me a little note of salutations, sympathies, joy, appreciation, delight, recognition, sharing.

Thank you. Honestly, everyone who is reading is my strength through the fast. Your little notes keep me going, especially on days where I’m either really tired, really hungry, or just really feeling down either about my writing or about life.

Many writers can go without any validation. I am not one of them.

This Ramadan has been hard on many of the people I know. In fact, the output for our very special Ramadan Poetry-a-Day group facilitated and created by Taz Ahmed has been quieter than in any of the previous 8 years. I know this is because many are struggling, to maintain the fast, to write during the fast.

I hope in some small way that I can be your mirror, all of you.

I do respond to every email (during Ramadan – can’t say I do it always), so if you haven’t received a response, please know it’s because I’m moving and fasting slowly.

Ramadan Day 20 – Calling Customer Service

Learning is a natural process, but very humbling

always.

As a yoga teacher I have always viewed the limita-

tions of my body as part of what I have to offer.

Three years ago when I gained about twenty-five

pounds and could barely do any of the binds or

twists I used to do, I viewed this as a way of under-

standing my students, who maybe had never done

yoga before, or never been physically active.

From Day 20 of Kazim Ali’s Fasting for Ramadan

Technology is not cooperating today. My phone crapped out. With no alarm, I didn’t wake up in time for my doctor’s appointment. Fortunately, my doctor made space for me — nearly an hour late.

After my appointment, I decided to fix my longstanding phone problem. My current cell phone provider doesn’t get service in my house so whenever the PG&E cut the electricity, especially during the fires, I also lost all cell service.

I dragged La Paloma to the closest cell phone store in San Ramon where my doctor’s office is located. Unfortunately, La Paloma was low on the blood sugar, and I also had to rush back home for a meeting. So I couldn’t sign up for a new plan.

After arriving in Oakland, I drove to another cell phone store. Getting a new phone and a new plan ended up taking my entire day. About 6-7 hours total, if you include transportation, phone time, and store time.

An unnecessary extra hour was spent with the Oakland salesperson, a trainee, who had to ask his supervisor for help every third window that appeared on his iPad.

His name was Ferdinand. When he showed me his phone password, I noticed that it was qwer1234.

“Is this code for gay?” I wondered. I tried to make casual conversation, but instead here’s what came out of my mouth: “Nice password!”

My hair is pretty butch these days, so I assumed he would see this as a family moment.

He was either super straight, or maybe gay and untrusting of me, or he didn’t think I was funny.

Nothing interesting happened while I was at that store.

I literally could feel the clock ticking down on my life.

Yet other than the last twenty minutes, in which I did have to inquire twice as to what was happening and why he had to be in the back for so long, I was gentle with him.

It gave me a nice feeling and surprised me that I could handle the 2 hour visit.

I could tell he was a very sweet guy.

Earlier, La Paloma pointed out to me that I’d been really “short” to the salesperson at the San Ramon store, whose name was Jann.

I told Jann that I was busy and “didn’t want to spend that long in a cell phone store.” I also cut him off a couple times when he was asking me questions that I thought were irrelevant. (La Paloma felt the questions were relevant to what cell phone service I should choose.)

I felt so terrible after she confronted me that I went back into the store after we were sitting in the car, about to drive away. I asked to speak to Jann again.

I apologized that I’d been very impatient earlier, but that he had been very helpful to me. I thanked him for being so careful and so thoughtful about which phone plan I might use.

“I’m also a realtor,” he began, and then gave me a tour of the cell phone service maps in the larger Oakland area. The light blue and dark blue patches exploded in my eyes.

I am often short with people who disappoint me, or when I am afraid (and I use that word intentionally) that a conversation full of trivialities will take place, draining me of any remaining juice. I’m specially wary of a mansplainer, or a confessional poem from a stranger.

The pandemic has also made my brusqueness more pointed.

Years back, in LA, Manic Santa said, “You’re so great with people that I’m always shocked at how unfriendly you are with strangers.”

Courtru has put it this way: “You can be rude.”

There was a time when I actively desired the company of strangers. I don’t know when it changed.

Some changes are not for the better.

I suppose I got a little too precious about my time, too caught up in capitalism.

The first customer service rep of the day was a fifteen minute phone call.

Danny from South Africa briefly informed me of a couple promotions. He handled my abruptness with a cheerful politeness, as if he was a relatively happy person. It was my first call, so I explained I needed to shop around.

The second call was to Clow Dee, a customer service rep who I believe was in the Philippines. I took the call while we were parked in front of the cell phone store where Jann worked. Before I ever met Jann.

After Clow Dee explained that she could get me a free IPhone SE, I told her I still needed to shop around.

“Okay, can I call you back?”

“No, I actually can call you back. I’ll call you later after I go into this store I’m in front of.”

“I can sign you up for a new plan”

“I’m definitely getting a new plan, but I don’t know which one yet.”

“May I call you back at any time convenient to you?”

“How about you give me your name, or ID, and I will call you back?”

“Unfortunately, I cannot do that. I can call you back.”

She sounded close to tears. I haven’t heard somebody sound so sad since I was on the subway leaving Union Square around 2am. I didn’t know what was happening, though I did understand that she had that toneless voice, the one that you get when you’re depressed. I softened my tone.

“Okay, I don’t usually allow cell phone companies to call me, but I assume they make you go on commission?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“I can’t promise I’ll buy a plan from [xxx], but why don’t you call me back in a couple hours? If I buy it from your company, I’ll buy it from you.”

“Yes, I will do that.” Clow Dee brightened a bit, but not much.

It made my heart ache, thinking what she might be going through and the many pages of scripts running toward her in the long night.

Later, La Paloma said, “You were nice at the end, but not before — you were kinda’ short then too.”

like a phone i used to have

We decided to order out for dinner from a Pakistani restaurant. La Paloma had been gardening and job-hunting (btw, if y’all know of any awesome full-time non-profit program-related, research project-related jobs in the worlds of arts management, housing, economic and racial justice — she’s looking).

I spoke at length to the gentleman who picked up the phone, Gentle Giant.

I thought he might be fasting so I wished him Ramadan Mubarak, and he responded by saying, “And what is your beautiful name?”

After that call, La Paloma stared at me and said, “I’ve never heard you speak like that over the phone with a stranger.”

“How’s that?”

“You were gentle.”

At the prison abolition meeting, Ra’D and Sleeping Lion were talking about the guilt of not fasting, or not fasting in the typical manner. Ra’D because they were fasting but also drinking water. Sleeping Lion because they couldn’t fast this year. Me because I’m drinking water and taking meds during the day.

Ra’D thanked Sleeping Lion for sharing because it helped mitigate their guilt.

I shared a story of how when I’d met up with Sama the other week — she had immediately held their hands up in the air and said, “Sorry Allah!” when I’d offered her a date saying “You must be hungry from fasting.”

“I’m not fasting!” she’d exclaimed.

The guilt is intense. The other day Ra’D’s partner who is not a Muslim and doesn’t believe in Allah has been fasting now for 3 years alongside them. She apologized for breaking the fast the other day.

“Why are you saying sorry, you don’t even believe in God?” Ra’D said.

“Yeah, but there’s probably some God that somebody believes in watching somewhere, and I may have upset them.”

I found a website where people ask questions about whether opening their mouth when it was raining would be breaking the fast (depends on whether or not you swallow). Whether or not toothpaste and brushing your teeth counts as breaking fast. I laughed about this to my friends.

Ra’D said, “It’s incredible, the guilt. When I was five, I was fasting. It was so serious. I’d brush my teeth, and I’d start using my hands, rubbing them, trying to make sure the toothpaste was gone, and I kept spitting into the sink, I was so scared I was breaking the fast! It’s no joke. It’s okay, It’s okay honey, my mom would tell me I could keep brushing.”

“I had no idea that there was so much shame for not fasting, but yeah, I guess I’ve adopted that too.” I giggled.

“You know, that’s why I was thanking Sleeping Lion for sharing that she wasn’t fasting. It helps me to hear that.”

“But, ya know?” Ra’D continued, “the thing we’re all obsessed with is the physical stuff. But what about the other things, like gossiping or sex? I know guys who say they can masturbate, and so long as they don’t come, they say it’s not breaking the fast. That’s some bull-shit too. What really matters is your intention. How you treat people, how you keep your mind from being overly negative, being lustful, greedy, all this mental stuff.”

“Yeah, but what do I do when I have all these negative thoughts?” I asked Ra’D.

“It’s not that you can’t have negative thoughts. I know you have a meditation practice. It’s like that thing you do, you know where you have all kinds of thoughts, but then you gently acknowledge that the thought has taken place, and you guide yourself back to center.”

If I ever picked up that phone and said, “Hello Allah, it’s me Serena.”

I’d like the answer to be gentle and kind.

Wouldn’t you?

I shudder to think of all the times I’ve been impatient and harsh during this fast and at other times, not realizing that it was breaking the fast in its own way. Not realizing how dehumanizing it is to be treated with such shortness by a self-proclaimed busy person. It’s breaking the fast more so, or at least as much as, the act of drinking water or eating food.

I’m humbled.

I’m learning.

Ramadan Day 19 – Turn Around Frida


I used to think I was the strangest person in the world but then I thought there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do. I would imagine her, and imagine that she must be out there thinking of me too. Well, I hope that if you are out there and read this and know that, yes, it’s true I’m here, and I’m just as strange as you.”
– Frida Kahlo

It is very gay to love Frida Kahlo.

I have been very gay for a very long time.

Frida Kahlo felt a lot of pain in her body. She explains, “My painting carries with it the message of pain.”

The origin story of this lighter begins in 2007 when I traveled to Oaxaca with La Doppelgänger. I believe I found it in a women’s craft commune, a narrow little strip of room filled with painted things. I also purchased two Frida coke bottle cap earrings that rusted even as I put them on.

Is it true that a smoker may become an ex-smoker but never a non-smoker?

“And they say that alcoholics are always alcoholics. Even when they’re as dry as my lips for years.” – Ani DiFranco, Fuel

You never know which of the smallest things will stay in your life the longest, carried too long and worn down until the nub.

Maïmouna Guerresi has been described as “The Sufi Frida Kahlo.” Of her own work she says, “My moods are expressed in my work as faces, color, and emotions, where the body is no longer a prison of the soul, but rather like a temple to house and augment the Divine.”

Guerresi is a convert, from Italy, who after meeting a Sufi community in Senegal, embraced Islam because of the “extraordinary inner strength it teaches.”

It’s interesting to me the complaints about converts, especially toward White converts who seem as privileged in taking a religion as they are a land, a people, a culture.

Is Islam raced? Is the wearer of a taqiyah signifying a religion or a race? Do converts beg the questions of orientalism in addition to the questions of faith?

Can I ask these questions as a convert? I really dislike the word convert, mainly because it makes me feel that I cannot go back to who I was before.

No, I don’t like it because it seems so final, as if I have embraced Islam in totality. As if anyone could. As if my questions are gone.

As if I have gone over.

No, I don’t like it because it differentiates believers of Allah by a non-religious marker. As if when you embraced God matters more than the fact of embracing God.

I am concerned that convert is a label. It reduces my fluidity, implies a certain adherence to the religion, gives the impression that there is something solid in the storm, a rock. To many Muslims, it implies a certain passionate fundamentalism toward the Qu’ran and all Allah’s teachings.

Yet, there are many Muslims who identify with being Muslim, irrespective of belief or religious practice.

As Ra’D always reminds me, “Only God determines who is a Muslim, not other Muslims.”

The word convert leaves a secular taste in my mouth.

I like my Faith to be porous.

Convert. It does not have to be a bad word, however. Conversion can be vision.

The latin root of convert being to “turn around.”

As in, what did the convert see?

As in, what caused the convert to turn around?

Allah between the shadow and the light, behind every branch, brush, and leaf. In-between the fragments of air and sky, whispering, “turn around, turn around.”

Trying to catch our eyes.

When I use the lighter, I have in some moments seen the body of Frida, disappearing in the flames.

I think Frida painted the pain body.

The question of conversion to me is not a question of reincarnation. It is a question of lineage.

It is a question of belonging to what came before and to what comes after.

Maïmouna Guerresi

Ramadan Day 18 – Packed and Ready to Go

april 30, 2021 cupertino

It melted my heart. My youngest nephew, 8, bounded into the house.

“You packed your suitcase, are you staying the night?”

He nodded solemnly. “Yeah.”

“Ok! Have fun, I’m leaving both kids here with you,” Ernie said, “I won’t be coming back tonight. I have to go relax. Bbyeeeeee.”

When we were kids, we didn’t need to travel 50, 500, 5,000, or 50,000 miles to feel like we were on an adventure.

Spending the night over at nai-nai’s house was excitement enough.

La Paloma and I took each other hot-tubbing last night, to cheer me up.

And to celebrate that she got into Tin House. Whooot.

It (mostly) worked.

Like any other mule, I like to really stand on my sadness.

It gives me a better view.

I left work early, drove the hour to the dentist I insist on seeing in Sunnyvale because I have sensitive gums.

A cleaning can be an ordeal.

I had about 4 hours to spend with my sister’s kids, who I adore.

Bulbasaur and Finneon and I walked to the park, where we enjoyed collecting leaves. Finneon wanted the red ones.

Bulbasaur dragged several sticks along and overturned a mud sack which he proclaimed, “ewww it’s full of bugs.”

We came back and watched the last 20 minutes of Frankenweenie, which they both adore (as do I), and then started in on Men in Black. Finneon and I did half a puzzle. We all took full advantage of nai-nai’s special cod dish that she made in my honor. Bulbasaur ate most of it, but in the end, we were all pretty happy.

Ernie came over at some point and rushed to the grocery store with my mom. They were invested in helping me to get a gift for La Paloma’s family who I might be meeting for the first time next week in Sebastopol. Sadly, the Chinese grocery store was closed, but they gave me ideas. Most of them were not good. But one of them was.

I know all I’ve managed to scrape together today is a recollection of ordinary things.

Even though my mom and I are fully vaccinated now, we all kept our masks on. Or, mostly we reminded Bulbasaur to wear his mask which can’t seem to stay over his nose.

I treasure these little moments. I miss them. I miss the ordinariness of

before

before before

When the fires were happening throughout Northern California, Forest Nun said to me after I proudly explained that I’d finally packed a go bag, and bought some supplies to put in it like a flashlight and a first aid kit, “I know, I know, I’ve got my go-bag too, but then I realized where are we going to go?”

The world was on fire everywhere. We couldn’t travel very far because the pandemic had shut that down.

After high income countries snapped up nearly 75% of the world’s vaccine supplies, we all need to reckon with vaccine apartheid. The have’s and the have-not’s continue to face exceedingly different death tolls from the pandemic.

Palestine is hurting, even though Israel has the highest vaccination rate of any country. Israel denies Palestinians basic rights, so it’s not a surprise that even to their own detriment, they are withholding the vaccine from Palestinian families.

India is crying. You can donate to covid.giveindia.org to help stem the tide of over 200,000 dead and over 17.5 million infections (and this is conservative.)

And here at home Black people are getting vaccinated at nearly half the rate. Latinx folks at an even lower rate.

It is unsurprising inequity. Even in the face of a global pandemic, when the best thing to do would be to vaccinate as many people who don’t have adequate access to health care as it is, as quickly as possible — it’s even objectively the best course of action to prevent the spread of the virus.

It’s a race against time. America likes to brag and drag its 20 pound bag of sand and racism.

What is it about spite and our soft, soft noses?

I’m doing my best to draw strength from the family I have remaining.

Courtru told me the other day that she is going to Iceland next week.

Courtru has been confined, alone, with no car, and no access to public transportation, in a modest 1-BD in D.C. for nearly a year with 2 cats, getting to hang in a place she loves with books and geo-thermal spas, with beauty blue aquamarine. The relief in knowing that she’s getting out. It’s as immense as an ice floe.

I am planning at some point to go to Atascadero for a writing workshop, maybe, if I’m lucky, and my life isn’t a series of missed procedures.

Who am I kidding?

I’ve learned it’s not a good idea to plan.

I’ve also learned that despite the worst, the absolute worst, it is only human to plan.

We don’t know where we’re going.

At least we can pack what we really need.

Ramadan Day 16 – Ladybug in a Box


How are you?

Me? You ask.

Yes, you.

Would you like to join me?

I don’t feel like writing.

I was supposed to blog yesterday, but I was too sad.

You see, I’d been prepping for a big procedure. A procedure that’s been delayed for two months so I could get the vaccine. That’s if you’re generous with the word delay, and you don’t include the pandemic and all the other heartbreaks. I mean it’s all steps with this life thing, right? Until the day the door swings open, and–

How would I know what happens next?

I’d made plans to stop fasting at the end of this week. I was agonizing over the exact date. I was trying to figure out if I would instead continue to observe Ramadan through other means. I had an email drafted to MadCosmos about recommendations for abolition groups to which I could donate, like Believers Bailout. I was thinking through how I’d incorporate prayer and meditation, how to continue writing.

I was trying to figure out how to make sure I got down to Cupertino to have Iftar with my mom.

“When you were trying to figure out the best time to stop fasting, I don’t think this was the solution you had in mind.” Courtru wrote, trying to console me. “A delay is still being in the game. Hang in there.”

I’ve been on hormones for 2 weeks, every day twice a day, since the beginning of the fast, and each day I’ve broken my fast at 10am to down half a glass exactly of water with the pills.

When I take the pills, I feel doubt. What if Allah doesn’t accept this fast? What?

Instead, in one, “oh no,” the doctor told me that my body had other plans.

The source of the delay is the equivalent of “getting struck with lightning.” – according to the doctor.

I would like to know how I’ve been struck twice by lightning.

No, scratch that.

I want to know if I’ll be struck again.

My friend Funny Zahra told me once that it takes 2 weeks to build a habit and 3 days to destroy it.

She reads a lot of self-help books.

Me too, but mainly because of Funny Zahra. I get half-way through, and then I stop. She gives me the quotable quotes.

I Dream of Genie sent me a card once before she stopped being my friend, it had a picture of a kid hugging a dog.

“Friends are the family you choose.”

It’s true, It’s true.

My family and friends are bandaging me together today, after the bad news, telling me that it’s okay, that I can keep going, that I can endure this, that I’m not cursed.

My therapist Lucy says, “That’s your trauma talking, whenever there’s a set-back, your mind and your body remember loss and grief. You go into fight, flight, or freeze. That’s when the fear takes over. Don’t make decisions out of fear.”

So here I am, not making decisions because I’m afraid.

There aren’t that many decisions for me to make right now.

Everybody tells me to positively visualize.

I tell Centered Unicorn that I can’t fast and write.

Centered Unicorn questioned me: “Maybe you don’t need to write this blog. Maybe you don’t need to review or edit your friend’s work, though I’m sure you’re a great editor. Maybe you don’t need to provide emotional support or listen to somebody’s hard time. Maybe they can find another source of support. Maybe it could be somebody better. Maybe the gift that you are going to give everybody and all of these people is a gift that truly only you can give. That they cannot find elsewhere. Your book is your gift.”

At some point, every novelist has to put down everything they can and have their primary relationship be with their book.”

Is this a story about commitment or about endings?

La Paloma says that I can keep writing this blog and find time to work on my novel, but I’ll have to go toward more of a flash fiction style. We look up flash fiction word limits: 1,000 words.

“What’s that other thing called?”

“Micro-fiction.”

A fast can be the smallest container

You can’t feel whatever is spinning around, outside of it.

Allah is merciful.

I’m visualizing.

Come, my friend, and sit with me. I am a ladybug in a box. The box used to hold glass cactus earrings, which were precious because they were a gift. A gift my friend gave to themselves. My friend put me in here, with care, cradled in the eve of their palm. I will not fly away. I am comfortable. This is how I’ve always wanted to be treated. Lying in a bed of soft filling, cushioned and snug. Our eyes big, the world even bigger. Here we are safe! We are loved. We are held.

I am a ladybug in a box.

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