Sad Mubarak, RIP Turkey Lin 2009 – June 14, 2018

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Dear Friends,

Many of you who know me may have heard a story or two about my family’s plucky, fierce, wild, sharp-clawed, gorgeous, smart, handsome, sweet, toothsome, somewhat vicious, attention-loving, purr-full, endearing, and always beloved cat: Turkey Lin.

Right before Thankstaking 2009, Turkey came to us as a stray found in a Southland gas station by my roommate and dear friend Saimo’s then-boyfriend. He wasn’t a kitten, but he also wasn’t fully grown. He had just enough of the feral settle in him to never quite lose it. His childhood. A little squirt of a kitty who grew up to be a shiny jaguar beast. Who loved to chill on the rafters of our garage, perched like a bird, watching us for the first sign of cat food. Who emerged from the bushes the instant any of us came home because he couldn’t wait to nap on the still-warm engine of a car.

We named him Turkey for several reasons: because I brought him home from LA during that holiday, because I thought it was funny to confuse my young nephew who was just learning words like “cat” and “turkey,” but most of all because my dad’s affectionate nickname for anybody he thought was acting a fool was “That Turkey!” My brother and I can’t agree as to who wanted to name Turkey for what reason, but I think we both agreed honoring the reference to my father was fitting. Maybe it’s also fitting that we will hold a service for our beloved friend and family member on Father’s day, a totally shitty day, where we also plan to visit our father’s grave.

Turkey was always an indestructible cat. Fearless, a survivor in our eyes, despite this outcome. He was nearly ten years old and had survived longer than any of our other cats, except for my first cat who grew old in a different neighborhood. He hated being stuck in the house and loved to prowl the streets at night. He had a bit of a biting and scratching problem, and he broke the skin of everybody in the family (except me – which was largely luck, though I like to think of it as some instinctive loyalty for my part in his rescue). Or, it could’ve just been that I was away from home more than my siblings. We’d all be hanging, and out of nowhere Turkey’s tail would start swishing, and he’d narrow his eyes at us as if he couldn’t wait for the scientists to invent a miniaturization device. But we all have our shortcomings.

A voracious hunter, not a day went by that Turkey didn’t kill an animal and bring it to us as a token of his affection: bird, lizard, mouse, rat, bunnies, snakes, one day, even a bat. Usually, several in one day. There’s very little birdsong in the vicinity of our house because of Turkey. My brother found a mole in his shoe once. My mom had to drive four times to the humane society trying to save creatures, but more often, she complained that her house was a slaughter factory. These were his gifts. I know this is hard to hear for folks who are used to more indoor/domesticated cats, but Turkey was really happy being a murder machine. As my cousin once commented, “No I’m not bringing my kittens to play with Turkey. Have you seen your cat? See how shiny his coat is, and how he looks at you? You only look like that when you’ve eaten a lot of protein.”

One consolation is that Turkey was probably tracking or hunting on the night of his demise and was likely enjoying his night out on the town. I think, if he had to go, this is how Turkey’d want to do it, as part of the untamed yet humanized world that birthed him and eventually claimed him.

Our area has had a coyote problem for a while. The coyotes have even attacked and almost carried away the neighbor’s dog in daylight. Two nights ago (when we think he was killed), my brother and I saw a rare sight about .5 miles from home. Four coyotes trailing each other single file down the sidewalk, hunting in a pack. It was like something out of a cartoon: one would turn the corner and about 15 feet behind it would follow another. Coyotes aren’t pack hunters, but they’ve been coming down from the hills, forced away from their diminishing habitat and starving, and dangerous. When we’d tried to lock Turkey in the garage for the night, he’d run away and not come home for days. We were all annoyed at first because we thought he was pulling another one of his stunts, giving us the cold shoulder because he was mad. (Though usually he’d make sure to sneak in and clean out his bowl even if he wasn’t sleeping at home at night).

My mom, especially, hated to make him unhappy. Part of that was her desire to take care of him. The other part was that he would take it out on her if she didn’t let him have his way — or if she ignored him too often — with swats and bites, much to our dismay. Several family members complained sometimes that they were afraid of Turkey. He was also our constant companion and so beloved that my mom made sure to overfeed him daily (just like her kids). His bowl overfilled to the point where he shared. Her stories for the past decade have frequently been about Turkey and what cute or terrible thing he’s done.

I used to joke to my friends about Turkey, what a savage panther cat he was. I always held him with such affection. It seemed natural to respect his personality. I remember my friend Pele, would joke with me that when she went over someday to meet Turkey, she was pretty sure there’d be a panther sitting there, and I’d be like, “That’s our cat Turkey.”

We didn’t believe it when my mom said that Turkey’s new bestie was a raccoon. She’s been saying it all the time for the past few months, which we thought was silly. “Turkey has a new friend. It’s a raccoon.” But, eventually Justin and I did encounter the raccoon, fat, lazy, and sluggish, and we noted that Turkey had been “eating” enough for two the past couple months. Turkey would hiss at his new friend, but the two seemed to have some sort of bizarre domestic partnership. Turkey would eat what he could, and the raccoon would come in and eat the rest.

Today, even though we were certain of his death, my mom left out food for Turkey and clean water, and per usual, his raccoon frenemy came and finished it off. There was even wet cat food available — which I’d put in the bowl in the hopes of attracting him back. Cats LOVE wet cat food. I guess raccoons do too. When the food was done, and the water bowl was dirty (which was always a sign of that handsy Raccoon putting its damn paws where it didn’t belong), my mom said, “I changed the water bowl, just in case maybe Turkey comes back. He likes his water to be clean.”

It kinda’ broke my heart. I want him to come back, even though I know it’s not going to happen.

Anyway, I was going to write a longer post about different stuff for Ramadan. But I’m exhausted emotionally and physically. Turkey was missing since late Tuesday night, and my mom and I searched the neighborhood Wednesday night. I searched the grounds and the street this morning, called all the shelters and started to make a flyer. I guess I didn’t really think he’d been hurt. Turkey was a hearty survivor.

Justin drove back from SF this afternoon, and he started asking all the neighbors if they’d seen our cat. The black one? They all knew and loved Turkey. He spent so much time in their yards and took care of their mice problem too. A couple years ago, a rattlesnake appeared and scooted down the long driveway we share with two other houses. It disappeared, never to be seen again. A week later, the neighbor’s gardener said he’d disposed of the rattlesnake’s body. He confided to my mom in hushed tones, “Your cat killed that rattlesnake. I saw him waiting for it.” It was the next door neighbors who let us know they’d found a battle site on their front lawn yesterday (Wednesday) morning around 10am.

Gary, the neighbor, said, “your cat loved to sit on our lawn where we fenced in our dogs. He’d drive them crazy. But they couldn’t get out, and so he’d sit there and taunt them all day while they howled and scratched at the fence. He was just being a cat.” His wife told my mom, “I’ve never seen a cat watch me the way your cat does. His eyes are even different. He’s not really tame.” It’s good to know that Turkey’s personality was apparent to the community that cared about him.

So…even though my heart isn’t in a place to celebrate tomorrow, I do still want to say Eid Mubarak. Or rather, Sad Mubarak. I am, despite this hurt, grateful that I had the health and opportunity to fast this year. I’m reminded that life is short, and I know not to take it for granted. I’m most grateful to have known Turkey and had his love during this lifetime and to have been able to love this cat back, so much so, despite my allergies. In some ways I feel that my love of animals transcends what other people take for granted.

The last time I saw Turkey, he was on this beat up old picnic bench my dad had built in our backyard. He was writhing around, belly up, swimming around, deliriously happy because my brother had brought his laptop outside. Turkey loved it when my brother would spend the afternoon working at home. My brother’s also allergic, but he would still pet Turkey the most of all of us. Whenever my brother sat outside to work, it meant that Turkey could put his butt between my brother and the keyboard. He was thrilled he was going to get attention. It was hot, and I was fasting, so I wanted to go work in the library and invited my brother to join, and he agreed, but I remember that Turkey looked up, reproachful. “Are you sure you want to go, Justin? Turkey’s already so excited, and I hate to disappoint him.”

He was, by all accounts, an incredibly loyal cat with a bit of an abandonment complex. Our family walks in the neighborhood a few times a week. Turkey would never fail to walk with us. He followed at least ten feet behind and never got in front of us. He’d slink through the bushes and dart in and out of the territory and driveways of his enemy cats. Cat-walking is a specific joy. Once in a while, he’d get too scared if we went too far, and wherever he stopped, he’d end up waiting for us to walk him back home, meowing like a siren, obnoxious and true. We live on a steep hilly street, so sometimes we’d drive down to save my mom (or me) the uphill climb. If we drove up, though, we’d have to walk back down to get Turkey because he’d be waiting at the bottom of the hill for us to return. If we forgot, he waited most of the night. All of us walked with Turkey countless times up and down that hill.

I also want to thank all of you for joining me during the fast by reading my Ramadan journals. I don’t know if I will be up for writing an Eid post. I’ll have to play it by ear.

I know I’m not alone. Many people have suffered loss during Ramadan, or are in a grieving process. I didn’t think I’d be here, in this place of such sadness and frustration, in a time when I most thought or hoped Allah would hear my prayers. I didn’t think I’d feel all the guilt that comes with loss. And devastation. I didn’t think it’d make my heart lurch and my faith muddy. It was so hard to finish my fast today, and I feel hollow.

It’s hard to feel like you have no clue ever as to why anything happens. It’s hard. I spoke to the Doctor, who reminded me that Allah sends hardship and ease together, so I should keep my eye open for the joy in life too. That was a nice thought, and it does provide solace. Which I need.

Another wonderful thought was Courtru’s text upon hearing that Turkey was gone:

“Oh no. I’m so sorry. I thought he would beat the odds forever because he’s such a badass.”

But right now, I’m grieving, and I’m glad we had a mini-wake for Turkey. My brother, mom, and I traded tales of Turkey for much of the afternoon/evening — mostly about all the wild and crazy things he’d done. And how much we loved him. My mom said, “He was so good at killing things, and he was so smart. He should be a hero to all other cats.” Unlike my brother and I, my mom didn’t cry over Turkey’s passing. Instead, she’s a praise song for the little hunter that used to litter her bedside with bodies and attack her legs at night.

My sister didn’t join the wake because she couldn’t stand Turkey. Once, Ernie went to feed him when my mom was traveling, and he took a huge chunk out of her ankle. We think he was hurt he’d been left alone by my mom. “I still respect him though,” my sister said as she called-in over speaker phone to commiserate.

Both my nephews were afraid of Turkey ever since he scratched them too. As 5 year old Fern said, after he cried at the news of Turkey’s death, “I’m going to build a trap to catch the coyotes.” We’ll see about that. Justin and I want in on the plan. Turkey was one of us. We’ll do a memorial ceremony together this Sunday. Ritual helps (which is, I suppose, why I wrote this blog post).

I hope you will keep Turkey and our family in your prayers.

As dear Brass put it, “Sad Mubarak” could mean sad celebration or a blessed sadness.

Farewell my bad-ass friend, family member, and all-around best pet. I love you. RIP Turkey Lin.

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Ramadan Day 29: One More Day but Here’s a Cool Blog in the Meantime!

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Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding


 

I’m showing this picture of some baby pandas because I don’t think that everybody thinks pandas should be bred. In fact, I have a friend who is a panda hater. I call her The Irregulator. She’s wise and genius-level and quite idiosyncratic. Recently, I was so kind as to share with her as many panda videos and pictures as I could from China. Partly because I want her to stop being so misguided, but also because I find it humorous to annoy my friends.

 

The Irregulator wrote back a loving note about how it was a testament to her affection for me that she basically allows me to exist, despite my panda-loving ways. She will not repent. That’s okay. In fact, she sent me the following articles to try to make her point:

“Why are Giant Pandas so Bad at Mating?”

“Pandas Literally Evolved to Be Lazy”

“Forget Baby Pandas: Andean Bears are the Best at Being Bears”

All of which were articles that only made me love pandas MORE. It’s a sign that I can take the weaknesses of the Irregulator and make them into my strengths. ❤ Isn’t that what love really is?

Today’s baby pandas aren’t just a cute photo. They’re an object lesson for my first question, printed below. RR – if pandas can be made to bred, on the basis that the species is going extinct (partly due to evolution and partly due to human expansion and expansion) – shouldn’t humans, or at least some of them, breed too? At least for 2-3 days a year. LOL. Kidding, I’m only kidding. Or am I?

 

(And btw, non-breeders – I do my best to make all this stuff about kids bearable, especially for those of you who might feel pressure to have kids or feel like society is being an judgmentator, especially women being subjected to this assholery, and don’t want them. I want you to know that I see you, and I support your choice. We’re amazing and whole, without kids. I think it’s crock that people have kids solely because they feel obligated or less-than without them. Seriously – it says something about society’s woes. As my sister said, probably a lot of mothers regret having kids, but the surveys don’t show that because who would want to say that and risk their kinds finding out that they’re the biggest regret of their parent’s lives?)

 

Also, I’m quite punchy today because, as you may know, jet lag and fasting do NOT mix, so I’ve been sleeping and waking weird hours. Today I went with my brother for him to have a surgery to have a benign cyst removed from the back of his head. He wanted me to film it. Of course, nobody wants to see that cyst! I’m in fact doing everybody a public service by not sharing the pics and video I did manage to get (the doctor was basically like hell no, but then warmed when she and the nurse finally realized that I wasn’t going to faint). The male nurse literally stood by my side and asked me if I was going to faint like 15 times, and he kept telling me I wouldn’t know it was going to happen. I said I promise to breathe evenly and not lock my knees. Then, I wanted to pointedly ask him if he was saying this to me because he considered me “the fainting type” – e.g. woman – but then the ww doctor was already mid-cut on my brother’s scalp, so I thought best to not assert my indignation. Eventually, everything was done, and we were about to leave, and my brother had his cyst in a jar. Then, he asked if the doctor would cut into it for him so he could see the inside, and then . . .

 

 

NO, I didn’t faint. Sheeesh. But I still want to barf in my mouth b/c it was the grossest thing ever…So Irregulator, if you’re reading this…enjoy that I put next to the panda thing something you would really enjoy reading..


 

Dear Galumph,

 

I guess I do have a question for you that I’m struggling with. And it’s one that I know that will hit close to home for you too. So you don’t have to answer it if you don’t want because it might be painful or triggering.

 

Is it inherently selfish to have biological children? Are there really any non-selfish reasons to do so? I mean, the world does not need more people. So this isn’t something you are doing for the betterment of the world. In fact, there are already children out there in need of parents. So why create more when there are ones who already exist and need your love?

 

And the selfishness of this desire tends to weigh on you more if you’re having a child on your own and/or having to take steps to help with fertility. And it’s shitty that straight, partnered people without fertility issues don’t seem to struggle with these qualms as much bc the logistics of having a kid are much easier so you don’t have to be as intentional about it (even though having a partner and a stable home means fostering would be much easier than for those doing it alone – maybe all couples should foster and all single people should have bio children).

 

So basically should we think of all people who choose to have a bio child over fostering as selfish? I kinda do. But then again, I want a bio child and pregnancy and don’t know if I have the strength to withstand the heartbreak of fostering.

 

(My private thoughts that I get are judge-y and hypocritical: I wish more of my activist friends with partners (esp those with their own homes and stable incomes and retired or well-off parents) would foster instead of having more bio children. And I think that we should shame them for not.)

 

So if I do have a biological child on my own, how do I get over the feeling that I’m doing something very selfish?

 

Please edit to make me sound eloquent.

 

The Revolutionary Rabbit


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by librecht baker from VETIVER


 

Dear Revolutionary Rabbit,

 

I hope you don’t mind if I call you RR for short. I also went back and forth on editing your question, and in the end decided – not to. Because it has all the voice of your question, and that voice is interesting and beloved!

I wanted to wait a beat before delivering a sad attempt at an answer.

I don’t agree with many of the values embedded in your question. The most important of these is that being selfish is cause for worry.

I’m an Asian womyn – for whatever reason, my whole life I’ve pretty much felt guilty about everything. When I’ve failed, I’ve felt guilty, like I was letting people down, disappointing my potential

But the worst is that I’ve felt my MOST GUILTY — when I’ve been successful. Remember, like the time (we were friends) I led and obtained a multi-million dollar settlement, going against other attorneys who were admittedly more seasoned and more intelligent – I was AFRAID to even admit the truth to myself – that there was no way any of it would’ve happened without me.

At one point, a former supervisor called, on her way to the opening of the medical clinic that I had fought tooth and nail to be built in South LA, The Rev. Warner Traynham Health Center. She said, “I can’t imagine what it’s like to be you. Most attorneys can only dream that their work will have an effect. Or that they’ll even win something. But so many of the cases you touched turned to gold, and now they’re about to open an actual medical center that wouldn’t have been built without you. It’s amazing. A miracle.”

If I had met my self, I would’ve worshipped my achievements, and been proud to associate with me. But I didn’t want people to know, for so long, who I was, who I am.

You see, I was scared. I conflated my wonderfulness with what I accomplished in the world. It’s not the gifts. We all have them. It’s what you do with them. And what you do with them makes you who you are. But I didn’t care. I didn’t see myself as having done this wonderful thing and helped a lot of people. I was scared that people would think I was arrogant, or that really, they would see that I wasn’t really responsible for something great. I thought that I didn’t deserve credit.

When I finished that settlement, I went home and cried that I had nobody in my life that even knew what I’d done. My family didn’t care. I was single. I worked all the time. Only a few friends knew, and they and my community, were ultimately the people who validated my hard work. Of course, I didn’t have as much time for friends, because I was too busy working.

And I remember one day when you extended an invitation for me to speak in front of a group of young wannabe lawyers. I was shocked. I mean, nobody wanted to hear from me? But you said, “Uh, they want to learn about how to be a community lawyer and hear about that big case you just did.” And that moment was one of the first that brought home to me that I didn’t need to feel bad about the great things in my life. My success was a part of me.

I could internalize my brilliance and light as much as my failure and wretchedness.

And looking back, it was all worth it – even the constant feeling of guilt. I was a master contortionist. Somehow, I could twist feelings of fraudulence and worthlessness to fit every single success — because it took accomplishing great things for me to see something so simple. That I didn’t have to prove to anybody that I deserved happiness, or a good life. It was that relief of guilt, and of shame, that led me to say that I could suspend being a public interest attorney and write. Somedays, I still succumb, but I’ve actually only advanced my self-love over time.

Get it, RR? Look at all the beauty you possess (Sarah MacLachlan? Weird…don’t know how that happened?)

Really, though, do you still have TIME for guilt?

It’s never occurred to me as someone who wants a biological child, that I’m doing something selfish. Come to think of it – it is selfish. Why is that wrong? Who cares if I’m being selfish?

(I think there are some great self help books about the art of being selfish, if you’re interested. At least that’s what Virgie always told me.)

Look, I know that we’re in different positions with this. I’ve never been expected to have a child, and being queer and single, it doesn’t often occur to me that what I’m doing is thoughtless or easy or simply to fit into a box.

But we’re really not that different. I was just saying that to make you feel better, or me. Not sure which one. We both have various privileges the other doesn’t have. It feels like a whopping big sacrifice to spend a little less time and energy manifesting some dreams so I can spend more time and energy manifesting a baby. I wonder if you feel the same.

You may be wondering why back-to-back, I’ve printed first your question and a poem by librecht baker, a dear friend and inspiration.

Well, that’s because I know you RR, and I know that you’ve always dreamt of breeding like the hot little rabbit you are, and I’m not in the least surprised to hear you asking about whether you should have kids. I mean, you did interrogate me on how I could possibly believe in God when innocent kids were being killed all over the world – was that part of God’s plan too? I love that moment, seriously. It reminds me that I can’t pretend to know the answers, and that belief or Faith is always going to be a question mark. You either have it or you don’t. Shall I say more?

It’s about my Beliefs…

RR, you live your life in the spirit of rebellion for Black Lives Matter and for many other causes. I detest the word causes. You live your life in the service of the oppressed, might be a better way to say it. It’s who you feel a sympathy toward, an affinity — and you yourself have dealt with a whole shit ton of oppression.

You actually form community – I was a lost soul in LA until you brought me into your world – filled with the kindest of things for a lonely heart such as myself – an invitation to have your company. An invitation to friendship. You do that for me and tons of other people. Without being fucked-up and exclusive. You “echo the blessing of rebellion.” Personally and professionally.

Yet, despite your greatness, as long as I’ve known you – you’ve suffered from a relatively useless emotion – guilt, and guilt over wanting something, especially anything good for yourself. I hate to say it, but that guilt goes hand in hand with thinking less of yourself. I mean I trust your integrity.

We live in a world where that integrity, as my friend Courtru says, is challenged all the time. We’re put to the test especially in intimate relationships. When people treat us poorly, or in any way that is less than we deserve. If we tolerate or accept this behavior, instead of changing the situation, then we lose our integrity — because we are allowing ourselves to live outside of our values. The cost of that loss of integrity is internalization. So, however we justify it — that this is the best we’re going to get, that we don’t have the strength to be alone, that other people have it so we should — it always ends up frying our self-esteem system. And the one thing about any toxic relationship – it’s not like most people on the other end think — oh hey, I’m really hurting X person. We might punish them, or try to get them to behave differently, but in the end, that’s up to them. It’s up to us to leave or change the situation some other way.

It’s as if you don’t think you deserve to have what you want in this world. That underpins the question of whether you can have bio kids and still feel good. And children, quite frankly, are too broad a spectrum, too big a phenomenon, to minimize into a hoard that merely represents the future overpopulation/destruction of the world.

We don’t know what’s going to happen next.

You don’t know.

Sure, there’s a chance people will continue to raise families whose only purpose is to be good only to themselves. To get what’s theirs. Children whose idea of civic connection and community is only how they will benefit themselves. That there is a problem. We have a whole society and generations composed of these empty-headed consumers. While we want to believe that we who’re raised in Amerika are the products of some individuality – we are actually a product of our times. A product of socialization.

I know that if parents don’t ask themselves the hard questions, like the ones you’re asking, from the go – well, then we’re lost as a species. Maybe that’s why, selfishly, I’d love for you to be a parent. Also, I want you to have play dates where you play with my kid, and I chill out and watch tv.

Maybe it’s exceptional kids who grow up to be socially-minded and conscious. And sure most kids are born loving little monsters. But left without proper guidance, those unexceptional kids, which is most kids – will grow up to be mindless, destructive capitalists, consuming their parents alive. To be community-oriented, kids needs parents who nurture that sense of hope. Kids need parents who love them. Parents who don’t spend their time tearing down that kid, or comparing that kid, but instead telling that kid they have something special to give, and standing by that kid’s side when everything goes down, which it invariably does.

I have no reason to think that you aren’t incredibly conscious. That you won’t raise a kid who will help not only themselves, but also other people, to have a good life. That you

            (rebuilt a movement, an uprising and flag in remembrance will

            vibrate, actualize change for generations, want

 

            borderlands removed from our life for our lives rightfully ours, to

            believe empowers our spirit, sages our cries, affirms our worth, be

 

            as you are and continue to awaken brave

 

I think you get the picture. (That’s a joke, get it? Also referring to librecht baker’s poem in the picture above?)

RR, I love you. I want you to love you. I want you to have what YOU want. Your guilt, sigh, is an old ache, a friend I doubt you’d know how to live without. Like me! And, I suspect that the second you give birth, all guilt will fly out of the window. You will look at that little schnookum, that nugget of humanity, that little piece of sweetness and farts, and you will say, “Fuck, I’m exhausted. Somebody watch my kid so I can get some sleep.”

 

Also, while I know there’s some heartbreak associated with fostering. I do want to say, for the record, that a lawyer I know in Southern California fostered to adoption, twice. A woman who never wanted kids. If you ever want to talk to her about it, I would love to put you in touch. She said that while the perception of that system is that it’s not navigable, that the opposite is true, and especially with people who understand how systems work (ahem, lawyers), that it’s quite likely that you can work out a situation where if you want to adopt, your chances are very high.

 

I don’t agree with shaming straight people who want kids, either. This is partly because I’m sensitive to shaming as a change tactic. I don’t know if it works. Maybe it does. Sometimes, it feels like a useful tool. Sometimes, it feels like it just causes people to retreat. This is something I’d be curious to know more about from other people, especially activists, who can tell me if shaming is useful, inherently okay, or cruel, or if I’m just being too sensitive here. I do think it’d be nice if couples who are enacting straight privilege were more thoughtful about their privileges, but then I think the same of white people, and straight, white people, so there we have it…I want them to have healthy, happy families too, but I want them to prioritize their kids becoming social change agents, now more than ever. No better place to lead, than by example.


 

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gratuitous picture of Turkey as section break


 

Dear Galumph,

In response to your request, which was refreshing and nice to hear, I’ll offer some thoughts in the hopes of clarifying my question (see “how the heck do you find time to write?”):

As to why I ask, well, mostly it’s to learn about you in the present moment and what you’ve been doing, for pete’s sakes.

But to be honest, this question is a central one in my life, and it’s a question that I don’t ask of everyone. I guess I save it up for the people who I secretly suspect might be in possession of a good answer.

My asking doesn’t come without trepidation, as the question has surely caused many artists a great deal of suffering. Your drafting abilities have always impressed me, so I thought of you in that context, though certainly allowing for some room to discuss revising. Despite your natural strengths in these areas, I have no doubt the question has caused you a smidgeon of anxiety, since you’re an artist, consarnit. We’ve discussed it before, but something tells me your answer(s) may have evolved since last time.

What do you do to get yourself to sit down at a blank page and start? What gets you to that place?

In solidarity,

Romulus


 

Dear Romulus,

 

Thanks for getting back to me after I gave you homework. I don’t know if blog readers know this, but Romulus appeared earlier with a question:

 

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 – you somehow managed to COMPLETELY SHIRK my question back, at least in intent, which was to write me a letter detailing the specifics of YOUR LIFE. Silly, it was a prompt! I thought that I was being all clever, and that you would write me a long letter full of your details and specifics about how you spend your day, with juicy details over scandal and horror that has no end, at the very least about the juicy little scumbags that you teach. ANYTHING.

 

SHEEEEEEESH. HARUMPH from THE GALUMPH.

 

Imagine that. You turning down a prompt, even in this anonymous forum where unknown friends of mine get to hear a little about my friend’s lives. Don’t you think people want to know?

 

So I’m using your question to leapfrog over to tomorrow’s post where I intend to tell you a little about the present moment. Namely, my trip to China – a question posed by another galumph pilgrim.

 

Wait, hold on, oh right you also asked about the blank page and how I start.

 

Ok, well, obviously, I do love a good prompt, and I thank you for the very complimentary nature of your e-mail.

 

I truly do think 80% of it is literally just facing down that dark and solemn, and chillingly unknown door. I am one of those writers who has a hard time writing more often than I like to admit, though T often tells me that writers constantly kvetching about how hard it is to write are ANNOYING. To that I agree.

 

So, to each their own, but one thing I did was to start journaling online during Ramadan – say about 5 years ago…because I didn’t have the energy. Doing something so public and with such quick turnaround goes against my perfectionist tendencies.

 

When that worked, I also started a mini advice column that I’m debating continuing, in another format, for a lit magazine. (So yes, I would like you to know you’ve all been part of a grand experiment – That’s LIFE! — and please feel free to continue sending my questions even though I won’t be answering them as part of this year’s Ramadan blog.) I did it partly because I was dreading writing everyday. It felt like an uphill slog. So, really, Romulus – you helped me to face a blank page! It was the idea of setting parameters. Making it concrete.

 

I really, really feel an incredible gratitude to every single person who responded in some way to the blog because you’re the reason I wrote every day that I was fasting during Ramadan. Seriously.

 

 

Too often, the project of writing a blank page doesn’t feel like freedom. Of course, I love getting to that state, which has happened – where I wake up and stretch and decide what I want to write that morning. I LOVE that feeling – of seeing the blank canvas and knowing that I can do whatever I want, whatever I feel like doing. But, it’s the dread stuff – when I feel like I have to be productive, or I have to continue on a problematic thing that defeats me. Or worse, when NOTHING is happening, and I just scribble out two sentences and then start eating or cleaning or watching tv.

 

I mean the best book on breaking through the blank page really is Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, wherein she dispenses such useful advice as filling up a one inch picture frame. She’s got so many gems, but here I fished one out of the pile that I thought would be particularly useful for you.


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Bollywood Superstar (many of you remember this gorgeous confidante from last year’s Ramadan journals). I haven’t had a chance to see Bollywood Superstar this Ramadan, but she said something meaningful to me about writing earlier this year. She finished an entire novel ( a second revision, an overhaul) like a ginormous one (and yeah I’ve got a draft to review, baby), and when I asked her a week after she finished what she was doing, she said, “I’m already writing a second novel. I mean, it’s a muscle I’ve developed, why waste it?”

 

I think, Romulus, that the best thing I’ve learned is that I’ve now spent years working on my self-defeating attitudes. That, more than anything, has given me the confidence to write. And writing really is exercise that I tend to lose when I don’t do it. A lot of times, and I suspect this is the case with you, I tell myself I’m just too exhausted to write. The whole Toni Morrison held down her full time job and kids and woke up at 5:30am or whatever too damn early hour to write never worked for me. It just made me feel bad that I wasn’t Toni Morrison, which really is fine, and I think you and I and every writer should spare a moment to revere the great WRITER for whatever it is that we revere most about her writing.

 

When it comes to hacks, there’s no easy way other than to just write. That said, I do think reading is good. Taking classes/workshops can be helpful when you’re having a hard time or having an accountability buddy (buddies) (whattup Tiny Dancer) or a writing group or set readers. Of course, residencies don’t hurt. I’ve set up and use a lot of systems, and you got an MFA so I can’t imagine you’re not familiar with all these external things.

 

That all being said, I do have to challenge myself. For me, the biggest poison is the television set. I LOVE TV. I truly enjoy it. That’s why one ex used to refer to me as her Zomboo. I mean, it’s so damn hard for me to STOP WATCHING TV. So now, I often try to write in the mornings because I can’t fight my urge to watch tv in the evenings, which is traditionally my favorite time to write. Even though I’m groggy as fuck in the mornings, I do it. (Except during Ramadan, because then I’m kind of groggy all the time).

 

I read. I’m not as voracious a reader as many of the writers I know. This is problematic, but I’m improving. I have, however, watched every episode of Gray’s Anatomy and other sci fi shows that many writers don’t know shit about. But language is key. I have a soft spot for reading poetry when I’m stuck. Yes, sometimes I even write it.

 

But, let me get to the point I’ve been rambling on and on about. The one I really want to make. Writing, like life, isn’t supposed to be easy. It doesn’t have to be too hard, either. But it does require work. I’ve known you for a while, Romulus. You’re not afraid to work. You’ve shown up and been vulnerable even when the world hasn’t required that of you. I respect that, and I think that the real point is that you’re at a stag with your writing where I know that you don’t need to hear from me about when or how to start. I’m a procrastinator, remember. You don’t need me to show you how to fill a blank page. I’ve read the exquisite ways you’ve filled that page. You don’t even need a pep talk.

 

You just need to write.

 

P.S.


 

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Ramadan Day 28 – One Day At A Time Pt. 2 AKA Advice I Have No Business Giving

 

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Dujiangyan, pictured above, is the site of an incredible venture and is the most traveled tourist site in China (at least by internally). It’s where human beings in 256 BC, hand carved a mountain and developed engineering techniques to build a new water channeling system. It resulted in the construction of a dam that diverted over 20% of the Yangtze River into the Sichuan Province. This simple feat of engineering made the Sichuan region the most fertile agricultural region in China.

It is astonishing to visit, to know what our ancestors created, to know the power of nature and the power of humanity. It was wonderful to visit my mother’s father’s side of the family. My grandfather died when I was young, but he was a civil engineer, who built bridges in France and Laos. Many of his descendants remain in the sciences.

Visiting Dujiangyan – I felt that my breath was supported by history. That is what great places – of transformation – can do to us and for us.

I said I’d write a Part 2 after waxing and waning about a literary contract in yesterday’s post. What can I say – my blood sugar was low? But I really was trying to answer the questions intertwined in Shāʿir’s post, replicated below. It’s been a tough question because it’s deceptively simple, but you just know that there’s so much more there…


 

dear Galumph,

I spent the past month getting to know someone long-distance and we finally met on a blind date.  Prior to meeting up, I felt so certain that this was going to turn into that something that was a game-changer.   I’m trying to follow my gut more and more as I get older and this really felt like a strong gut instinct.  however, upon actually meeting that did not turn out to be so.  beyond disappointment, I feel a bit jaded with this pursuit and my own desire in this sphere.

astrologers of all sorts have told me to be patient.  still, i increasingly wonder if I should chuck this pursuit (as well as the writing career, although maybe that’s a separate question but somehow the two feel intertwined…) and do something meaningful with my life like work in a Syrian refugee camp.  thoughts?

Shāʿir


 

I’m tickled, Shāʿir, at you bringing up astrology and the astrologers’ exhortation to be patient.

As you may know, I only semi-frequently read actual horoscopes, but I love to ask people their signs (not only as a come on), but to immediately assess everything I possibly can about their personality against everything astrology has said to me about their personality. I find it . . . comforting. I also use a personality classification system that’s primarily internal, the enneagram – in other words, it’s the same as how I basically learned Freud’s ego, superego and Id stuff and then occasionally in my head, when confronted by particularly selfish or ambitious people – think wow they’re such a big Id. It’s not like I say that stuff out loud.

 

Gulp. Anyway…

 

Twelve little signs with a whole batch of extras, rising and moon – mercury and venus – Mars and Saturn. There are tons of articles on why queers love astrology. There are people who say it’s generational, racial, etc. etc. You’ll hear I don’t really get it. I’m not like my sign. Yeah, I don’t do astrology. There are a whole bunch of people who call it bunk.

 

I don’t disagree. What is a language to someone who doesn’t understand it or speak it? Gibberish. But to those of who’ve learned the rules, of grammar, of deviation from those rules, how to be creative within its framework – well, that’s all it really is, a way to process, a tool. This one interesting because it speaks to psychology, personality, instinct. It’s also wholly unreliable, like anything that deals with understanding people. That’s probably why I find astrology is the best at dealing with the unpredictable, the unknown, those moments of uncertainty and fear when I know that NOBODY is going to give me an actual answer are when I truly turn to astrology. After break-ups, disappointments, during depression, that is when astrology comforts me the most. Because the astrologer is rarely telling me what to do or how things are going to turn out. The astrologer is telling me I can think about it anyway. Perspective. A place to focus in a world that as Kundera says, is unbearably light in being.

 

It reminds me of the idea that human emotions are less valuable than human thoughts. Think of all the critical decisions people make. For example, perhaps it was which college to attend? If you were so privileged, you could write pros and cons, but then how do you weigh each item? People make lists and lists, but at the end, proportionality defeats the logician in us all. People go with their gut. The FEELING they have about it. A thing that defies sense, control, really anything, and can speak to the divine and the devil.

 

That’s why you can tell a friend all the good reasons to do something or not, but sometimes people just want to hear – I have a good feeling about it. They hold onto that. Remember that assurance, even if it means very little.

 

And as much as astrology can help us understand how other people relate to their signs. For example, if you’re a Cancer (one of my fave signs), I immediately assume that your instinct is to be emotionally private, that you experience strong emotions which are difficult to discuss, that you care a great deal about your home space, that you have a sense of home, that you’re ride-or-die as a friend (loyal), that you will be caring and compassionate, introverted, and that the chances of people hurting your feelings, inadvertently, are probably high. Do my Cancer friends fit these broad strokes? By and large, yes, but astrology has never been predictive of their behavior. At all. I think, what’s interesting is the effect that knowing someone’s sign has on me.

 

For example, I automatically decide to tend to a person’s emotions if I hear they’re a Cancer, but if I hear somebody is an Aries, I assume a certain desire for “success” – a need for external progress, if you will. I often try to help this fire sign in their journey toward an accomplishment, whatever that thing is, as they tend not to spend a great deal of time processing vulnerability. Taurus is awesome because they’re so confusing at first, but when I look through the years, I’ve found that these friends have a unique staying power. They love slower, steadier, and harder. Their adherence to their specific boundaries are often a challenge or a strength, usually both.

 

It’s all about trying to figure out the best way to love somebody, and that’s what a lot of Librans do. I do love my fellow Libras, for the ways in which they love, a strange malleability that can transform relationships.

 

Wait, is this some trick where I’m trying to get you to read an astrology column? Oh please. No, this is an advice column. And advice, as my sage little brother said today, is really about reading about the person giving the advice. You get to know how they think through a situation. He was excited, you see, because he said – can I give your friend some advice?

 

“I’m sure she’d appreciate it. It’s not like I gave her actual advice.”

“No, you’re like telling her that all of life is about doing the work, but I’ve been on a LOT of dates. I do a lot of online dating. I think it applies to her situation.” By the way, this is true. I DO realize that Shāʿir was asking about a long distance situation, which isn’t necessarily the same as online, but I’ll get to it…

 


 

untitled

Boxes … boxes
Are lightly lifted up
As if they are made from air
They turn around and around
They dance with it
They sing sad songs heard loudly in the sky
Breaking the heart of the mountains

They turn and turn
As if they have wings
They fly as if they are dancing
From shoulder to shoulder flying higher and higher
And they drop down

Naked wooden boxes
Abstinent as the death of the poor
It has silenced cries
Eyes dropped down dreams
Smiles have not seen the light yet
With wet faces
With a kiss of a grieved mother.

Coffins … coffins
Gifts
To the luxury wedding of freedom

 

-Maram al-Masri

translated into English by the poet and Theo Dorgan

صناديق صناديق
ترفع بخفة
وكأنها مصنوعة من هواء
تدور تدور
يرقصون بها
يغنون
مواويل تصدح في السماء
تفطر الجبال لوعة

تدور تدور
وكأن لها اجنحة
تطير وكأنها ترقص
من كتف لكتف تعلو تعلو
وتهبط

صناديق خشبية عارية
متقشفة كموت الفقراء
بها صرخات كتمت
احلام مسجلة العينين
ابتسامات لن ترى النور بعد
بها وجوه مبللة
بقبلة أم مفجوعة

توابيت توابيت
هدايا
لعرس الحرية الباذخ

مرام المصري

by Maram al-Masri

as reprinted in Rochford Street Review


 

 

The gay man version of online dating is possibly one of the Internet’s finest evolutions, and my brother’s experience has taught me that I can’t really generalize the dating experience. Everything that has frustrated me about online dating is also what sucks the life out of me when I try to contemplate getting the news. What source is reliable? How to choose? Where is it coming from? For my brother, he’s definitely not just about getting laid, most of the time. He’s using these apps to find love. It’s just that he’s become somewhat of a dating specialist. Different apps for different needs.

 

I already know I’m probably one of the worst candidates to give dating advice. I’ve done a bunch of it, a lot more than the serial monogamist types, but a lot less than my often single status would suggest. In the past, I’ve trended toward flings rather than actual “dating.” Although perhaps that’s just an indication of moving too quickly.

 

That’s why I feel what I can focus on is the idea of the “search” or trying to find somebody. Half the time I feel like actively looking, there’s no point. But I’m also a writer, and I don’t meet as many people as I used to when I was a younger. I know, logically, that it requires getting out there to improve your chances at meeting people. But that being said, the active search is truly problematic.

 

Let me put it this way, one of my dearest friends, and I will call her Calibrate, hasn’t been on a date in the twenty odd years I’ve known her. She always says that she doesn’t date because as a Black woman with a high level of education, her dating pool is extremely limited. She says she’s just not considered attractive (for dating) in too many of her circles. It’s too hard, she says, for her to date because of how damaging is on self-esteem. And, by all accounts including hers (and mine), she has high self-esteem.

 

Truth. I can’t remember the last time I was actively single and “actively” dating, or on searching for somebody, where the dating experience felt like it made me feel wonderful. If anything, I felt insecure, sometimes bored, sometimes horrified. I felt this pressure during these periods to say yes to social things, especially group activities and parties — I didn’t want to do, and I felt anxious when trying to figure out if somebody liked me, or if they were connecting for friendship. In short, it was always a hot mess, and of course I’ve asked people on dates and they’ve said no, but also I think of all the times I’ve hung out with someone and wondered if it was a date, only to discover – along the way – that it’s not.

 

It’s exhausting. Which is why I’m on a dating hiatus. No, scratch that. I’m not on a dating hiatus. I’m on a hiatus from looking. I’m on hiatus from the pursuit. Because the pursuit was doing a number on my head. I was really frustrated with even taking a hiatus. I agonized about it. I kept saying to myself, if I don’t actively pursue dating, then I’ll be alone the rest of my life. On the other hand, saying yes to dating people this past year had brought me more grief then pleasure, or support.

 

And here I want to differentiate between giving up on love and giving up on the pursuit. I still go out socially. I still even flirt if I think someone is cute, but I don’t dwell on it in the same way, because dating has been very disappointing, and I’d rather invest my time and energy on my self. For now. I very much want romantic love to happen, but it’s going to happen without me looking for it. For now. In other words, it’s nice not to react (for a change) to whether people are interested or available or unavailable and just take time for me.

 

I’m sure I’ll change that view, as loneliness comes in fits and starts, if I have the time. It’s all book and baby, settling into the Bay, family, figuring out my home and lawyering stuff, blah blah blah.

 

So here’s what my brother said, “Tell her that I’ve been on a LOT of dates.”

“We got that Justin.”

“No, but you know I used to spend time getting to know people before I went on the date. Like I’d talk to somebody, and we’d chat a bunch, and if it seemed like we were having a good conversation, then we’d meet up. Now, if I like somebody, or even if I don’t, and they just ping me, I ask them to meet up in person. Immediately. At a public place, that’s mutually convenient, like coffee. I don’t really try to get to know anybody first. If they show up, we take it from there.”

“Why?”

“Because when you’re not in person, we start filling up our head with our imagination about the person. How we think they are. Or how we want them to be. But we really have no idea what they’re like. In that relationship way.”

“That’s a good advice!”

“Will you tell her? I mean, you should tell her your stuff too, but mine is really practical.”

 

So there you have it. Dating advice from the galumph’s dating expert who happens to also be my brother.

 

Personally, I think I answered the writing question in yesterday’s post. But, if I’d sum it up, I’d have to say – I don’t know if you should stop writing. I’ve done it, but I came back because it really was harder to stay away. I do know that I want you to believe in yourself. I want you to figure out what you want. I want you to take control of the parts of your life that bring you pleasure and fulfillment, and that don’t depend on other people.


 

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by Layli Long Soldier from Whereas


 

When it comes to dating, I know you’ll meet someone, many someone’s, in fact, and that there are people out in the world who want to date you. Some of them you may have met, some of them you haven’t yet. It almost doesn’t matter, what I say about those suitors. What matters though is that I use this page to tell you about this amazing woman who said something so beautiful to me at the beginning of this year that I couldn’t help but remember it, all these months later, as I write to you.

 

Her name is Terra Bene. I met her the night I did a reading at SOMArts in San Francisco for the opening night of a show called The Third Muslim: Queer and Trans Narratives of Resistance. The show was curated by Yas Ahmed and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. That night was fateful in many ways. Yas and Zulfi helped me engage with being queer and Muslim in a way that I never have before. In their presence and surrounded by the work of the artists who had so bravely contributed to this exhibit, I felt that my writing meant something more than the page. I felt it come alive — as if it (and I) were a part of building community.

I would meet a couple interesting people that night. One of them was a new person who contacted me a couple days later to ask me on a date. Saying yes, eventually, to a date was not a good experience. Unbeknownst to me, however, I also met a guide. Terra Bene, a Cancer, was invited to the show by another friend, and she was new to the Bay. We all hung out after the show. I experienced a link to her, a familiarity that I didn’t understand, and maybe I’ll never know. Understanding the connection matters less to me than what she helped me to understand about love.

 

Shortly after The Third Muslim opening, I left town to visit NYC. Terra Bene and I never hung out, except for twice during group dinners, and the night that she left the Bay back to her home base of Portland. On the way to her going away get-together, she’d given me an ambiguous address, and so I drove quite a ways in the wrong direction, and then arrived much later. The night was at its close. I watched as she drew some Tarot cards with a dear friend of hers M who I’d met once – all of us seated on the bed and talking about our futures. She told me that she was living her purpose. She’d quit her job, and she was devoted to starting her own business where she offered healing sessions – not grounded in discussing trauma or the “blemishes” of the past — but as she puts it about “creating, removing, celebrating, deepening, loving, and illuminating so we can express the thread of our singular life as it serves and weaves with the rest of life – ALL LIFE.”

I confided in her that I wanted to have a baby. I felt very shy telling a relative stranger that very private and irrelevant piece of information about myself. At some point, she talked about her past. She’d been dating a man, and the breakup and possibly the relationship had seemed destructive to her. But, she said that she’d healed completely from it, and the only way that she had done that was by addressing her emotional needs.

 

“How do you know you’re healed?” I asked.

“Because.” She placed a hand on her chest as she spoke. A hush entered the room. “I was heartbroken. True healing means that I know now that I deserve to have the most wonderful love in my life, true love.” She gazed directly at her friend and then at me as she spoke. “I know that I will have that love. It may not be in this lifetime. It may be in the next. It may not come when I want it to come. But, whether or not it comes is irrelevant. I know that whether or not it does, I deserve it. That’s what it means to be healed.”

 

It’s funny what we recall when we speak about love. For me, it’s questions about healing. What is it for you?

 

That night, Terra Bene set a bar for me. Something to aspire to. Something that I realized I didn’t believe, despite the fact that I was dating somebody casually at that moment. I was in a lonely place, and I hadn’t fully healed. I didn’t really think I deserved love.

So I guess as your friend, I can’t tell you when the writing will bear fruition, beyond the process of it. I don’t even know all the heartache and loneliness and loss and disappointments that led you to ask me such a poignant question. I can’t tell you that your work matters beyond work, beyond the fact that your poems, the ones I’ve read, have touched me.

 

I don’t know what to say about going to Syria. I think there’s nothing wrong with going, but I know you do so much good here. And who is to say what the difference between pain here and pain there is? One appears more drastic, but suffering is plentiful and unchanging. Wherever you go, I will pray that your way forward is easy.

 

I don’t know what it is that you’re waiting for.

 

I know the leaves changed.

 

I don’t know what it is that you’re going toward.

 

I know I love you.

 

You deserve to be loved.

 

*

 


 

4.

If I had a harbor in the land

of dreams and mirrors, if I had a ship,

if I had the remains

of a city, if I had a city

in the land of children and weeping,

I would have written all this down for the wound’s sake,

a song like a spear

that penetrates trees, stone, and sky,

soft like water

unbridled, startling like conquest.

 

 

5.

Rain down on our desert

O world adorned with dream and longing.

Pour down, and shake us, we, the palms of the wound,

tear out branches from trees that love the silence of the wound,

that lie awake staring at its pointed eyelashes and soft hands.

 

World adorned with dream and longing

world that falls on my brow

like the lash of a wound,

don’t come close—the wound is closer—

don’t tempt me—the wound is more beautiful.

That magic that your eyes had flung

on the last kingdoms—

the wound has passed over it,

passed and did not leave a single sail

to tempt toward salvation, did not leave

a single island behind.

 

By Adonis

excerpt from “The Wound” from Selected Poems, translated by Khaled Mattawa

 


Ramadan Day 27 – One Day at a Time

Sure, it’s a platitude, but it’s one that I appreciate. I didn’t want to write today. Why would I? I wrote my ass off nearly every day of Ramadan before I left to China for a week. On the day I flew to Chengdu, May 30, the Rumpus published my essay – a mini-memoir called “A Part of Me.”

I returned Fryday from eight days in Chengdu, Xi’an, and then Chengdu again, and along the way I was infected by the usual stomach bug and a small cold. I’m jetlagged. Emotionally, I feel like a bug. I want to write about my trip to China and regale you with true travel-blog style writing, but I feel intimidated by the wealth of my experience.

Also, I’ve got a new look. #PandaLounge #MasterofNothing #LazyPanda

 


 

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the galumph, side view

Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding


 

I’m so grateful for you – my friends. So many of you read my piece, wrote me kind and loving compliments, heaped on the praise, helped me publicize my work on social media (thank you so much for sharing!). Basically, every single day I was in China, I felt as if one of you was coming up to me and wrapping me in a huge hug. I had extremely limited Internet access, but I’d sneak past the firewall every now and then, and my heart would swell. And swell. Thank you for your support. I feel very loved.

 

It’s also my first day back to fasting after about ten days away, and I’m kind of clocked. That’s the effect of starting and restarting on me. I’m a procrastinator by nature, so it’s hard for me to get things underway. I have to work myself up, and then I’ve got the lasting power. Even though the fast only a couple weeks ago was so smooth, I felt overwhelmed yesterday by the thought of fasting again for a week.

 

So, to help me write, I reached into the galumph grab-bag, and I decided I wanted to try and answer a question. This was the one that came to hand, and frankly, I’ve been thinking about how to answer it…


dear Galumph,

 

I spent the past month getting to know someone long-distance and we finally met on a blind date.  Prior to meeting up, I felt so certain that this was going to turn into that something that was a game-changer.   I’m trying to follow my gut more and more as I get older and this really felt like a strong gut instinct.  however, upon actually meeting that did not turn out to be so.  beyond disappointment, I feel a bit jaded with this pursuit and my own desire in this sphere.

 

astrologers of all sorts have told me to be patient.  still, i increasingly wonder if I should chuck this pursuit (as well as the writing career, although maybe that’s a separate question but somehow the two feel intertwined…) and do something meaningful with my life like work in a Syrian refugee camp.  thoughts?

Shāʿir


 

Well, I can’t answer this question today. I just don’t have enough gas in the tank.

 

Instead, since it’s been on my mind, let me tell you some behind-the-scenes about “A Part of Me’s” publication journey.

 

It took me 3 months, and nearly every single day of a 4 week residency last year to write the essay – a little over 5 months total. And I didn’t just write an hour here or an hour there – we’re talking easily 4-5 hours at a time, days on end. 90% of it you’d be so grateful I threw away.

 

In the end, I wrote two completely different pieces, at first one more journalistic, and then a complete rewrite into something more personal. It went through a third, nearly complete, overhaul after my beloved mentor, T let me know (in what was an act of love), that it wasn’t up to par. That was after I’d spent two months. Several friends edited versions of the piece at different stages in the process. Courtru probably read every draft. While writing the piece, I would spend entire days reliving trauma, some of which I discussed in the piece. A lot of which I didn’t.

 

I only wrote it after one of my closest friends, L, reached out to me. She’d read one of my Ramadan blogs last year, and she wanted an essay based on it about the reproduction industry. She’s the editorial director at ________, and this was for their nationally distributed print magazine. Initially, I told her that I couldn’t write the piece because I needed to work on my novel, and, more importantly, that I was stressed about the pregnancy stuff. I was also worried that too many people, trangers especially, would find out I was trying to get pregnant. Deep down, I worried I might also never be pregnant, that every sacrifice was for nothing. Dealing with the magazine, the timelines involved a lot of hurry-up and-wait. But L kindly, patiently, and lovingly edited my piece and walked with me through every step of the process. Over and over again she asked me, “Are you happy with the piece? Is it serving your needs and what you want?”

 

It was a piece that broke and healed my heart to write, or perhaps more accurately — to live. I had to call my therapist several times while writing it, because I became so consumed with anxiety and depression remembering the past. But I finished it, and I was truly happy with it. Nervous as fuck. But happy.

 

On my birthday in October last year, L called to explain the contract mishap and to break some difficult news. I’d traveled to Seattle to give myself a little birthday present mini-writing retreat and had contracted the flu. My family had come with me for a couple days and then left so I could be by myself. Of course, the flu wasn’t part of the planning.

 

L had forgotten to give me a contract, and we’d only discovered it a few days before. I’d published with the magazine before – smooth sailing all the way. This time the terms were different. L explained that they might want to use my piece for an academic reader someday. The magazine was afraid of writers selling their work to another magazine. They needed to have complete ownership of my piece. If I didn’t give up every single one of my rights to the piece, L said she wouldn’t be publishing it.

 

She’d gone to the ED of the magazine to modify the contract, L explained. Although the magazine considers itself a premiere feminist organization, the ED decided to keep the contract because — that’s the contract they had — was the gist of it.

 

I reached out to friends and agents who are either writers or magazine editors, asking about the language, and folks said it was a predatory contract. “How can you ask a queer woman of color to give up the rights of her individual, personal life story? My family is in this piece,” I argued to L. “If somebody wants to drag my name or theirs, or lie about me, only your magazine would have the rights to my piece. If I want to use my own essay, I can’t even do that. I’ll give you anything, an exclusive for a year, even joint copyright. This isn’t even industry standard. Most places only ask for exclusives.”

“I’m sorry,” L said. “The language is locked. You’re the only writer who’s ever complained. I do hear what you’re saying, and this is all my fault. I should’ve given you the contract earlier, but I didn’t know about these terms. I’m sorry I can’t change anything.”

“You’re the editorial director. Can you try?” I said. “Don’t you want my piece?”

“Yes, but this is with the ED. I was trying to do something new with your piece, go in a direction our magazine has never gone before. Fuse the personal and an argument that’s more journalistic. It’s where I want us to go, but we weren’t prepared for this kind of piece. I know this is putting you on the spot, but I need an answer or we’ll have to replace your piece and we’re set to print in a couple days. This will be very difficult for us too.”

“Then make an exception, please.”

“I’m sorry.”

 

Many writers give up their rights, all the time, to predatory contracts. Or perhaps I should say, many magazines force their writers into these positions. More and more, there’s less and less pay for copy, and less and less negotiation around contracts. The writers, especially emerging ones like me — don’t feel they have any choice. Some don’t even bother to read a contract. It’s either sign the dotted line or lose your chance at being read. I’m a lawyer. I’m not a pushover (well, except for with all the people I love). I had writer friends who told me the truth – that it wasn’t typical or necessary to sign away all rights for a personal essay. That the standard was an exclusive for 90 or 120 days. Ultimately, everybody said I had to weigh the pros and cons of having this byline vs. rights that honestly didn’t seem worth that much in the context of a nobody writer like me.

 

I felt desperate to publish. It would be the biggest publication of my tiny career, and in print – which I loved. I was terrified of the reach of the Internet, that anybody could google me and be like – oh yeah – that person. This is how old she is. She’s trying to knock herself up. Her name is Serena W. Lin.

 

The stress of writing the piece alongside my newly minted efforts to get pregnant had been a terrible strain on me. All the crappy doctors I saw had kept saying that at my age stress was a huge factor. They hinted that if I changed my entire life and had no stress, then I’d be pregnant by now.

 

And deep down inside, I knew that it was what I deserved – all my terrible decision-making, my unloveability, my fucked-up immaturity and selfishness – that had led to my status in life, trying to get pregnant alone, not being worth a damn as a writer. The pity party was a rager, but hey – it was a pretty shitty birthday.

 

I also knew something else. That the only thing I was signing away if I signed the contract was nothing. Some imaginary future. A huge career I’d only dreamt about achieving. It wasn’t like it was the whole thing, my actual future. It was a tiny chapter. No big deal. I’ve never planned on, or wanted to, write a memoir. I’m a fiction writer. It was arrogance to believe that I was being told to sign away something of value.

 

Think of what I could gain.

 

I decided that I was going to go ahead, even though I felt like crap about it. Was it supposed to feel like this? I called my sister and told her what I’d decided.

 

“I think it’s crap. Don’t sign it!” Ernie said. “Listen, I believe in you. You’re a really good writer. Someday you’re going to finish your novel, and your books are going to sell. All I can think about is how me and the kids are going to benefit from the bags of money you make when they make a movie about your life story. Think about OUR future. Why should that magazine have the rights to your life? What about us?”

 

It was the push I needed. Somebody telling me that my writing had value. I realized that symbolically, I felt I was being asked to choose between whether I believed the brightness of my future was worth more than a cool publishing credit. Really, whether I believed I ever was going to get to where I wanted to be. And when push came to shove, I didn’t know what the future would be. But I did believe. I believed in me.

 

Later that day, I told L exactly what I thought of her unethical contract, and she told me that I was right about everything. She sent me a text that she was sorry that she’d let me down. As an editor and as a friend. I didn’t hear from L again after that text on my birthday. To be fair, I didn’t write back to her last text message apologizing to me. What was there to say? Make it right?

 

I sunk into a depression. That piece was the first writing I’d finished since my breakup over a year before. I hadn’t written except during Ramadan. L had called, and it had felt Allah stretched their soft hands into my life. Losing the support of my friend at that juncture also felt unbearable. But most of all, it was the effect of everything on my hopefulness around getting pregnant. I’d tried a few times at that point to knock myself up. It wasn’t IVF, a couple at-home DIY times, followed by a couple drug-based IUI’s.

 

Each time, a couple weeks after inseminating, when I’d gone to the bathroom and bled, I’d find out I wasn’t pregnant. I hadn’t even made peace with being a single mother. I felt so alone. I would be seized with a terrible hopelessness. I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed or move the next day. Then, I’d go on being angry and tearing up the pages of my own life, finding ways to get into trouble and allowing toxic relationships into my life.

 

One day, my friend Lucky called from New York. She’d been trying to get pregnant herself for years, unsuccessfully, in her mid-30’s. As I was telling her about my latest romantic escapade, she said, “I can’t imagine how you’re feeling. All that loss.”

“Oh, I haven’t really lost anybody or anything like that.”

“No, not getting pregnant. Whenever I found out I wasn’t pregnant, it was like a little loss. Every time it felt that way.”

 

I still thank Lucky for saying that to me. It got through to me. I was burned out.

 

For the next six months, I buried the piece by not submitting it, even though it was finished. Yet little signs of life emerged. I thought I’m not going to publish the piece until after I have a baby, but I wanted to at least have some people read it. So I sent it to a few friends who hadn’t helped with the revision. Because I needed to…

 

I sent it first to Yara, who’d shifted from break-up buddy to soul teacher and confidante. We went through it at around the same time and both of us had been wanting kids when our breakups happened. Yara wrote back right away. She said a couple things. The first was that it was perfect and that the right time to get it out in the world was as soon as I was ready. And that if the piece was like my baby, then the right outlet would be like the right midwife.

 

Then, I ran into a friend, Frida M at Blissey’s dinner party. She suffers from a condition akin to MS, a degenerative disorder, and told me that she didn’t expect to live into her 30’s, and that she’d been told she had one shot to have her child. A beautiful boy who stood in front of me with peace on his lips. I sent Frida M my essay. A couple months later she sent me the call for “Mothering Outside the Margins” by The Rumpus. I wrote back, thanked her for sending, and promptly said I wouldn’t be submitting because publishing the piece would only lead to stress.

I also sent it to Pele, who has told me VERY NICE THINGS about my writing, and that feeling is mutual since she writes too. Pele specifically and powerfully told me all the ways in which the piece worked for her, how it was about building family and faith and love and also getting pregnant. And I started to see the piece differently than as a stand-in for my failures. While I wanted to demur, I listened instead. I trusted her judgment, at that moment probably more than mine. And perhaps most importantly, Pele did the thing I couldn’t bear to do. She listed publications that she felt would be a good home for my piece. Something about that concreteness lifted me forward.

Eventually, I sent the piece to its eventual editor, Christine H. Lee, at the Rumpus and pretty much the piece came out in that wonderful publication, easy as pie. May Allah see fit to grant me a pregnancy just like that!


 

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Original Art by Clare Nauman for “A Part of Me” in The Rumpus


 

I don’t know all the reasons I wanted to tell you this story behind publishing the piece. I think it’s because I feel something so powerful every time one of you has liked the piece or shared it. I feel like I’m in a better place than I was six months ago? Isn’t that silly? To feel all that because you wrote me a note saying you enjoyed a piece I read?

Something else has changed: I want people to get to know me in a different way than I ever have before.

 

I’ve had a lot of shame in my life. Writing about it helped me to make peace with some of that shame. But it’s still a lot of work, no matter how much you write. Things come up. When people started writing about Kate Spade Anthony Bourdain on social media after I returned, it felt like a barrage. I could only hold close my own truth, which is that of course I’ve thought about it. And I assume you have too. I assume it about everybody I know, except the few people who actually have told me that they’ve never thought about it. With some friends, I know that it’s gone further. But I’m a queer poc: my life and the lives of people I love have been deeply affected by people we love taking their own lives, by feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness, no matter what the cause of that may be. I’m holding names in my heart, as are many of you.

 

So I suppose that it’s a bit silly and ironic that somebody lost in the ways that I am would try to write an advice column. But, it’s not exactly me – it’s the galumph. And what I’m really trying to say is that maybe by getting to know each other, whether that’s by writing or drawing or singing or by talking or finding some other way to share — we can really listen to what it is that people are asking. Those questions can be: will I have a baby? Will I find love? Or they can be: do I deserve to be a parent? Am I worth loving?

I have to say it again: Take it One Day At a Time.

That’s the wisdom of fasting. One minute. One hour. One day. One moment.

As the Doctor always says – you can’t know the future.

Well, I don’t.

I do know that I can’t measure the warmth I feel in my heart for publishing that piece without the year of hardship that I associate with it. If I never published it, I would still be writing. Because, despite the failure in publishing the piece, writing the essay was the path to me becoming a writer again. It was because of Ramadan and then my friend L soliciting my work. It was because I dealt with the painful reality of my own history, which took time and didn’t feel even slightly productive, that I even began writing again. It’s why I’ve been working on my novel again after so long away from it. I’m so, so grateful to be writing.

Shāʿir asked me a question which is whether or not to chuck a pursuit, and the pursuit was possibly dating or writing, and whether to work in a Syrian refugee camp. I said I couldn’t answer the question, but upon coming to the end of this blog post, I guess I’m going to have to give the galumph some air time after all . . .

I will do a part 2 tomorrow, and hopefully maybe I can tell folks a little more about China. In the meantime, consider this Part I of something bigger…

 


 

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Ada Limón, from Bright Dead Things


 

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