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?


Tiny Dancer





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.




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?




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.




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.




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?”


the galumph





Excerpts from “Tenth Day”

From Fasting for Ramadan: Notes from a Spiritual Practice

By Kazim Ali






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



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.”





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