Ramadan Day 13: Through the Open Door

 

In writing as in life…

My sister Ber sent this over.

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I’m sometimes asked about my ability to write during Ramadan. Once, I wrote a story that was quite painful to recount because it still sucks, but I want it to be good. It’s called “The Sleepers.” Part of the story is a love triangle manga, and the other part of the story is about a woman who, due to past abuse, serially takes out Craigslist ads to ask women to sleep with her. However, they must sleep “platonically” with her. The realist protagonist in my story is a well-meaning friend who must decide how to help one of her closest friends.

 

I had dinner with a beloved mentor T. We discussed some of the problems with it.

 

“There are a lot of great points to the story. The friendship, for instance. You can still save the story, Serena, but there’s too many problems in one narrative. You only get so many pieces of candy. Another thing, everybody in the story is too well-intended, too clean. They don’t really make mistakes. You’re protecting your characters.”

“I guess because I based this story on people in real life, even if the plot isn’t real.”

“Yes, but nobody in the story is really flawed, and they’re delivered as if they’re all wholesome people.”

“I don’t really think of them that way.”

“Maybe that’s a problem,” T said, “in the way that you see people.”

“But can’t I only see people the way that I do?” I was perilously close to whining.

“Yes. That’s what I’m trying to tell you.”

“So you’re basically saying that to become a better writer I need to be a better person?”

“Yes, and that’s something not a lot of people will tell you.”


There is a second Hebrew word for fear, yirah. Rabbi Lew describes yirah as “the fear that overcomes us when we suddenly find ourselves in possession of considerably more energy than we are used to, inhabiting a larger space than we are used to inhabiting. It is also the feeling we feel when we are on sacred ground.”


from blogger Tara Sophia Mohr

My dear friend Alpaca once sent me this quotation after we had a long talk. We were discussing leaving my job, which was, at the time, as an executive assistant. Alpaca was, gently, trying to point out the irony that I who had taken so many risks to become a writer and was feeling stunted in my current job was scared of losing this job, at instability. Part of it, quite honestly, was that after my last break-up I’d felt so bad about my ability to make any decisions. This fear included related fears such as dating or choose a partner, but it quickly bled to following my dreams or trying to get what I want.

 

A writing teacher of mine, David Mura, once sent his workshop an article about how there’s no such thing as writer’s block. That most people really can always write, but they stop because they are worried that what they are writing is good.

 

During Ramadan, I have considerably less than energy than I’m used to. This manifests as a flatter affect and a shorter term memory and a more scattered attention. But it also manifests with less anxiety, less stress, less anger, less fear. I’m more direct, in some ways.

 

I like to use the fast to do things I don’t ordinarily have the courage to do. In law school, I had a best friend who was a total wild man. I adored him. He inspired me, and he always urged me to move past my fear. We spent all our time together, and because of him, I helped to organize a fight for racial equity. One of the few differences between us was that he wasn’t afraid. He used to tell me that I was the one with courage because I was so afraid.

 

One thing I haven’t had the courage to do is to move past a couple losses in my life. These are friend losses, which for any of you who have lost friends, know that it can be as hard and emotionally intense as losing romantic partners or even family. I’ve moved past many a break-up, but whereas the way I process and suffer through a break-up is like a fire that burns clean through and destroys me – a friend break-up feels like a thousand cuts. The intensity isn’t usually as terrifying, but each time I remember them, it feels like a small cut. It can be an article I read, or seeing a mutual friend, or hearing a song I want to share. Sometimes, it can even be Ramadan.

 

Nearly a decade ago, my friend Blissey and I took a walk near Pacifica. We didn’t see any whales, but the day was crisp and the gulls mixed with the salt air until we were intoxicated. We walked with a certain self-possession, a close connection to the largesse in nature, and in ourselves. Blissey told me about one of her dearest friends who had also become incredibly toxic, shutting Blissey out of her life repeatedly, and at times, going to extremes with negative comments. This had been going on for a decade, and they were in a period where this friend was no longer speaking to Blissey. A part of me wanted to tell Blissey to keep trying.

 

Blissey, like me, is exceptionally loyal. My friend Debbie used to tell me, your loyalty is almost spiritual in its devotion. Hmmm… I think my standard and understanding of loyalty is spiritual in its devotion. I only wish my practice were that high. Still, it says something that loyalty is a value of mine.

 

“Sometimes you have to close one door to open another.” It was one of the first times that oft-repeated saying would emerge from my lips.

 

I think she understood it the way that I meant it. I was telling her, which was very unlike me (back then) not to try because her energy focused on that one place was preventing her from focusing it elsewhere. It wasn’t because I didn’t think her friend would or wouldn’t return to Blissey. I can’t know that. Even if she returned, I did know that it would be as a different person or Blissey would be. I only knew that there are doors in each of our lives. So many of them. And we can’t go through all of them at the same time. And one thing for darn sure, we can’t spend our limited energy holding open a door when somebody else is trying to slam it shut.

 

That’s how it’s been with my mother. For most of my teenage years, and then my twenties, she closed the door on me, and I closed it right back. Our house was a series of bang bangs.

 

Being queer has its perks but peaceful family bonds and relationships are rarely among them. It’s only in my forties that I’ve come to realize that this woman who I’ve blamed for so many of the hurts in my life is also the person who has my back in life more than any other. It’s taken years of tough work to get there, to allow my mom to be a different person than how I saw her. And vice-versa. Although I believe my mother was always more connected to her love of me than I was to mine of her. I think it’s a mom thing. Now she is as loving and kind (and let me just say it, a tad smothery – sorry mom, hope you’re not reading the blog today) as she is capable of being. And she has met me more than halfway. She is delighted to have me see her not as a persecutor, but as a Friend, to understand that she is one of the great loves of my life, which is how I always used to dream it would be.

 

This isn’t true for the two friends to whom I no longer speak. One friend, I haven’t known that long in my life schema, and I’ve come to accept is not in the emotional place to be friends with me. I don’t know if she’ll ever be, but I hope so. Our relationship wasn’t strong enough to withstand our conflict, no matter how inconsequential I thought our conflict was. The loss, however, was hard on both of us. But I don’t get to decide. She has less capacity for repair than I do. I only get to decide how long I want to keep a door open. Lately, I’ve started to realize that I can prop a stick on that door and redirect my energies elsewhere with minimal effort. When I was a child, I used to need the door cracked open just that little bit, with the hallway light on, so that it wasn’t totally dark.

 

“You’re so annoying. Turn off the light,” my sister would say.

 

Another friend, J, I’ve known since I was nine years old. That loss of a childhood friend is incomparable, because they’re more than friends, they’re witnesses to who you are. As long as people will know you, only the childhood ones will know that part of you. For everybody else, that childhood person is some inconceivable hypothetical, built for laughs or a notch on a measuring stick.

 

It was inconceivable to me, despite how severe our mistakes were toward each other, that J would stop being friends with me. Truthfully, I didn’t think we would even know how to do that. Perhaps we’d stopped being friends for years when I was unable to forgive her for not going to my dad’s funeral and became, ever after, a rude and biting friend at many a juncture. That was idiotic of me, but for some reason, I couldn’t let go of it. I couldn’t accept her for who she was and what she needed in that one summer month. Before she left, I helped her one last time with a huge life crisis, while I was in crisis. I don’t know why I did it. I resented her, but I didn’t want to abandon her. Maybe it was a mistake. But I think I humiliated her and wounded her pride while I helped her, which fills me with sorrow at my own crappiness.

I’ve reached out a couple times in the last 5-6 years. But I sometimes wonder if I will ever reach out again. I wonder often about her and how she’s doing, but some part of me knows that she may never have the energy or desire to be friends again. Also, that I may never stop being surprised at that truth.

 

How do I accept these losses?

 

Well, as a practical matter, I definitely don’t wake up one day and decide to write my friends letters telling them that I’m closing some existential door. (Really didn’t want anyone to think that would be my advice.)

 

As a less practical matter, I adjust. And that’s all internal work with which I’m in-progress.

 

But didn’t I go on and on about closing doors? I mean, here I am propping one door open, and the other part of me is talking about accepting loss.

 

I’m not there yet. I mourn. The door that I closed is the panic. I feel that I will never close some doors completely. The past couple years I’ve become okay with that. It doesn’t mean I don’t have the feelings. It doesn’t mean I won’t ever reach out again.

 

I have to remind myself that how I love has its price of a deeply felt loss, but I also have the capacity to love, to hold within myself a space of support and kindness for some people. All that energy must be treated seriously, as if it’s precious. Because as much energy as I have, there’s also a huge space in my life for change. For book and baby and love and more I don’t even know. I’ve had yirah, and I listen to my fear now. I’m right to be scared, and I’ll need my energy to navigate this larger and larger world. I didn’t realize that when I was young and invincible. I was looser with my boundaries, to my detriment. I was careless because my world was smaller, but felt, bigger.

 

You only mourn for however long Allah lets you mourn before throwing the next challenge in your face.

 

“Sometimes you have to close that door and walk away, before you can open it again.”

 

I’ve become a better person in the last decade. Maybe some of that was fasting. Maybe some of that was taking huge risks to do what I want. Maybe some of that was falling in and out of love.

 

I do sense, though, that what I didn’t know in my twenties and thirties was how many doors would open for me. There are, in fact, so many doors that I spend less energy worrying about whether doors will open, whether the universe is abundant with love, and I spend more time trying to discern which love is worthy, which love will back to me – and then go toward the doors with the biggest, brightest rooms.

 


The leaves of the dogwood are turning orange. Which

means the earth is swinging around the sun; each day

the time until fast-breaking shortens by two minutes

because the days are getting shorter and shorter.

 

Fire that summit of orange can nurture or combust.

 

A body that eats food burns food all day long and

Requires more.

 

A body that fasts has to learn a new way, to sustain

its energy and nurture itself; the fasting body can–

not burn because it becomes dimly aware that the

better you burn the faster you burn, and that when

you burn you must create more and more fire.

 

And if the only way you know how to live is by

Burning, then at the end all you will have left is ash.


from Fasting for Ramadan by Kazim Ali

 

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My mother, sister, nephews and I went to my dad’s place yesterday.

 

My sister, ever the thoughtful one, usually prompts us all to visit and to bring flowers, a spray of white chrysanthemums. Her eldest, B, brought a Magic the Gathering plains card — a mystical land with cool powers, and we placed it among the flowers… First, the boys bowed, and then my sister and I did the ritual bows.

 

When we arrived, though, there were already a few white flowers in the holder of my dad’s headstone.

 

“Look, somebody already visited dad,” my sister said. She bent down closer, “It’s a new neighbor.” We were all surprised. After more than a decade, my dad was finally getting a person right next to him. It felt a bit cramped as we do kind of have to walk over the dead to get to the other dead. Whoever was visiting this recent arrival had put flowers on my dad’s grave as well as the grave on the other side of their beloved’s headstone.

 

“They’re so sweet,” my sister said. We all smiled at each other. We discussed how the tree planted nearby was getting humongous and how its shade would be so lovely someday. My sister and mom were interested in the placement of some headstones that we felt were too near the tree’s root system.

 

We put a chrysanthemum in my brother’s friend’s grave too. She was a paramedic, a lesbian, and had died young. There’s a picture of her standing next to her seated wife, wide smiles, both arms around her wife’s shoulders. We noticed a new weeping willow, sat on the rolling hills of grass. Of course, flags were everywhere since many veterans are buried here. It’s a catholic cemetery. They keep saying they’re going to move her, but Iris Chang is kiddy corner to my dad, so I took my nephew B over to put a flower on her grave too. My Aunt Margaret is on a plot that faces across a road. It feels like the place is getting full, in a way that doesn’t depress me.

 

I didn’t say much because I was fasting. I didn’t pray for it, I realized, the way I did when I was young. I do wish he’d been given more years, but I didn’t feel the sharp, familiar pang of regret at how many of them he spent angry. Nor did I wish that he’d accepted me for who I was before he died. I felt how much he cared for me, despite our differences, and how close he was to me, despite the fact that we barely spoke those ten years before he died.

 

Perhaps bizarrely, I thought, it’s a full house. I was glad for it. I didn’t want him back in that persistent, nagging way that pecks at your heart, though of course I always do. I didn’t hope for another chance, though it’s a fantastical ideal. How lucky I am, I thought, to have been so loved. I know I don’t get forever to be in peace, that new loss and new love are just around every corner. But the longer an absence, the more space there can be, to heal. For this small mercy, I am grateful.

 


Memory and time, both immaterial, are rivers with no

banks and constantly merging. Both escape our will, though

we depend on them. Measured, but measured by whom

or by what? The one is inside, the other, outside, or so it

seems, but is that true? Time seems also buried deep in us,

but where? Memory is right here, in the head, but it can exit,

abandon that head, leave it behind, disappear. Memory, a

sanctuary of infinite patience.

 

 

We can admit that memory resurrects the dead, but these

remain within their world, not ours’. The universe covers

the whole, a warm blanket.

 

 

To see something is to remember it; otherwise there’s no seeing.

 

Memory is intelligent. It’s a knowledge seated neither in

the senses, nor in the spirit, but in collective memory. It is

communal, though deeply personal. Involved with the self,

though autonomous. At war with death.

 

It helps us rampage through the old self, hang on the

certitude that it has to be.

 

But what about the ocean’s intensity that echoses our own,

the fever in cold weather, the soul’s descent? What about the

weight of the angels’ wings?


from Night by Etel Adnan

 

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Ramazan Day 12: Self Care

Perhaps you would do me the courtesy of listening to some amazing Ramzaan music while you read my blog? You might get a sense of the creativity I get to participate in as part of the Poetry-A-Day for Ramadan group, founded by Tanzila Ahmed. The music comes to you courtesy of Azeem M. Khan.

By Azeem M. Khan


 

Time passes slowly when you’re fasting. I’m exhausted. I’m relaxed. I saw The Lorax today with my nephews. Mostly, I laid around and tried to beat back a headache. For me, fasting is easier as a reprieve to everyday stressors than as a state to spend vacation days. It’s understandable, vacation is fun – real life requires a vacation. Is fasting a vacation?

 

Not exactly. But it is self care. I was talking to Libya (pronounced [ley-bee-uh]) the other day, and we went off on a whole rant about the pervasiveness of the term self care these days.

I can’t handle it, I said. At first, it was used to mean people finding joy even in difficult times. I had a lot of love for that usage. But now, it’s become almost hedonistic. Like so many good ideas, it’s been corrupted by capitalism. It feels sometimes like a call to spend money. As well, it’s been corrupted by whiteness – by a force for singularity, by the thought that Americans are entitled to have a good time as individuals, by the way that whiteness functions to normalize and center itself as the right narrative.

So, self care as we see it fed to the masses is an assumption – that the self is the priority. It takes place outside of community. It’s not about nurturing, supporting, and healing each other. It’s about getting what’s yours. You may roll your eyes at the obviousness of my thinking. Fair enough.

 

The shift in what self-care encompasses falls along the same wrecked scale as the co-optation of mindfulness and religious practices such as yoga or meditation. (Here I’m rolling my eyes at the Buddhists who’ve stripped Buddhism from its cultural context, full of – guess what? All the shortcomings and graces of any other religious practice as an aspect of a larger cultural existence. That means you can inhale homophobia and exhale classism.) It’s the concept behind why you can have a job that is the most stressful, ever. You can concentrate on whether or not YOU are successful and ignore your part in a world where immigrant children are being deported and disappeared (yes, Patricia Smith did say: “Imagine if Barack Obama had ‘lost’ 1500 white children.”). It’s why you can flake on people in your life who maybe need you (like the family that you can’t stand) or not deal with your problems (who has time for that?) or run yourself ragged in a situation you hate because you have #goals – and then you can meditate for 5-20 minutes and presto, you don’t have to change the context. You can take the easy way out: breathe and be centered.

Ommmmmmmmm

Ommmmmmmmm

Ummmmmmmmm

No doubt meditation helps with that, but meditation is no excuse for short-sightedness. We’re not trying to be present so that we can leave our lives behind and escape. We’re trying to be present so that we can accept where we are, the now, and that takes real strength. How to listen to yourself. Sama, the deep listening, the Sufi way.

 

Fasting is self care too. It’s the kind of self care that we need in the world right now. Especially, fasting for Ramadan. Millions of people willingly depriving themselves of food and water from sun-up to sun-down so that they can be closer to God. And to be closer to God means they are trying to understand what it’s like to starve, because our people are starving, because our community is thirsty. Because experiencing a fast is about appreciating what you have by letting go of human food so you can be fed by soul food.

 

Once you’ve appreciated it, you can share it. Radical self care, then, is about working so hard to heal yourself and to rise up that you will have enough to give to the people who need and want you. It’s about the fact that giving also heals us. I’m not saying give thoughtlessly. I’m saying the opposite, which is what is your intention when you take care of yourself? Is it to disconnect completely because you think this world is full of crap, or is it to love yourself so much that you find the moment where you can connect in what is best about yourself, and best about people?


 

By Azeem M. Khan


The question of community is a real question for many people of color and indigenous folks. Poc professionals, be they writers, professors, lawyers, musicians – any career where peeps are underrepresented. What must we give back if we’re successful? When do we need to give less in order to simply have a career? What is owed when success is clearly owed, rather than an entitlement?

 

This is the question of who do we take with us? How do we support each other? This question I have found to be very central to my understanding of myself as a writer. But I didn’t start that way. Until I went to law school, I only thought of success in terms of me. But once I realized that I could get a degree that would give me the power to help people, it helped to heal some part of me. I didn’t realize how broken I was, of course, but I did realize that I was the one who benefited from caring for others.

 

I have a friend, Hazel Reincarnated (Hazel R.), who was a professor for a long time in a Los Angeles college. She did get tenure. But, this college had a lot of problems around how they treated students of color. (Surprise.) Students were constantly organizing and some even sued the school. Hazel R., as one of the few professors of color, was always being asked by students to show up at events, to counsel them during non-class hours, and she always did it. She said it was the best part of her job. It was also what led to her burn out and anger, an anger that seared the rest of her life, personally and professionally. Hazel still has an institutional job – she spent decades at that college, but the new job is kinder to her. I don’t think she regrets any of it because she’s present in how to use her position at this next job to help, you guessed it, people of color.

 


Who ever walked behind anyone to freedom? If we can’t go hand in hand, I don’t want to go.

-Hazel Scott, Jazz Pianist, Activist, Changemaker


 

Why am I writing about this? Because I have some questions and doubts about who I am, if I’m doing enough to help other writers of color, especially queer writers of color. I have a request in front of me to help an organization that I love, that helps writers of color. I’m also only months into quitting my job because I need to finish my novel and I want to have a kid.

 

But I don’t know if I’m doing enough to help other people of color, not just writers. I spent a decade as a public interest lawyer, and I would give myself the advice that my life is about being there for community, one way or another. When things get rough, though, like with the news these past two years, I still wake up not wondering if I’m doing enough. I don’t feel that I’m a successful writer, either. So I don’t feel that I can mentor people at this stage. I feel that I should be focusing my energy on my challenges – finishing a novel and having a baby. I feel that the constant call of responsibility has become a bit of a burden. I’ve stopped being grateful for all that I have and started to doubt that I have what it takes.

 

And I’m not alone. If you’re an adult who doesn’t have trouble navigating the line between giving back to whatever community you feel needs you or a people that you represent and getting it for yourself, then truthfully, I don’t have much to say to you. You don’t need to be validated. You certainly don’t need me to say or do anything. Maybe you probably need to fast. Allah would welcome it. Allah is certain. I’m clueless.

 

Fasting for Ramadan, as cool as meditation and yoga put together.


 

 

By Azeem M. Khan

(I have to say this Roza is my favorite of the ones Azeem has put together.)


 

One night, during the summer, I heard cicadas for the first time. I was in D.C. probably out on a sidewalk stroll near dusk. I could see a few stars, hazy in pink. There was a light breeze. People drinking on bar patios clinked glasses and chattered. I’d moved there after college because I wanted to know how power worked. That’s how I ended up slouching through the halls of Congress. Maybe I wanted some of that power for myself. It’s hard to tell. I was also very confused and didn’t know yet what words like queer and poc were going to do for me. I only knew how to wear a power suit.

 

A lifelong West-Coaster, I was used to the sound of crickets, and they chirp here and there, the blend of a trumpet and a trombone, a flute. It’s the symphony. Musical. Cicadas felt like the noise the water makes when it lands after a fall. Roar. Everybody together.

Now.

I don’t know the decisions yet, but I trust that I’ll make some good ones. I trust that I’ll do my best. You and I didn’t get here because of luck. Or because we aren’t used to the question of community. We got here because we will live with this balancing act our whole lives, and we will carry the burden of consciousness. Some of us will die from the stress. Others of us will live with it.

I have faith that I’ll wake up grateful for the roar.

Recommended Reading: Presumed Incompetent, edited by Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs, Yolanda Flores Niemann, Carmen G. Gonzalez and Angela P. Harris


 

By Azeem M. Khan


 

Dear Serena-Galumph,

 

I love your Ramadan blog and read it religiously. It’s the only way to read such an honest, eloquent blog. When the Galumph first asked for questions, I thought, I don’t have questions. The personal conflicts in my life are ones I’ve been meditating on for awhile, and I feel closer to a certain peace about them. But here’s something I’d like to share–other than my deep appreciation for your writing–I am often overwhelmed by what it’s like to be a writer trying to publish. Do you ever get mad or frustrated that your work hasn’t been accepted for publication? Do you, like me, slide into the realm of self-pity when you think that your work lands on deaf ears? Do you start to wonder if you’re doing it all wrong, especially when you read the work being published in top journals? These questions are, of course, the shadow side of the Don’t Give a Fuck, Write attitude I generally carry, which is fueled by the knowledge that I write the way I write, and maybe that’s for me to know, rather than for any appreciation by others. I know people in places but I don’t want to use those connections. Maybe playing the game would land me out of the slush pile, but I feel a certain sense of embarrassment even considering it. Am I shooting myself in the foot, Galumph? Should I be less ambitious? Am I naive to think I might get lucky and publish in a good journal?

 

 

M.


 

Dear M.

 

Thank you so much for writing me! For encouraging me, because writing during Ramadan is lonely sometimes, especially today because I’m writing two blogs in one day, having arrived home too late last night to write. I’m gonna tell you now that at first I was totally perturbed as to how to answer your question.

 

The very act of you asking it suggested to me that you think I might know anything more about the process of writing and publication than you do. I don’t think that way about myself. At all. Because I don’t think of myself as a successful writer. And I’m fairly certain I’ve never published in what some people might think of as a good journal.

 

So, I’ve been marinating on your question, and after days of deliberation I’ve decided that I don’t need to know anything or be an authority to answer it. I simply need to galumph. The galumph has reservations about me answering a professional question with professional tips. The galumph wants to talk to your heart.

 

This blog is very personal. Let me tell you why. Writing it came from a project of desperation. I’d always be deep in a project, sometimes legal but often creative, and then Ramadan would come along. It would, I’d feel, take me “out” of everything. For years, I always took a break from writing so I could fast. When I fast, I feel like a sea creature, submerged, everything a rush in my ears, a certain pressure and lightness causing dizziness in the head, resistance, sluggishness, blur, distance. I’m here but not here, and writing takes energy.

 

It wasn’t until I read Kazim Ali’s Fasting for Ramadan, a gorgeous manuscript, that I willed myself to start writing. It became easy, over time. All I had to do was let go of the projects. I only write during Ramadan, because it gets me closer to me. I write about what interests me. I write for fun. I write for the challenge. I write for my friends. All those worries about an imaginary audience, publication – they all go bye-bye.

 

During Ramadan, my work doesn’t fall, as you put it, on deaf ears. It’s read by people such as you. People who know me. People who appreciate how hard it is to write, and who imagine that I’m putting my back into it to generate during Ramadan. People who occasionally laugh when they see a made-up name. People who fast. People who don’t. But people who love that I do.

 

While I would love to see a story of mine in Ploughshares, or even better, while I’d love to be awarded the MacArthur Genius Grant after I publish my novel AND get the Pulitzer, I have to tell you that writing my Ramadan blog doesn’t feel like second best. I have no idea how any of the big awards feel, so truthfully, who knows what I’m missing? I know how the blog feels, and it feels great. It puts me in touch with what writing means to me. This is also how I feel about writing poetry. Because I don’t consider myself a poet, so I rarely worry about publication or having to produce.

It’s a gift I give to myself, I told Libya and Heka the other night.

“You give yourself great gifts!” Heka said.

But sure, I get frustrated. One time, a friend of mine was published in Glimmer Train. She’s about 15 years younger than me and writing is the first career she’s ever known. She got her MFA about 2-3 years after graduating from college. I was whining to her about something, and ya’ know I was jealous as fuck. And then she said, “I worked on that short story for over a year, and only that short story, during my MFA program. I took every piece of advice and rewrote it again and again. I submitted it to 72 journals before one accepted it. Then, Glimmer Train published it.” I love telling that story because I imagine it’s as inspiring to you as it is to me.

 

This year, I began a project to get 100 rejections because the most I’ve ever had in one year is less than 10. That’s because I’ve never applied to more than 10 things in a year – that includes journals and that includes residencies. That’s the truth. Until this past six months. Now I’m slowly but surely increasing my rejection stockpile. And, yes, my acceptance one.

So I said I wanted to talk to your heart. Here goes nothing!

I used to dislike and even disrespect a lot of judges when I was a Public Defender. They’d always complain that their hands were tied, and from what I saw, so many of them were people who cared about status, rather than ambition. One day, my friend Aniyah, a devoted Public Defender, told me she wanted to be a judge. Without even thinking, I pooh-poohed the idea, “Why would you want to do that? You’re an advocate! Being a judge is for somebody who just wants to feel powerful, but isn’t really changing the system.” I’m not saying I still hold this view – I don’t. Anyway, Aniyah’s whole face fell, and she didn’t talk to me for a day.

The next day, she came into work with her suit crisply pressed and her face looking like she’d swallowed a galumph, “You know, how would you feel if you told me your dream was to be President, and I just poked holes in your dream? Why would you even do that to somebody?”

 

Well, it’s about those journals. When I first read your question, I couldn’t help but think that my ideas of prestigious journals weren’t your ideas of prestigious journals. Many of the journals that are considered so great, I don’t even read. But some of them I do. Probably many of the outlets that I enjoy wouldn’t be considered literary. But that’s not the point. This isn’t about your taste…or mine… Because journals are a niche field, and to find a niche, you kinda have to navigate.

How? you ask.

Well, you’re a great writer! You should be ambitious. If what you read in a journal makes you want to tear your hair out because you don’t think it’s worthy, I do think cross that specific journal off your list. But there are plenty of prestigious journals that have writing that you love. Right? So be more ambitious. Get into those. Do it. And use your connections.

Connections are the most disturbing thing for me to ever tell people to utilize. Informal connections, country club attitudes, golf club cocktails — they are exactly what kept people of color down for so long, and womyn of color, and white womyn. All the misfits. You’re a white woman. A little political part of me is screaming when I say use your connections to anyone who’s white. But the larger part of me is saying, quite honestly, USE YOUR CONNECTIONS. There’s no fair shake in the journal world. Have you worked for a journal? Those slush piles are obnoxious to the max and they’re huge. It’s luck, partially, that gets you out of the slush pile. You’re going to have to believe that if you get out of that pile, and you get published, that you wrote something worthy. It doesn’t have to be the best or better than all the rest. It has to be good enough and somebody who has power there has to like it. There’s almost no chance, in my view, that the person at a prestigious journal is the only arbiter of greatness. They have their specific taste, and so there’s going to be beautifully written stuff that they could care less about. And stuff that you might think really kind of isn’t your cupt of tea. And they love it. If that somebody is someone you know, then go. for. it. I would. Because there’s no objectivity – these folks are connected. They’re reading things and selecting things with complete and utter bias. And they might as well be connected to you.

 

But I said I’d talk to your heart. See how these professional things eat people up and get us so far away from our hearts? Even the galumph fails in this regard.

 

M, what I think deep down inside is that the real question isn’t about ambition. Ambition is awesome. You deserve success. It’s almost like a mask that people wear to an advice column. It’s too easy. The real question is why you wrote that it’s about you getting lucky.

 

If you get published, I hope you’ve worked for it. I hope that story took your hard work and energy. I hope that your privilege helped. I hope that your oppressions didn’t block you or hurt you too much. I hope that you understand that you have what you have and that you have it, in part, because you did get lucky. How you use it is the question.

 

The real question is why are you asking me about these journals when I know you’ve been writing a masterpiece of a novel? Get that done and get an agent.

The real question is whether you can define success for yourself in a way that doesn’t make you feel short, doesn’t make you feel a lack. The questions are: what’s your vision for yourself? What does your success look like? Plan on it. Who will you bring with you? How will you connect? Who is in your community? How will you become a better person so that you can serve your writing?

I don’t know the answers, but I trust that you have the intelligence and perseverance to figure them all out.

Your fasting friend,

the galumph

p.s.

Also here’s a dead white dude who said everything I’ve ever wanted to say about writing, but honestly way more extreme than how I think about it — and way more eloquent, too:


“You ask whether your verses are any good. You ask me. You have asked others before this. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are upset when certain editors reject your work. Now (since you have said you want my advice) I beg you to stop doing that sort of thing. You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid right now. No one can advise or help you – no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write, see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night, must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple, “I must“, then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.”

From Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke, trans. by Stephen Mitchell


 

 

By Azeem M. Khan

Ramadan Day 11: The Comfort of a Poem

*the galumph is currently on vacation, traveling to the future to bring you back their infinite wisdom from knowing exactly what will happen to everything and with everyone. several emails haven’t yet been answered, but the galumph will respond to all in time, in time.

 

What have I been up to? You ask…

 

I was hanging out with my nephews, my sister, and my mom. I did an aerodactyl pokemon raid in the morning with my sister and the kids. I picked up my visa from China. Then, a new friend of mine, Libya (pronounced [ley-bee-uh]) and I, took a walk. It was so good to be hanging with a queer Muslim in the Bay Area. I mean, really good. There were so many perks to being friends with Libya, I discovered. One, she’s a writer (nonfiction, fiction, poetry). Two, she gives driving directions in the way that I need to be given driving directions when I’m fasting. Repeatedly. There’s more, of course.

 

On our walk, we discussed many things: Islamic closets, football (though it’s just dawning on me that Libya may have been talking about soccer while I was talking about the NFL), what we were going to eat that night. My fast brain was clicking at a stop motion speed. I mean, we were walking, but every vista made me forget a little and a little until all I knew was what lived in front of me.

 

I’m reminded of this old tv show, Married with Children. Al actually has a scheme where his “harebrained” daughter Kelly is going to win big on a game show and get him a new t.v. set. This is because she can remember almost any trivia. What he doesn’t know is that she only has space in her mind for a set number of facts – and after Kelly reaches capacity, she literally remembers nothing except the set facts. So, as he passes on the knowledge, and we get to the game finale scene, you see an image of a slot machine. The facts pop up with each question, but the last fact is replaced by a random audience comment. Kelly loses the show because she simply states the last fact she heard. Al loses his t.v.

At some point, when we reached the peaceful summit, a clearing of grass, I reached capacity. Libya and I were discussing her past, and I said, “maybe you’re sublimating the pain you don’t want to feel.”

“What does sublimate mean?” Libya asked.

“You know like when you put a thought like into your brain but like into your subconscious or something.” I imagined pressing something down into our body, like a book, and then people walking in circles and laughing but like the pressed down thing was in their chests. Of course, I was out of it from no water and climbing the hill so I didn’t have my words. Instead, I explained, “sub means under and lim means liminal, like light. Put it under the light?”

“I mean I know about sublime. Aren’t those the same roots? Isn’t that when something is really good?” Libya’s voice carried toward me from a distance as I huffed and puffed behind her.

“Wait, well liminal means in between – but I’m confused. We’ll look it up later.”

For the rest of the day, much of what was in my head was are the words sublime and subliminal related, like are they from the same roots? And why do they seem to mean such different things? HELP.

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Eventually, Heka came over to Libya’s place, and we had dinner. By had, I mean, we made dinner. It’s such a treat to cook with friends. I could feel the love as Heka shredded garlic and chopped away. I put together a kale and collard dish. Libya made a shrimp and rice dish that she seasoned with these caramelized onions. Usually, I’m really hungry When I could finally break fast, Libya kindly said a prayer for me in Arabic since I can pray with a lot of pure spirit and all that, but I have no good Muslim game.

 

But rewind: before we started our prep, Heka was already supplied with the sustenance. She knew we needed feeding. She recites a poem.


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By June Jordan


 

For the next hour, all I could think about was lizards: the ways I used to chase them and catch them by the tail, how messed up and cruel it was that I did that, how I really wanted to see a creature lose a part of itself but go just as fast, as if it didn’t matter cause we can just grow it all back. I think I wanted to be like that lizard. To regenerate.

 

Eventually, we sat down to eat and talk. I’d found it, the Etel Adnan book. Heka read from the last page.


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from Night by Etel Adnan


 

Had we invited our shadows? Now, the lizard was gone, and in its place was something dark and vague, ominous. It sat on me. I didn’t know what to do with it. Where had it been? I’d felt so comfortable with myself these days, since the two months in residency. Could I have made friends with it? Was this another gift of Ramadan? Was I so tired from the fast that I was no longer separated from my shadow. I was slow. It had caught up to me. I’d accepted it. So much so that it had become me. We’re not apparent.

 

I wondered how Heka and Libya were feeling. You see, all three of us were suffering from various stages of heartache. Mine feels far away, ossified, and for me, Heka’s feels newest and raw — that tenderness at the beginning, and maybe I would describe Libya’s feels ongoing, as if it’s on that precipice of change but is still standing on the bluff with her.

 

“What’d you talk about on your walk?” Heka asked at some point.

I answered, “Mainly, we talked about the difference between sublime and sublimate. They seem to mean really different things, even though they have the same root.”

“Right, because sub usually means under, right?” said Libya.

“I’d like my poems to be sublime,” Heka said. Libya and I beamed at her because they are.

I up what sublimation meant and found one explanation that became a fascination for all of us: From Latin sublimis “uplifted, high, borne aloft, lofty, exalted, eminent, distinguished,” possibly originally, “sloping up to the lintel,” from sub “up to” (see sub-) + limen “lintel, threshold, sill” (see limit) n.

“What’s a lintel?” Libya and I both asked.

“Oh, that’s the top of a doorway,” Heka explained. “We had a lot of lintels back home.”

“How did you meet that word?” Libya asked. It was a lovely concept, that a person meets a word.

Heka gifted us a beautiful story about a man and a temple and the beautiful images carved on the lintel.

As she spoke, I felt the shadow shift, melt, dissipate with Heka’s smile. Libya would’ve said that it was sat on my shoulder.

“Do any poems comfort you?” I asked Heka. Heka turned the word comfort around in her mind, like a coin that she wasn’t sure she wanted. “I mean, not really. I guess I’m not used to that.”

Heka invited us to each read a poem.

Libya began:


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Throughout the night, Libya and Heka discussed the line “8 strawberries in a wet blue bowl.” They were frustrated by the repeated question (by reviewers and interviewers) of whether or not Sharif referenced Ezra Pound with the line.

Heka explained that part of the frustration was having women of color’s works constantly be judged as if they couldn’t stand alone, but must be associated with the white dude hierarchy. “It’d be like if every time you wrote something, Libya, we’d compare you to Walt Whitman. Or, are you discussing Robert Frost, Serena?”

“I love that!” I said, “I do. In my poem brown spot on the snow.”

“Well, I love that line in Sharif’s poem,” Heka said, “To me, it’s alive. I can see and taste the strawberries. I can feel the wetness of the bowl. You know how a bowl sweats when you’ve taken it out of the fridge.”

“Yes,” Libya said, “and the rest of her work is so stark and colorless in comparison.”

Then Heka read from Jean Valentine. “I think she does comfort me. Her words are so open, so present.” She placed her hand on her chest and held it there.


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by Jean Valentine


 

“I love that line about the daffodil. I can see it with the blanket pulled up to its sheet.”

 

“Of course, the sports medicine aficionado would notice the physical detail!” Heka remarked, delighted by the observation.

 

I loved that line about being the daffodil. Heka studied the words and mentioned, “She’s lying in bed thinking about Willi.” We read the poem again. Each of us, I imagine, imagined being in bed, thinking about someone we loved.

The hour was late. We were sleepy.

“Nighttime is hard for me,” Heka said as she washed the dishes, “That’s why I get quiet. Night and mornings.”

“Me too,” I said, not sure if she heard me.

“Me too,” I imagined Libya to say, not sure if heard her.

“Read a poem, Serena.”


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Startled by the poem I picked, Libya said, “Really, that poem, Serena?”

Referencing the fact that we’d been discussing our trauma around the missing kids, disappeared by US immigration. We’d also been discussing exes that loved Girmay. It was an insensitive choice.

 

“This poem brings me comfort.” I tried to explain. “I first read it on the back of a metro card that I’ve kept to this day.” (Yes, I spent hours sifting through my boxes this morning to try and find my metro card. Le sigh.)

When I finished reading, Libya said, “read it again.” And I felt so embarrassed by my insensitivity that I didn’t want to repeat it. But Libya grabbed the phone and read it again, and I loved hearing her read it.

“Look,” Heka said, “each sí is different. And there’s the si that’s a yes and the sí that means if.”

“I had no idea,” I said, in awe. “I’ve read the poem so many times. Over and over again.”


Image-1


 

All three of us are suffering from heartache. Maybe we’re in different stages. I don’t know. I can’t pretend to know what my friends are going through, even as I walk side by side with them. Even when I listen. We are poems that change every time we’re read. I do know that heartache is made of the same material. Love.

The definition of sublimation is to return us to our original state, but changed.

 


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From Night by Etel Adnan


 

 

A friend of a friend is severely ill and trying to raise funds to see a specialist. My dear friend Ayesha donated an original painting to her medical fundraiser. If you’d like to bid for it? Go HERE.

 

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Ramadan Day 10: I Intend To

My query: I moved to a small community several years ago. Sometimes it feels sort of quaint and scrappy and important, other times it feels super claustrophobic. How do I make this work?

Sincerely,

Tiny Dancer


 

Dear READER,

 

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Today’s question is one that I’ve been savoring since I received it a few days ago. In part because I was searching for this Etel Adnan poem that I read a few months ago – that I hoped would be the perfect accompaniment to this post. But, I searched for hours over the past two days, and of course I didn’t find it. And, for some reason, I knew I wanted to answer this particular question today. So here I am poem-less.

 

I said in part – the other reason I’ve been holding onto this question is because it’s written by Tiny Dancer who is exceptionally dear to me, who has read countless versions of my work, and who has helped me center my writing during the past five years. If not for friends like Tiny Dancer, where would any writer be? I’d hate to see it.

 

I was also very tempted to write Tiny Dancer and ask her to describe the small town, in detail, because I would like for all of you to know the beauty of where my friend lives. I say beautiful not only because of its proximity to water and wave, but because of its frozen winters, but its blueberry summers, but because my friend lives there in a house full of books, video games, and shag carpet (last I remember). Because she is in relationship there, and where your true friend resides, so does a part of your consciousness. Also, not to put Tiny Dancer on blast, but it would be such a gift for myself and all the faithful and faithless and faith-implied readers of this blog to read Tiny Dancer’s writing about small towns which I anticipate as the kind of lean, yet wild microcosm of language that surprises and effects.

 

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Truthfully, though, her query surprised me, not because Tiny Dancer doesn’t struggle with her small town – I know this to be true. But because it raised a question that only Tiny Dancer can answer which is: what precipitated the claustrophobia? The onset of that question does seem years in the making, but I have a hunch. Hunches are like wild goose chases. They’re often wrong, but on the occasion when you’ve found the objet d’affection – it’s like you’re the golden ticket and people attribute a certain awe to you.

 

This happened to me once, if you’ll permit a digression. I was swimming with four very dear friends in the Chesapeake Bay, back in the days when I lived in DC. I think it was the Chesapeake, but I couldn’t be sure. A child of the Pacific, I had lost my heart to the Atlantic, by then, not only for its mouthfuls of salt, but because I’m an ocean creature, and the turtle in me needs to be close to home. The Pacific’s beauty is unrivaled, but the Atlantic is, in season, an immersive experience. My friends and I swam along the coast-line, bobbing, the water chopping around us in those layers of deep and deeper blue which suggests turbulence is on its way. At some point, a light rain, mere dots, fell. The sun was retiring for the day. None of us wanted to swim in, me least of all. I’d like to think that I’d accepted that it would be a long time before I’d swim in the Atlantic again. Or, I was being lazy, role-playing a seal. My friend Liza hollered, “Hurry Up, Hurry Up. There’s gonna be a storm.” Now, back in those days, especially when I wasn’t about to go deep, I swam with my glasses on. About 20-30 feet from the shore, my glasses fell in. I tried to catch them as they sank, but I wasn’t able to get a hold. The rain was coming down harder. I remembered the undertoad. I held my breath and dove underwater and of course I could see nothing. Maybe 10 minutes passed, and still I treaded water and dived, again and again, to get my glasses.

 

“I can’t lose them,” I yelled over to Liza.

“Don’t be stupid, Serena,” she screamed. “You’re not going to find them.”

 

That’s when, of course, I remembered that I’m a magical person. “One last dive,” I promised, and I visualized everything, the currents, their relative speeds, the way the water pushed toward the left, and I dove one last time. My ears hurt a little on the way down, and I had to keep my eyes closed, but I managed to find the bottom, and I patted the little rocks and their slimy tops until beneath the silt and stone, I found my glasses. I rose back. Triumphant. Four-eyed.

 

Yes. That’s right. I was persistent. I was magic incarnate. I had complete faith in myself, and I was rewarded. I was also as lucky and dumb as the rocks I touched. I could’ve died out there, though I’d like to think Liza would’ve come to fetch me. Maybe the whole story is imagined. One thing’s for sure, I didn’t give you any stakes. By that, I mean, WHY would I risk it all for the glasses?

 

What was I looking for?

 

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I could’ve chosen to tell you a story about all the things I’ve lost over the years, going back again and again, failing to recover them. Or, I could tell you this story about me retrieving my glasses in the face of improbable odds. I prefer the latter because it always demonstrated to me an underlying personality trait of mine: persistence. I’ve often lost sight of this trait over the years (no puns, please), because I’ve suffered a lot of loss since that Chesapeake miracle. I’ve equated my best parts with one of their consequences, an inability to let go. But, what if I hadn’t tried? Would I have deprived myself of a memory that for some reason makes me feel like Serena, Champion of the World (apologies to Roald Dahl)?

 

How different that story would be if I hadn’t found the glasses. How utterly stupid – I daresay I would tell it with some embarrassment. But, really, the story isn’t about the outcome. Or is it? Does the outcome of a journey define the rest of the journey? It would’ve looked the same, except for the ending. And surely more matters than one well-written ending?

 

When I think of Tiny Dancer, I think of someone who has a fun-loving and investigative nature. There’s a bigness to her – a certain explosion of the tendrils that leaps forward in the world – that largesse, that sense of expansion and an infinite space – that is what in its own way, contributed to us becoming friends. We are explorers who must reconcile this tendency with our desires to shape family, and what kind of family. We have a lot of agency, but the person that we bump up against most is, as always, ourselves.

 

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Sometimes, we live in many places at once. It’s nice to have a home. I didn’t accept that my home was with my mom in the suburbs from which I’d fled, even though I left NYC and moved in with my mom. So for the last year I’ve wandered, spiritually and physically, traveling more around the country than I have in the past decade. I didn’t accept this because I moved home to get pregnant, and I didn’t get pregnant right away.

 

I know it takes time. I’m grateful to be able to try. In the past year, I learned so much about the process and about myself. I found a peacefulness that I could only find through failure, by threatening it, endlessly. I thought when I moved home that it was because I couldn’t have a baby in NYC, because I’d failed my life there, and because it would be too hard as a single mother, far away from my family.

 

The word that mattered most to me was STUCK.

 

I’m stuck in the suburbs, I said. I’m stuck in this failure place where I don’t have a book, and I’m not even using my skills as a lawyer to help people. I’ll never work again doing anything I love, because I’m useless. The worst thing: I’ll be stuck in the suburbs with a stupid baby someday, I told myself, on those quiet nights when I bled and I cried and cried that I’d invested so much, and failed. But in all my journeys, it dawned on me that I didn’t have to be like all those soccer moms who annoy me, endlessly, with their fierce determination to succeed in the cookie cutter life — that all the people who tell me all the time how hard it’s gonna be, or how I’m too old, or how I will be burdened – that this was true for them, and while there’s truth in what they’ve experienced – I don’t have to be stuck. People have babies everywhere, in the sticks, in the cities, in the suburbs, moving between those places, rich, poor, oppressed, privileged.

 

And so am I – all those things. I have my mother who supports me in countless ways and a sister and a brother and friends and a community. There are people out there who love me and who will love my child(ren). There are, I’ve begun to believe, so many people waiting to get to know me, and to take my hand through this journey. It’s wonderful to think of the joys that I haven’t yet encountered. There will be loss too. But when that loss happens, it won’t be because I never lived my life. It won’t be because I didn’t try. Only I will make the decisions about how this journey looks…and it looks like a hot mess, and that’s okay.

 

I don’t think that when we live in a place that all said inhabitants of the place are actually in the same space. Everyone lives within their idea of reality – that doesn’t make it true – it just means that we can hold the same object and turn it about, and we will all see different things. I believe in perspective, and the grass is always greener, and also, sometimes we just gotta go. I believe in assessing what works for you and then having the courage to take risks, because truthfully, every decision, staying or leaving, is a risk.

 

Remember all the reasons why you moved, Tiny Dancer. I’m not stuck, and neither are you. Maybe the reasons are different now. So the things about the small town – all that sameness and familiarity which honestly can be such a comfort, such a source of stability – are no longer working for you because you have different reasons for living there than when you moved there several years ago. So now you need new reasons.

 

You’re a magician, so if you want to make your home in this small town, and find the magic there because you want to explore the workings of your small town – then stay. But if you don’t want to live there because the growth you need is away from the small town – then leave. Or leave, and then come back.

 

When you started on your journey to the small town, you didn’t know the outcome. You still don’t. That’s the best part. You get to try and try, and I know I’m not telling you how to make it work.

 

I’m telling you to live anywhere and everywhere knowing your intentions.

 

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There’s this lovely artist, Verne, I met at the VCCA residency, with whom I had a conversation while I was going through a brief, yet intense heartache. She asked me if I wanted to go on a walk to the front. Honestly, the walk to the front and the back of VCCA is quite pretty. It’s about 15 minutes each way, if you take it slow, and it’s a long driveway. On either side of the driveway, there’s a burnished field of risen grass, crowned by Osage Orange trees, spindly, barky things that rise up gnarled and cracked, dramatic and iron. In a certain light, the dogwoods smile at you, and the periwinkle folds the ground into carpet.

 

I first arrived at VCCA April 3rd, and those early weeks it even snowed and sleeted. Eventually, it began to rain. I enjoyed my walk with her because Verne possessed a quietness to her that resonated with me. It still does. I was not in a calm place, because the heartache was new and unanticipated, and yet on that morning walk — I felt that she imparted to me her peace.

 

The next morning, I asked Verne if she was going to go on her walk, and she said, “I already did. I like to see the same thing everyday. Especially now, when everything is changing.”

 

Ya know, I took that walk every day by myself after that first week of the residency. I took it in rain. I took it when the sun beat down and sweated me past the 80’s. I took it when the grass went from gold to yellow and then balded entirely. The trees blossomed. The clouds pounced and retired. The birdsong grew heavy with promises and anticipation.

 

My last week, I met another resident, a musician, and solemnly, I repeated the words Verne had said to me after the first walk.

“That’s so tender and wise,” he said. “Really beautiful.”

“It is,” I said. “Isn’t it funny that I saw the same things everyday, and I realized that I was the one who changed?”

love,

the galumph

 

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Excerpts from “Tenth Day”

From Fasting for Ramadan: Notes from a Spiritual Practice

By Kazim Ali

 

MORNING

 

..

 

The sunlight is lying across the road outside in a

vertical stripe. The leaves of the big white flowering

dogwood — the one planted for Martin Luther King,

Jr. — are bit by bit turning red.

 

Bodies and trees change, sure, but roads do as well.

I saw it. Last year when we were looking for houses

we went to see an 1860s-era farmhouse on the edge

of town. The owner was taking us into the backyard

behind the barn and there were these big slabs of

flat stone making a path on the property.

 

“That used to be College street,” she said, gesturing to

them. “Those are the old stones. The previous owner

bought them and brought them here when they

repaved the road for cars.”

 

Every piece of matter moves, whether by human

design or not, and are in an eternal process of shift-

ing molecules around, one from the other. Streets shed

their skins, humans do as well.

 

When you stoke a fire—by eating, for example – the

fire burns hotter, faster.

 

It can tire you out.

 

And fasting isn’t about denial anyhow, nor about sev-

ering a connection between mind and spirit.

 

The experience of fasting is really the opposite: playing

with that boundary, exploring the relationship with an

individual mind, the spiritual substance of the body

and the material, incarnate locus of that awareness.

 

One fasts in order to know the outlines and limits of

that material-spiritual connection.

 

After all, if everything is moving at different speeds

the farther away from the individual body you get,

then perhaps somewhere inside – a deep somewhere –

there is a place that is barely moving at all.

 

 

All bodies are frail. All bodies are weak, or are a wink

away from weakness, from age, from diminishing

ability.

 

There is a rule, a rule of all matter in the universe, not

just the fleshly human one:

 

We love the garden, it is heaven, but we cannot stay.”

 

 

 

Ramadan Day 9: One small step for acceptance, One giant leap toward the moon

Hiya Moon Lover,

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I’m tired today. So tired, in fact, that when Diya called, to chat and check-in, I confessed to her that I wasn’t planning on writing my blog. “Oh, that’s too bad,” she said, “I usually get your post into my inbox in the middle of the night, and I enjoy reading it as part of my morning reads, along with the rest of my routine.”

 

I explained that I couldn’t do it because I was going to meet my brother-in-law to have a con-fron-ta-tion or a con-fla-gra-tion, and I knew I wouldn’t have any energy left, either way.

 

I knew this in part because I had no energy to even be upset or angry or even that worried about a conversation that I’d been feeling anxiety and hopelessness and frustration around for the past 6 months. I was so grateful for this fast because it basically incapacitated a part of me over which I tend to have very little control: my speedy reaction time. You kick me, and I forget the battle, the war, the everything – I just go berserker.

 

As you can imagine, this is not a quality that works well pretty much anywhere. My ability to tap into it and control it, ruthlessly, made me a great advocate. But, in my personal life, when I’m at my most anxious or if I’m scared, I can’t totally control it. I get tripped up when people poke at me. It’s easy to get a rise out of me, as they say, sometimes. Too easy. Other times, I’m like the sword in the stone. Pretty much only somebody with the secret magical familial inheritance can set me loose.

 

My brother-in-law doesn’t know me well enough to shake me loose from the stupor of fasting. But still I chose to meet him at 5:30 because late in the day, I knew that I would have the least reaction time.

 

So I met up with my brother-in-law, he of the stony glare and the crossed elbows. I was late because I couldn’t quite bring myself to rush out the door. We both wore baseball caps. The first part of the game was ugly, like I felt I was going to lose it when he started asking me unrelated questions, poking at sore spots for what seemed like no reason. At one point, seemingly out of nowhere, when he asked if I was jealous that my brother and sister were closer than me to either of them, I thought I might truly lose it.

 

Instead, I realized that the painting above his head was not placed parallel to the painting next to it. I contemplated this. I heard the Doctor, as if from another room, say, “It’s probable that he’s going to try to sabotage you, whether or not he knows it. Don’t let him trigger you.” I mentally patted myself on the back, and went into the stretch.

 

Listen, Listen. My brother in law also made many acknowledgments and good points, including pointing out how stressed out he felt when my sister and me fight. Once we were deep into the count, we both got loose, and we relaxed. The conversation went into extra innings. We were supposed to talk from 4-6, but it was already 7:50pm, and I needed to break my fast.

 

Somehow, we ended up no longer talking about our issue: we started enjoying each other’s company and talking about sexism and whether the world was getting better and how public schools in the Bay Area are like private schools and why people want to be in relationships or have kids, anyway.

 

I remember a friend of mine, Le Bossa Nova, used to tell me how important it was in relationships to just enjoy your time with each other. Even when you’re fighting or there’s an unresolved disagreement. It’s a good idea sometimes to stop dealing directly with the fight and to spend time enjoying each other’s company. She said this about romantic partnerships, but I’ve come to apply it to all my relationships.

 

I looked at my watch and freaked out. It was 8:18, and I was running into Iftar. I got some water. We talked for twenty more minutes. I thought I was going to pass out, but then we ended the talk, and I ran to my car. My mom had left many messages, and I felt terrible because she’d told me she was going to buy dinner. She picked up after the first ring, and her voice anxious and worried, was, “Are you okay?”

 

“Yes, Yes,” I explained.

“I have to go drop off a security blanket for Phin. I’ll be back when you’re home.”

 

My mom has become quite a partner in crime. When I got home at 8:50pm, she still hadn’t eaten. She’d brought home the works from a Southern Chinese restaurant: lamb, beef, and vegetable dumplings. Fresh pickled seaweed and a side of cold garlic eggplant. Together, even while I protested that she’d waited for me to eat, we broke my fast and gobbled down the dumplings.

 

I’m going to go upstairs and sleep, I told her, as soon as the meal was over. And I was about to, but then I remembered that I’m not fasting only for myself (to the extent that can be true of any human behavior). I’m fasting for God, for all the people that I love for whom I get to deliver next level prayers, for my family especially, and to help me have a baby. I also said I’d write as much as I could this Ramadan, and if you can fast for a day, you can certainly summon the inner power to do other things, besides sleep.

(Caution, do not try to do this last admonition at home, while in bed.)

 

Then, I remembered why I’d asked all of y’all to consider writing me with prompts/advice. Because when I’m too tired to give a damn anymore about anything or anyone, even God, I can still eke out an hour or so to give unsolicited advice to a friend. I mean it’s just me running at the mouth. Right?

 

So thanks Diya for telling me you read this blog as part of a routine. Writing it is part of MY routine. And for telling me that maybe you have a question too. I think that when I answer a question from a friend, even though the questions that are asked may not be totally relevant to your life, I feel like I’m getting an opportunity to talk to all of you. About the world we live in.

 


 

Dear Galumph – be forewarned that, save the first one, they are not about someone eating my leftovers. ie kinda heart-deep, so no worries if you don’t feel like delving that deeply! ❤

 

– the Upstairs Neighbor Who Chronically Wears Stiletto Platform Combat Boots at All Hours…and also snores…and slams everything…and is white and under thirty and loud AF and doesn’t pick up their dog shit or respond to requests to be a courteous, non-ogre human being. Le Sigh.

 

– How to survive your late thirties amid relationship transitions / how to navigate going from deeply booed up to that liminal space in between friends and exes (wheee!)

 

– My elder, recently ailing cat who is the longest relationship of my life, and bracing for/preparing/being totally unwilling to learn to let go because we all know cats/pets are way better than people

 

<3,

Anwaar


 

Dear Anwaar,

 

I’m going to answer these in order, flash style, if that’s okay. Truthfully, I would like to answer all the questions at once. There’s an odd symmetry to them regarding acceptance, but since I’m not good at accepting things, I’ll try to address the questions separately, best as I can.

 


the Upstairs Neighbor Who Chronically Wears Stiletto Platform Combat Boots at All Hours…and also snores…and slams everything…and is white and under thirty and loud AF and doesn’t pick up their dog shit or respond to requests to be a courteous, non-ogre human being. Le Sigh.


 

This is the hardest one for me because I’ve had so little success with this issue over the years. In fact, I would like to crowd-source the hive/dear readers to give advice because so many of my friends have dealt with this particular issue over the years.

 

My friend Courtru, for example, had a neighbor who once, and I’m not kidding, played Lil Wayne’s “Back that Ass Up” on repeat loudly, and another who was into techno music and lived on the floor above and danced like a hyena in heat. Then, there was elephant feet family. Even, once, when we lived together, the family of 5-6 squeezed into the apartment next door with the unbearably thin walls would play music that swelled into an indistinguishable crescendo of rap, and occasionally, a live mariachi band. As such, Courtru has developed many strategies, which she can parse out as having had limited success.

 

I even remember, at one point, when an ex of mine and I lived together and late at night all we could hear was a mobile that wouldn’t stop playing jingle bells, that I started googling strategies for how to deal a blow to the sound queens. Mostly, I think, it was an excuse for her to snuggle. The fact that it was driving her bonkers was also true.

 

I know, from your description, that you, like most of my friends are pretty sensitive to whether the noise is coming from somebody who’s a gentrifier, and so I’m proceeding with an understanding that this is legit a noisy neighbor who has gone beyond the pale and not a situation of cultural competency.

 

Other than looking up the sound ordinance and seeing if you have any recourse there, let’s look at the real issue. Most jurisdictions you can’t do squat and that means all we can do is talk. In some situations, you can go into full-battle mode like complaining to the landlord, I think all you can achieve there is a battle of attrition. It’s basically the sic the landlord on the problem situation. And, that is only as effective as your landlord. You can definitely ask in your next lease that you have a silent enjoyment clause, but sometimes people won’t give them. Those are enforceable in court against the landlord, making it that person’s problem. But, this (like everything in this paragraph) is a hard road option.

 

I can, however, cheerlead and root for you to continue to be polite and firm and repeat your asks that they not calm the fuck down. I mean, if you get an opportunity to strike up a non-noise oriented conversation with somebody, and you can stomach being nice to this person, I would try. But, it seems that his problems (I mean, he’s not picking up dog poop? Ugh. Gross.), go beyond the conversational.

 

Here’s two blogs by a friend of mine, Annabelle, that truck with this issue, albeit I don’t think anybody has a solution — it can give you a sense of the rampant nature of this problem.

“Knock Three Times On the Ceiling If You Want Me”

and “A little white noise for my listening pleasure”

I found the latter blog quite moving for its quiet ending:

Now it’s time to fall asleep to the sound of the rain.  Delicious.

Raindrops keep falling on my head.
But that doesn’t mean my eyes will soon be turning red.
Crying’s not for me,
’cause I’m never gonna stop the rain by complaining.
Because I’m free.
Nothing’s worrying me.

*

That’s just what I pray for you. Raindrops and relief. I’m sorry that I don’t have better advice than to hope that the situation changes (perhaps in ways that will surprise you?) because I don’t really know what I’d do except for make a few asks, try to put up with it, go for white noise machines / ear plugs, and eventually, complain to the landlord. Much of this is out of your control.


 

– How to survive your late thirties amid relationship transitions / how to navigate going from deeply booed up to that liminal space in between friends and exes (wheee!)

 


 

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nayyirah waheed


 

Okay, this one I’m going to keep short and only answer the friends/exes aspect — because I don’t know much, but I DO know that many of my exes would turn over in their bitter coffins to hear me try to explain this. The very thought of waking them so rudely up from their graves is enough to make me laugh AND give me the shivers. Sorry former boos – but we gave me enough bad experiences that Stephen King ain’t got nothing on us. And, ya know I still love you and hope that you’re not reading this blog.

 

Anyhoo, once, during my first really, really bad breakup (not my first breakup), this random football player who was my exes roommate was talking to me about how terrible it was that my ex was not speaking to me at all and acting like nothing had happened. He was totally on my side. I think it was in his genes to take sides, and I both appreciated this and kind of hated it. “Dude, it’s like you guys caught the ball at the end zone and then you made it down 90 yards, but then there was a fumble, and instead of her remembering the 90 yards, all she can remember is what happened during the last ten.” That’s some truth, right there.

 

I’ve learned the hard way that, too often, after a breakup – whether the relationship was good or bad – the liminal space, as you so eloquently put it, is characterized by how you ended the relationship. That’s why people can have a relatively loving relationship for years, but if there’s a bad act at the end, one or both partners, decide that they can never speak to each other again. So, while breakups ALWAYS suck, and there’s no easy way that when two people are losing a relationship that they’ve prioritized and to which they’ve habituated (the romantic one) they can easily shift gears to prioritizing a relationship that they’ve always thought as secondary (the friendship one).

 

Oh, sure, there are couples that make this look easy. But, as Anne Lamott said about writers that write beautiful, complete first drafts – they exist, they’re rare, but nobody likes them very much. Maybe you and your ex are in this unlikeable grouping, but if not, then I can’t say anything about survival. I mean I’ve literally molted my feathers and then fried to a crisp and risen from the ashes at least four times in my life. I do think that what you can do is more than survive, you can intentionally do the hard work of building with your former boo.

 

If part of the break-up is that process of committing to being kind and respectful to each other then you will have a higher likelihood of emerging from that liminal space as friends. Again, that probably doesn’t mean the kind of friends that talk everyday (not that you’d want that anyway), but certainly a lasting affection is possible? No.

 

And, the best thing I always like to say is, Sometimes, you have to close one door to open another.

 


 

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by Nayyirah Waheed

 


 

– My elder, recently ailing cat who is the longest relationship of my life, and bracing for/preparing/being totally unwilling to learn to let go because we all know cats/pets are way better than people


 

I think anyone reading this question can guess that there’s sadness in the content, which is why I’m leaving it for last – so it’s easy to skip if you prefer.

 

When I was still in maybe kindergarten, a stray cat that my mom and dad found came to live with us. She had a litter, and my dad made us give away all the babies. One of the babies, a little yellow tabby, simply would hide, and even though I remember weird people coming to our backyard with boxes and chasing the kittens around, nobody could catch her. Eventually, the mother left, but the little tabby stayed. I named her Christina. I was allergic, even then, to Christina, but she was my first cat, even though many more were to come to my family and mine over the years. When she died, I was in my final year of high school. I carved her name and her picture into the tree in the backyard where my sister, brother, and I, buried her. Even my dad came to the ceremony, and he had a difficult relationship with Christina.

 

Cats, the saying goes, want to die alone, and they like to die somewhere away from home. Christina was no exception. We knew she was getting older and sick, and I think we did take her to the vet who explained that she was just getting old. I’m still feeling a little choked up about what happened next. I was worried about her, so I remember I followed her around a little bit the next few days, preparing special food for her and giving her lots of love.

 

We lived on a hill. One morning, I found her at the bottom of the hill, and when I went to go get her, I saw that her hind legs weren’t moving, but she was dragging herself toward the neighbor’s house. I couldn’t let her go, even though I was calling her. (Christina came when called and recognized her name). I picked her up and carried her up the hill, and she did seem to look at me, with reproach, for a moment, but she had no energy.

 

As I walked up the hill, she died in my arms. I felt her body change in my arms. I sobbed so hard that I couldn’t see the stairs in front of me. My grandmother who had raised me alongside my parents had died in my arms only some months ago. Thinking of that death is so painful that even all these years later, I can’t bear to recount it here.

 

I will say that after my grandmother’s death, I’d become numb. The loss was so devastating to my mother, who cried every day, it felt, for a year, that I think, in response, I really didn’t cry much. But Christina’s death changed all of that, it unlocked all my grief. The loss, the two together, intertwined, were too much for me. I was overcome, and from the outside, one might think that I cried harder for my cat than I did for my grandmother. But that’s not true.

 

So when I think of the death of my cats over the years, I think of the death of the people I love over those same years. And really, I think of what it means to face loss. There is absolutely nothing I can say about letting go that will make it easier. The truth is that I don’t know how to walk anymore. Especially on that line that seems finer and finer every year. You know the one where we balance our presence, the very fact that life is for the living with the equally unyielding fear that someone we care about is going to die.

 

Grief is a human ritual. It cannot be escaped. Don’t try. Don’t bother.

 

I can say one thing regarding this: we all know cats/pets are way better than people. When I read that line, I feel so many things. I don’t necessarily agree with that sentiment (though of course I’ve thought it in moments of despair). I think what’s more important is that I do understand it and so many people understand it. What’s not to understand? Love, they remind us, doesn’t have to be complicated or messed up. Love can be simple. This is true, and it’s too bad that human beings don’t get it. Pets are our cosmic teachers, in this way. I also understand that a person’s love for a pet can make that pet more important to them than any human being. Pets can be with us and we can be with them in a way that we can’t with humans.

 

For me, losing a pet is like losing a part of myself, a being upon which I’ve imbued what I most needed, and because my pets have such distinct personalities that are so different from me, and from each other – when I lose a pet, it really is like a part of me dying. I may still be alive, but I’m not the same.

 

I see this huge love you have. I’ve met your cat through photos. They’re a cosmic being. You deserve the great love you have for each other. I don’t know if you can ever truly prepare to lose a being that you love. I don’t know if you have to be ready to let go.

 

I only know that I trust you to cherish all the moments of the good life that the two of you share. Be present, even if you’re filled with sadness or fear. Cherish this lifetime you get to spend together and be in gratitude for it. When your cat passes, you will know how well you loved each other.


 

The Long Trajectory of Grief

By Laura Villareal

A squeal cracks bright like hot metal in water. Before
the sun has licked across the fields, I wonder how to save myself

before guilt sets like a stain. I wonder
if the constellations above me can lift guilt or if they’re only

a temporary solution for what I feel. In the morning
I find three wild boars in the street, dead. A red

bumper lying near one of their carcasses.
Is the nature of a crash to always leave something behind?

Fog glimmers up from the road forsaken
by first light. I pretend not to notice

your absence— how my car isn’t spiced with your oakmoss
& mint anymore. But I pray the vultures pick me

clean like a Tibetan sky
burial before anyone smells grief on me.

Ramadan Day 8: The Return of the Space Galumph

Dear Bird,

 

IMG_1797

I’m very pleased that you have taken a chance on me. Ah-hah! Or, Ab-ba!

 

My inbox has been veritably filled with the usual porn spam (why you messin with me pornhub?), almost half a dozen notes and encouragements and yes, even questions! This makes me way happier than all the spam I get. Nothing could make me happier because as I slowly unwrapped each one like an almond roca, all I could think was: WOAH – what do I say – I have no idea.

 

But, I learned at least some things from my first day in a Los Angeles courtroom as a public defender – in the felony prelim pool — when I turned to Pam the court manager and mouthed, “I’ve never done this before. Don’t I get more training?”

 

Pam said, “Yeah, we do kind of throw you in there. Sink or Swim. We prefer that you swim.”

 

One thing is that I make a lot of noise going down. Another thing, I’m a show(o)man with a set of sparklers like you wouldn’t believe.

 

A long time ago, after a disastrous breakup (Yeah, yeah I know you think I have enough of them that I can drop them like jewels on the embankment of the Sacramento River. Well, they still glitter, don’t they?) Virgie said to me, “That was good practice for love.”

 

I was hella annoyed, “What do you mean practice? I’m not practicing. It was the real thing.”

Virgie responded, “Everything is practice for love.”

 

She’s right. So consider this blog and every piece of writing that you do and every mistake you make to be practice, rather than the show. Imagine that you are at the beginning or the middle, not the end. If you need it to be an end, imagine that there will be a new beginning?

 

Does that help?

 

Sure, sure take me with a grain of salt. But, keep writing me. Keep encouraging me. Keep being in my life. If you’re getting this e-mail, it doesn’t mean that everything is perfect in your life (though I want it to be), it means that I have space in my heart for you. Because the galumph exists with the knowledge that you carry all of you forward, your mistakes, but also that incredible tenderness with which you love the ones you love.

 

In return for your attention, I promise to faithfully execute my duties as an alter ego. I also want to assure you that all letters with questions, statements, doubts, etc. will be returned in a fashion. That response may or may not be timely. Feel free to check this blog and maybe even e-mails for responses. If you don’t see a response to your e-mail, etc. in this blog – please know that I’m whipping something up or sitting around farting, praying, and waiting to eat and drink AND thinking about you.

 

Finally, a twisty twist. The galumph loves to crowd-source advice, so if upon reading any questions/prompts/statements or any of my responses/musings/rants, YOU would like to say something to the person who wrote in – you can do so by writing me. And if it meets the gold standard, I will also publish YOUR advice. Please note the “name” of the person to whom you are responding.

 

This is very call and response, but such is the nature of our times.

 

Please write stuff to me or just read.

 

Love,

The galumph

 


 

Dear Galumph,

 

You know my ask is going to be about dealing with my nightmare of a boss. In March, I had a conversation with her asking her to watch her tone with me because I wanted to bookmark her condescending behavior towards me. We’ve had some incidents since. The last one being where she interrogated me in the common space in our office so intensely I was in tears afterwards. She is exhausting. I like my job though and don’t plan on quitting anytime soon. How do I continue asking for the respect that I deserve but also not let that affect my work and my feelings towards the job/her? What are some strategies? She has been accusing me of being insubordinate but I think that is her white British lady way of being acceptably racist.

 

Sincerely,

Trying not to cut off her nose


 

Dear Trying not to cut off her nose,

You are the first to e-mail the galumph! The inaugural address! Thank you for writing such a voice-driven letter to me. Part of my joy in receiving your correspondence is that as much as I like blogging, I especially love reading. And the words of my friends are wonderful, and intense. So intense. I’ve heard about this situation before, I believe, so some of my words are coming from that familiarity.

I imagine you: poised on the ceiling with legs on each wall, like a spider, your knife in hand, dangerous and big-eyed, prepping the trap under which your boss might walk. Instead, a soft shuffling sound passes by right underneath you.

“Tis me,” I whisper, “The galumph.”

Down you jump! The descent, the sweet descent!

BANG BANG! BLOOD AND GUTS! OH ME! OH MY!

We are alone now, me and you.

We open a book of poetry. Perhaps it is Lucille Clifton, and perhaps this is the poem we read.


 

my dream about being white

BY LUCILLE CLIFTON

 

hey music and

me

only white,

hair a flutter of

fall leaves

circling my perfect

line of a nose,

no lips,

no behind, hey

white me

and i’m wearing

white history

but there’s no future

in those clothes

so i take them off and

wake up

dancing.

 


 

There are times when respect can be requested, but (and correct me if I’m wrong) it seems that you’ve tangled with this tarantula before. You seem like you know something about the kind of disrespect that your boss is showing you. It’s a lack of respect cloaked in so much more than just personality dynamics. It’s about race and class and systemic inequality. It’s about how some things are rotten, like verbally going at people, but they make us feel better. But, only temporarily. Your boss sounds like a mean, unhappy person.

You and I both know that you can’t expect results simply because you ASK somebody in a position of more power than you to respect you. That’s partially because an inability to respect another human being is usually on them. You can’t control another person. And, your situation is doubly tricky because it’s your boss. I’m not saying your boss is treating you crappy because they’re racist. (I happen to know you’re a person of color). But your boss is definitely treating you crappy because she can get away with it. You need this job for material reasons, so you can’t simply quit the job. I’m assuming, for efficiency-reasons, there are things you’re not telling me about what you can or can’t do.

I suggested we read Lucille Clifton together because one of the first strategies is doing exactly what you’re doing. Asking for help. A great source of help can be from other artists. They tell us that we’re not alone, and they show us what it is that we’re dealing with – things that we maybe can’t name. In this case, power which in this country wears the mask of whiteness. And your hurt, pain, anger toward your boss is never going to be about just your boss. It’s going to be about all the ways in which the world tells you that you’re powerless, that to keep a job you have to bow down to a soul-crushing, verbally crappy white British lady.

Here, I want to be really careful. Because I don’t know enough about your situation to know what it is that you do or don’t have to accept.

The first strategy is to know your rights. Do you have an HR that is professional and competent? Are you unionized? How easy would it be to have you fired? I suspect that because you work at an “institution of higher learning” as an employee that you have some protections. But only you can weigh this, because it truly requires a sound assessment of what you need to keep your job.

How’s this, though, for a starting point? First, before any confrontation is planned, make sure to regularly incorporate some meditation into your life. This can be sitting or dancing, or many other things – but at least an hour of silent alone time every day for a week.

Because confrontation is hard and inner confrontation, most of all. Once we deal with where we are hurt and what is upsetting us, especially about the past, we are usually way more empowered to deal with the external situation. You must address any rage that’s been building due to poor treatment from the system. Maybe that poor treatment was not only by your boss? Maybe the way your boss is – is raising a lot of painful past memories that you have the ability to acknowledge and release – so they don’t have too strong an influence on you. Your health is precious! Therapy is expensive! Be careful to understand what’s at stake in this situation so that you, not anger or past trauma, governs the actions you develop and take.

I’ll take a quick, relatively weak stab at strategies, but honestly I think google would be better than the galumph at this.

First, start documenting. That way you can study your enemy’s moves. Make sure you have a record in case you decide to go to HR or to employ “official” power moves, before or after trying more informal moves.

Read Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. I am not kidding. It got me through an MFA program.

If anybody corners me, or starts verbally attacking me, one thing I might try to do is to name or say the behavior so they know what I’m experiencing. It sucks that you have to do this, but a lot of times people have no idea how they’re coming off. It sometimes feels good just to directly observe what is happening.

“Hey, you’re speaking to me in a way that’s not constructive.” “I feel hurt when you say this, and it makes it difficult for me to continue the conversation.” Or, “Hey, when you tell me that I’m _____ I can’t hear you. Would you phrase it another way?” “I’m concerned that you’ve said XXX thing to me (being specific is good) because we’re in a workplace, and that’s not appropriate.” The problem when people talk to us poorly is that we often talk to them poorly in return, and that escalates things.

For example, some people have, in the past, had to ask me to stop “cussing” or calling them names such as “asshole” or “dick.” And, when they directly point out that I’m cussing at them, it usually calms me down.

Another strategy – after naming — is setting boundaries so you leave the inappropriate parts of the conversation — reframe or pick up the part that’s relevant to you as an employee, “You’d like me to improve in XXX, or to come on time to XXX, sure I can work on that. I don’t need to hear more on this subject, but I’d be happy to report or show you results in a week or however long.”

Or, there’s always the truce for now approach. “Seems like you have more to say. I have to take a meeting, can we take a break and resume this conversation at X time?” Then, walk away.

But, honestly, I’m not a workplace guru. I’ve mostly had great bosses, and I’ve tried to be a good boss. This hasn’t been perfect, but I haven’t had to spend months and months strategizing about a toxic boss.

I do believe that any violence toward another human being has a terrible impact on the person wielding that violence. So I can imagine that your boss must be in a really terrible place to be that crappy to an employee who has relatively less power in this situation. I mean, it’s terrible, and I’m not saying this because it’s your job to understand them. I’m saying this to you because your safety is at risk, and the danger is that if you are subjected for a long enough time to disrespect, you invariably start to internalize it. So, it’s not your job to understand where they are coming from to help them — it’s to figure out how you can get what you need out of the situation, including depersonalizing.

There will come a time, I believe, if and after you’ve tried different strategies to make your workplace feel like an emotionally safe place to be – when you may have to make a decision about seeking employment elsewhere, because the costs to your mental and emotional health are huge if your boss cannot control herself, and the institution at which you work cannot or will not help you. You may need to start putting energy toward other workplaces. I say this because I know you want to keep this job, but I also don’t want you to have an attitude of scarcity because you’re amazing, talented, and strong, and you have options. So yes, do what you can to keep the job. Do what you can. But prioritize yourself. And if you find that you’re constantly dealing with the same problems or asking for the same advice, make a change.

You don’t need your boss to change or for this sad whiteness to stop plaguing you. You need to dance.

Faithfully,

the galumph

 


 

A lovely question came that I would like to answer, but first with a question…


Hi Galumph,

 

I got a q for ya. how the heck does one find enough time to write these days? understood there may be no answer to this question!

 

-Romulus


 

Dear Romulus,

I believe, at present, that I will make a whole-hearted attempt to answer this question, and soon. However, I need your assistance. Please write me at least a few paragraphs describing why you are asking this question and/or what prevents you specifically from finding enough time to write these days. I will be printing your response to my eager readers, along with my answer, should you choose to accept this mission.

Yours,

the galumph

 


 

I received a lovely note from a lovely person who totally gave the galumph a gift today. Thank you!!! I’m reprinting it here b/c she took the time to write it, and I appreciate it, and I hope you all will take the wise sentiment she expresses in stock by writing someone you know (no, not me) to notice them.

BTW, Cheryl perhaps you may have some words of wisdom for Dear Trying not to cut off her nose? I mean, is it a total coincidence that two people who work for different “institutions of higher learning” wrote me on the same day? I think not. Not at all…


Dear Galumph,
I’m not sure this is what you were looking for, but I have had something on my mind relative to your posts.

In Oregon, I was – as you know – sad. I realize now that I was in the midst of a divorce, not from a person but from my employment of 28 years. My job had been a source of fulfillment, especially from about 2006-16, but in the past 2 years it had grown increasingly frustrating and decreasingly satisfying. So, it left me in an uncharacteristically dark place, especially for during a residency, which is normally a very happy time for me.

I mostly stayed to myself in Oregon, but you brought me a postcard at the end, wishing me well. It meant a lot, and I’ll tell you why. The work environment I was in the process of separating myself from was the most toxic environment you could imagine. Whatever I did there – however good it was – it was branded as neutral at best and always in self-interest. In the past decade, no one ever said publicly that I did a good thing or had produced anything of value ( I did!).  My work environment valued “fairness” which worked out to mean that everyone was exactly as good as everyone else regardless of their contribution, so no matter what you did, you were only average, and to expect any recognition for extraordinary contributions was paramount to being way too big for ones britches.

My residency experiences have been different. Generally, I find that in the creative world of artist residencies, people come around to me a little later. After all, I am (on paper) a middle aged straight white lady with a happy marriage and two kids whose work requires realist painting and drawing skills. Not too interesting on the surface, I admit. But one of the surprising things about my residency experiences IS that, by the end, people notice me. It’s not that I am a super star (I’m not). Just that I’m in the club enough to be treated as an equal – a fellow beggar sharing the delicious crumbs of the artist residency experience – but also a fellow serious creative individual who has earned the opportunity to be there. Each time I leave a residency, I am stunned that I was… noticed.

So your postcard may have been a small and normal thing to you, but it did something that I try to do also: Sometimes there is a brief hesitation about whether to reach out to someone or not: “maybe they will think I’m intruding. Maybe they don’t want or need me.” If you risk reaching out, you risk getting snubbed. But if you decide not to reach out, you risk losing the opportunity to do a kind act for someone who might really need it. That was what your postcard was – a kind act. Do you know I carried it around in my wallet for 2 weeks after I got home to remind myself that someone noticed me? (And you weren’t the only one – just one of some and the one that handed me a tangible reminder). So I hope that if you ever waver between “should I reach out to that person or just let it go?” you always take the risk because you don’t know when something you do will really be welcome and needed.

Cheers and Ramadan Mubarak!

Cheryl Agulnick Hochberg, Artist

 


Finally, I know y’all are getting bo-o-o-o-red with my writing, so how about some more reading during your morning meal? Or your commute? Or your 1 hour of time you squeezed from a stone?

I read a brilliant piece that talks about Ramadan in the ways that I understand it. It’s also a piece about mothering. Sometimes we need to mother (or father) our mothers, despite the rigid roles society demands of children and parents.

Ayesha Mattu writes: “After my book “Love, InshAllah” was published, my mother disowned me. This piece is about my journey over the past six years to inner peace & forgiveness.

For those of you struggling with your relationships with your moms, please know that every path is different and forgiveness takes many forms. It does mean, first, forgiving yourself. It does not always mean letting the other person back into your life in ways that perpetuate harm.”

On Ramadan, Forgiveness, & the Shape of the Woman Beneath”

Check it out here.

Ramadan Day 7: Self-Help

I promised everybody a picture of Turkey.

 

IMG_0067

 

Satisfied?

 

I had no idea what I was going to write about today. Then, I meditated. A deluge of thoughts poured through my brain. I was surprised. When I meditate while fasting, I usually feel present and calm, partly because I don’t have the energy to feel otherwise.

 

The Imam told me that her intention this Ramadan was to fast for at least 20 minutes. This was such a wonderful intention that I immediately adopted it for myself. I already mentioned that my intention was to be kind to myself. Now I have two intentions.

 

When I was in law school, Courtru and I were shopping at Amoeba records. I used to love record stores. I worked at Rasputin music as a cashier when I was in college. I may also have been a telemarketer. Anyway, I was rifling through some Artist Formerly Known as Prince CD’s next to Courtru, who’d been talking to me about some important stuff going on with her health and her family. As I noticed the Purple one do a particularly attractive thigh-busting pose, Courtru said, “You’re a terrible listener. Sometimes, I think you’re not listening at all.”

 

At first I was hurt. Was it really my fault that my brain was a mix of pinballs and lightning? I mean, my thoughts never struck twice in the same place. I didn’t know where or when they’d fly from the sky. The deceptive part, for others, was that I was also able to concentrate, and in those moments, I could only hear one thing – the thing in front of me. The rest of the time though, if I wasn’t intentionally concentrating, my mind felt like a lazy river on a crowded day, or a bowl of cheerios, or a slice of Swiss. I’m prone to what some people used to call hyperactivity.

 

Later, I was grateful.

 

Courtru is a good friend. She taught me something I wasn’t self-aware enough to know. Since that moment, I’ve strived to be a better listener. At times, people actually thank me for really holding space for them. Usually, that’s because I’m listening. I disguise the surprised look on my face because it makes me so happy to be able to be a friend. I don’t take it for granted because it doesn’t come easily to me.

 

There are still times, though, I’m so distracted that people are frustrated that I can’t give them my full attention. I try to keep those poor listening moments to a minimum.

 

I visited Courtru in the past couple months, and as I was listening intently to one of her stories, she said, “Will you let me finish?” I said, yes, but I was puzzled. A couple days later, it happened again. This time I asked why she was upset. She said it was because I’d cut her off and said, “uh-huh.” We figured out that the cues I was using to actively listen were ill-timed. It was funny: all those years ago my ability to listen to her words had transformed me into a student of listening. Yet I’m still a novice. There are still kinks. I still have to be intentional, or I lapse into my special brain soup.

 

But, there is something I’m good at, naturally.

 

Eight years ago, List, a friend of mine in Los Angeles and the most committed activist I know, was feeling sick to her stomach. But, she had a series of meetings to attend. “You should probably sit down, and I can get you some ginger ale,” I said.

“Maybe it’s the flu,” she said.

“I don’t think so.” I put my hand on her forehead. “Do you have a cough?”

“Not really,” List said. “I don’t know what this is.”

“You don’t have a fever. I think you’re probably just run down. Or maybe it’s allergies. Either way, you should lie down.”

“You know, is it just me or do all lawyers also think they’re doctors?”

“Totally. Take me, for example. I feel uniquely qualified to dispense information about pretty much anything and everything. That includes medical stuff.”

“You’re just like all the other lawyers I know.”

“True that.”

 

So, without further ado, I would like to request a conversation. But in order to do that, I need your assistance. I want to write a conversational advice column. Wellllll, not even an advice column, exactly. Think of it more as a perspective column in conversation with you, my friends and family.

 

I like the thought of hearing about other people’s problems and then applying my varied, relatively up and down, turbulent, life experiences to give perspective that they can then apply or dismiss.

 

I also like some other side benefits of this project: it will help me improve my listening skills. It will help me stay connected to you!!! And, it will provide an interesting structure to 2-3 future blogs or until either of us tire of this exercise.

 

Note: this blog is read by at least 10 people, even though probably about 200 get it e-mailed personally to them (no, that’s not by request – sad face). Think of the hilarity that could happen if you write me a question or something. Who knows what my fast brain will do.

 

I will, of course, keep your name anonymous. I’m not planning to turn this blog into a circus. I’m just saying that this is the idea that came upon me during meditation. I’ve been meditating almost daily for the past two months, so OBVIOUSLY, my idea can be trusted.

 

Another idea I have is that I can also make up problems and then practice writing myself advice. That’s also on the table. Me as me. Me as the galumph?

 

Today, I did something extraordinary. Remember how I recounted during my last post that I was fighting with my brother about something to do with my sister and her husband? Well, the issue emerged last November and has resulted in me going over to my sister’s house once since November. It has been a constant thorn in my family’s side.

 

Anyway, I invited him to a one-on-one conversation to discuss the problem earlier today. He said yes. We set a time and a date. He did a slightly weird thing already, but I rose above it like a yak. Ask me how many times he or I have communicated about anything, despite numerous conflicts and unpleasantries, 1-1 in the over ten years since my sister married him…

 

Exactly!!!

 

I should note that my brother-in-law is as close to a misanthrope as I’ve met in my life. He’s a 6’4” white dude from the mid-West who seems to have no problem yelling at people, including me or his kids, if he gets emotional. He doesn’t get emotional often. Most of the time, he’s withdrawn, and he doesn’t talk to anybody in the family except my sister, or occasionally my cousin or my uncle about sports.

 

So, I’m feeling bold. Because confrontation sucks. I don’t mean petty, everyday confrontations – those suck too. But like those big ones – the ones that may end a relationship. The last time I confronted somebody about something deeper, it was someone I dated earlier this year named Skew. After I confronted Skew about some poor behavior, they sent me an e-mail saying they couldn’t communicate with me again and blocked me on every forum, including e-mail. It shocked me because their reaction to me was so extreme.

 

Of course, all of my friends were exasperated – why was I dating Skew in the first place? I’d said I wanted to take a dating hiatus. They didn’t share my basic values. They had a cis, straight white male boyfriend who they told me wanted to be monogamous, but who knew would lose them if the relationship wasn’t open. It wasn’t a great idea, and my brother and The Doctor both warned me from the beginning to be very careful.

 

A few weeks after the noise from Skew’s departure had faded from my head, I called the Doctor and told him that I was feeling scared about some of my decisions, especially around dating. I was racking up what seemed like a pattern of dating people who weren’t good for me, sometimes to me. My only success rate seemed to be divesting myself from some of the more toxic ones.

 

If I didn’t stay “open” to dating people who were interested in me, I worried that I would never have a partner or be partner material. I confided in the Doctor that maybe Skew wouldn’t have acted so poorly if I had handled things differently, been kinder to them. The Doctor said, “I’m glad you confronted them. You were asking for what you wanted, and to do that, you needed to deal with the issues between you. The problem isn’t you bringing up problems. The problem is how Skew reacted when you tried to talk to them.”

 

It was a very reassuring thing for him to say. As we talked, I could see that something very healing had happened for me over the past two years. I was open to love, but I wasn’t staying in situations that were bad for me. Not for too long, anyway. And I was being harsh with myself because I was getting to know people and finding out that they weren’t right for me. I was unkind to myself because that fact didn’t stop me from becoming emotionally attached. I was basing my decisions on my fears. And I wanted things to be better because it felt like I’d been examining my fears for YEARS.

 

So if there’s one thing that has consistently annoyed me in the past decade, it’s having to listen to the judgments and errant comments of my friends who don’t really know what it’s like to be single for long periods of time (1-2 years isn’t long), and/or who don’t know what it’s like to date for a sustained period. People who get to focus only on problems that don’t revolve around “finding” somebody. People who spend most of their time on making a relationship work, along with the many other priorities all of us share, partnered or not.

 

I’ve come to realize that it’s not that those friends are healthier or happier. It’s that we all think they are.

 

When you’re single, you invariably start trying to “fix” whatever condition it is that you, or your therapist, or your coach, or your family or friends, think is wrong with you. You start to become a problem. There’s this idea that you aren’t perfect, or that you’re always picking the “wrong” person – it could be assholes, unavailable people, confused people, lost causes… Who cares? Sure, there’s room to work on some of those issues. I mean, there’s ALWAYS room to work on you.

 

But, really, you’re NOT a problem. You’re totally loveable. You’re amazing. You’re perfect just the way you are. And all you have to do is be single and love yourself, and that is so, so hard. Because you have to believe something internally that isn’t getting validated externally.

 

That’s the difference between love and success.

 

Wait, there’s one other thing you have to do. You may not be picking the wrong people. You may be simply getting to know people and then finding out whether they’re a good match. Or, you may be picking off of criteria that doesn’t serve you. The bottom line that I’ve been struggling to learn is: If you do get involved with somebody and they treat you in any way that makes you feel like you’re less (not just talking romance here), that goes against your values, that even just isn’t what you want – then shift that relationship to what works for you. Do this as soon as you can. And if you can’t shift it, leave it. Do it with kindness and in conversation. They can be close with somebody else, somebody more compatible. Neither of you need a problem you can’t solve.

 

Oh, and if you do leave them, rejoice that you now have opened the door to more space in your life. Whatever you do, please do not beat yourself up for not leaving them sooner, or not doing anything except what you did.

 

Because you are perfect.

 

That’s something Penny always used to tell me when we disagreed or fought. I’d ask if she thought I was messed up for saying or doing xxx thing. And even though she broke my heart – our relationship isn’t defined only by its end. I still believe we’re perfect.

 

You don’t have to choose between love and getting what you want in life. I’ve lived for too long believing that. It’s what my friend Yara calls a “limiting belief.”

 

So now I have another intention for Ramadan – I’m going to work on my limiting beliefs.

 

Limiting beliefs can apply to other people, and when we accept them, then we preclude change.

 

My problems with my brother-in-law felt unfixable because I’ve observed over the years that he doesn’t have much emotional capacity. A lot of people in my life, and his, confirm this belief. It’s kept me from even saying to him what I need to say, because I’m scared of his reaction and scared that his reaction will upset my sister.

 

But this belief that I can’t talk to him because he’ll lose it and yell at me, at worst, and simply not respond positively to anything I say, at best, has defeated my family for six months too long. Pretty much nobody in our family talks to him if they’re frustrated or upset with him. We tell each other that this was our sister’s choice and nothing can be done.

 

The conflicts arising from his behaviors, including this last one, have added so much tension and stress to everybody in my family, including him. I’ve started to worry that my nephews will bear the brunt of it in some unforeseen way that children develop. Despite the fact that there appears so little chance of anything changing, and despite the fact that I didn’t even know if he’d agree to talk – I’m still going to try. I feel confident, not in the outcome, but that I’m capable of handling confrontation directly and honestly, with compassion.

 

That is progress.

 

IMG_0072

[gratuitous Turkey shot – congrats for reading this far! :)]

Dear Friends,

You are requested to write a “Dear Galumph” letter. The Galumph will write you back as soon as they are able and would like to selectively post a couple replies on drunkenwhispers.wordpress.com.

Thanks!

Serena

 

[5/23 correction: The Imam told me that her intention this Ramadan was to fast for at least 20 minutes should have read The Imam told me that her intention this Ramadan was to meditate for at least 20 minutes. Because the original is funnier, this correction is at the bottom of the blog. Thanks to Khadija Anderson for spotting it!]

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