Ramadan Day 8 – Interview with a Real Artist

Pssst. . . If you are one of my activist or social justice friends, read TODAY’S BLOG.

Please send either this post or the link below to social justice activists, prioritizing people who work in racial, climate, or economic justice.

If you read this WHOLE post, you’ll understand why this post is called Interview with a Real Artist. Maybe. No promises. Also, if you read (or skip) until the end, many of you will be eligible for a FREE book of poetry.

I woke up at 4 something while it was still dark and ate a fried egg over leftovers. I remembered advice from the Doctor, Fasting is something you can prepare for. Fast regularly. Pre-fast. You can give those fasts to God as well.

The first weeks of Ramadan I often regret that I fast the way I prepped for college exams, by procrastinating.

I don’t get groceries in time.

I stay up late the night before the first day of Ramadan.

I was washing dishes when the alarm went off at 5:10 for Fajr. I looked side to side, a common thief, before I downed more water. A silly thought occurred to me: it’s better that I drink this water than waste it. There’s a drought.

The land is thirsty. And so am I.

It was one of those days where I broke my fast before it started. I would break it again around 10am for meds. I debate myself every time. How much do I drink? A full glass, a half glass?

I’ve settled into a rhythm today, of all days, a day where I have to go liberate a nest of rats from my car. Or perhaps it was one rat. In which case, let’s call it a rat’s nest.

Living in NYC has given me immunity to rat fear. Still, I shiver.

Before I leave to the rat poo destructors, it’s early in the morning, and I read my emails, and I find that in my rush to do too many things, I’ve disappointed a friend. I have fifty unopened personal emails, and probably 150 spam and other emails. There are missed chats and urgent work deadlines. Dozens of unopened bills and junk mail sit on my dining table. I’ve strewn them over a half-done puzzle that Bollywood Superstar gave me (or loaned me, but since La Paloma and I seem like we’ll never finish it). My head hurts.

I am most upset at myself for watching Law & Order SVU which is a show that legitimizes the police state while trying to make a clear line between those who are “innocent” victims and those who are “bad” perpetrators. It’s an old habit of mine, watching Law & Order, back in the days when I used to be Public Defender. I watched it because more than almost any other show, Law & Order has gutted the public’s ability to offer a fair jury trial. Know your enemy. Dick Wolf is an enemy of the criminal defense attorney, and the right of all those accused to have a defense.

The show is laid out so that you actually see the crime before the court scenes. That’s not how it works in real life. There’s no tv camera that can show you everything happens before you get to court. With Law & Order, you never have to doubt eyewitness testimony, you never have to doubt that a crime took place (in exactly the way the prosecutor describes, you (mostly) never have to doubt who actually did it, you never have to doubt unethical prosecutors and biased judges, and you never have to doubt racist cops.

People believe in good cops, rather than seeing cops contextualized by racialized beat assignments and preconceptions, or without the appropriate checks on their abuses of power. I sometimes wonder if Law & Order and its dew-eyed view that the system is helping, as opposed to hurting the people, is actually responsible for the death of thousands of Black people and the incarceration of hundreds of thousands of Black people.

Because of this show, People believe that attorney’s arguments should be show horses, rather than solid turtles, accumulating and acquiring footsteps. It’s very satisfying to watch because everything is in a nice bow. It’s very dangerous to watch without thinking because then you may believe that life is about closing the book, answers, clean lines, when we’re all living together in a generation that is finally coming to terms with what happens in plain sight.

Children are murdered and yet I remember a co-worker said to me, I think they just need more training, the police don’t want to kill children.

I explained it wasn’t a matter of training, and more importantly, these are children we’re talking about. Since when do we have to “train” people that it’s wrong to take the lives of children.

I remember T once saying to me, in a totally different context, that when people do wrong, like really wrong, that there’s no point in talking about it with them. They know it’s wrong, and they did it anyway. Likely, they aren’t going to apologize. So you talking to them and trying to teach them that it’s wrong is a waste of time.

It’s easier to sleep through the night if you don’t wake up to eat and to pray Fajr.

There’s a point in the fast during which you must choose between food and sleep, between your hunger and your tiredness?

Eat and drink and you’ll be tired all day.

Sleep through and you will be so hungry and thirsty it’ll hurt, and you can’t function.

I know Muslims who do sleep through, but most of the time that’s only possible if you don’t have to work a full day.

I skip on sleep.

Pele wrote me that they finally got into a rhythm the other day. It was such a sweet note, and hearing from Pele during Ramadan is like finally hitting the middle note in a chord progression. What got them into the rhythm was that they went to the gym (I assumed) and climbed. “I finally feel like a person.” Remember when I was a meathead? There’s like photographic evidence. Well, I feel very proud sitting on this couch thinking about how I dared to tell Pele I could teach them to lift. Probably, I would’ve hurt myself. It’s a good thing we never made it into the gym.

I don’t think you heard me.

Somebody I know went into a gym, and you know, because it’s Ramadan, it hasn’t even occurred to me to talk about what tomorrow is: the first day I’m fully vaccinated.

I’m scared of going to the gym, though.

Shayka Body Prime mentioned going to Grizzly Peak for Suhoor this weekend.

“Are you sure you mean Suhoor? You mean Iftar right?” I texted.

“If the weather is in our favor, we can see an amazing moonset at grizzly peak for suhoor! The full moon has hues of orange and red as it sets.”

There are people among us who even with eyes full of sleep cast their eyes upon the sky,

imbue it with light and color.

The rest of us see fuzz.

I made it through most of the day, after work, after hurting the feelings of the rat poo destructors because I was so tired that they thought I was unhappy with their work (that and finding some leftover poo on my car battery exactly where it wasn’t supposed to be). I was distracted by the extra hour that La Paloma and I spent in the car, as they went back to work on the rat poo. Tired from the fast. I went to go talk to the owner for a last 20 minutes. He was generous and kind. Pine sap was up for discussion.

“Will you wait for me?” I mentioned to La Paloma. “We can leave when you see me pull out.”

We wrapped up and I wheeled my way to the freeway, gunning it between two angry semi’s arm wrestling each other.

La Paloma called, and I picked up but couldn’t connect the speaker, so hung up.

She called again. I hung up.

She called again. I picked up and said, “WHAT? I’m driving between these killer cars.”

“Are you done? Can I leave yet?” Tucked behind a row of cars, La Paloma had not seen me leave.

I talked to Brass who mentioned that they were exhausted after waking up for Suhoor, so they fell asleep right after work, which sucked because it was finally a beautiful day in their woods.

I rifled through various items I wanted to write about. Mainly hand moisturizers (maybe tomorrow?) and of course cleaning products (I mean, the guilt alone just thinking about this post is squeezing me). Thinking I’d get a headache if I didn’t just sit and do nothing, I surrendered myself to some Law and Order: SVU and felt angry but also oddly invested in the story arc.

This is how they get you, I tried to remind myself.

I’m such a hypocrite, my conscience said.

As evening headed our way, La Paloma called and sweetly said as I complained about everything, “At least your car is rat free.”


I only had one thing I had to do before ending the night, and that was to write my blog. Fortunately, PoetryNotLuxury and I have an accountability writing session together on Tuesday nights, which I’ve been pretty spotty about going to.

They agreed to an interview.

PoetryNotLuxury = PNL

Me = Me

PNL: Are you going to use my real name? What’s my pseudonym in your blog? Do you write about me?

Me: I’m not going to answer that question. You have to read my blog. Sometimes I change pseudonyms to protect people’s identities.

PNL: You don’t protect people’s identities.

Me: You can’t tell who people are.

PNL: That’s not true. You write about La Paloma all the time. Everybody knows who La Paloma is.

Me: Uh. Yeah, but it’s La Paloma. If you date me, you get into the blog, that’s the rule. I’m exhausted. Look, can I interview you for my blog or not? In return, I’ll help you with your project. Is there something I can do?

PNL: Sort of. I mean it’s a surprise. What if the person I’m surprising reads your blog? Do you send her your blog?

Me: Yeah, but it’s not like everybody who gets it reads it, or reads it all the time. Sheesh. I’ll just leave her off the mailing and ask everybody who recognizes her not to ruin the surprise.

PNL: I think we should both mute, you should work on your questions for 25 minutes, and I’ll work on my project, then we reconvene. You can pose the questions for me, and I’ll answer them. And you can help me record some stuff. I got my second vaccine earlier today and I’m worried that I have to finish this now or I’ll be too tired to continue.

[25-minutes later]

Me: Not ready! I just worked on my blog instead and am on a roll. Can I have 15 more minutes?

PNL: Okay, that’s good, because I’m working on my project

[30-minutes later]

[small talk]

PNL: Okay, you can use our real names, but then you should advertise the event tomorrow at 5pm, and that would make sense.

Me: Yeah, I want to do this interview because I want to set-up for this amazing artist’s studio visit that I’m going to do for Ramadan, and then I plan to blog about it.

PNL: That’s so cool. Have you ever done anything like it before?

Me: No, that’s why I want to interview you tonight. For practice. Anyway, instead of prepping questions, I wrote my blog. But, I’ll ask you a few questions if that’s okay. Like what are you doing tomorrow? Give us a little background.

PNL: I’m doing a book launch tomorrow for Last Days, Tamiko Beyer’s book. It’s a book meant to sustain us in our imagination for the transformative work we have to do to change our society.

Me: Before people get to see what you’ve put together, could you tell me the intention or inspiration for your project?

PNL: Tamiko first approached me maybe last year wanting to do a different kind of book launch that’s less focused on capitalist – I – have – to –sell – this – many – copies – of – my book. In the spirit of a lot of communities we’re a part of, like Kundiman, where there’s more of a collaborative than competitive energy, she really wanted to think in a different model.

When she first talked to me about it, she was asking who else that’s QTPOC are coming out with books? Then she gathered together a cabinet, that I served on, and her goal was to give copies of the book to racial and social justice organizers.

We were doing outreach to organizers to get copies of the book for free. She reached out to Gabrielle Civil so her chapbook would be given away as well.

[Organizers, get your free copy of poetry books here.]

Tamiko asked me to read tomorrow night, and I forgot that I scheduled my second COVID shot today. I realize that given the state of my body I might not be able to perform in person so I started to think about ways I could show up.

I was looking back at our correspondence. Tamiko and I’ve been friends for a long time, maybe over 15 years. I came across this collaborative piece that we wrote together, but we never actually published it. It was also inspired by other writers and artists, especially queer folks of color, many of whom are Asian American.

So I’ve been playing around with sound and different voices.

How can I represent these lines and voices even if I physically cannot be there?

Me: So can I put Tamiko’s real name in here?

PNL: Yes, but I’m being deliberately vague. You’ll have to come tomorrow to see what the project really is.

Me: This is going to be awesome, I’m going to use Tamiko’s real name and give you a pseudonym.

PNL: That’s fine as long as you don’t give me some whack pseudonym like Chingy.

Me: Ok, don’t worry I won’t.


5pm pst / 8pm est THIS Wed. 4/21/2021

Please attend this virtual event to discover the identity of my mysterious pseudonymic artist friend. LOL.

(also, i’m planning on going and miss hanging out, so come chill)

Register here

Ramadan Day 7 – All the Pretty Words


“The present was a sheet of glass

suspended in midair.

We loosened our fists, wiped down the

sweat, then gripped again. We became

intimately familiar with our weapons and

the soles of our feet, with ghost as a

verb.

We walked north, mostly on frontage

roads. Even though we had been

preparing all this time, we had thought

somehow it might turn out differently.

But we were queers and people of color

–we grew up learning how to read the

signs on white people’s faces, on the

hands of cops, and in the sound of

breaking glass.

We knew it was long past time.

From “Last Days” by Tamiko Beyer

*Tamiko raised $15,000 to give away Last Days, her new books of poems, alongside Gabrielle Civil’s chapbook “ghost gestures” for activists in racial, climate, and economic justice.


One of my favorite things about attending the BIPOC Writing Party on Monday nights (a free, online community space open to all Black and Indigenous people and POC who want to get their write on – no need to identify as a “writer”) is the feeling of greeting familiar faces during the pandemic. Not just any faces, but the faces of kind, warm, loving friends who are writing and supporting each other through these tough times.

While everybody’s been locked up in isolating spaces, hearing a little bit of writing from a lot of different people, each week, felt like intimacy. Felt like company.

My other favorite thing is the affirmation that an idea, flickering somewhere deep inside of me, could become something this amazing. I picked up the phone and called Faith Adiele and asked her to start this space together. She gave me one of the best and luckiest YES’s of my life and has been a collaborator like no other — all ingenuity, brilliance, and dedication. When we became exhausted after six plus months, Faria and Miguel took over and built the space up and out – they are devoted, dreamy, and ever so popular. Their hosting stint has been even longer than Faith and mine. I know they’re getting tired too, and now we’re looking for new hosts to join the hosting team.

And it’s not just the hosts. It’s people like Raychelle who stepped up and hosted a reading series and now appears to host on a monthly basis. Hari, Elizabeth Z. (who built us a website), Carrie, Lily, Mona, Rosa – all volunteered their time and continue to show up at the writing party whenever they can. There are so many “regulars” – people who’ve been coming since we started in March of 2020 or people who show up along the way and now come on a regular basis, whether that’s weekly, monthly, every two months, or randomly for a pop-in.

And now it’s a thing.

A thing of comfort.

A thing of community.

My third favorite thing is the gorgeous snippets of verse and prose and everything in between that I get to hear whenever I tune in to the group. Faith suggested it off the bat: why don’t we have everybody share a few lines of what they wrote? It’s short and sweet and it becomes this haunting, resonant lyric essay that feels written by the group.

It’s amazing, not simply because wow! wow! wow! these folks can write, but also because there is a music in the way their worlds blend pain and heat and sex and sorrow and anger and joy and sweetness and love, lots of love.

Every time I go, something affirming happens for me.

Today it struck me ideas that were the BIPOC Writing Party was nothing but a tiny, little seed in my brain and has now grown into a big ole’ plant.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Lao Tzu

In the last month, three of my favorite writers of BIPOC Writing Party have guest hosted the sessions, all folks who’ve attended the Writing Party since our very first months.

Bushra Rehman, Tamiko Beyer and Yeva Johnson (you can catch Yeva at Friday night virtual events with Nomadic Press in the Bay Area).

I’m going to share some of my favorite lines by poets selected by these writers to help introduce their own prompts/ideas. If you want to see all the prompts from the Party’s hosts from the beginning, follow @bipocwritingparty on Insta or go to this collective document.

By sharing the poetic references of the Party’s guest hosts, I hope to convey the depth of the conversation that takes place each week.


“In a poem you can return to any state of being/

or make a new one for a brief moment

and it doesn’t have to be a great poem! No! Who

decides what constitutes a poem anyway?

Other poets? The academy? Capitalism? Fuck that shit—

just write a bunch of words and don’t stop

until you forget what a poem even is

and then go stand in the sunlight and breathe

or don’t, whatever

I don’t care”

From “You Don’t Have to Write the Best Poem in the World” by Joshua Jennifer Espinoza

-selected by Bushra Rehman on March 29, 2021


“I have done good work. There is a hell of a lot more I have to do. And sitting here tonight in this lovely green park in Berlin, dusk approaching and the walking willows leaning over the edge of the pool caressing each other’s fingers, birds birds bird singing under and over the frogs, and the smell of new-mown grass enveloping my sad pen, I feel I still have enough moxie to do it all, on whatever terms I’m dealt, timely or not. Enough moxie to chew the whole world up and spit it out in bite sized pieces, useful and warm and wet and delectable because they came out of my mouth.”

From A Burst of Light and Other Essays by Audre Lorde

-selected by Tamiko Beyer on April 12, 2021


“So it is written:

heal yourself, baby.

With the tree and the touch, with the turmeric.

In this world, nothing brittle prevails,

So in this world, grease is a compliment,

no, it’s a weapon,

no, it’s a dream you had, where it was cold

and your mother, seeing the threat of gray at your elbows

and knowing that ash is the language of the dead

knelt, and put her hands on your face like this

and anointed you a protected child, a hot iron in a place of frost.”

From “Shea Butter Manifesto” by Eve L. Ewing

-selected by Yeva Johnson on April 19, 2021


It’s usually really hard for me to write when I attend BIPOC Writing Party in part because I’ve been on a very long fantasy novel for a very long time and I try to squirrel what little writing time I have to work on the book.

Perhaps ironically, neither Faith nor I actually use prompts that often, even though we both enjoy the process of creating them and writing to them.

Tonight, however, I decided that since I’ve only been writing my blog instead of the novel, that I could use the prompt help.

Writing a blog makes me take myself less seriously because there’s not really time to edit meaningfully. If I’m lucky, I catch most of the typos. Blogging is a break from the “serious” writing I have to do on my tragicomic fantastical speculative fiction thingamabobidoodle.

Tonight’s guest host Yeva has been a huge community-builder and energy-healer for a lot of people in the group, including supporting me in writing this blog with encouraging notes and responses to what I share here.

Yeva asked us to write a list of body parts for 30 seconds as one of the instructions in her first prompt and eventually we were asked to write a self-care manifesto using the instructions. I’ll include her prompt at bottom.

Truthfully, once I fastened on the word “knuckle,” it was all over for me. I thought that nobody else had listed out the word knuckle, which oddly thrilled me. Then it turned out that at least two other people had come up with the word knuckles, which also thrilled me.


April 19, 2021

Anytime you can put something into the universe, and it comes back to you as its own thing and gives back to you — that is a blessing from Allah.

When I attend the party these days, it’s as a writer with new eyes, trying to make new poems.

I don’t have to worry about being good.

In this community, I don’t have to worry that people don’t get it either, and all of this together, it heals me.


Ramadan Day 6 – Nothing’s the Same


“Revelation is handy: God whispering in your ears,

smoothing out uncertainties, explaining what was

supposed to happen net. But what do you do when

you are an ordinary mortal, in doubt, hearing noth-

ing but silence?” –Kazim Ali, Day 6 of Fasting for Ramadan



Usually, by this point, the fast feels more normal.

But I haven’t been fasting “normally” this year.

The pandemic took the word normal and gave it a hard shake.

Day 1 I was traveling back from Markleeville. I started my cycle Day 1 too and felt too weak to fast. (Usually I fast through my period. I’ve blogged about my reasons for not following protocol before. Here’s a May 2019 Day 19 post. Wow, can’t believe it’s Day 6 and I’m already talking about my period. This is what happens when you engage in a fertility process. You become period-obsessed.)

Interruption after interruption.

My doctor said to be careful with fasting this year and put me on a new med regimen on Day 1 of the Fast.

I take the pills mid-morning, with one glass of water.

The meds feel familiar.

Ramadan less so.

Like a fool, I thought fasting for Ramadan would be like owning new jeans.

Over time I’d break them in. They’d get more comfortable and soft, start to hug my body. Eventually, the butt might sag, and maybe I couldn’t wear them out as often. They’d become my favorite pair, and as soon as I came home I’d put them on.

Who am I kidding?

There hasn’t been a coming home in over a year.

I fantasize about leaving home.

After Markleeville, we raced to jump in the shower because we’d been soaking in a muddy hole at the Travertine Hot Springs and then driven 5 hours. Afterward, we full-plopped on the couch, watched some Great British Bake-Off, ate banana cream pie that we’d picked up in Placerville. La Paloma had a glass of white. Our dirty clothes and unpacked leftover groceries were in a heap. We didn’t care about them.

This! I miss this!

The feeling of returning home, exhausted, of having somewhere to return to, matters as much as the trip.

What’s a journey if you know you can’t return to your starting point?

Do they call it an exile?

I asked Brass about her fast modifications. I wanted details.

“I drink water throughout the day, though I don’t eat.” She lowered her eyes, “but you know how it is, it’s not the same.”

I do know.

Ramadan is a time when you’re doing the same thing as millions of other people.

In the U.S. you’re doing the same thing with 3.45 million people, though the structure of the world in terms of work, eat, and sleep hours is built around the other 325.2 million people.

So when you’re doing something slightly different for Ramadan, it gets lonely.

Your availability, energy-wise, to interact with friends, non-fasting and fasting alike, shifts.

This past year it feels like there’s no bedtime anymore.

Time itself is twisting.

Ramadan has become a difference within a difference.

We can’t recognize time anymore.

We don’t know how we’re supposed to look in time.

The first Ramadan of the pandemic was like a familiar routine, an old friend, and I needed its familiarity.

But now I’ve been out here too long, timeless.

The wildness is in me.

The old structures are collapsing. Are we building new ones? Am I?

It helps to talk to Brass, to hear her alienation, because a.) I’m connecting with another human being and b.) she matches my mood.

If you decide to modify a fast, it becomes as tricky as modifying a religion. What’s to say you shouldn’t drink more often, or less? Do you still pray if you miss the earlier prayers?

Islam isn’t a game of Operation, where you can decide which parts to extract, and which parts to keep in. These were patterns, behaviors Allah designed through the Prophet and the Qu’ran and hadiths. And it’s also exactly like Operation. If we’re humble enough to see the part humanity plays in the religious experience. The choices you have to make, no matter how close to God you think you are. All religion involves discernment, because there is no essential truth. Or, to say it more religiously, there are too many people and versions claiming that they know, they speak the essential Truth.

Maybe what I like about fasting is that I can just be.

When I eat or drink even a little, the energy comes back, and not just in my body. It comes back to my mind.

What a shame that my mind is such a treacherous place.

The thoughts that shift like rainstorms.

The clingy way that loss and grief creep up the wall.

The to-do list that

I abandoned hours ago.

The calories feed the thunder and the movement.

When I’m fasting, I’m watching the clouds move with my hands behind my head.

I lose the illusion that my thoughts matter. That if I think correctly that this will lead to correct action. Heck, it’s not like I even really want to take action. I’m fasting.

The fast especially helps with writing.

When I have less energy, I conserve it for creativity.

That inner editor, the critic, the one who’s telling me even now that what I’m writing sucks, that it’s not interesting, that nobody cares, that it doesn’t make sense, the who-do-you-think-you-are reminder, and what the heck you said you were going to write about objects and that’s even more boring than if you hadn’t picked a theme…is like a silly little parrot squawking next door.

I can see it and kind of hear it, but I’ve got my own space. Apart from the noise.

Ramadan turns the volume down.

While I’ve been writing this post, I’ve been getting up and sweeping.

I’m very lucky to have access to a garden.

There’s some sort of weird soil-looking dust that’s been showered all over the table and the backyard. It’s been here since the start of the week.

I have no clue what it is.

So, when I come out here, I have to sweep clear a surface to write on.

It’s warm out, so I can sit in the shade with my computer.

The afternoon sun advances, so I get up and pull the table to the shade, and then I write.

The hemline keeps turning up.

Gripping the broom’s wooden handle feels so assured.

I like the whisk whisk sound, and the way I’m part of it.

I love that my arms are literally ordering the yard.

The other morning, the sweeping was so satisfying that instead of vacuuming the hardwood flours in the house, I swept them all.

It took me hours.

The leaves from the big oak are everywhere too.

They’re stubborn and less satisfying to sweep because they get stuck in the wood.

Now, I hear a wind chime and a bird squeaking like a mouse.

There’s a river of cars running along the street and a motorcycle that chops it all up.

I’ve often wanted to build a soundscape, though I’m not a musician and don’t have the technical tools. I wouldn’t know how to take my vision and make it real. Or even half-real.

There’s a music here between the brush and the tapping of my feet on the deck.

The breeze ruffles my hair, and the lavender is waving.

I want to focus and to find a topic.

I want to hear the beat that a really great sentence creates in my ear.

I want the doubt to stop and to hear somebody say, “Success is assured.”

After I lost my home during Hurricane Sandy, my friend Chanel said, “Nothing that is yours will pass you by.”

This is yours, This is yours, the dandelion whispers, waiting for your breath.

Ramadan Day 5 – Jar of Sorrows

Once I was leaving a pizza place in Bushwick with my buddy Side-Saddle, and she said, “Have you noticed that hipsters really like pickling things and they like to put things in jars?” I hadn’t noticed. I’ll admit I prickled slightly because I like the way things look in jars. But, I have never really done that thing where I organize my food into jars because I’m too lazy. I don’t know how to pickle things except to salt up some cucumbers and drizzle it with sesame oil. I don’t make jam, and I don’t know how to make preserves either.

I even went to one residency, Hedgebrook, located in Washington State, and one of its most memorable (and delightful) features was that they had a cupboard full of thirty some jars, and in each of the jars was a snack, like chocolate, pretzels, or crystallized ginger, or nuts, or dried apricots.

Today is my first day of extended fasting although I am taking a few sips of water to take medication. I am really, really hungry at the moment, so that’s why weird food-object associations are running around in my brain.

After my serious post yesterday, I wanted to talk about a grieving tip my friend Shades had taught me.

Here’s the tip I hope you’ll find useful too.

Get a jar.

About a year ago, I finally decided that I needed to ask for help from friends who I admired and were going through grief.

My friend Shades has battled breast cancer during the pandemic. This is in addition to living with a debilitating neurological condition that is an intense relative of Multiple Sclerosis. Shades outlived her life expectancy and is a mother and an artist and most importantly, a beautiful spirit and loyal friend who walks with grace through even the most difficult of feelings.

Shades went through a protracted and difficult estrangement with her mother for years. She reached out requesting Duas before another surgery. Her asking for help prompted me to ask for my own help. I was filled with rage, and I didn’t know how to deal with the loss of my brother and the PTSD I now had. I felt embarrassed that Shades has dealt with trauma and physical/emotional pain on a level that I can’t really imagine.

Here’s some conversational tidbits, with some of my memory loss and creative license whisked in:

“My main thought is that you set your intention for your own healing. Without feeling like you have to do or say anything to anyone else. Center and focus on what you need. Feel everything you need to feel. Don’t worry about what happens with anybody else but yourself. You must do what you need to do to heal.”

“I’m trying to do that but I’m so angry all the time. I don’t know what to do.”

“Try setting aside specific time to grieve and to be with your own thoughts and feelings. You can set that time aside every day. There was a period after my mother and I stopped speaking that I became so troubled thinking about it that I couldn’t function. Everyday tasks got hard. I wasn’t even able to enjoy being around my son. It was really interfering with my life.”

“Exactly! I feel like I start to obsess about what happened, and I don’t know how to move on.”

“You don’t have to move on. You can set aside the time to be upset every day. I used to give myself half an hour, or an hour if I had it, often in the morning, and I would let myself feel and think anything I wanted. And then when I was done, I would imagine that I put my pain in a jar and close the jar. The next day, when I had the time to be upset, I’d open the jar and take out what I wanted. Over time, you can find peace Insha’Allah.”

I know, I know. Somehow I went from a yummy jars of snacks (honestly, bless the hipsters) to a jar of sorrows.

Debbie loved Bob, her husband, so much. One time I asked her what she loved best about their relationship. She said, “Bob can upset me so much, but we are both very good at living life even when we’re hurt or angry. He doesn’t let me only be upset. We had a bad argument, it was so bad, the other day. The next day, he came up to me and said I know you’re really upset at me, but could we still take a walk and get some ice cream?”



So here it is. A new jar. My present to myself and also to all of you — my community — during Ramadan. I’m not planning to fill it, and maybe I won’t even put anything in it. Or maybe it won’t be able to fit everything that I need to drop inside.

The only plan is that if something happens to me, and it’s not the kind of thing I can get over in a day, or I want to write it down, or whatever, I’m going to put it in the jar.

And, if there’s a sorrow or trouble that feels all kinds of big to you too, I was thinking that you could write it down, and I could put it in this jar for you. Or your own jar. No pressure.

(I actually got a bigger jar so we could do this exercise together, as a community.)

You could write one word, or a longer thing, or mumbo jumbo, or nonsense, or a spell, or a hope, or a hurt, or anything really. You can make a request for Dua if you’d like. I will make Dua for you if that is the request. For Dua, specificity can help me in terms of my prayers, but is def not required.

What goes in the jar could be one word or several.

Details or no details.

Names or no names or fake names.

I will print it out and put it in.

I might compile what, if anything, is sent to me and include it in a blog post down the line. It can be one word or several. And I will ask permission before ever including anything you put into the jar on this blog.

Also, if you’ve read my Ramadan blog, you already know I use and prefer to use pseudonyms. Though if you really want your real name attached to anything, I’ll honor that.

I’m going to do something with the jar when I get to the end of Ramadan.

I don’t know what yet.

I wanted us to have a place to put stuff somewhere for safekeeping, collectively, while so many of us fast. A way to help us to deal with things at a pace that feels comfortable. Feels easier.

I didn’t know when I woke up for Suhoor, or even during our queer Muslim prison abolition meeting today, that less than 48 hours ago more people of color, kids really, were killed by the police in Chicago, Minnesota, as well as a white person shot to death in Portland.

I met a new thinker at the abolition meetup, Telegrams of Freedom. She said that one way to move toward prison abolition is to be more interested in process and contemplation, not to rush toward judgment. “Maybe we have to slow it down.”

I love this concept. I love the deliberativeness with which she offered up this thought. It was in the context of not having all the answers, of having discussion and conversation, and holding space for complexity, rather than insisting that we have all the answers before we change the world.

Sorrow is like that too. We deal with it in waves from our little boat.

Thoughts and feelings, even painful ones, lap at our shores.

They can be set aside and met tomorrow.

We stand in front of the ocean and look toward the horizon.


Rest in Power Adam Toledo, 13, Chicago

Rest in Power Daunte Wright, 20, Minnesota

Step by step, may we honor you and so many others killed by our State.

Black Lives Matter. I’m not done. The movement is not done.

Let’s continue to reduce police budgets and shift funding away from police to community-based services like housing, health, and education. Whether or not you believe in abolishing the police, whether or not we know what comes next, let’s agree that our priority is valuing life, not death and go from there.


Ramadan Day 4 – Happy Mental Health Friday!


Today I’m in the mood for place. After all, what gives humans more meaning than their connection to the land? It’s how I became interested in environmental justice and my previous decade as an environmental and economic justice attorney who focused on land use and housing. When I was in law school, I wanted to write my graduate thesis on land rights and the emotional connection to the land that survives legal rights. But, I got distracted by an easier and more statutory paper on racial discrimination in jury selection, and that got me interested in becoming a public defender, and so on and so on.

But I found my way back after the (very) mean juvenile hall stint in Eastlake, Los Angeles where I met my friend Debbie (those of you who read this blog know how much I miss my beloved friend). I found my bumbling way to the environmental rights activists, Jesse, Kathleen, Sissy, Frank, Adrian, Isela, Sunyoung, Joan, Paulina, Nancy, Jerilyn, Martha, and Dean, and I worked with people like Remy and Shashi. I don’t know whether to call them activists, change-makers, or warriors. What does it matter? To a one, they all love a place or a people in a place, and they spend their lives fighting for people to have safe, clean, healthy places to live. They fight for a community to be empowered. They fight for the places in which they live.

So the most relaxing thing for me to do today is to come here, to Lake Merritt, one of my sacred places and to reflect on what it means to possess.

Isn’t possession the handshake of objectification?

Here at the Lake, the sun is glorious, projecting dancing sparkles onto the lake’s surface. Over a dozen groups, some families, some friends, a few merchants, are all sitting on this crop of grass. The wildlowers are blooming and they embroider the grass into a rich, soft carpet. So many people walk the lake these days, all wearing masks and often chatting on phones. It’s one of those days where you see people wrapped up in cardigans and others in tees and shorts. I can smell the sparking wine of a group of picnicking friends. The air is crisp and always some guy has speakers and tables out and is playing R&B and then Motown classics that I know as the soundtrack of the lake.

Oaktown, do you ever get tired of your perfect days?

In these last two years, with all the grief, I walked this lake with so many friends. Courtru used to live right around the corner. Kitten Little has consoled me in the dusk by the water. The walks with Camino and with La Paloma (before we ever dated) and I miss talking about writing with Sparkles who just left in a van to drop her mother off on an Afro-Viking cross-country tour. I’m still waiting for Bollywood Superstar to come visit.

By the lake one day, I picked up Shams from the center where she walking through glass doors, changing an entire career as a nonprofit director to became a somatics practitioner and leader. I walked with Brass when she visited from the shores of NYC and with Eeyore when he stopped by. Manuel died this winter, and Adonis and I haven’t walked the lake since. It’s the pandemic, or maybe it’s the fact that now friends must endure separate griefs.

Yet a couple weeks ago Adonis, Sparkles, Marmalade, and La Paloma and I met for a baked good picnic at the Lake. It was the early touch of Spring.

It’s nice and it’s scary to be here on the verge of being able to walk Lake Merritt with my friends again. And it won’t be the same. There’s no use pretending otherwise. Too much loss. Too much pain. Everybody I know has lost somebody. La Paloma lost her grandfather. Flora lost her brother. Adonis lost Manuel. I lost Debbie. I lost my baby. I wish that I could walk this lake with her, but it will never happen.

I want to pretend that it can go back in the same way that I always want to build a time machine or Frankenstein some magic potion to bring people I miss back to life.

I don’t want to lose even a thimble of the personal growth I’ve achieved in this time. I don’t want the world to step back, too far, when the company line is that we’re stepping forward.

Today it’s nice to be here by myself in the sunlight because my sister, mom, and I made the decision to close our company for the afternoon. Happy Mental Health Friday. Somebody else picked the name, but I do like it.

For my bread, I currently work as a manager and an attorney at the mom & pop version of a biotech company, the one that my dad founded and then, after he died that my mom and me, and then my mom, and then my mom and sister kept from sinking and grew into a stronger shop for over a decade. That unicorn, a stable small business owned and run by women and queers.

Mom and pop is exactly what it means, even in the biotech context. It’s good people busting their butt and paying no attention to roles or perks or even boundaries. The principal scientist, who happens to be my brother-in-law, also programmed the purchasing invoice system. The facilities guy polishes the place like it’s his best car and runs around calling his girlfriend’s friends at the first sign of trouble. Ernie’s 12-year old tells me that I have to be careful because my mom’s problem of checking her phone at 10pm at night is “contagious.”

At this shop, if something breaks, you fix it, even if you don’t know how and what comes out of the other side looks like it was built out of masking tape. If somebody is sick or quits, everybody works through all hours. That’s it. You are the company, and you’re responsible because if you don’t do everything you can, people will not have a job and they won’t be able to support their families.

Being this invested in a company feels like some messy part of my DNA, or maybe I should say my destiny, that I can’t quite get to fit, but I can’t leave my genetics behind.

When this pandemic happened, the company gave me a place to go, but it was so tough. Brass and Courtru had to take weekly phone calls for months where I was in extreme crisis, triggered all the time by working at a company with my brother, one rocked by grief and loss and estrangement, depressed beyond measure. I wanted to quit several times, and Lucy kept telling me, do not let what your brother did to you result in losing something your father started in part for you.

We are a broken family, the same as every family I have ever known. A group of people who are intimately and deeply connected to each other both in spite of and because of the fact that we are fucked up, who teach each other the first and most enduring pathways for how to love and how not to love.

And if you took a picture of our family relationships as a web during the pandemic it would be like somebody took a broom to Charlotte.

Not only did it survive the death of one of its founders, our little company survived the pandemic. A lot of that is because it was all hands on deck, especially the workers there, and my mom and sister. This even includes my brother. I don’t want to give him credit because of the violence he inflicted against me and on our family these past two years, violence for which he never took accountability or even acknowledgment.

Another person who I haven’t credited is myself, for not only surviving the violence and then working through the PTSD in therapy, but for becoming stronger and remaining focused on what I want.

Yet I dislike all the ways in which I myself have fallen into the same pit as other survivors of interpersonal or domestic violence, in which I have let my own shame keep my brother’s attack on me a secret. To the world around him, including to our community of cousins and family friends from whom I’ve had to isolate to protect myself from my brother, he is the picture of helpful and loving family member. But that is not the whole truth.

You know, I normalized the bad dynamics, and I’m ashamed of that. When I finally told Brass the story from beginning to end about how my brother was supposed to be taking me for a surgery and how I couldn’t take the drugs I needed to be fully anesthetized, how I went through the procedure anyway because my whole life I wanted a baby, she began quietly crying. When I was done she said, “I can’t believe that happened to you. It’s so terrible what your brother did.” And I remember thinking even as she explained, why is she crying? Because I was clinging onto the hope that he hadn’t really done that to me.

“Forgiveness is when you stop wishing the past would be different.” I first heard this quote at a meditation on resilience for poc at the East Bay Meditation Center.


I went and saw a therapist with my mom toward the end of last year.

When I finally had the courage to show that therapist the photos of the holes in my car roof my brother had made with his fist and the plastic casing of the car that he’d punched out, all while he was driving me on the freeway, the therapist said, “That must have been very scary.” The whole time I was scared she’d look at the photos and say that it wasn’t a big deal.

In the moment I didn’t feel fear. That instinctual part of me that is incredibly level and smart in a crisis took over and I remained calm. I was worried that he was having a nervous breakdown. I didn’t want to admit that he had power over me. I do not like to feel small, vulnerable, and afraid. I am a protector of others and of myself.

When I was driving myself to the doctor after the attack, and my brother was in the back seat, and I was trying to open the bottle of valium so that I could have painkillers for the procedure, my hands started to shake, and I started to cry. I spilled the pills.

It took me two years to forgive myself. I was angry with my brother before the attack. I had put him down when we fought, always because of my own demons, and not because he deserved my shitty behavior. All the times we fought and I screamed at him, and the times that I called him names. All the terrible things I’ve said to him and about him. Underneath all the pain and the hurt I feel, is love and compassion for him. And the love for him comes out of knowing what it is like not having love and compassion for myself.

Despite how bad he felt about maybe himself, maybe the world, despite the professional, familial, and romantic rejections he was facing at the time, whatever he used to justify attacking me; despite the deeper rejections from my father and from society that he perceived about his race and sexuality; the truth is my brother didn’t deserve to be hurt by anyone, including me.

And despite the fact that I hurt my brother many times over, the hardest part was trying to take out that small voice that kept saying I deserved what he did. I didn’t deserve any of what happened in that moment, or the moments before it and after it.

Nobody deserves to be harmed.

Not even the person who harmed you.

One of the most poignant moments in my queer Muslim prison abolition study group was when Brass, MadCosmos, and Sleeping Lion highlighted the irony that often people who engage in acts of violence cannot take accountability or responsibility until they are first seen or heard about the harm they themselves have experienced. Most perpetrators, even in the face of horrifying deeds, perceive themselves as victims. They need to heal that before they can ever be whole enough to even acknowledge when they are actually hurting another person.

Let me confess now, I have literally screamed at those stupid quotes and hallmark moments in shows and books and speeches where people explain that only love can heal hate.

It’s taken me all this time to get here. To this lake where the grass is sweetly perfuming the breeze. Where the ducks are chatting about the news. Where the music that’s playing is Southern in its roots. Where the sun is shining. Here I am.

If you meditate, there’s a moment when they tell you to offer metta AKA loving kindness to somebody who hurt you. And then the person leading the meditation sometimes stops and says the equivalent of well, don’t choose somebody who is really upsetting you to give metta to – that’s too hard. Don’t pick, like the original source of all your troubles, or somebody you intensely hate like an enemy, or the friend who betrayed your trust, or the person who broke your heart, start small. And so that’s what I’ve done. Offering metta to everybody but my brother.

There’s plenty to forgive.

It’s taken me all this time to get here. To walk the lake. To let go of my rage toward my mother. To let go of my rage toward my father. Too many episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, too many mornings waking up unable to breathe, the arguments with loved ones, the suspicion, the loneliness, the shitty feelings. They’ve all been here for so long.

Somebody wrote in chalk on the side of the lake, DON’T WASTE YOUR TIME BEING MAD AT PEOPLE.

Without ever having spoken once or hearing from my brother since he hurt me, I feel that I’m letting go of anger.

How do I give forgiveness to myself without feeling like I’m saying it’s okay that he hurt me in the first place?

Some days I fail.

It’s taken me all this time to get here. To pray that my brother is given grace and love, success and even happiness. To ask Allah for the power to forgive everybody, and especially myself. To not wish upon my brother the same pain and hurt he caused me. To not wish upon him destruction anymore feels like a turn. Because all my wishes that he would feel an ounce of the hurt I felt or feel don’t help me. Because despite the fact that it makes no sense to me — when I wish that he could know that he is loved, I feel better. And when I think about how he did this, that, or the other to me, and when I think that he caused my subsequent loss, a worse loss, I feel truly low.

Hate doesn’t exist without love. That’s the truth. My friend All Muslims are Hilarious reminded me of that once.

When did I get here?

I don’t know anybody named Shaitan, the way I know my brother by that name. And if you think you don’t know the devil, you do know him. He’s every single one of us. Somebody whose feelings got really hurt and then didn’t know how to handle it. So they hurt the people around them. (I’m not limiting crappy behavior to the gender binary of men here, but I also don’t want to undercut the larger reality of men and violence toward women that we all know exists and certainly exists in my life.)

Hurt, without serious work to address it, is a fast-growing vine.

It freaks me out to think that the family company is my father’s legacy in its truest sense. All the messed up dynamics and anger and violence still surviving alongside all the resilience, the resourceful and brilliant creativity. My mother is not angry, not violent, and I wonder sometimes whether she enabled the violence with passivity. I don’t know, and I can’t judge. She has claimed joy and contentment despite her disappointment in my brother and the ways I’ve hurt her too. She impresses me and she taught me change is possible.

“Don’t you think the company is all we have left of dad?” Ernie asked me once, a couple years ago. Even hearing those words made me ache. I had never really thought of the company that way, and more specifically, I had not truly understood what it meant to her to work there. The sheer fidelity inside.

I don’t know how to sit here and reconcile a company as the best part of a human being. I simply don’t. I went to college, and I’ve read books and been around really profound thinkers who care about justice and social change and labor, so I understand many of the ways that capitalism is a poison. Where a person’s value is yoked to their productivity, to their ability to contribute, to make money. Where we celebrate the trampling of human dignity in the name of greed. Capitalism means people aren’t valued for their hearts.

The other day, a new hire said that he really loved working at our company, “You guys are such a small company, but you have the heart of a big company. Everyone here is so kind and helpful. My girlfriend works at Gilead, and when I told her about your Bingo game day and your mental health day, we agreed that it was like the kind of thing you only usually get at big companies.” I was taken aback at first. I mean, I don’t want to ever equate having a heart with being a large, profit-driven, amoral, corporation. Sheesh.

But, I know what he’s trying to say. Little companies and the grind: it’s all set up so that if you’re not a huge corporation, you can’t afford the margins to be kind and give the breaks that many of the white collar workers in the Bay Area now expect. The truth is that this land is beautiful and it’s been poisoned by the tech moving here to take from that beauty, not to add to it. People can’t afford to live here anymore, even with average-paying jobs. Their families are leaving.

And the only way forward is for those of us who do help to run small companies to try and to be conscious people, to try and do everything we can to be a balm to people’s hearts, especially in this time. To show people that we care because the people in power at a small company aren’t nameless, faceless decision-makers. And maybe size and growth isn’t always the ticket. Maybe being small means that sometimes it’s just easier for you to show the people around you that they matter.

This company was my dad’s whole damn dream, and it’s a part of my heart. When he died, and I helped to run it for a little bit, I thought it was going to be the end of my dreams. Over fifteen years later, it’s making my dreams of being a writer and hopefully a parent possible.

The pandemic was really hard for everybody who worked at the company. I brought up the mental health day idea when La Paloma told me that UC Berkeley was doing it for their employees. Truth is that my mom was the one with the generosity to say okay to shutting the business down early once a month. It cost her probably thousands of dollars to do it if you look at our manufacturing budget one way and it cost me nothing to suggest it with my big mouth and fancy ideas. But it’s also going to gain her something that I can’t put a price tag on (though some economist probably could) – happier employees who have a sense of connection to their work, to where they work.

And sure for a tech millennial millionaire that’s not a big deal, but my mom is a Taiwanese immigrant whose husband died way before retirement, who had a solid job as a pharmacist and then had the gumption to run a company in the red with the help of her children, a few loyal employees her immediate extended family, and some friends of my dad – a whole community that gave money and assistance. And my mom took all of that and she nourished her company with her grief and her love. And if I do ever have a kid then it will be my mom and dad I have to thank, even though when they rejected me, they were the reason I gave up on family, love, or ever having kids.

Coming back here has been an act of healing.

My mom and my sister have helped so many people keep a decent livelihood as this world is going through its worst. That includes me.



I am here at Lake Merritt, Oakland and it’s Ramadan again. At a Lake that I’ve been visiting for over twenty years, when it smelled rotten and glowered in the dark. I’m writing, and I’m here with one of my favorite writers. Kazim’s words are in the grass, where the little tufts wave in the onset of evening breeze.

A whole afternoon has passed. Even though I spent it in front of a computer, I am writing in the light of the sun.

I feel peace.


“So the fast doesn’t bring you to your true self; no, fasting just tries to shine a light a little bit on the part that doesn’t change, the constant part, the part you don’t always see because you are governed by the passions of the physical and the temporal—of course, that is the part of the body that depends on food—to stay alive, to function.

Every day is another chance to try.”

-Kazim Ali, Day Four of Fasting for Ramadan

Ramadan Day 3 – “We Will Rock You”

I’m gratified by many of the responses I received about items that have brought you comfort and for which living in a pandemic has brought you a greater appreciation.

Shall I put the responses together in a little list (option #1), or perhaps take your words and use them in a poem honoring each of you (option #2) (There’s a word for this kind of poem that a poet reading this might know! Help!)? Or shall I do nothing at all but to savor your slouchy cashmere sweater, your sad day hoodie and happy day hoodie, and your stuffed bear in the privacy of my unbloggable mind? (option #3)

What so often happens during Ramadan, or any other Special time for that matter, is that most of us who observe it make a conscious effort to live day to day. Whether we simply want to get through it, or whether we want to savor it and honor it, we become acutely aware of time. Not as a concept but as something to be experienced in the present moment.

That is why I am very curious as to which of the above 3 options my mind will choose.

I never know what’s going to happen in my brain during Ramadan, or what certain objects will generate. After deciding to focus this year’s blog on things, it has become clear to me that even the most common of items can generate its own thought pattern.

The first object that came into my head today was rocks.

One of the most important objects in almost any religious lore is a rock.

There was Musa tapping the rock for water in the Qu’ran, the Torah, and the Bible.

What about the al-Hajaru al-Aswad, set into the Kaaba in Makkah. Pilgrims have died trying to touch that rock, and stampedes around the rock make it one of the most dangerous sites to visit.

Growing up, my dad and mom would organize these fifty-family Taiwanese Normal University reunion trips to Yosemite. I’d go to all the ranger talks that would be about the First Nation’s origin stories for all the magnificent rocks that soar as much in my heart as they did in the air. El Capitan. Half Dome. And my favorite story was the saddest – the legend of Tis-sa-sack who carried a heavy basket and traveled with her husband along the Ahwahnee valley. Along their long, dusty journey she finally encountered a beautiful lake before her husband. Tis-sa-sack was so thirsty she drank deeply and drained the lake causing the entire area to dry up into drought. Her husband flew into a rage and tried to beat her with his walking stick, and the Great Spirit was so disappointed by their fighting that he transformed them into stone structures. Her tear-stained face is carved into Half Dome.

Knowing as a child that a great mountain was created by a domestic dispute mattered as much to me as the magnificence of nature. The smallest source can give way to big trouble.

And what about those of us at home? We trying to find belief, surrounded by garden stones and street pebbles.

Can our now-petty travails someday be etched into a bigger myth, legend, story – something, anything with more meaning.

At an artist residency, I once fell into what seemed like a boring conversation about rocks with Babla. Babla was explaining to me that part of her artistic practice was to recreate everyday objects. Recently, she’d become obsessed with a rock she’d made out of papier-mache. I asked to see it.

The next night at dinner she had brought the rock from her studio. It was, aside from being lighter than a rock, exactly like a rock. Felt like a rock too, with its grainy bits. It was marbled in grey. A couple other artists huddled around. She fidgeted as we all took turns holding it, and after a couple minutes, asked that we return it to her before we damaged it.

“Why’d you make a rock of all things?”

“Why not?” Babla asked. “It seems like a simple think to make, but it’s actually really hard to copy a rock. The ways in which it’s smooth and rough at the same time are very unique and hard for people to duplicate. People pick up rocks all the time and make rock collections.”

“Did you collect rocks?”

“Actually, I started sculpting rocks because I was in this very special forest in Canada, and I found the most wonderful rock, then it occurred to me that the rock was in its home. I felt bad taking it. I consulted with an indigenous tribe member when I returned from my trip. She told me that rocks shouldn’t be taken from their home. They have a place too. After that, I never collected rocks anymore, and even when I see a beautiful rock, I don’t stick it into my pocket and take it home.”

“But it’s not like a rock feels anything or is alive.”

“Yes, but it’s a good practice for people to start thinking about what they move in and out of nature or in and out of any environment. Maybe it’s not something we should do mindlessly.”

To this day, I who collected rocks from hikes all over the country, I can no longer simply pick up a rock and bring it back home.

It feels like a displacement.


Yet I have no compunction about other people giving me rocks.

For example, I went to Death Valley with La Paloma last October at the tail end of our trip to Zion. I insisted that she drive through a terrifying 4 hours of windy truck traffic in the stealth of night so that we could camp one last time before having to go home. (It’s always a great idea to find something special to do on a “last” day or night of travel.) When we woke up the next morning, we drove through the painted mountains and the salt valley, and on our way out of town, she stopped in the guest shop and bought me a present in a little blue velvet pouch.

I opened it after the trip to see a beautiful rose quartz. I love this stone and I keep it by my bedside. I own two rose quartzes actually, the first from my dear friend Tiny Dancer who gifted it to me when I was leaving NYC, broken-hearted and broken-down. And this one by La Paloma. The stone is said to be a healing one and represents love, harmony, trust. It eases tension according to the gemstone guides.



When you hold a rose quartz, it’s smooth and relaxing and cool. When you look at it, the pink color is gentle enough never to clash.

What’s the difference between a rock and a crystal?

(Do not google this like I just did, it will not help matters.)

I mean, if you think about it, rocks are a huge commemoration item, whether for death or for marriage.

It gets even stranger when you realize that rock is something that can be used as derogatory or to denote value. “He’s dumb as a rock.”

And, my personal favorite, e.g. “Courtru is one of my dearest friends. She’s my rock.”

At that same artist residency, I had heard of rumors of a “magical, suspended boulder.” So, I researched it and asked the librarian Anne and then asked one of the caretakers Blake who brought the artists lunch on a daily basis. He said it was true, that some artists had suspended a boulder with cables in the forest somewhere to make it look like it was floating.

I even asked other artists who’d been at the residency before. I pretty much got the same answer – wander around for a few hundred feet or maybe it’s a bit longer behind where your studio is.

To amuse myself and out of a deeper longing for mystery, I began grow this rumor. Other artists came and went, but Kipper, a young poet with a very long stay at the residency, told me that she thought I was full of shit and, for laughs, loudly proclaimed this idea whenever I tried to talk about the boulder. This of course only made me more determined over a period of weeks, despite the fact that I’d wandered the woods around my studio and never found the boulder.

And so on a cloudy day before my scheduled departure, I announced that there would be a magical suspended boulder hunt. About 10 artists gathered including my dear friends Bollywood Superstar and Glimmer, and we broke off into rag-tag teams. After a couple hours, the painter Willow had disappeared completely (although we weren’t too worried), and several more had wrapped it up to attend to their work. We were all tired and wanting our afternoon naps. It’d been a fair romp, but useless.

On my way back to the studio, I heard a scream. It was Kipper. I ran through the leaves and Kipper was pointing proudly at the boulder while Glimmer gawked.

“I didn’t believe you,” Kipper said.

“Neither did I,” I said.


site-specific installation by Jared Handelsman at MacDowell Colony, 1997

The ugly truth about sustainability of belief is that we humans always need a little pick-me-up, a moment where what we want to be true is affirmed, in some small way.

If the world we desire isn’t available to us then perhaps we owe it to ourselves to understand that artistry is the alchemy of transformation. Whether that’s through storytelling or through some other form of understanding, it’s possible to discover the extraordinary in the ordinary. Isn’t that the essence of creativity? Making those connections.

Hold the smallest stone in your hand until your thoughts and your memories have compressed it into a jewel. Tell me what it reveals.

“I dream of a world guided by a lens of stories rooted in the revelations of science and framed with an Indigenous worldview—stories in which matter and spirit are both given voice.” – Robin Wall Kimmerer in Braiding Sweetgrass.

Ramadan Day 2 – Ode to the Blankie

Charles M. Schulz

I’ve had one of those incredibly stressful days post-travel where you return to work and every email feels like how I imagine casual conversation to feel after leaving a silent retreat (though I’ve never been to one).

I am Linus and inside I’m not (too) ashamed to say that I remember being Linus.

When I was a child and until an undisclosed point in my Adult life, I had three security blankets that I carried around and hid in my bed, only ashamed when lovers or friends discovered them. I loved everything about them, the way they were crumbling at the seams, or the familiarity of their scent, or the feeling of kneading them between my fingers when I was scared.

My father, before he died, offered to burn them.  “You’re an adult.”

I loved them so much that I considered burying them with him or burning them for him.

But my people believe that when you die, you take some of the objects that surround you with you. That’s partly why so many people in Taiwan burn paper money. That’s why whenever I visit my dad’s grave, I bring him some snacks like fruit and chips and whatever I’m drinking even if it’s only a soda, so that if he’s thirsty or starving, he can have some of what I’m having.

And the thought, however ludicrous, that my father would be in that Heaven the best non-believers attend, and have to contend with seeing my security blankets – it’s downright disrespectful.

At some point in life, I switched over to real adult blankets.

La Paloma teases me that I’m constantly burrito’d, shuffling about the house in a fuzzy cocoon.

When I moved to my new place in Oakland, my seester Ernie got me a blanket full of Sloths, and also a Sloth phone hook and a Sloth journal.

“Why?” I asked her.

“I swear you said you like sloths.” A sly smile snuck across her face.

“But I never said that.”

“Oh.”



After work today, I tried to figure out how to import all your email addresses into Tiny Letter which my friend Henry uses to great effect, so I would no longer have to manually copy and paste blind cc’s into several different emails, so that Google wouldn’t come after me by daemonizing half my mailer and causing all kinds of duplicates and offshoots.

Truly, the work of Shaitan.

La Paloma and Ernie who “loves Excel” saved the day though and both of them figured out how to use flash fill and smart fill and whatever fill on my hand so that I could stop manually entering email addresses.

So after a late night of spreadsheeting that got me nowhere and some post-work calls, I was finally ready to write.

Of course a headache manifested and I had to immediately lie down in the dark.

La Paloma, also exhausted, offered to make dinner — even though I could tell she wanted to go home and rest too. On our way back from Markleeville, we’d actually come face to face with a driver who did a 180 and drove toward us on the freeway. I was too numb and tired to be frazzled, but La Paloma, who was driving, was duly traumatized. I wanted to be a good partner and support her need for alone time, but my desire for comfort won out.

“Okay, please stay and make us dinner. I’ll just take a nap.”

It was only early evening but I curled up in my blanket.

I swaddled myself and closed my eyes, but right before doing so, I texted back a friend. Not coincidentally, she is the wielder of the BEST PEANUTS MEMES AND GIFS IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD.

T called immediately. A marathon gossip session ensued even though my eyes hurt too much to turn on the light.

It had all began with T’s text about how horrible Daniel was being to his father Chief Inspector Gamache.

I texted back that I didn’t find the reason for his horridness, some chewed up line about a fear of losing his father that made him push him away, at all convincing.

Soon enough, T called me and even though I’d been laid out flat with a headache chatting about Paris and how much we missed Three Pines. Even though it was past T’s bedtime on the East Coast, we were discussing the in’s and out’s of family in a police procedural set in Québec.

Do you read Louise Penny? If so, you might know by context that we’re talking about a fictional detective series.

It’s something we share, a love of Penny’s world, her characters, and especially the place she created. We felt deprived because in her last book – which both T and I read during the pandemic – Penny took us far, far away from the world she’d created. The little village where everybody knows each other, and they drink hot chocolate and eat warm, flaky fresh-baked almond croissants and eat open-faced sandwiches filled with brie. I think about her books and I can almost grab a licorice rope from the jar at the inn. I don’t even like licorice.

For some Godforsaken reason, Penny decided to set her next book in Paris rather than in her beloved Three Pines, the little wooded township she made us believe in.

I speculated to T that the reason for this deviation from our mutually beloved Quebec was because the book before, Penny’s husband had died. It was an okay book that she wrote, and admittedly not my favorite of her now a dozen and a half titles in the series. I’ll admit I cried in the afterward when she talked about the real life grief that she bore while writing that novel. How her husband had died of dementia while she was writing it.

It is something I think every writer tries to do, create a world worth living in, even when the one they actually live in is falling apart.

One time when I went home to my mom’s about a year after living in Oakland, I saw that she had folded up an old fleece blanket that I had as a child. “Where did you get this?” I lovingly caressed it. “I’m not sure. In the closet, there are lots of old blankets.” “This is not an old blanket!” I yelled.

I brought it back home with me and terrorized my roommate Sonoma who just wanted to be warm when I found her curled up in it one day. “Sorry, but that’s like my old childhood blanket. It’s like if I had a security blanket, and you were cold, and you wrapped that around you. If I didn’t say anything, it would be like letting you use my kind of gross security blanket. I don’t think you’d want that.”

Pretty sure Sonoma never touched the blanket again.

When it comes to the things that comfort me, it’s true that I’m possessive.



The first time La Paloma grabbed one of my shirts and wore it around the house, I thought my heart would stop beating. It was so poignant to me that I could like somebody enough to share with them without resentment. As if the thing that belonged to me could belong to her.

When I’m wrapped in my blanket burrito, I feel safe.

I’ve been in and out of blankets for most of the last year. Not just because I’ve been to bed more early and more often than in previous years.

When I’m alone, I’ll take a blanket and rough it into a big body ball, and then cuddle it to sleep.

Linus clung to his blankie like a champ. He resisted efforts by his sister Lucy to tear it away and even Snoopy’s thin ruses to take the blankie for himself.


 “Linus came from a drawing that I made one day of a face almost like the one he now has,” Schulz wrote. “I experimented with some wild hair, and showed the sketch to a friend of mine who sat near me at art instruction, whose name was Linus Maurer. It seemed appropriate that I should name the character Linus.”

It was a common practice for Schulz, who named many “Peanuts” characters, including Charlie Brown, after the people that surrounded him.

https://www.today.com/news/linus-maurer-inspiration-behind-peanuts-character-dies-90-t72986


In the later years of the Peanuts comics, Linus became ambivalent about his blankie. He started to ask his friends and family to help wean him away from it.

I used to pile blankets all over the place and hang them over chairs and crawl around underneath them with my sister and my friends. We called it a fort. We felt safe. We felt transported into another place.

If you could write to me, even a few sentences, about something that brings you comfort that you didn’t appreciate in the same way before the pandemic, I would love to read it. BTW, I respond to emails about or in response to my blog. Well, I do unless it’s only two words like “good job.” But that’s only because I figure you don’t want me to write you more. Sometimes I even write back to emojis though. It may take me a while, but I’ll read it, and I’ll usually respond.

During this pandemic I’ve had to change so many facets about my life, but one thing that I’ve become unabashed about is my comfort. I have inner sweats and outer sweats now.

I’m a little sad that I outgrew my security blankets. I don’t even know where all of them are. Sometimes, maybe once a year or so, I rummage through old closets trying to figure out where I hid them.

Keep what brings you comfort close.

You never know when you might need it.

“The key is to live until you die. It’s about the quality of life.” – Louise Penny

Ramadan Day 1 – Missive from Markleeville

Friends,

If this note finds you, it means I’m racing back from the Western Sierras so that I can give you some reading material for Day 1 of Ramadan, or to-be-read-later material, or junk mail, or a note.

MARKLEEVILLE, CA. I’m using this plain ceramic mug, nothing special. Its curves come straight out of a factory mold. Even after I give it a little scrub, it keeps spots and stains on its sides. A big spot matches one on the back of my hand. It’s standard issue. I can’t decide if it’s comforting or not that I’m aging. Am I acquiring character or accumulating memories?

Linda who rents out this Lilac Cabin gave La Paloma and me a writer’s discount. She used to be a forest ranger, and once she wrote a story. She put it in the Lilac cabin, ostensibly so it could be read, but then she took it away.



“Because it wasn’t any good. Writing is maybe the best thing you can do with your life!” I want to nod, but I’m concerned that I will be lying. Her eyes dance, and she grins like a sunny day. After she retired from that forest ranger life, she decided to go back to college. “It was too hard. It was so hard. So I couldn’t finish. But I want to keep writing. But it’s really hard. You must understand that.”

I wonder if the mug has ever sat in the hands of a Muslim. Why should that matter? It’s just a mug.

This is a tiny one block town tucked away from the Grand Basin, on the outskirts of South Tahoe. Everybody here has been white and all the 3 inns and lodges have Western or 49er themes. The bar is populated by Harley-Davidsons that ride their owners in long leather chaps.

As the wind howls and smashes against itself, two Joshua Pines in the Western Sierras, hundreds of feet in the air, begin to dance. At first it’s a gentle circular sway, yet as the wind picks up in fury, the Pines begin to swing to opposite sides, their branches jutting in unison. A tango.

The girl who works at the one restaurant Linda said was any good (coincidentally the only restaurant in town that seems to have survived the pandemic) works with her mom, who owns it. Because I work with my mom too, this seems like an important fact.

Even though it’s cold, and there’s one last table of four off-season resorters, Tahoe fledglings, or traveling librarians — judging by their look jockeying for her attention or ketchup, she really wants to talk to us.

She stands there on a lawn decked out with blinking Christmas lights. It’s pretty, like something out of one of those credit card commercials where the father is having a last dance with his daughter. Nat Cole is playing. Maybe she’s in a white dress.

“My dad is Puerto Rican. I don’t know where he is even. My brother and I share the same dad, and my sister’s dad is Japanese. But everybody says I look like her. And she looks Japanese. I mean obviously she’s half-white. Not my brother though, he’s a total White Boy. He’s so annoying.”

“What’s it like growing up here?” I ask.

“I mean I’m twenty-two and I like to party. It’s hard when the only place people go to party is the bar that I own.” Her mom peeks her head out from the kitchen as we leave to say goodbye. I feel a sense of kinship with this girl. None of us belong here.



Part of the point of traveling, of getting out of town, is seeing things that do not belong to you. That you have never touched or known.

“I can’t lie. We went through some tough times during the pandemic. Things were really tight for a while.” A couple hours into the drive back, La Paloma groans and says, “Why did we forget to ask her name?”

I take a deep breath. It is marvelous that at the end of the draw, my lung doesn’t hurt. In Oakland, it’s a customary ache.

When I was in high school, I asked Bryan why he always had to leave to the nurse’s office every week for hours. “It’s because I get migraines,” he said. “Does it hurt?” “Yeah, I see bright lights and sometimes I throw up.”

“I get headaches too.” I pointed out.

“They’re not like that. They’re way worse.”

“How come?”

“Because there’s something wrong with my brain.” He was very proud of this and lowered his voice, “Once there was a man whose brain was like mine, except all the time he got migraines. He lived his whole life with one.”

“Did he die?” I asked.

“No, when the doctor finally gave him the medicine to cure it, he was really old. And after an hour, he began to sob.

‘What’s wrong? the doctor asked. I’ve cured you.’

‘I’ve had this ache in my head my whole life, and so I didn’t know it hurt. It wasn’t until you cured me and it was gone, that I even knew I was in pain. I didn’t feel it then, but now I feel how all of it. How much it hurt me.”

I want to tell you about my friend Azul’s Solstice Party that I haven’t been to in over a year. We’ve drifted quite a bit during the pandemic. We were drifting before it, not for any one reason, and the pandemic was a river. Pushed us to two sides and kept going. Or maybe the pandemic was an artist that fixed us into place with its story.

Several of the people at the party were writers. Philodendron, a self-appointed healer and crystal therapist, asked me if I could describe my novel. Usually, I don’t like to talk about what I’m writing because it kind of steals my thunder. I’ve expressed, so I don’t need to get it on the page – after.

But, I was in a mood.

“Maybe it’s a treatise on objects. You know the thing about objects is that if you encounter one out of context, you might not feel anything for it or from it. But when human beings are connected to an object, what is once an ordinary thing, can become extraordinary. For example, a necklace when made is nothing special, maybe some pretty bling. But a necklace that’s handed down from a grandmother to her daughter and then to her granddaughter, may signify the family’s love, their lineage, their endurance. Or, maybe a rocking chair that survived the fire becomes a symbol of hope, a remembrance not just of loss, but of the memories that survive the fire. And your crystals. They are literally rocks, deaf and dumb. Then you infuse them with your belief, and maybe a person who wants healing could encounter a rock in nature, and it could feel that it was special, but when you hold them in an act of care against another person’s neck or maybe their forehead, you are transmitting an energy too.”

“But inanimate matter can contain its own spirit. The rocks have special properties even without human beings.”

“Everything has a force, a negative or positive ionic charge, nothing is truly neutral. But for it to have meaning, the human has to explain the object, even if it is only to themselves.”



Ramadan could be a lonely time for me, but it is mostly not because I have this blog. I don’t have a family that fasts, but I have many friends, mostly queer, who are here with me. Many of them don’t fast in a household with their family either. It can be very painful to be in a family when you’re queer and Muslim.

Ramadan has more choices this year because of the vaccine. Some of these choices will be a relief, a time to be near people who you haven’t seen in years.

I thought about not writing this year, especially because I don’t know how to hold my fast at the moment. To modify or not to modify. Plus, I’m traveling. Maybe I planned this trip to buy myself some time.

My friend Debbie is gone and nobody has had a funeral or even a memorial for her this year. She would’ve been the person to organize all of that for her loved ones. I can’t organize a get-together for her, at least not yet, but she loved this blog, or maybe she just loved me. She would write back to most of my posts, and I wish she could read what I’m writing now.

It gives me strength as a writer to remember that somebody loved everything I wrote.

I’m watching this mug now, with its coffee lingering at the bottom. It’s a luxury, a privilege, to get out of my space. Yet on this first day of Ramadan, even while I am someplace new, surrounded by unfamiliar objects, I’m immersed in memory and reflection. The mug is cool to the touch. The coffee has cooled. I’ve been writing inside a greenhouse, and the wind is shaking the walls. It’s time to go, to clean the mug, and to set everything back into place.

To make it seem that we were never here.

“Oh you went to the Tollhouse and you ordered the ribeye — you ordered the best thing there!” Linda exclaimed as we chatted about her dozen chicks. “None of the hens would touch them. So they’re unhenned. Please pick them up. It makes them nicer, having contact with humans. They need to be picked up. And you talked to the daughter. She must’ve really liked you. She’s quite shy. She keeps leaving and coming back. Markleeville is tough. Not many young people around. Now, would you like to lie down, the chicks will climb all over your legs.”

This year, I will be writing about the magic of objects.

Because even though we are not yet open, we are not totally closed.

The in-between space is frightening. Change. There is grief about to come. We locked it down. When we get free, we are going to remember too.

Hold on Friends!

Don’t forget. Don’t let go too quickly of the gravity of our connection. Of how fragile we all became when we had to reckon with our sense of interdependence, but also with our new understanding of it.

Somebody will drink from this mug after me.

Touch this world with care.

I’m counting on you.


“If you touch something you leave a charge on it, and anybody else touching it connects with you, in a way.” – El Anatsui

photo of El Anatsui at Brooklyn Museum by NY Times, which I saw it feels like a decade ago with my friend Millionaire Barbie, from https://www.contemporary-african-art.com/el-anatsui.html

Debbie Kelly

Some deaths are a pain that wash over you.

Long into the day, Far into the night.

You wonder this swimming in the grief,

Both in the ocean.

*

Below is the obituary I wrote for my beloved friend Debbie Kelly for the LA County Public Defender’s office. It’s been a month since she died, and I still don’t know how to talk about her loss. I miss her so much and am so grateful for her love that lit up my life.

*

Debbie Kelly, November 1, 1952 – October 1, 2020

By former LA County Deputy Public Defender, Serena W. Lin

My earliest memory of Debbie Kelly is her beaming in the sunlight of the DWP cafeteria with a group of PD’s from Misdemeanor Row hanging on her every word. We were rapt with attention as she explained the in’s-and-out’s of dating, how the success of a marriage is as much due to the communication tools of the couple as it is due to the greatness of their love. “I should know,” she laughed. “I’m on my third marriage, and my husband Bob is wonderful.” This was one of Debbie’s gifts — getting personal and intimate even in the toughest of times.

Debbie was as much a spiritual advisor and relationship confidante as she was a dedicated and charismatic public defender. In 2006, Debbie and I were reunited when we ended up as court partners at Eastlake Juvie. She commuted from Santa Monica, showed up in the early hours of the morning, and stayed late, her blond hair impeccably coiffed, turned out to the nine’s with pearl earrings and a form-fitting suit, an iconic West Sider whose backbone was made of steel. Debbie took the bar in her fifties so she could fulfill her dream of becoming a public defender, after living an entire first life as a successful small business owner and raising two sons.

What we witnessed at Eastlake shook Debbie to the core and challenged her views of the world. Before becoming a PD, Debbie stood against injustice and racism, but now they enraged her. The judge in our assigned courtroom, nicknamed “El Diablo” berated and belittled the youth. He handed down harsh sentences like candy to children. Debbie was a skilled and steadfast advocate, working up her cases to the last detail, negotiating with savvy and charm for the best outcomes. With Debbie, it was a box of chocolate for the court staff during the holidays and a cold shoulder for unreasonable prosecutors or hostile judges.

Debbie’s generosity was legendary, and she was profoundly grateful for everything she had. She was all about community and bringing people together. She hosted goodbye parties for colleagues in the office and at her house with her treasured pool. She was the co-worker who kept in touch, remembered special occasions, did the labor of buying the card and the gift. She celebrated the team. Each PD’s individual victory for their clients or another PD’s promotion was a positive accomplishment on behalf of everyone.

I cannot emphasize enough how important being a public defender was to Debbie Kelly. Years after she left the PD’s office to work for the County Bar’s Domestic Violence program, Debbie told me she’d seen “El Diablo” on the street, and she had refused to acknowledge him. She shook with anger recounting the treatment of her clients. Debbie was elegance incarnate mixed with a brutal honesty. She called me to say goodbye before she passed. She wanted to talk about being a PD. “It’s good that we had each other. If we hadn’t kept each other sane with what we saw, we’d be the ones with the felonies.”

Debbie was diagnosed with cancer about 6 years ago. It was a tough battle, but she beat the cancer back and it went into remission. However, the cancer returned less than a few years later. She fought valiantly until the end, and through it all, she kept it real. The world is missing a great person – “just a force!” as former PD, the Honorable Neetu Badhan-Smith described her. She would’ve wanted to say goodbye to all of you, whom she loved so fiercely alongside her family and especially her beloved Bob. “Being a public defender is the best job I ever had,” Debbie once said. “When I think about the reasons, I think I’ll never do something with as much gravity.”

Ramadan Day 30 – It was the coldest of winters. It was the warmest of winters.

I recommend this book to everybody.

IMG_1074

 

 

What a wonderful day of fasting that is coming to a close.

Not gonna lie, I relaxed into it because I knew it was the end.

 

That’s kind of how I feel about the pandemic.

If I could know when to move on, I’d relax into it.

 

Maybe now is as good a time as any to declare an end

not only to Ramadan but to say goodbye to the first phase of

that pandemic life.

 

I used to run cross-country in high school.

I was super bad at taking the hills

I was super good at breakneck speeding down them

 

Back then, I didn’t worry about metaphors being everywhere

Because I was still living my way into a pattern.

 

My big plan for the final day of fasting was to drive down an hour from Oakland to Cupertino where my mom had said we could have socially distant Iftar outside together.

 

Today the Imam said on a group video call that she is sad that Ramadan is ending.

It surprised her because her mother used to really have a hard time and would be in tears when she had to say goodbye to Ramadan, and she herself never felt this way.

This year, however, she experienced a deeper connection with the fast.

 

What does it mean to slow down within a time of slowness?

 

For Muslims in non-Muslim countries, it meant many of us had time to actually observe all the aspects of the fast that are hard when you have to hold down a job and find a way to wake up and pray around 4 in the morning.

 

Time as we knew it disappeared.

 

We were like bees inside the flower of Ramadan.

We still buzzed, but our existence was constrained.

There was a joy in not worrying about the world outside.

 

Today, I slept in most of the morning.

I had a comedy writing class with dear friend and comedian Zahra Noorbakhsh in the afternoon.

The class was my Eid present to myself this year.

 

This is the first intentionally crafted joke I’ve written.

 

How many comedians does it take to tell a joke?

Two.

One to tell the joke.

The other to take credit for it.

 

Allah, I said, thank you for making me funny.

Allah, I said, thank you for making me bitter.

 

What a time it has been to fast,

a time where we are reminded to be of service

in a world that needs our service

a time when we pray

in a world that needs our prayer

a time when we give generously

in a world that requires generosity

 

5 years ago, my dear friend Ra’d called me from Jordan.

They were very upset with how some of their family was behaving and policing the in’s and out’s of being a Muslim.

I said, “I mean, I’m not a real Muslim so what can I say? I’m not from a Muslim family, or anything, and I don’t do most of the stuff that Muslims do. I’m only a Ramadan Muslim.”

 

They laughed. “Well, you might not think of yourself as Muslim. But I think you are. You believe. You care about God. I’m so sick and tired of Muslims policing each other and telling each other who is or is not a Muslim. Do they read the Qu’ran? The Qu’ran says that only Allah decides who is or is not a Muslim, not other Muslims.”

 

Two weeks later they sent me a copy of the Qu’ran resting on a carved wooden stand that I keep in my living room.

 

Ra’d wrote me today thanking me for my blog – “I even fasted during my period bc my partner insisted we do so and I’m too depressed to eat much these days.

My girlfriend is like you, someone who doesn’t identify as Muslim, but who shares many of the values and practices. She’s brought me closer to my faith.”

 

I was a bit crushed.

 

I hesitated then wrote back a short note. I was grateful they had met a partner who supports their fasting. I knew this wasn’t always the case for Ra’d. I clarified that I wasn’t solidarity fasting or doing Ramadan with or alongside a partner.

“I do identify as a Muslim, only I don’t identify all the time. LMAO. I have huge issues with the Institution,” I wrote.

 

Am I Muslim enough?

Is a heretic by any other name just a Muslim with whom other Muslims disagree?

Pretty sure that this entire blog is evidence for anything and nothing where Muslimity is concerned.

 

Ra’d wrote back right away: “”Sorry, I got confused. Either way I’ve considered you Muslim. We all struggle with insitutional Islam, it’s kept us so far away from the light.”

 

What an act of kindness I’d received.

Belonging to something because of the very ways that I don’t belong.

 


from Kazim Ali’s Fasting for Ramadan

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That contradiction is within this year’s Ramadan.

The way that time slowed down, but before I knew it, Eid was here.

The way that a series of restrictions, hunger/thirst/sleep, provided me emotional freedom.

The way that I stopped fasting, and when I started fasting again, modifying the fast, I discovered what it was I had lost. The Fast was a drain for my anxiety, and it began to fill up my sink again.

The way that every Detour brought me closer to Home. When I had to modify my fast to 6 hours, I learned through friends that I needed to surround myself with other rituals, that I needed to write, that I needed to be intentional about my emotions and thoughts and prayer.

The joy I feel, even on serotonin blockers, is amazing, because it is the joy of being present knowing that I have shown myself the unwavering nature of my discipline and Faith.

 

 

It wasn’t that I fasted perfectly every day.

 

It was the fact that I stopped, but I still returned to Ramadan and to God, even through mistakes and the feelings of shame and failure – I persevered and continued to fast, to write, and am better for it.

 

 

It’s brought me closer to Light.

Since I’ve left NYC, I’ve been disconnected from many friends who were once a daily part of my Ramadan ritual.

But this year, as Jennifer said, “The pandemic has reduced life to two distances. You’re either in my house or you’re not.”

 

Distance AND time compressed.

 

I spent more time fasting with my queer NYC Muslim community than I think I did even while living in NYC.

I saw my dear friend Lampa in several different contexts and every time

She was my anchor, a familiar face across 18 different zoom lines.

The constellation of my friendships did shift during the pandemic.

Some stars burned brighter, and some stars dimmed.

I expect the twinkling to start soon.

The best part was that Ramadan gave me the space and time to put my hands under my head and look up at the sky.

 

I called Courtru on my drive home.

“What are people going to do on May Day now anyway? It’s not like they’re going to be able to go anywhere or do what they usually do.”

“What is normal now anyway?” Courtru said, “It’s almost summer. I’m sure it’s really messing with a lot of people’s heads. I mean summer is a time of transition. People make plans, but they don’t know what to do this year.”

“Yeah, they’re not sure if things are going to look the same or different. So they’re probably panicking. I mean, it’s not really summer, it’s more like a really warm winter.”

“It was the coldest of winters. It was the warmest of winters.”

Friends who can help you laugh at the absurd and the harsh.

 

 

When I got home, I had two things left to do.

 

The first was to jump on a call with some queer Muslims.

 

During the call, Lampa said that it had been a very special Ramadan for her because of the pandemic that she had woken up every morning for Suhoor and seen her mother in the kitchen, and then went and prayed separately and went about their days because they’re distancing. Yet they were still connected. “It was a once in a lifetime experience,” she said.

 

The second was to jump into the Zoom for the memorial for Stacey Milbern, founder of the Disability Justice Culture Club (DJCC), and whose passing I wrote a little about here.

 

Friends and family of Stacey, and organizers from DJCC had organized a caravan of around 120 cars driving around Lake Merritt for her that was live-streamed. They had the most beautiful series of interviews with disability activists and friends who knew her. They also had an amazing music set where all the lyrics/singing was signed by the most expressive and talented signers I’d ever witnessed.

 

I didn’t know Stacey, but I felt like everybody had come out for her.

I felt the power of her love and her message.

This was one of her favorite quotes.

 


“Love doesn’t die, people do.

So, when all that’s left of me is love,

give me away.” – Merrit Malloy


 

What gave me the most pause today came from Josephine.

We’ve shared an activist space for five years. Josephine is also Muslim and is fasting.

There have been times where Josephine says awkward comments in meetings, and it’s clear from the silence in the room that people don’t know how to respond. At times, I’ve noticed that people are short or brusque to Josephine because she consistently asks questions that are a bit different and can sometimes miss social cues.

 

This time as some of us were discussing our experiences of fasting, Josephine asked if we were going to take a break in the middle of the meeting.

“I don’t want to be interrupted,” she said.

It was an abrupt comment that seemed to come out of nowhere.

“We won’t interrupt you,” the moderator said, sweetly.

“Okay, well I know some of you judge me. I know you are thinking things about me, and I want you to know I have Asperberger’s, and a lot of people are on the spectrum, and also some of us are introverts, and we relate differently.”

 

It moved me, Josephine’s courage and directness in the face of such danger, the judgment of her peers.

 

The pain that we must’ve caused for her to feel the need to explain herself, after five years of not doing so.

 

The truth is that as much as anyone, I’m a part of why Josephine said something at all. I have always known, before she said it, that she was on the spectrum, but I stayed silent because I believed it would’ve been insulting for me to directly address her.

 

I’ve been on calls where Josephine asked questions, and I simply stopped, not sure how to respond. I didn’t work to make her feel welcomed in those moments.

 

I also didn’t judge Josephine in the way that she feared, because I did know, and I understood.

 

For years now one of my dearest family members, Galahad has been struggling with a disability called Tourette’s, which causes uncontrollable tics, some of which are quite painful, like hitting himself. His disability is severe and socially difficult, and seeing the toll it has taken on his parents, as well as the humiliation and embarrassment that my beloved Galahad has experienced. There have been concerns raised about ADHD, OCD, Austism, and we don’t have all the answers, but I can say that Galahad is one of the smartest and sweetest people I know.

 

When my dad lost his hearing to cancer, I remember how cruel people were to him, how they yelled at him when he couldn’t hear, how I yelled when we couldn’t get along and he couldn’t understand what we were saying in a fight. I would get so upset in public spaces where people would be rude to him because he wasn’t “hearing” them.

 

There are so many kinds of disabilities, but now is a good time to remember what Shaykha Body Prime said, “I read this from the disability justice culture collective once. Our fight isn’t just for people with disabilities, you may have a disability down the road.”

 

It was the end of the call for me, and I was preparing to go, but Josephine was talking, so I stayed to listen. She was talking about how this Ramadan she found it distracting to be in these Zoom calls, because she found the time she spent alone the most comforting.

 

“With the pandemic though, I didn’t feel as lonely this Ramadan because I knew we were all going to be alone.”

 

I want to thank Josephine for her bravery, for lending me on this last day of the fast a truth that landed in my heart.

 

I want to thank each and every one of you who read any part of this blog. There were days I felt I was writing into the void, but somehow, miraculously, at least one person a day sent me a heart or some small note of encouragement, or engaged with me somehow.

 

I want to thank La Paloma for loving me in a time of Coronadan.

I want to thank my doctors (body and brain/heart).

I want to thank my mother and my family, especially for the several times my mother cooked for me and my family shopped for me.

I want to thank my community of friends and artists, BIPOC Writing Community, Poetry-a-day for Ramadan community, Friends: especially Courtru and Lampa and Saimo, Shades, the Don, Kitten Little, Adonis, Faith and Shaykha Body Prime, Lisa, Pele, Ra’d, MadCosmos and Sleeping Lion, Bollywood Superstar, Tayari, Elina, Jasleen, Mary, and of course Debbie Kelly, and all the queer Muslims who keep me close to Allah.

I want to thank everybody who submitted a pandemic qua’rancut or qua’ranstyle.

Special thanks to everybody who dropped me a note of encouragement or engagement with this blog. If you’re a blogger, you know what it means to be lonely, to shout into the void. ❤

 

And, of course, I want to thank Allah, the Sweetest, for hearing my prayers and preparing a place in Jannah for everyone I love.

 

Eid Mubarak Beloved!

May your Eid bring you respite from your worries and your hurts, may Allah return you to the power of your joy and your love.

If you are reading this message, I have prayed for you.

 

 


 

from I have no clue. . . as to this creatrix.

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