Homemaking

Thursday, November 6, 2014

 
Bookshelf with notebooks and small clay elephant.

***
She made homes out of old boxes and bleached out pillowcases. She made homes out of too-heavy earrings that dragged down her ears. She made homes out of imperfect things. She made them out of whatever was convenient.

Even now, I wouldn’t even know what to do with a perfect apartment. In my last place, there was a point when I knew it was time to go: the moment when I woke up in the middle of the night to find yet another cockroach had made its way from my bedframe to my shoulder, I knew. I turned on a lamp and stared at the sheets till I could justify the incident as a blessing in disguise – the mom I was working with at the time texted me to tell me that she had just gone into labor. But when I returned the next day, I had no more excuses.

Though I’d been living in the city for four years of college, it felt like a brand new universe when I was on the lookout for places. I had to think about train line access and whether I’d get enough light. I had to make peace knowing that more than half my paychecks would be going towards having a place to sleep at night. And I had to contend with the fact that I will be a gentrifier in most of the neighborhoods I can afford.

Here and everywhere, she was a fixer of things. In a house with painted locks and cracked headboards, she polished the silverware until it gleamed.

“The safest space I have right now is… my home,” says my interview buddy on the As[I]Am podcast. They go on to describe the hard work they have done to make that happen, to spin their own cocoon. That resonates with me. I think about all the homes I’ve been blessed to set foot in this year. In a city where free event space is scarce, people use their apartments creatively. I’ve seen people host salons in their living rooms and workshops on their kitchen floors. Some of the most inspiring art is shared in the tiniest of venues.

When her brothers brought the war into their dining room, she knit her fingers behind her head and hummed a tune. Homeland, homeland...

I continue to think that the measure of a New York transplant is in her apartment stories. The ones I’ve been up close and personal with are the “escape from roommate hell” and the “pest-pocalypse,” with their ever-popular variations. But I've also seen people breathe life into inhospitable places. In a marriage of desperation and ingenuity, we learn to make the city love us. It's not always romantic, but at least it isn't lonely.

While they screamed and kicked each other under the table, she wiped down the tabletops and shut off the lights. In the dark, they fell silent, seething. They felt the walls to get around. She stomped her feet against the floor, just to know she could. It was a comfort, really, to know that it would hold, no matter how heavy.

(experimenting with blending fiction and non-fiction today in my piece about home and homemaking)

"Worried About Your ___?" (or, The Full Retreat)

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A snippet of Lynda Barry's inspiring book What It Is.
If you're curious what the best way is to announce your already-obvious absence, I would recommend writing a journal-style blog post. Here's my take on it.

Working two jobs came to a head for me this month; when my body was in one place, my attention and energy were moving away from it at high speeds. I didn't stop going until I hit desert.

Every book and instructor on creative expression has encouraged me towards discipline in my craft. I've had the discipline, but I still didn't have the right conditions. If I wrote during this month, I wrote single sentences or piled up the same words on different sheets of paper. If I drew, I drew jagged lines on the margins of sticky notes at work. I made my non-work life very small. I got back into watching television. The search for water was on.

Desert animals conserve energy during the heat of the day and spend their nights in great activity. I spent Sundays in front of the stove or the oven, writing in my head, focusing. When you haven't got a lot to work with, sometimes you have to play tricks on yourself to make it through.

At 1am on Friday of last week, when it was all over, I crawled into bed and shut off the lights. If there's one thing that desert animals are good at, it's surviving. But with the work that I do for my day jobs, It's hard to give myself permission to rest and recuperate. There's a huge guilt in not giving your all for other people, and a selfish desire to be wanted. Then on Saturday I re-opened Lynda Barry's book What It Is.

The book has a bit of a history with me - I bought it in pre-college more than 6 years ago as part of a creative writing class that also had me making my first zine (gasp!), and it's one of those staples that I can no longer go without. The book isn't instructional. It doesn't give you exercises for writing or drawing or dancing or singing. Instead, it just asks some very good questions.

When I got to the page photographed above - a comic book panel of an older Lynda Barry (presumably) reflecting on her worries - I knew I had to have it with me everywhere. If I worked at the same desk every day, I would have photocopied and posted it on the wall. Instead I took a picture of it with my cell phone camera and wrote a version of my own:

"Worried about your work?"
"Oh, there's my work, the magazine, healthcare in the U.S., things I did in past relationships, unanswered emails, lost contacts, what a jerk I am, the suitcases cluttering up my house -- and I can't stop worrying about stepping in dog mess."

It made me laugh! Listing out my worries made them seem funny, and manageable. I kept turning the pages of the book and finding new things to smile about. I felt like I'd struck oasis.

It's a process, we all know, to build and re-build your creativity - you try different things, you fail, you rattle around with your worries until you find another set of things to try. Me, I'm looking for stillness. As we move out of my birthday month and into National Novel Writing Month, I'm carefully cultivating my energy, and looking for moments to laugh at myself. Join me, why don't you?

The Day After

Friday, September 12, 2014

Photo credit: Heather Hoppe at Sideways Sunrise

I have a lot of questions about day(s) after. Most of that thinking is about the day after the revolution than the day after my holiday vacation, but both are equally valuable.

Today is the day after the anniversary of 9/11 and, in my experience, the day occurred without more than a blip. Even in NYC, there are large amounts of people that aren't being affected by the constant reminders to "never forget." And yet there are also folks that are acutely aware every year when the date comes up; their families have been directly affected by the loss and helplessness of the moment itself or they've been impacted by the very real hate and violence that happened in its aftermath.

Perhaps it's the healer in me, but the days after always make me think about wellness. What kind of world do we envision, for ourselves and our communities? This thought process has made me feel conflicted -- apart from the violence that comes from "never forgetting" a narrow messaging around 9/11 (read: Islam and anyone read as a "foreigner" is our enemy), there is a genuine helplessness lurking in our collective memory. That helplessness affects how our communities participate in their own healing.

The day after can be one of disaster or resilience. Often, it is both.

As a 5th grader in the Seattle area when the actual event occurred, I remember having a collapse in perspective; in my innocence, I thought that the Space Needle would go down next. But out of that youthful confusion, I grew in sharpness against the Islamophobia I'd seen around me. I gained a specific type of political education, and stubbornness. I never put my head down or took the advice to hide my Islam, and I was rewarded with being able to participate in some of the most amazing community building efforts and activism. In a confusing way, I owe something to that event 13 years ago -- it has sparked many many good questions.

How do we learn to trust again after the immediate crisis has passed? I have the privilege of being physically safe for the most part, and I am at a point in my life where I feel that I'm not just surviving. And yet, there is still this edge of survival mentality that creeps into my everyday life -- from the way I pack my bag in the morning to the way in which I approach responsibilities. I am always planning for the worst, and I am ready to leave at a moment's notice.

I want to live these days after with a renewed sense of vitality. I want to use these critical anniversaries not only to mourn the suffering we have faced, but to recommit to modeling wellness for myself and for my community members. The only way that we'll create a world that will hold us all with the same care/safety is to struggle towards wellness, to fight for it whether our bodies are on the line or whether we are modeling what health really looks like for people that have faced so much oppression.

I am still struggling with how to do this. My questions are still the same, though I have collected a few semi-satisfying answers. For me, the process of trust looks like letting go of some of my old coping mechanisms. I am curious to know what others need in order to feel more whole.

On the day after 9/11, I am getting up to go to work again and feeling tired, but blessed. I am learning as I go.

In the Service of Others: Working Myself Sick

Thursday, August 21, 2014

I've been working myself sick lately.

Taking a step back from my commitments so that I can recommit to myself -- a lesson that I am always in the process of re-learning, but that has especially come up since the month of Ramadan -- has proved to be way more challenging than just canceling a few appointments and finishing a few jobs.

One of my major tasks at work is to address the needs of patients who are calling into the clinic; their issues may be urgent, or they may feel they are urgent despite the easy answers that come with a few minutes of gentle probing. They don't know our systems, and we don't know their lives. But we are building a scaffolding to address their health needs not only in response to symptoms, but at the root in prevention. Even though I have to keep in mind when there are difficult callers that they are experiencing really stressful situations, I can't get enough of the feeling that I am helping people.

I am always moonlighting to get more of that feeling. The jobs that I feel called to are all in the service of others: in the past three weeks, I have attended an equivalent number of births. I have massaged three women while they were in labor, watched their babies come into the world in the wee hours of daylight or the late hours of the evening, and absorbed that unique energy that keeps birthworkers up for hours and hours at a time (minimum, I have been with the moms for 7 hours or more per these births). You step out of your body for a moment, through giving so much of your energy to that person as they deliver. I have been wanting to write about this feeling for so many weeks, but haven't had the breathing room to sit with it.

 
This feeling is one of the reasons I love my healing work. People need me, it feels like. People need me to answer the phones, send the emails, stand by the bedside, advocate for their rights, connect them with resources... I am the interpreter of systems and the gatherer of knowledge -- how lofty and cool does that sound? But, in some ways, it's a trap.

When I am facing my deepest personal challenges, I often ask: "caretakers, who takes care of you?" It's not just a silly inversion of words. It really helps remind me that I need to rely on and truly trust others to provide me the energy in order to keep working in their service.

Lately, I've been circling the drain of thinking that the only reason someone would want my presence is for my ability to serve them. Resting your self-worth on a concept so tied to performance takes a toll on you when you decide, for your own basic wellbeing, that you must take time to eat food at regular hours, sleep in, and turn down potential job offers. Because there is no end to how many things people need from you, and ultimately you will disappoint someone. Ultimately, you will disappoint someone through taking what you need.


I can think of no better example of this than regarding my recent move. In the past few months, I have had cockroaches destroy my things and crawl over me while I slept in my Bronx apartment. The decision to move was inevitable, but I finally took steps to make it happen in the last month. In the past week, with the help of several friends, I packed up and shipped out to a new comfortable and roach-free place in Brooklyn. My previous landlord, however, decided to take this as a personal affront to him and called -- not to collect money or ask me to do any particular thing -- but to lecture at me for 30 minutes about my irresponsibility as a tenant. I interpret that he needed me to take his emotional burden from him as I tried to meet my own needs. Then it came forward: Disappointment in myself. Guilt about moving. Shame. In my mind, I was already taking responsibility. I had to realize that the other person must also hold up their part of the relationship.

I've put on hold a lot of the work that I can be doing for others, but that doesn't make it any easier to step away when I feel responsible. Or to acknowledge my own emotions/ego around success or failure. Or to admit that caring for others allows me to avoid caring for myself. If Allah gives us only the burdens we can carry, easing someone else's does not guarantee that you have managed your own.

I send love and wish ease to all those who are carrying burdens now that feel impossible to hold. I admire those who survive, who take what they need with no apology whether they are forced to or by choice. Know that I need to learn as much from you as I do from other healers about how to move closer to my own truth.

Seeking the Spiritual During Ramadan

Monday, July 28, 2014

Eid Mubarak, all!

This year has been a time of seeking intentional spirituality in my life. Ramadan has been really varied for me; there was no consistency that I could find in it, other than a renewed sense of wanting to move towards spiritual wellness. I fasted; I didn't fast. I felt grounded; I snapped. I was with family; I was alone with the roaches (my new struggle on the home front). Overall, I am proud to say I was more conscious of my personal health and needs throughout the whole month.

Just about the only thing that has been consistent is that I've been writing -- more importantly, writing dangerously. I wrote a poem every single day with an amazing group on Facebook, and I felt an intimate connection with several of them by the end. Sharing writing -- especially in a form you don't use often for show -- is one of the most vulnerable things I have done recently. That space existed as a way for me to start the process of leaning on others' support, even if we did not directly talk about our hurts.

It made up, at least in part, for all the ways in which I've felt unsupported these past months. Going back to Seattle and San Diego was a healing wake up call. I got to spend the last few days of my cat's life with her. I got to read more full books than I have in the rest of this year. My family and friends cocooned me and made me feel less alone. Coming back to NYC, conversely, felt like I was the only person on the planet. The water closed over my head again.

There are things that have kept me sane -- a new job, an amazing conference -- but ultimately I have had to return to the principals of faith this Ramadan in a very concrete way. Fasting kept my mind clear, and when I chose not to fast, I chose it with the intention of healing my spirit from other sufferings. Fasting in hardship can also be a weapon used against yourself; when I found myself being too perfectionist about the practice of my faith, I decided enough was enough.

I have been thinking about what it really means to be nourished. As a healer, I need to trust my own instincts in that -- it is so incredibly hard for me to feel like I have given myself as much care as I do other people. This Ramadan, for a number of reasons, has given me the chance to reflect on that.

I don't have the answers of where things will take me next, but I am working to pare down my commitments and just be with me more often. Me and my writing. Me and my art. Me and my healing, before trying to reach out that hand to others. Until then, I'll share with y'all a poem written during this holy month:

#23
When I sleep,
The visions,
Hum.
The divine lodges,
In my throat.
And when I dream,
I see,
I am just one part of you --
The part,
That sings your praises.

On Anti-Violence, Artivism, and Healing: A StoryCorps Interview with Purvi Shah!

Monday, July 7, 2014

For the second half of this month, I put up a firm "On Vacation" sign and put my NYC life on hold. Back to the west coast, back to my family, and back to reading a book a day. So much of my past few months have been about producing -- more workshops, more writing, more editing, more jobs, and more meetings. Going back home allowed me the opportunity to take things at my own pace. I got to be a "student" again, this time of my own health and healing.

I've returned to NYC refreshed and hoping that I can carry on with that student mentality; though we talk about sustainable movements and self-care so often, it's a slippery state to hold on to! In the coming weeks, I'll be writing about what I've learned on my spiritual self-care as I've been fasting during this Ramadan, but for now I want to reflect on some learning that I did before packing my bags:

Take a listen to this conversation between me and Purvi Shah, a facilitator of the Movement to Power workshops hosted by the South Asian Women's Creative Collective (SAWCC). We're talking about anti-violence, creative expression, and our own relationships to healing in this wonderful piece for StoryCorps. And, while you're at it, check out the beautiful workshop video made by Shruti Parekh!

Flashback: Writing and Speaking Gigs of Late

Thursday, June 19, 2014

I've finally landed in Seattle, after several high-octane weeks - writing, working, interviewing, and speaking. Spending time with my family has been a nice change of pace; downtime really feels like downtime when in the Pacific Northwest, unlike when I take a few moments to close my eyes every night in NYC.

In celebration of the work that I've been doing, however, I wanted to give thanks for all the spaces I've occupied over the past few weeks, online and off. I have been blessed to be involved with so many passionate people and am honored to work alongside them.

This is me right now.

I've finished at short serial mystery over at SpliceLit, a magazine run by the amazing Veda Kumarjiguda.

I was invited to speak on anti-violence at the Bangla Boi Mela, and presented an interactive workshop about types of violence and how they affect people structurally, interpersonally, and internally.

I have done a very personal StoryCorps interview with the brilliant Purvi Shah, facilitator of the Movement to Power workshop at SAWCC (audio to come!). We discussed the relationship between arts and activism, anti-violence work, and our own relationship as South Asian women to finding different healing modalities. I really enjoyed this talk because it consolidated a lot of things I care about into a brilliant 40 minutes!

I have spoken on zines, zine fests, and feminism for the BCRW podcast, to be released soon. As I say often, I sometimes forget that most of the zinester world is not women and trans people of color - and that a lot of feminism also doesn't represent us either! I delved deep on this podcast into these ideas, with the wonderful Michelle Chen.

As[I]Am is in the process of growing our staff family and bringing on new content creators in the next several weeks, as well as doing a logo and site redesign (it's looking so fancy, y'all - I can't wait to share!).

I'm excited to say that the work I've been doing in the past few months has been exactly what I want to be doing. I'm learning a lot and moving with communities that I want to be a part of. But phew! I am so glad that I get a break for a couple weeks to sit and contemplate my next move. In the meantime, I'll be sending everyone love and postcards from out west.