A Couple Failures

Saturday, December 10, 2016

A terrifying red mushroom that appeared in my yard and collapsed partially under its own weight.

Allow for me to give a detailed account of the things I didn't do this past month:

I didn't make it to 50,000 words this NaNoWriMo;
I didn't meet my personal fundraising goal for Project As[I]Am to put out another issue;
I got a dramatic injury and didn't go to my first derby practice league meetup;
Due to the same dramatic injury, I did nothing for Thanksgiving other than binge watch TV shows;
Much of my work felt like it got away from me.

All this... and nothing major happened. There was no fiery explosion. My airbags didn't even inflate.

Too often I hold on to a lot of self-judgment about not meeting my own (admittedly very high) expectations. For a few months now, I have been skidding along on my own efficiency - I am incredibly good at working and getting things in on deadline, even if it means that I'm working up to the last minute. But this month was riddled with more than the usual ebbs and flows in productivity. I first got a cold, then another one. I got a tailbone injury which had me unable to easily sit upright.  And, of course, you know what else happened last month. The secondary trauma response that fired up in me post-election was as searing as the tailbone pain, radiating outward in waves. There's a reflection to be written about that sometime - I'll add it to my already tall stack of deadlines.

I got particularly anxious this month when I started feeling like the things on my plate were piling ever higher. I would have a day when I could get back to my usual productivity and then crashed completely the next. I started using a goal-setting calendar app that gives you reminders and there would be 5-7 sitting on my home screen all day everyday. What a guilt trap.

But I also found myself relying on the oft-repeated advice to be gentle and kind to oneself. No one is clamoring to read my book. No one needs me to speak on a panel or facilitate a workshop (though I'd gladly take the gig). No one is blowing up my social media about when my next piece is coming out. Though it may sound like a cold comfort, I was reminded that there is a kind of luxury in not having a completely public life.

Instead I've been relishing smaller behind-the-scenes victories like working with my first doula client in over a year. I've been doing the #100RejectionsChallenge and submitting far more often than ever before. I have been truly absorbed by good literature and lectures, particularly this one by Sheila Heti. Paradoxically, all those reminders on my phone are helping me remember what I really want to be doing rather than just moving from task to task like an automaton. In that way, I am setting a solid foundation for myself while the world around me is shifting in so many perceptible and imperceptible ways. It's time to be safe and take the best care that we can.

Support Project As[I]Am & Keep Me Accountable this NaNoWriMo!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

A widget of my NaNo completion stats; if you want more details, check out this link.

To donate, you can subscribe to our Patreon and become a monthly donor or, for one-time donors, go through our PayPal.

It's the start of National Novel Writing Month and I'm going to dedicate my messy 50,000 words towards completing a draft of the novel draft I have been working on concertedly for the past year.

I also devised a way that you can keep me accountable to that goal while also supporting Project As[I]Am, the online Asian American arts and activism publication that I work on (see the silly video with my cat in it above -- forgive me for not looking fully into the camera!).

For every day that I complete my NaNo benchmark goal of 1,667 words, I am asking for your support in donating $3 (or more) to As[I]Am. You can check the widget up top to see my progress. By the end of the month, I will not only have made my word count goal, but I will have also earned enough to produce the next issue and podcast. Check out the one we've got up, "Our Greatest Resource," in case you haven't already.

If you don't have the funds to donate at this time but want to support us with a skill and/or promote to your friends, that is more than enough as well -- get in touch with me on Twitter or via email.

A Year Ahead; A Year Behind

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

If you haven't already done so, I highly encourage you to check out the "Our Greatest Resource" issue just released at Project As[I]Am. It features love letters, poetry, visual and audio art about the world we want to create. You can also hear our editors speak on the issue in our audio letter -- edited and hosted by me!

A quote I saw on the wall of a 5th grade classroom - "It's about progress, not perfection" in a loopy calligraphy script.

It was my 25th birthday yesterday and I had a bad cold (of course). It turned my brain foggy at work; it was a relief when finally I got to my three days off and could sleep in.

In my last post, I talked about creative drought. Somehow, while I was in the middle of it, a few public readings fell into my lap. I performed at Subdrift (a South Asian open mic that has come to Seattle) and read a piece of the novel draft for the first time in a public forum. It was fairly low stakes since it was an open mic, but the positive feedback really enlivened me. I read another draft piece as part of the QTPOC Artists of Color (volume 2!) book launch reading last night.

There's an effect called response-shift bias that I've learned while doing evaluation work. People come into a training feeling relatively confident that they know the material, but by the end they realize how much they don't know. So they rate themselves as having less knowledge than when they walked in the door. That's the place that I've gotten to in my research -- I've been anxious to begin new parts of the draft because it feels like there's a wealth more to do. What kind of bats would be in that tree? What is the archetypal trickster animal in that region? Where can I put in this detail without disrupting the flow? Elena Rose (who also read last night and co-edited the volume), described this process as "cat-vacuuming"-- when you're looking for more things to do to put off the actual project.

The past several years I've spent hopping from thing to thing, collecting experiences and research and deciding where to focus my energies. Years of discovery. I feel like this year, however, is one of depth rather than breadth. Not to say that discovery is over forever, but for now my desires have shifted away from acquiring a bunch of new skills to tunneling deep into the behind-the-scenes work. You may not see me a lot this year -- I'll be poking around at a few invisible behemoths, trying to see how big they are by feel -- but I'm sure that you'll hear a great deal about how it's all going. For now, I'm going back to my ginger tea and ruminating.

Mental Drought

Saturday, September 10, 2016

 I am very excited to announce that I have bought my name as a domain name and have a professional website! Check out jordanalam.com to have a more in-depth look at my creative and professional work.
I woke up and it was loud in my head.
I woke and the heaviness that sat on my chest prevented me from rising.
I woke and it was silent as a grave -
The smoke curling upward from a fire recently extinguished.
I woke to find myself on a bed of rustling papers, covered in tiny handwriting;
When I looked closer, it was just an endless list of names.
The heaviness sat on my chest and prevented me from rising.
I woke and I woke and when I woke again,
It was night.
                    (a poem of mine, inspired after days of mental drought)

Everyday for the past two months, I feel like I have been fighting fires.

The creative drought I have been in is pretty unsurprising, given the amount of hours I have been putting in to my day jobs and recuperating in between. I've been trying to be more gentle with myself and yet more disciplined, which is a tightrope act in itself. I struggled to eke out a short story in time for a deadline in August and I have been teaching some writing workshops in the interim, but it doesn't feel quite the same to steal these moments. Compared to last year when I was running around on my own creative journey, I feel like I'm not devoting "enough" to the craft. It was comforting to recently hear from other writers about their own experiences with this. They reminded me that it's a fiction in itself (one meant for people with immense privilege) to have the time to write without any of these other nagging thoughts about paying the bills and feeding the cat. But it's easier to be up in your head with anxiety about the work you're not getting done when there's so much other life keeping you away.

A few days ago, I picked up a collection of Wislawa Szymborska poems. I admired her work in college though I learned about her only after she had passed away. It was on a day when I was playing hooky from all my responsibilities -- technically it was a day off, but one filled with the self-filling task list that overwhelmed me until I just had to escape the house. Sitting in a nearby pizza shop, I read her Nobel speech and teared up at the part about inspiration:

"When I'm asked about this on occasion, I hedge the question too. But my answer is this: inspiration is not the exclusive privilege of poets or artists generally. There is, has been, and will always be a certain group of people whom inspiration visits. It's made up of all those who've consciously chosen their calling and do their job with love and imagination. It may include doctors, teachers, gardeners - and I could list a hundred more professions. Their work becomes one continuous adventure as long as they manage to keep discovering new challenges in it. Difficulties and setbacks never quell their curiosity. A swarm of new questions emerges from every problem they solve. Whatever inspiration is, it's born from a continuous "I don't know."

Though I may not have a lot of words to show for these past few months, I have been exploring that curiosity. I've been learning about cheese making with Harold McGee, playing tabla, getting trained on evaluation tools and drug rehab referrals, swimming at the local pool... Nothing is too large or too small. It's all too easy for me to forget that this is an essential part of my creative process -- a fallow season before the buds come up. In the meantime, I must cultivate gratitude even when it's uncomfortable or hard to see.

Convulsions, Premonitions

Sunday, July 10, 2016

I feel like I have had a certain conversation on repeat for the past few weeks, but I can’t stop myself. The words are there right under my skin.

“it is this time
 that matters

 it is this history
 I care about

 the one we make together
 as a lame cat on the loose
 or quick as kids freed by the bell
 or else as strictly
 as only life must mean
 a once upon a time”
        -- June Jordan, “On A New Year’s Eve”

I have sunk deep into this text. There is an awful but necessary type of witnessing that happens there. In June Jordan’s poetry, we hear clearly the continuity of violence and the preciousness of human life. In Melissa Harris Perry’s note, we read raw grief. I’ve curated myself away from Facebook posts, away from mainstream news, and have instead immersed myself in artistic responses and music. I have been reading aloud poetry by friends and strangers to my empty room, finding myself too often in tears. I want to have the energy to organize and make meaning but the part of me on loop keeps circling around and asking the same unanswerable questions. Why? What is the point of continuing forward?

The majority of my work is intangible. It’s about making connections between people and resources, people and ideas, people and other people. Even my writing work, the most concrete and visible part of the process, requires so much connective energy that I often feel overwhelmed by its weight. It’s very easy for me to feel too much – whatever that means – and yet at the same time desire to compress it all into a short period of time and space.

I took great time for myself last year to process burnout. I took great time for myself to travel and make space for my writing practices. I took great time, and now I feel like it has disappeared. Dried up. Just a few weeks ago, visibility took prime focus in my life. Now there is an impulse to fold in on myself and hibernate till the long winter is over. But really, when is it ever over?

Outside there are new plants reaching towards the sun. My immediate safety is not under threat -- a significant privilege. I’ve come off a month of extra shifts and moving at high speeds; what once felt productive now feels unsustainable. So I have been hardcore nesting and making my space as comfortable as possible, being selfish with the ways I use my time outside of work. I am consoled by my own gratitude for this life, for the reminder that we return to Allah’s light at the end of the journey, whenever that may be. It is our time to bear witness to those who have died and not turn away from the reality and the ritual of it. Orlando, Istanbul, Dhaka, Baghdad, Medina, and further. Philando Castile and Alton Sterling and…


Saturday, June 25, 2016

Project As[I]Am has re-opened its call for submissions! Submit your work by July 5th for a chance to be included in our issue, themed "Our Greatest Resource," on emotional labor and solidarity through love.

This week, I wanted to write about something completely mundane. I moved into my new apartment this week, putting everyone who helped me through hell. I started working on a bunch of fantastic spreadsheets this week. I interviewed young people about their experiences with arts programs...

But all of that got overshadowed by the obvious, by the tragedy that Orlando and hit our communities at large. I wrote a very personal piece about the experience of grief and media management over at CultureStrike, and I did two interviews about the incident as well. It was the only way that I felt useful, offering my words in place of anything more material. It still doesn't feel like enough. I mention it only briefly here because I have felt spent; it's worrying to me that on one level we are carving up every conceivable angle of the thing, but on the other the news cycle has already moved past it. It's a weird time to celebrate Pride. It's a weird time to forecast any sort of future...

In the past week, I also flew out to New York and attended the Kundiman writing retreat for Asian American writers -- perhaps because I was going through so many life transitions in the past month, it didn't fully register that I was going until I arrived in Newark off the red-eye and had to navigate my way into the city (hint: don't get stuck going the wrong direction on the AirTrain, it takes forever to get back). Little did I know that the retreat would be such a gift. It was so vital to me to bond with Asian Americans doing creative work and who have been doing creative work far longer than I have. Too often you have to hunt down Asian American literature in bookstores, and rarely do I feel connected to any sort of legacy. I walked away with not only a community of incredibly generous writing folk, but a long list of books to read all through the rest of the summer -- when I'm not furiously typing out my own additions to that canon, that is.

I'm leaving off this post with a few examples of my outlet writing for these past few weeks; though the form I wrestle with most is prose, I've been doing a poetry-a-day group for Ramadan as an outlet. Here are a few of my favorites from the month thus far:

Pantoum #1 
Bloodstained sheets, early morning,
Bound volume of poems,
Yellowed at the edge.
She carries it all with her.

Bound volumes of poems,
She never opens,
She carries it with her, always;
Reminding her of bloodied things.

She never opens,
Never tells the stories,
That remind her of bloodied things.
Instead, she carried them tightly bound.

She never does tell the stories,
Preferring to wash,
The things she carried tightly bound,
Bloodstained sheets, each early morning.

Red snake headwrap,
Blue round headphones,
Tongue perched on the edge of her mouth --
Nearly silent laughter.
Public places,
Work meetings;
She speaks volumes with her eyes.
At night, she performs ojhu alone at the sink,
In shorts with unshaved legs exposed,
Water on the tongue passing dangerously close,
To her throat.

He lived in a broken down house,
With peeling paint and shredded carpet,
Magazines and old newspapers taped up over the windows.

they come here to die, he said, and then repeated it.
I took a seat and listened.

at the end of their lives, he said,
they come here.
pale translucent skin,
running clumsily on broken legs.

Do they go quietly? I asked.
He didn’t seem to hear, or didn’t want to.
i just can’t ever put them out of their misery…

I watched one trail down the drain as he was speaking,
Turning, quivering, pausing,
The mere suggestion of an animal more than its flesh.

The Dramatic Everyday

Friday, June 3, 2016

Project As[I]Am has a call for submissions out right now! The topic is "Our Greatest Resource," on emotional labor, care, and love letters to yourself and others united for a more socially just world. Get your submissions in by June 4th -- we'd love to see your work!
These past few weeks have been a marriage of opposites. I’ve been trying to climb into a steady routine, but each time it’s been interrupted. Some things were expected, like feeling too tired to move after a full 8 days of work. Others were needlessly difficult, like my recent apartment search which ate up all the time I would have used playing with creative energy. And then along came loss.

I saw the closing of the old Hugo House, where I got my start as a 14-year-old writer. My own emotionality caught me off guard. During the last event, I wandered the halls and took pictures of the messages folks had put up. Tearful ones and frustrated ones, silly nonsense rhymes in the mix with professional artists sending the place off. I was reminded of all the years that I spent volunteering and taking classes there. Taking down the track lighting in the ceiling while standing on a wobbly ladder; being too timid to approach the mic during a performance class; people chuckling as my phone went off during a quiet writing exercise (at the time, the ring tone was my friend screaming “JORDAN, PICK UP THE PHONEEE!”). So, so many memories wrapped up in that space.

Then the last of my family’s cats died. Abby, the one whose kitten face is immortalized in a dusty photo on our fridge. Compared to the prognosis given a little over a year ago – that she would live only 3 more months with this kidney blockage, and in pain at that – she’s hung on for a good long time. She made a cross-state move to California, where my dad held her paws as she took her last breaths. The last cat that died is buried out in the backyard; though this cat's body is not here, the house feels even more full of ghosts.

It’s the mundane that unites it all. The dishes that must be washed, the laundry put away. The car driven, the apartment seen, the phone calls made – the spreadsheets too. The schedules updated and the to-do lists lengthened. This weekend, my best friend and I went through boxes of my old journals and got wrapped up in the nostalgia of letters sent as small children. What started out as a requisite task of moving turned into something more like a commemoration of the places and people who have been meaningful in my life.

It’s been therapeutic to shed what needs to be shed and to mourn what deserves to be mourned. I’m still losing a lot of sleep worrying about projects and next steps - but that, I suppose, is the complex blessing of being alive.