Godless Circumcisions (Book Review)


Book review number five for the TwitterBooks Project is of Tabias Olajuawon Wilson’s collection of essays, “Godless Circumcisions.”

Twitter Handle: @blaqueerflow
Actual Name: Tabias Olajuawon Wilson
How Long I’ve Been Following on Twitter: about two years?
Book Title: Godless Circumcisions: A Recollecting and Re-membering of Blackness, Queerness, & Flows of Survivance
Book Format: Softcover book.
What I liked: All of the content. 
What I didn’t like: There were typos in my edition but those have been sorted out (or will be soon). But please! Whatever you do, don’t conflate any publishing errors with the credibility and importance of this work!

Book Cover of essay collection Godless Circumcisions by Tabias Olajuawon Wilson.

Book Cover of essay collection Godless Circumcisions by Tabias Olajuawon Wilson.

I first ‘met’ Tabias on Twitter, but I don’t recall how our paths crossed. What I do know is I found myself perusing the website they curate, The Griots’ Pen, which is a site full of the writings and art of black and latinx, queer and trans people of color. It’s feminist/womanist, it’s brown and black-folk centered, it’s the words of people living in the world (not outside looking in), and it’s really, really revolutionary.

Queerness is more than sexual or gender performance. It is the strange commitment to the idea that folks born free should live free, with excellent food, ideas, and insurmountable love at their disposal. (Godless Circumcisions)
When Tabias put out a book earlier this year (January 2016), I bought it almost immediately. The essays, poems, and letters are a remarkably seamless blend of memoir and sociology. Using the forms of critique, lament, dialogue, and autobiography, Tabias clearly demonstrates how systemic racism, gender, sexuality, poverty, illness, domestic violence, and sexual assault are inextricably weaved into the fabric of their life (and many people’s lives).

But the most amazing thing for me is that this is no tale of woe. The book is deeply affecting and down-to-earth, but never disheartening. Joy is lifted up. Joy and purpose are lifted up. Forgiveness is lifted up. Sitting with loss is lifted up. Paradox is lifted up. Camaraderie and the urgency of grasping tight to endangered kindred spirits is lifted up. Humor is lifted up. Tabias writes about the need to be heard, and to listen; the ache to be cared for, and to tend to others. It’s all there, in the distinct voice of a vibrant, young, broke-as-a-joke, genderqueer, politically radical genius.

The brilliance of Tabias Olajuawon Wilson lies in a rootedness to community, a commitment to resistance, and a strong political analysis that’s been saturated with the highest humanism, and what bell hooks refers to as an “ethic of love.”

I read this twice and the second time enjoyed it even more. I read it cover to cover both times, so I don’t know how the build-up to the end might have influenced my appreciation, but be sure to check out the exchange between Tabias and Hari Ziyad in the section titled Letters of Love, Home, and Other Imaginatives. That section is near the end of the book. While all of the letters are soul-stirring, those in “Brother to Brother: Hari & Me, Kindling a Fire That Heals” stole my heart.

There is a lot more good I could say about Tabias — such as their wonderful sense of wordplay! — but I’ll end here: Buy Godless Circumcisions, and read it! It is beautiful.

Beginning Meditation


Last weekend I attended a two-day beginning meditation training, and an old friend, who feels the need to meditate, asked how would I suggest they start? This was on Facebook and my reply was such a really long comment (typical of me; yes, I am that person), that I decided to delete it and post it here.

A little drum at meditation center.

A little drum at meditation center.

A quick note: I started meditating regularly not even a whole year ago, so the beginner training was extremely useful. The training was about 10-11 hours after meals/breaks were taken into account. There were some teachings, Q&A, and lots of sitting and walking meditation. I was quickly disabused of a major meditation misconception (after almost a year! LOL), and also got hours and hours of practice in, which was super helpful. Sometimes it’s good to just push yourself so you can see what is actually possible for you to do. One reminder I really needed to hear was that this should not be a matter of ‘struggling’ — meditation is not an experience of forcing or squelching, but of being both relaxed and attentive. Anyway, back to the reply I made to my friend.

Again, the question was: How would [you] suggest I start [meditating]”

Oh boy [friend’s name] … I’m not the best person to ask. I’ve read a lot of articles and essays, but no books on meditation. After reading about it for a while, I decided to take it seriously (in the past, always thought I was just useless at meditating. I began with setting my phone timer to 1 minute and increased from there. Sometimes I would start with 2 minutes and when the timer went off, would reset it for another 2 minutes because I was enjoying it. I really enjoyed the period of time when I sat for 3-6 minutes four to five times a day (maybe because of the similarities to salat?).
By doing it more than once a day but for brief periods, it helped keep meditating in mind and gave me more opportunities to practice. It helped to meditate for a few minutes when I first woke up — even just staying in the bed and lying still; I found that if I waited to meditate after I’d washed up and sat down, I would often get distracted and forget. Doing that first thing always seemed to help me remember to do it again later that day. If I found myself thinking “oh I should meditate!” I’d ask myself if I couldn’t take a few minutes to do it right at that moment. Three minutes is such a short amount of time, the answer was almost always ‘yes.”
I used to try to quiet my thoughts, but now I know that meditating is more about viewing ones own thoughts — or as some say, ‘befriending the mind.” What is quieted is not the thoughts, but that impulse to engage with them.
The visual I have for now is of gazing into an aquarium where thoughts, memories, ideas, plans, and problems, etc. swim and drift past. I aim to be on the outside of the glass, watching closely but aware that the aquarium is not the center or base of everything. Often I find myself suddenly *inhabiting* a thought – then suddenly I’m IN the tank. I’m finding that with more and more practice, I still inhabit thoughts, but I’m aware *sooner* that I’ve done so.
You know how when you’re sitting in a very warm, cozy place and start to nod off? Then you get the sensation that your head is heavy so you shudder awake and in that moment, realize you had fallen asleep? (Sometimes even having dreams!) It feels a bit like that for me.
So when I’m wiggling through the water as a thought and suddenly recognize I’m part of the marine traffic, I get myself back on the other side of the glass, and … repeat. And repeat. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but it’s how I’ve come to see it at this point. I’ve read much lovelier analogies from Buddhists about being the sky looking over clouds below, or looking up from the bottom of a body of water and watching things float by under the light of the sun. I would say give it a try and be easy on yourself and as much as you can, enjoy the experience of giving your thoughts the space to unfold/float by without any judgment.

On Black Perfectionism, and Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq


This post began as a response to some of the commentary surrounding Spike Lee’s Chi-raq. But primarily, it’s a personal essay about the dichotomy of perfectionism and shame.


Two Sides of the Same Coin

Francis of Assisi was one of my friend's favorite saints.

Francis of Assisi was one of R’s favorite saints.

I once knew a man who was extremely self-deprecating. I’ll call him R. Every day, R. would put himself down, talk about how lowly he was. But he wasn’t especially negative. He praised others as much as he insulted himself. If you gave him a gift or did the smallest kindness for him, he would go on and on about how generous you were, and how undeserving he was. I’m certain it was no coincidence that R. was also a devout Christian.

I spent a lot of time with R. and observed his behavior over several years. On occasions when he was tired or suffering from health problems, his attitude would reverse. Suddenly, a person who frustrated him was “an idiot,” a morally bankrupt individual; and he, my friend, was the innocent and more intelligent victim, wronged by virtue of being superior in every way.

The contrast was stark. He could go from obsequious to vicious on the turn of a dime. A psychiatrist today would likely diagnose R. as having a personality disorder, and put him on a course of chemical treatment. But R. was deeply religious, and interpreted all of his behavior and thoughts through the lens of purification vs. corruption. When he apologized for speaking sharply, it was with a bowing and scraping that we rarely see today.

Getting to know R. was integral to my development. I recognized bits of myself in him. Because I was also devout, we had something in common. Despite being of different faiths, we shared a strong and mutual admiration. But as the years went on, it became apparent how his ritual self-abasement was only the flip-side of a raging egoism. This prompted me to consider my own long-term depression, and tendency to minimize myself. “I am insignificant, I am not worthy,” etc. Could it be that my religious practice of submission had suppressed a latent desire to be of significance, to be powerful, to be admired? For ten years I thought about this.


Perspective vs Aggrandizement

Several years ago I decided to prioritize having a balanced perspective of myself. I was not the most worthless person in the room simply because I was not the most accomplished. I was not an ugly beast simply because there were women who were more beautiful. My writing wasn’t garbage just because it wasn’t as good as it could have been if I’d spent more time on it. And so on.

With focused effort, I have made tremendous strides in this area. I can now receive criticism on my work, be awkward in a conversation, be preferred over someone else and so on, without feeling that my heart has been rent. Not being the best or the most prized is not a reason to give up, hide away, or stop participating.

But it’s still something I have to work on. Daily. One thing that doesn’t help me at all in this, is something I see online – also daily. It’s the “flawless” assertion.

Cover of "Flawless"

Cover of “Flawless”

It is popular among fellow Black women of my generation and some Millennials. The highest compliment you can pay a woman is that she is flawless. I’ve never seen a definition of it, but from what I gather, a flawless woman is one who is beautiful, can be counted on to be well put-together (at least on camera), usually the most superior person in the room, and seemingly in control of her destiny.

The concept of “flawless” is a difficult thing to counter, in part because it’s reactionary. Black women in our society are so maligned, so sidelined. We are disproportionately abused by cops and domestic partners; in popular entertainment, we’re usually relegated to roles of support staff; romantically, we’re the least preferred on online dating sites; the list of inequities that signify Black women (as a group) are near the bottom of the social hierarchy is long.

So it makes sense, that culturally speaking, we counter this degrading narrative with one of flawlessness. That we declare, “Black Girls Are Magic!”  I understand all of that; I am a black woman who grew up in this country, I understand it. I understand that for a Black woman to achieve significance, to be noted or notable, is going against the odds and can seem like magic.

But personally, it does me no good. Why? Because it’s not true. I am not magical. Nothing I do in the world, good or bad, is magic. And most certainly, I can never be flawless. It is impossible.

It’s also not true that Black women should play second fiddle to white women (or anyone), or that we are the least attractive women on the planet (as many claim, including ordinary people who insist they are “colorblind”), or so on. None of it is true! The inequalities that Black women must contend with have nothing to do with our actual quality. They are social injustices built upon centuries of calculated, white supremacist economic and social policies.

I don’t want either narrative. For my own sanity, I need the truth. I need to be able to see myself with clarity. Tearing off one delusion only to immediately replace it with another is not wise. I can be flawed and make mistakes – and still have value. I can say stupid things and embarrass myself, wear an ugly outfit – and still make great art and be a good mother and a good friend. I can lose an athletic event – that doesn’t mean I should take my sorry ass home. I can be the worst karaoke singer of the night but that doesn’t mean I should be ashamed and never touch the mic again.


Black Creativity, Black Freedom
This came up for me again today because I was on Twitter. A fellow there, Brandon David Wilson, aka @GeniusBastard, was tweeting about Spike Lee’s latest film, Chi-Raq. Wilson is a Black man in Los Angeles who teaches English and makes indie films. He often loves films that I am meh about and dislikes films that I adore. Nevertheless, I follow him because he is interesting, has a point of view, and is well-informed about film.

I haven’t seen Chi-Raq – I’ve watched one trailer for it. From the day the trailer was released, I witnessed ire among many people who were embarrassed by the film, by the very premise of the film (based on the play Lysistrata, which I first read 20 years ago, and is still frequently performed on US stages), and by Spike Lee’s politics (such as they are), in general.

Teyonah Parris on poster for Chi-Raq

Teyonah Parris on poster for Chi-Raq

The first commentary I read about Chi-Raq was an article rejecting the movie on the basis of the trailer; this author claimed that the women in the film have no agency (misogyny) and that Lee had appropriated Chicago culture.* Later, Seattle writer Ijeoma Oluo published a withering review in The Stranger titled “Fuck you, Spike Lee.” “Chi-Raq is bad,” she said. “Everything about it is bad. Don’t see it.” On my Twitter timeline, the overwhelming tone among Black people (none of the white or brown people I follow has said a word about it to my knowledge) is: the film is trash; how could Spike even do this?!

Wilson, who saw the film last night, wrote, “Chi-raq is no masterpiece. It is uneven. But it’s an important film that needs to be seen. When it’s working it transcends its shortcomings.”

Because I haven’t seen the film, of course, I have no opinion of it. And usually I disagree with Wilson. Also, Chi-Raq looks like a musical – that’s a tough genre to sell even when the material is bland. Spike Lee has always been hit or meh for me. He is also really eccentric. The fact that he’s a Black filmmaker in Hollywood and has managed to crank out two dozen feature-length films implies he is not preoccupied with random people’s opinions (aka “gives zero f***s”).

I do plan on seeing the movie now, simply to decide for myself. But regardless of what I think of it, I have to wonder: is it possible (yet) for a Black filmmaker to make a provocative movie that is considered worthwhile, if it is unwieldy? If it is not great? If it is ambitious but not entirely successful? As a Black person who writes and must battle daily to view my own creations with simple clarity (what works, what can be improved upon?), this is an important question for me.

On Twitter, Wilson added, “Black Cinema only has room for hagiography or crowd pleasers, not art.”

I feel what Wilson is saying here. I have seen countless white-male-directed movies that have had their flaws laid bare but are still deemed worth watching. To answer my own question, I do think it is possible for Black filmmakers to be in this position, but we are in a process … and a gradual one.

Only this year did I begin to recognize the role racism (both external and internalized) might be playing in my ongoing, personal struggle between shame and perfection.

Being able to take a measured view of oneself and ones creative output is an incredible freedom. For some of us, the dichotomy of shame and perfectionism is imprinted on us by personal experience. For some of us, it is demanded, by the whole system. This is a false dichotomy.

I have only one set of eyes. How can I ever see that I am a work in progress, both flawed and valuable, without seeing the same in others?

Giving Tuesday and Thoughts on Charity


Today is Giving Tuesday. If this phenomenon of widespread non-profit fundraising on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving seems new to you … that’s because it is. It went national four years ago, and quickly spread.

I wonder. Is this an organized campaign of generosity to kick off the Christmas season? Or is it conveniently placed to mine the guilt of those who spent (or overspent) on Black Friday and Cyber Monday?

Why not both? There are all kinds of people. I like to donate to some of my favorite organizations on this day because there are often matching funds available.


A short musing on Charity

There is a famous saying, attributed to the Prophet Muhammad: Even a smile is charity. The hadith (tradition) it comes from is considered sahih (sound/authentic) and reads: “Every good deed is charity. Verily, it is a good deed to meet your brother with a smiling face, and to pour what is left from your bucket into the vessel of your brother.

There are many ridiculous hadith, but this isn’t one of them. I was raised to believe “even a smile is charity,” and I still do. Maybe it’s why I feel unsettled every single time I pass a neighbor and we duck our heads. It’s common here in Seattle, culturally speaking, to barely acknowledge someone you are passing, as if acknowledging them is an imposition.

Muslims I knew and grew up with took this hadith to heart. It was customary to greet every Muslim you passed on the street, even if you had no idea who they were, and would never see them again. One of the perks of wearing hijab was that you were instantly recognized by other Muslims; a consequence of this was that even if you were alone in the streets, you felt a little less alone when someone gave you that smile or greeting of Salaam, sister.

I like this idea of the hadith that anyone can be a recipient of charity. Good deeds are not dependent on one party in the exchange being higher in status than another. Every good deed is charity, no matter the recipient, or the giver. You don’t even have to be a generally decent person to commit an act of charity.

The word for charity here is sadaqah (صَدَقَةٌ) which at its root means truth, sincerity. (The popular name Sadiq means “truthful;” it’s a good name.) What a thought! That every good deed is truth. There is something to think about: the relationship between good deeds and the truth.

If you think about it, it is not a big thing, to meet your brother (or anyone; in this sense brother does not refer to a biological relationship or any gender) with a smiling face, is it? The act of smiling is not physically arduous for most people. Nor is pouring what is left from your bucket into the vessel of the person beside you.

And yet, it can seem monumental to want to smile, genuinely. Maybe you’re not in the mood, maybe you’ve had a lousy day, maybe the last time you saw that person they made a backhanded remark about your shoes. It can be difficult even to share ones leftovers with an open heart, without begrudging, or a sense of annoyance, e.g. Why didn’t you have the foresight to bring enough water? Why were you so greedy that you’ve used up all of yours? I should just hang on to mine; I might need it later?

Resentment and the impulse to close up ones hand (to be stingy) or to turn away ones face (to avoid) definitely gets in the way of charity. And, one could say it also gets in the way of truth. Can the truth be stingy or avoidant? Can sadaqah?


Wearing a Headscarf


I wrote this little piece on wearing a headscarf and being noticed after a prompt at yesterday’s Community Writing Circle led by writer Anne Lenau.

Wearing a Headscarf

I started covering my hair as a toddler. It wasn’t a decision I made, it was a practice, adopted when my parents converted to a new religion. It wasn’t a requirement, but everyone in the community they joined covered their heads. Who were they to behave differently? The men wore turbans, the women wore long head scarves that draped across their faces bodies, all the way to the waist. Even the boys got in on the action. They had crocheted hats  — like big yarmulkas — we called tajas.  The little girls like me wore scarves we called “tarhas” – or, if you were 2, you might say, “ta-ha.”

By the time I was four or five, I wore it daily, every time I left home. I have no memories of myself before wearing the headscarf.

I grew up in New York, that great melting pot of a city. There was every kind of person there (except Californians. And cowboys. And mountain men. And the Pueblo people who lived in adobe houses, according to the Encyclopedia — that was how the rest of the world looked to me as a small child living in the boroughs). When we lived in the Brooklyn compound that formed our religious and social community, I was normal. I looked like all the other girls, any other girl.

After we left, I went to kindergarten. I don’t remember anything about kindergarten except that I was the only girl who wore a headscarf, and one day we sat in a circle with our teacher in November, and she told us the story of how the Pilgrims ate Thanksgiving with the Indians and then the Indians tried to kill them! Shocking! I told my mother about this horrifying tale of betrayal when I got home and she went berzerk and called the school and went off on the teacher! I never went back to kindergarten or that school again. My mom told that story for years.

People often stared at us. Even in New York City, where we had every kind of person. White people stared at us. Black people stared at us. Latino people — called Hispanics at the time — stared at us. Asian people stared at us. Stared at me. The bus driver stared at me. Other children stared at me. Old people stared at me and shook their heads, clucking. Christians stared at us. Baptists, especially. Hari Krishnas didn’t stare. Muslims didn’t stare. And Hindus didn’t stare. “Are you a nun?” people would ask, even when I was six years old.

When I was about 25 years old, I stopped wearing the headscarf. The first time I went outside not wearing a headscarf, I tried wearing just a hat. I was trembling. I left home. I walked down the park blocks in Portland, Oregon, where not all kinds of people lived. And nobody looked at me.

Author Selfie at Carkeek Park in Seattle, Nov 2015

Carkeek Park. Nov 2015

5 Things: In and Around Media


Here’s another 5 Things: I published an article; I am doing a reading in Seattle; there is a new online school for alternative and LGBTQ-friendly interpretations of Islamic texts; two feminist/progressive publications to read and submit to; and yes, I love Hamilton: An American Musical.

  1. Publishing news — A piece I wrote was recently published in the UU World: A Filmmaker’s Quest. It’s a profile of Natalie Fedak, a young, indie filmmaker in Bellingham, WA. I interviewed Fedak in August, and found her to be a really admirable, thoughtful person. She has done a lot of creative work and dived right into a tough industry. Being creative, caring, and productive all at the same time, is no small feat, and I wish her all the best, personally and professionally. Remember the name! (This piece appears in both the online and paper editions.)

    Photo of Natalie Fedak feature

    Photo of Natalie Fedak feature

2. Come here me read! — If you’re in Seattle and not familiar with Minor Arcana Press (motto: Good Books for Weird People), you should check out their site. Or even better: Attend one of several upcoming events.

The free Beer and Poetry Holiday Gathering will be held on Thursday December 3rd at Vermillion Art Gallery. There will be four or five readers, including Evan J Peterson, Natasha Marin, and yours truly! I’m not sure what I’ll be reading yet, maybe some poems or an excerpt from a short story. Normally readings in galleries terrify me but the folks of Minor Arcana Press are really kind and normal people. If you want to venture out to a poetry event for the first time, or for the first time in a long time, this is the one.

If it’s writing you want to do, check out the free Community Writing Circle this Sunday November 29. The event, which usually involves intros and a prompt, writing time and brief, voluntary readings, will be held at Douglass-Truth branch library from 2-4pm. I’ve been to several of their CWCs, and I have to say, they are all welcoming spaces. Also, the prompts have been generative for me. One session got me started on a brand new short story for my Lysithea collection. I’ve since finished the piece and submitted it to various publications. I intend to be at Sunday’s event as a writing participant. These are really non-intimidating, inclusive (racially, gender-wise, class-wise) sessions that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. And again: FREE.

3. The Mecca Institute — I heard about this new venture via Twitter. I read a Truthout article about Daayiee Abdullah, noted as being the first openly gay Muslim Imam in the United States, founding an online school and think tank that examines alternative, contemporary and inclusive interpretations of the Qur’an and other Islamic texts. to host classes on inclusive interpretations of the Qur’an and other texts. Read more about the program here. Classes will be open to both Muslims and non-Muslims. I will be keeping my eye on this. Even though I am no longer Muslim and have no interest in ever being Muslim again, I still have interest in the theology and culture of Islam. My family of origin is still Muslim, too, and after 25 years of having been a believer in that faith, I am connected to it, even though I have chosen a different path for myself.

4. Read and Submit! — I’d like to let you know about two great projects. One is an online magazine, founded and funded by women called The Establishment. They launched only a month ago (October 26) and feature fantastic content from women all over the country on a wide range of topics. I met several of the founders earlier this year and they were great: enthusiastic, experienced, and looking to really contribute something of value by feminist women, for feminist women. I am enjoying many of the articles.  Go check it out. And they are also seeking pitches; and they pay.

Anthropoid is a literary project that is currently seeking submissions for its second issue, FOLK – but the deadline fast approaches: Sunday, November 29. You can check them out here. Anthropoid is looking for poetry, fiction, visual art and whatever else you’ve got related to these themes: “examination of the human condition, participant observation, experiential narrative, anthropology and the business of living, culture, “humanesque stuff,” etc.  Through Twitter, I know of several people involved and they are awesome women. I have a piece I want to submit to them and it will be a scramble to finish in time….

5. The Hamilton Musical — So, I love this piece of musical theater. I heard about it on Twitter, of course (it’s where I hear about most things these days). People I knew were going ballistic, posting lyrics and going loopy with fandom. I was thinking, “Oh boy.” I thought I’d do my usual thing of not getting caught up in a product or project until long after the majority of people had forgotten it was The Best Thing Ever.

And then. I remembered my regret of not seeing Tracy Chapman when she toured one of her albums. And so many other bands. And The Lion King. And I remembered how I had seen the musical Chicago on Broadway, the very last week that dude from Dexter was playing Billy Flynn, and how awesome that was. And I thought, “Maybe I should just give this a listen, because who knows.” Trust that Hamilton: An American Musical is an entertaining, exhilirating work of genius! At least give it a try. If you dislike it, that’s all right (though it will still be a work of genius). I love it. And so does Kidlet. Her favorite song is Non-Stop, and mine is Wait For It, but so many other numbers (there are 23) are wonderful. What a feat! Read about it here.


About the Dark


This post is a few musings about the dark. Recently I was looking at some notes, and came across this line by the Syrian poet, Adunis: “The road to light / starts in a dark wood.”

That got me thinking about how I get so much inspiration in the late night hours. Actually, it’s better than inspiration. I feel most alive to myself. In the quiet of the night, I feel less occluded, closer to the things I love, and most like whoever it is I am.

I’m reading a book called The Words and Wisdom of Charles Johnson, and the very first entry (dated January 8, 2011) is called A Day in the Life of Charles Johnson. He writes, “My day is the reverse of what a day is for most people. Typically, I’m up working all night until 5 or 6AM, the same kind of schedule kept by Descartes and Balzac. Those are the quiet hours I need to concentrate when the phone isn’t ringing and there are no other distractions.”

This is reasonable. Even online chatter is less after 10PM. There is a line from Passenger’s song, Whispers that I often think of: “Everyone’s filling me up with noise, I don’t know what they’re talking about. / Now all I need’s a whisper, in a world that only shouts.”

I have to acknowledge that I’m part of the “everyone” who fills others up with ‘noise’ … but at night I feel more conscious of the sound I’m making. There is less of it overall, so it’s a bit like butting into a conversation at the very moment it lulls.

Late at night I like to read or write. That’s pretty much all I do after a certain hour. Before I took up rowing, I’d stay up late and crochet while watching movies or tv shows on Netflix. Now that I’m not rowing anymore, I thought, maybe I should pick up a handcraft again. I enjoyed it, it was soothing. But after some consideration, I realized writing would be the best use of my night-time. I am running out of life-time, and I’d rather have a stack of finished stories than a closet full of scarves.

Seattle residential building at night.

Seattle residential building at night.

One thing I miss is taking walks at night. I used to do this often when I was younger and lived in downtown Portland. What a gorgeous, fortunate experience. (At the time it was also affordable.) Back then I was incredibly lonely, but those late night walks were magic. Walking for leisure has always made me feel connected to something bigger than myself.

Walking at night nowadays is not as satisfying anymore. I feel the magic in the beginning, but then I spoil it for myself by wanting my family to be with me. I resent being alone in the magic. But why should they leave the warmth, comfort, and Internet of home to roam around in the dark. For what? What purpose does it serve?

Put that way, I can understand it. So I stay inside. And it’s pretty good in here, too. At least, I can read better with a lamp, and I can write better at a table.

The Violet Act (Part 2): A Short Story


Here is the second and final part of my short story, The Violet Act. (Part 1 is here: The Violet Act)


Zeb wasn’t a believer. Of the President he’d said, “That fool turned into a false prophet, and now people practically worship him.” The whole situation made him angry, and he jabbed at his own clavicle with an index finger. “I should’ve started a religion. I’d be rich by now!” 

Odessa was appalled. “It’s not a religion. People don’t have to change their beliefs. It’s happening to anybody.” She paused, thinking of accounts in the news, the testimonials in online forums. “If you think about it, really, it’s science.”

“Science! How do you figure that one?”

“It’s our origins. No different than, than Kennewick Man, or – or Lucy.”

“What? Those are physical specimens.”

Odessa fiddled with the silver bracelet on her wrist. She was stepping into deep waters here, and she was not a strong swimmer. She’d double majored in English and Spanish. Zeb had a degree in Chemistry. She took a deep breath. “But don’t you think the origins of our spirit are just as important as the origins of our skeletons?”

Zeb was dumbfounded. “That … is ridiculous. Do you even know what you sound like?”

“How is it ridiculous? Knowing where we’ve come from tells us more about who we are. Look how the President changed. You can’t say that wasn’t good.”

The look she got from Zeb was severe. It was the one he gave to his students when they confessed to not reading any of the assignment.

Odessa flushed all over. “All I’m saying is,” — but already, her voice was trailing off — “people can change.”


Jacob finally spoke. “Hey. Are you okay?”

Odessa rubbed her eyes. Jacob Bitterman. He was a good listener. He held an ordinary job, managing bulk paper supplies, but she remembered what he did before: he’d built houses made of mud and clay, he’d worked with his hands. Whenever she looked at him it was like seeing two bodies at once, a kind of double exposure. Other things were that way, too. His voice, his stance. Everything was … twice. Sometimes she meant to grab his arm and was off by a few inches. It seemed to her that the past wasn’t just the past, it was hovering over them, trying to get a lock on.

She glanced over her shoulder at the house. The girls’ things, and Zeb’s things were still in there. All her things were in the trailer. “It’s just that, this is it. You know, in this life, I’ve always been so careful ….”

Jacob nodded.

“… But now I’m leaving Zeb, and he’s saying he’ll keep the kids from me—”

At this, Jacob took her by the arms. “No, no. He can’t do that. The law is on your side, Tempest.”

Tempest was her name from before. They were going to live in a place more like where they’d lived before. Jacob’s name in his other life had been the same. He was Jacob in both lives. He’d never married, never settled down. It was as if he’d been waiting for her, for 40 years.

But she had married. She saw that as more evidence of her weakness. She’d been weak all her life, and that was the woman Zeb knew. The woman who’d never felt right in her body — not when it was young and not now, when it was growing heavy around the middle, when her hair and smile had lost their shine. She was the woman who dithered, and wasn’t sure, and didn’t mind, and supposed so, if that was all right with you. Zeb couldn’t understand what she was doing because he didn’t know what she was capable of. But Jacob knew. He knew everything about her that she’d forgotten.

Before she could reply, a dark green sedan sped toward them. Odessa recognized it and warned Jacob with a hoarse yelp; then she went stiff. He hauled her onto the sidewalk. The car squealed to a stop inches from the rear of the trailer and Zeb jumped out. He was shouting.

“You’re really doing this? You’re really doing this?”

Odessa gaped at him. He was a mess, his shirt untucked, his shoes not even laced. He’d spent the previous night at a friend’s house in Massapequa. He should be at work right now, she thought. That was the agreement. He would be at work, and the girls would be at school — she’d put them on the bus herself.

As Zeb approached, Jacob shielded her with his body.

“Get out of the way and let me talk to my wife.”

Jacob put out a hand and said calmly, “Don’t.”

Zeb’s eyes bulged. “You! Are an asshole. And a liar. And you —” he pointed at Odessa, “Are fucking delusional! Can’t you see what’s happening? What the hell is happening?”

Odessa felt strange in her body, as though she were losing a layer of skin. It felt as if someone was tugging at it, trying to snatch it off of her like a blanket. She shivered and crossed her arms. When she spoke, it was difficult to make out the words. “You’re not supposed to be here.”

“Wake up, Odessa! Wake up!” Zeb’s face was nearing the shade of the maple leaves littering the ground. “You think there’s some other life out there for you? Well I got news for you — this is it! We’re it! You made this! You don’t get a second chance.” All the while, he inched closer.

“Hey, hey,” Jacob stepped forward.

Zeb flailed his arms. “Out of my way! You’ve got her fooled, but I know.” He said to Odessa, “This guy is nothing – he’s a loser. Oh you think he waited for you? He wasn’t doing anything! He’s a nobody. Now he’s got you hot to go commune with cow skulls or some shit!”

He was trying to get around to her, but Jacob was a wall, silently blocking him at every maneuver. Zeb screamed, called the bulk paper supplies manager a fat fuck con-man, told him he’d have a heart attack in the desert. Odessa stood behind Jacob, marveling at his composure.

When Zeb broke into a wheezing cough — his throat had squeezed up from the strain of shouting — Odessa tapped Jacob on the shoulder and said, “Let’s go.”

Jacob guided her to the car while Zeb stood on the sidewalk. He resumed his screaming, but it was more of the same. “You can’t do this to me! The whole thing’s a lie!”   

Once Odessa was in the car, Jacob locked it with his key fob before going to the driver’s side. He turned the engine, and Zeb ran up and started kicking the passenger door. At this, Jacob stepped out and said to him over the roof, “Get away from the car.”

“Or what?” Zeb’s face was mottled pink and white. There was goop in the corners of his eyes, and his nose was running.

“Or I’m calling the cops.”

Jacob sat back in the car, and pulled away carefully, checking in the rearview mirror that the trailer was coming along. Odessa regarded Zeb through the glass. He was looking at the ground, like a man hanging from a rope.   

They were on the Cross Island Parkway before Jacob broke the silence.

“How are you feeling, Temp?” Jacob spared her a glance from the road. In that split second, his eyes were on hers, his thick brows furrowed. He was focused on her, fully. He looked back to the road, but she could tell, he was still thinking about her. She stroked the arc of hair above his ear. He was losing his hair, but in that manly, fleshy way. In his other life he’d been bald, too, but on purpose, shaving it.

He sighed. “I’m sorry how things went back there.”

“I don’t mind.”

“No, really, Temp. I’m sorry. That was ugly.”

“I don’t mind,” she said. Then she recalled Zeb on the sidewalk, and the edges of her mouth crept up.

He had both hands on the wheel, but Jacob was watching her from the corner of his eye.

“What?” she asked. By now she couldn’t keep the smile off her face.

His face suddenly brightened, and he gave her thigh a little squeeze. “There you are!” he said. Then he laughed. “There you are.”

The Violet Act: A Short Story


I’m posting a short story I finished recently. I’ll post the first half today (~1800 words), and the second half (~1400) tomorrow. I’m posting it here because I don’t have any idea where to send it (researching markets is very time consuming), and it’s not part of any larger project. Just a one-off short story. If you have any feedback or questions, I’d love to hear from you. Thanks!

The Violet Act

They were in the office of the Integrationist.

“I knew it was real,” Odessa said. “It happened to Nicole – we were roommates in college – so I knew it was real. I just never thought it would happen to me.” Her tone was matter of fact. It matched the room. Sterile with a smooth carpet of gray that hushed one’s steps. There were no windows or pictures, only a wall print — just the one wall of four not white. The decal was a tangle of sunlit firs, ferns and pines.

Her husband Zeb was looking at her sideways, his face stretched with disbelief. “I can’t believe you’re doing this.”

The Integrationist urged Odessa, “Describe for me what happened.”

“Well. It was just like they say. Like what happened to the President and Violet.”

Zeb scoffed loudly.

Odessa continued. “I was at work — in a meeting with the Registrar and the Assistant Registrar. I was taking notes for supply orders. It was completely by accident that I was there because, normally, I’m not the one who does that. But Maddie was sick with an early flu or —“

Jeez-us, will you get to the point already?”

From the other side of the glass desk, the Integrationist’s gaze shifted and settled on Zeb. Her blond bangs barely moved as she spoke. “That was rude.”

“Rude?” Zeb struggled to stay in his seat. “Rude is your wife, deciding after sixteen years, that she’s not supposed to be with you – she’s supposed to be with some other guy she just met because they were together in some past life!”

  “Maybe not past life,” Odessa said quickly. “Maybe just another life. Maybe past … maybe parallel.”

The Integrationist nodded. “There’s so much we’re still learning about this phenomenon.”

Zeb smacked his forehead with the heel of his hand. “What are you thinking? Sixteen years. The kids? You don’t even know this is real!”

“I know.” Odessa said, her eyes fixed on the chrome legs of the glass desk.

“How? How do you know?”

Odessa shrugged. She was beyond apologizing and explaining. That was all done, weeks ago.


Odessa stepped out onto the front porch. The white screen door eased with a hiss behind her. She scanned the street for sign of Jacob’s station wagon and the cargo trailer, but the road was quiet. Full-figured maples heaved in the crisp air, their russet leaves trembling. She shook debris off the floral cushion of a green plastic chair and sat down to wait.

The house wasn’t theirs, they were renters. “We feel more free this way,” she told people. But more often, not owning had been a source of shame. Only now did she feel the totality of possible gratitude. She’d met her other. She’d remembered who she was before. It was only possible to return to her old lover and life so easily because she and Zeb didn’t own this house. She would not have to split it, sell it or buy out her share. I am free, she thought.

Leaving was not without consequence. Zeb was baffled, furious. He’d always been a skeptic, but a quiet one. Now … Zeb rumbled like a dormant volcano, and Odessa did not know whether he would settle down again, or blow his top.

In his presence she was paralyzed with guilt, but when he was working and not sending her panicked messages, — “Are you really doing this? How can you do this to the kids?” — she felt more than happy. It had happened to her. It was like winning the lottery.

Odessa’s childhood on Long Island had given her little exposure to the concept of reincarnation. Throughout her early adulthood, it was no more than a fanciful, mathematically improbable idea, subscribed to by people living on the other side of the world – and some local, oddball spiritualists. She never took it seriously.

Until the President of the United States met his match. On live, streaming broadcast. Before then, the President had been an unruly, incredibly wealthy man. He was entirely unelectable until the day he was elected. After taking office, he embarrassed the country with his monthly addresses. Every issue, the President had preached, was the result of people violating one rule: Keep It Simple, Stupid. He had an answer for everything. If there was no simple solution, then the problem was the problem. He said things like that.  Keep it Simple, Stupid! The Problem IS the Problem. And had them printed on t-shirts and ballcaps.

He was on his thirteenth monthly address, when a reporter approached the microphone with a question, and her eyes met his. In that moment, they recognized one other, and consequently, they remembered themselves. It was another time, and another place, but it felt like yesterday.

After that, the President became a different man. He made shocking statements, about the value of all people — even people who couldn’t work. He prioritized equitable funding in public education, and levied heavy corporate taxes to make it happen. He brought an end to many of his own policies. Then he stepped down from his post, gave away most of his money and set up a modest home with the reporter, whose name was Violet.

The President and Violet weren’t the first, only the most public and dramatic. But they paved the way. Everyone had witnessed that moment: the President and Violet caught, like moths in a narrow beam of light, the rest of the world fallen into caliginous shadow.

Those who had thought they were going mad were vindicated.  Now everyone knew, it wasn’t madness. People had lived another life, in another world, before this one.

Not everyone remembered. Most didn’t. But enough did, enough to force accommodation. Legal protections. No one should be prevented from honoring who they truly were, if they wanted. By the time Odessa graduated college, there was accredited coursework in Integration Therapy. There were government funds to help with transitions. Society agreed, it was better this way. People were better this way.


An older model, white Peugeot turned onto the street. There was plenty of space in front of the house. Most of the neighbors were gone to work, and taken their cars with them. Two and a half weeks before, Odessa gave her two-week notice at the community college. On her last day, several co-workers stood around her desk, and presented her with an 8-inch chocolate cake and a sparkly paper hat that said, “Bon Voyage” in ecstatic gold cursive.

The hat caught her off guard. “Bon Voyage? Isn’t that for a cruise?” 

“I figured. Since you’re going to Mexico,” said Jennifer, the oldest woman in the Registrar’s Office.

Before she could stop herself, Odessa replied, “We’re going to New Mexico. And we’re driving.”

Jennifer froze under the stern looks of the other office women. A jack-o-lantern sweater pin flashed alternatively green and orange, lighting up the underside of her pale chin. “Oh,” she said.

Odessa widened her mouth into a smile and put the hat on, positioning the rubber band carefully. “Don’t worry about it. I’ve always wanted to go on a cruise!” That wasn’t true, but it was the thought that counted.


Today, she ran down the red porch steps to greet Jacob. He walked around to the curb with keys in hand. As they neared each other, she paused. He closed the gap, and pulled her close to him. Odessa hooked her chin over his shoulder, her left ear touching his right. They were the same height. Jacob was warm, like an engine left running, and smelled of fresh bread and spiced apple.

After a few moments they pulled apart. She moved a strand of hair from her forehead. “Wow your heart is beating really fast,” she said.

His voice was gentle and reverberant. “I’m having several, significant physiological responses.”

Odessa’s eyes flew open and then she squeezed them shut and turned her head away. He said things like that, as he always had, but she was still getting used to this. “Well,” she said, feeling silly, and half her age. “I guess we should load up the trailer?”

There wasn’t much. Some books, but she’d gone on a de-cluttering binge last year, and kept only several dozen favorites. She was using her e-reader more. They were headed to a different climate, so all her clothes fit into a four piece luggage set. There was a box filled with thick photo albums from her college years and trips abroad. She confessed to Jacob, “I didn’t have time to scan them.”

“Don’t worry about it,” he said.

There were a few pieces of artwork: three paintings; the first was left to her by her grandmother, the second two she’d picked up at estate sales during each of her pregnancies. And then there was the tabletop sculpture made by her old friend. Wrapped in paper, then cloth, then bubble wrap, and placed in a box. Nicole had driven all the way from Boston just to see Odessa, and give her the piece. It was a bronze woman falling in a bed of flowers, rapturous.

Nicole was the closest person to Odessa, who understood what it was like. Nicole reported being happier than she’d ever been. “I can’t even describe it to you, Dess,” she’d said, over tea. “You feel like your whole life is gathered up and handed to you. You feel complete, in perfect alignment.”

“This is it?” Jacob secured her bicycle in the 4×8. There was still a lot of empty space.

“Well, my laptop and jewelry will go in the car with us. There are some things from when I was little, but they’re still at my parents’ place in Deer Park. My sister has the family heirlooms they’ve let go so far. Because she has that big house in Stony Brook. I wouldn’t know what to do with all that china, anyway. Lana’s husband is a golf club manufacturer. Or his father was ….” Odessa frowned, simultaneously trying to get the facts straight and wondering if they mattered.

Jacob opened the hatchback and started moving his things out of it and into the trailer to fill it more.

Odessa watched him. “I’m sorry. I should’ve left the bicycle, then you probably could have gotten away with just a cargo box.”

“Listen,” he said, sliding shut the trailer door. “You’ve got to stop apologizing. You’ve done nothing wrong. Don’t worry about it. Now, if we see something we like along the way, we have somewhere to put it, no problem.” He grinned and patted his belly. “Wouldn’t be a bad idea for me to get a bicycle, too.”

He reached for her again.

She felt self-conscious, snuggling with this man in the middle of the street. Maybe Mrs. Hutchinson across the street, was peeking through a window. Then again, everyone knew.

After a minute, she pulled away. “Well I guess this is it,” she said, glancing at the house, then at the side of the trailer. There was a scene painted on it, of cacti and blue sky. Jacob was watching her, waiting to hear what she’d say next.

—-end of part one of two. The second half of the story is here: The Violet Act Part 2

What I Am Reading + Am I Going the Right Way?


My Goodreads “Currently Reading” virtual shelf is a bit out of control. There are 28 titles in there. Some of them were books I began but had to return to the library, but most are books I have on hand and simply haven’t finished yet.

I often characterize myself as a “slow reader.” I don’t have difficulty interpreting the letters, but my habit is to read a little, let the words marinate, then read a little more, and let that marinate. Or, I’ll re-read a paragraph or page several times before moving on to the next. My brain sometimes works like a manual credit card machine, where one has to slide the metal bar numerous times across the card before obtaining a clear impression.

All that being said, I’m slow-reading some interesting stuff, and I’ll highlight a few of them:

What I Am Reading

  • I just started Manituana, which I mentioned in my previous post. It’s a historical novel written by an Italian writers’ collective. The idea of a writers’ collective producing a fictional piece of work intrigues me. (I have been feeling the need to collaborate on a creative project.) In any case, the book is set in mid-18th century North America and centers on the conflicts between the English, Dutch and French migrants (“settlers”) and the First Nations that already inhabited the lands. There were a lot of players, a lot of deals, alliances, and legalities (few of which benefitted the Native peoples as a whole). What’s most striking to me is the lust for land — a single man seeking 5,000 acres, for example. Why does any one person or family need so much land? To create wealth for himself, and ultimately, to be the master of his own destiny. Human will is an incredible thing to behold, but when it’s motivated by the desire to be dominant lest one be dominated, I don’t consider it heroic or admirable. The novel depicts the settlers as having a clarity about what they want; I found this refreshing. All we need do is look around us today to see that our nation rewards — financially and socially — those whose first priority is acquiring resources for themselves. We all know that’s not what makes a moral/ethical person, but we’ve come up with ways to make it seem moral and ethical … we smooth things over.
  • For several months I’ve been reading a collection of interviews with Seattle novelist and retired University of Washington professor, Charles S. Johnson. It’s called Passing the Three Gates: Interviews with Charles Johnson. I’ve been savoring it. There is a lot of stuff he says on race, identity, and art that resonates with me. Johnson has a PhD in Philosophy, and he’s been an artist (first a cartoonist and then a writer) for some 50 years. He’s also been engaged in Buddhist practice for about 45 years. I enjoy his tone, his ability to step back and attempt to view things from multiple perspectives, and the way he engages. He sometimes reminds me of another African American writer and practitioner of Buddhism: bell hooks. Both make candid observations without coming across as judgmental. That can get one in hot water sometimes — e.g. hooks’ critiques of Beyoncé’s public persona that many people mistook (imo) as personal attacks. Every human is fallible, so it’s not that someone like bell hooks is incapable of being petty, jealous (!) or out of touch (as many claimed), but it seems to me that people are not comfortable with clarity, and honesty, when it comes to their own idols. Oh, and to bring it back to Charles Johnson, I was fortunate enough to recently attend a day-long workshop on writing, creativity and Buddhist practice in which he was one of the three instructors. The day went by so quickly. I chose the little writing workshop with Johnson and found him to be more than gracious; he was kind, and thoughtful, and very learned.
  • I’m also reading a short story collection of Johnson’s called The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. I’ve only read three of the stories so far, but all have been good. The best one, The Education of Mingo, was an incredible read. Rich language, excellent characterization, sly social commentary irrevocably folded into wise parable, all leading to a fitting, seemingly inescapable end. It’s the kind of fiction writing I aspire to. And it’s my favorite kind of fiction to read, too. For me, Johnson and Saramago go hand in hand. I’m aware of and am exploring a few other authors who consistently speak that same, fictional language … hopefully I can come back to that later, in a future post.


Autumn in Seattle, view of the Lake Washington Ship Canal. November 2015

Autumn in Seattle, view of the Lake Washington Ship Canal. November 2015

A Question from Twitter

I solicited questions on Twitter, because I feared my post for today would be too brief. (Proving that, after all these years I still don’t know myself.)

One of the questions posed was from “Heather Tarrant,” aka @jitterbug212, who asked: How do you know you’re going the right direction?

My initial reply was: “the right direction in terms of what? Like, driving/GPS?” (Realizing now that may have come across as abrupt? Was not meant that way, should have added a smiley face!)

But the answer, as Heather later alluded to, may be the same regardless of whether we’re talking driving a car or moving in life. If I was driving in an unfamiliar area and wanted to make sure I was going in the right direction, I’d use some guide. A map, a GPS, another person in the car who knew where we were going, etc. I think most of the time, we know whether we’re going in the right direction. It’s the roads that get us tangled up! We tend to freak out if we’re on a street that isn’t the fastest or safest route possible because — that’s what we’re taught to do? Someone might get mad at us for not following their turn-by-turn instructions precisely? So many reasons.

We might choose to go in the wrong direction. Like, if the person in the car with us acting as navigator is wrong but we’re afraid to speak up. Or if there is a lot of traffic on the roads going the right way so we go the opposite way in the hopes that the long way will really turn out to be a shortcut. Sometimes we can be misled. Sometimes we are not in a hurry so we can “risk” going the wrong direction for a while, and in fact, find some cool things over there before making it back on track. None of this may matter if we don’t have a destination, if we just want to “go for a drive,” and are truly open to driving anywhere.

Personally, I know I’m going the right direction (or not) because of what I’m seeing out the window and how I feel inside. I look around and realize, “this isn’t where I want to be (anymore).” It can be very hard, though, if it’s someplace nice. I pull over and review my map or try to piece together what I remember of the landscape I’m wanting. And what are the boundaries of this space I’m navigating? If there’s a sea to the east and a forest without roads to the west, I get a sense of what is possible in a car. Am I willing to get out of the car? I could go places on foot or in a boat that I couldn’t in a car, but if I do that, I’ve given myself more decisions to make, more possibilities for going in the wrong direction.

I could elaborate on this metaphor (forever), so I’ll wrap it up:  I try to be open to a lot of possibilities. I’m one of those lucky people who can be happy with a lot of different kinds of things. I try to minimize the number of wrong directions in my own mindset, so that I don’t have to worry about it as much. My issue is less going in the wrong direction, and more … spending too long driving in circles.  In a couple of years, I should revisit this and see what I think. Thanks for the question, Heather!

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