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.

A Plea for Gentleness

Saturday, June 7, 2014

we have all hurt someone tremendously, whether by intent or accident. we have all loved someone tremendously, whether by intent or accident. it is an intrinsic human trait, and a deep responsibility, i think, to be an organ and a blade. but, learning to forgive ourselves and others because we have not chosen wisely is what makes us most human. we make horrible mistakes. it’s how we learn. we breathe love. it’s how we learn. and it is inevitable. -- nayirrah waheed

A lovely friend sent me this quote over text, and I want to consume it.

I am not always myself. When I put words to the page, I find myself transported to another place where some combination of images (thoughts, memories) have formed a world I've never experienced. I usually call this a gift.

But the gift became a problem a lot more publicly when I was in high school and it felt like everyone around me was at some stage of collapse – we’d come from abusive homes, were abusing drugs, or just had general anxieties about being futureless. High school is hardest when you’re not taught any coping mechanisms. You either learn to hide it well or you don’t. Then that expression of emotion puts you into a compromised situation – do you want to see the counselor or the detention hall? I have the privilege now of knowing many people trying to resist that narrative, in schools and in the broader justice system.

Being able to so clearly imagine someone else's grief can sometimes go way beyond empathy. It becomes your own suffering. You are consumed by it. My domestic violence training would call it vicarious trauma. It sounds serious, and it is serious, but it is also something that is routine amongst care providers. Burnout tastes sweet when you know you’ve done exactly what you’ve learned to: give your all to the person or people in crisis.

I admit that I’m not always so vigilant about keeping boundaries between myself and the people I care about. It doesn’t mean that I want to care about them any less, but it means that I have to learn to take exquisite care of myself in order to do it, as I have been the past week. I’m sure that there are many who have called for this before me, but this is a plea for gentleness. For ourselves and others. Too often I blame myself for emotional expression, wanting to move on from it, but more often those are the moments I need to pay attention to for my own growth.

I’ve been working on a poem about violence. For the first time in a long time, I’ve been reading again. It’s nice to hear other voices in my head besides my own.

I've found Maya Angelou's interview in The Paris Review and her reading to be very nourishing:

Impulse Mothering

Thursday, May 15, 2014

It’s little late for Mother’s Day, but I’ve collected some of my scattered thoughts about the concept of ‘mothering’, inspired by a Tweet that me and my friend Amanda Zhang put together.

I have been thinking about how complicated Mother’s Day is as a holiday. Some of us were not raised by our mothers or are estranged from them; some of our mothers are dead; some of us wanted so badly to be mothers but couldn’t. Some of us have different genders and were told we couldn’t be mothers, or our babies were taken away from us by illness, authority figures, or people who did not trust us to care for them. Yet, despite all that, I think that mothering is a powerful force and a concept that can transcend into other relationships.

I have more thoughts on this topic, but for now you can read on to you’ll find that Tweet, and several short pieces:
We were talking in a coffee shop about horoscopes. Our futures seemed just as complicated as our pasts, and we were living with one foot in either direction. I sipped my hot chocolate; she sipped her tea.

I searched the shelves, hungrily looking for names that sounded desi or desi enough. Names like my father’s – long and many-syllabled – and names cut short by American tongues. Any of my friends would call them “coffee names,” what you would tell a barista or a waiter who had to shout out when your order was ready, and would butcher even uncommon white-sounding names.
My sister had only recently found out that desis were allowed to write literature, and ever since then I had been dropping off more and more books with my step-mom for her to read through.
“Nadia, we’re going,” Malika called out in a harsh whisper. The other library patrons looked up, accusatory, as I responded at a normal volume.
“Just a few more minutes.”
“You sure she’s even done with the last one?”
“You can read two books at once.”
“Yeah, but not fifteen. You’re setting yourself up for fines.”

Who appears in the dreams of women,
Raised by other mothers?
The drama teacher,
Leaning from the purple hammock;
The best friend,
Breathing laughter over the cordless phone.
Her father’s care package, open and unwrapped,
On the kitchen table.

Also, life updates! Last weekend I read at the Smithsonian APA Wiki-Edit-a-Thon, so check out that great recap here. And I am writing a serial story called Dark Spot for SpliceLit, an online literary magazine co-founded by the amazing Veda Kumarjiguda.

And As[I]Am is having a call for content creators that ends next week! If you are a media maker, follow the link and check out how to apply!

Changing My Own Life

Friday, May 9, 2014

I have recently been entertained by a phrase my friend Jess told me, quoting another poet, "If you are too consumed by grief and have to watch bad TV shows, then you are with your ancestors." Glad to know that my ancestors are not disappointed in me for watching days and days of House on Netflix.

I have been suffering from moments of defeat recently, personal and professional. I moved too far into possible futures and instead ended up just where I started -- stuck. Life is not so easily changed, no matter what my fantasies.

I don't know how often most people give themselves permission to hide under the covers and feel overwhelmed by the doors shutting all around them. Facebook tells me that I am meant to have a montage of successes, near-professional photos, and funny cat video re-posts. And it's easy to feel like I'm burdening even my most well-meaning of friends when none of the material things have changed. My life situation isn't any better, but it isn't any worse. I am exactly where I've been before.

I've been thinking about resilience. It takes tremendous strength to change your own life. But I have been meeting more and more people who, despite their burdens, have been making that effort. It's not glamorous, but it deserves praise. And while I'm stewing and scheming, pushing back deadlines and spending time "with my ancestors," I must remember that I too am one of these people.

Until I can feel well again, I have been listening to poetry that inspires me. Check out these poems -- inhabiting very different emotions -- by Stacey Ann Chin, Tarfia Faizullah, and warsan shire.

Moderating Panels & Tabling at the 2014 Brooklyn Zine Fest this Weekend!

Friday, April 25, 2014


I'll be moderating three panels at the Brooklyn Zine Fest this weekend, and tabling on Sunday! Come through, check out the panels, and pick up a copy of one of my zines or my new business card, designed by the fabulous Jess X. Chen (who will have her art and prints for sale there as well!). We will also be tabling with me alongside the lovely Jenna Freedman of the Barnard Library/Lower East Side Librarian.

Here's a schedule of the panels:

Queer and Trans* Zinesters -- Saturday 4/26, 4:30pm
Collecting Zines -- Sunday 4/27, 1pm
Anonymity -- Sunday 4/27, 3pm

Shaking Me Out of My Skin

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

"How do you honor people in your pieces?" I asked two different poets these past few weeks.

I've been struggling with this question as I think about writing and publishing more publicly. I always have ownership over my own stories, even when they include other people - family members, friends, and people who look suspiciously like them. Who gets visibility when I write them into my stories? My writer self or the subjects that I sit with? I've been asking for an easy answer, but I only get more complexities.

I've been writing in my head, but I've been writing badly. After the Eyes on Bangladesh event, I was fried. I started to describe my stress in waves. All the stimuli of having weekend after weekend of events made it hard for me to concentrate on anything but practicalities (did I send that email/write that post/eat today?). I love all of my work, but because I love it so much, I have not learned how to adequately say 'no'. To only get rest when someone cancels is no way to live your life. Something had to change.

What I needed was poetry.

And movement.

My friend of many years, Jess X. Chen, came to stay with me and since she is a poet, upon landing she had a list of events for us to go to. I inhaled Tarfia Faizullah's poetry collection Seam after seeing her perform. I listened to Cathy Linh Che and Jenna Le in Ocean Vuong's living room, humming and asking questions. It helps to have friends who can drop you a casual invite to an unfamiliar community.

Poetry influences a lot of my writing style, in part because that was the first form I wrote in that integrated my art and activism. These days, I don't keep up with poetry as well as fiction, though whenever I need inspiration I turn to my well-worn Pablo Neruda collection. More and more people of color poets are doing amazing work and getting noticed for it. These poets shook me out of my writing skin. This period of writing badly has reminded me of another lesson:

My art is slow. In form and content, I need to spend more time with my pieces. I need to draw inspiration from a wide range of sources. I need to listen to the people in my head before I can even think of honoring them.

I encourage you to also try drawing some other inspirations apart from your usual. I'm a fan, of course, of fabric arts (hence all the in-progress pictures in this post!). It's been immensely helpful