19 Oct 2020

On Writing and Rejections

 To Listen to an audio of this piece, click here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aG9UkzoYrTg&t=31s

I pictured the characters in my head, I set up the stage for the seen I’m writing; is it a room in a house? What color is the furniture? What’s hanging on the walls? What are the characters wearing? I put everything in place and watched my characters move, interact, and live their lives, unaware of me, inside a dollhouse I built in my mind.

I breathed life into them, their voices, their demeanor, their past, their inhibitions. I gave them faces, I daydreamed about what they’d do next, I eavesdropped on people in cafes, and stared at them in grocery stores, borrowing their style of talking, their facial expressions, their hand gestures, their quirky body language, and their tics. 

But as soon as I wrote down a few pages, and the thrill of starting a new project wore off, the story began to wane, becoming alien to me, then gradually disappeared. My characters suddenly fell silent. Struck dumb, they refused to move, their eyes blank, they turned their backs to me and each other. I nudged them, as if flicking a little bug I wasn’t sure was dead or just playing dead, but they fell on their faces like lifeless Lego toys, and the walls of my dollhouse came tumbling down.

For days after my story abandons me, I’m in a kind of daze, almost bereft. Too raw to start on something new, I go back to my unfinished work pecking at it like a vulture at a clean boned carcass; I move a few commas, I delete then re-write a few ‘ands’, but I have nothing to add, no sign of my muse, all my creative ideas vanish. I feel miserable. I go out for a walk, an irritating din in my ear, I can’t tell if real or conjured by my drained imagination. I borrow several books from the library, in hopes that reading will inspire me, wet my appetite, get my juices going.

Reading brings me some relief, but like snuggling under a warm blanket on a cold winter morning, I refuse to leave the warmth of books, to face the cold blank computer screen; I read and read, searching for a glimpse of inspiration; a spark of a fresh beginning, the ash of an unexpected ending.

Scrolling twitter depresses me further. Every writer I follow is flying around the country promoting their book; they’re giving talks, they’re signing books, their books are getting nominated for awards, they don’t have time to answer all their fan mail, they’re staying at nice hotels, they’re grouchy about organizers with too many demands: “can they talk about their book at (prestigious) institution, do Q&A, and have dinner with the organizers afterwards?” *Humph* the adored writer tweets frustratingly, ending their post with an unimpressed emoji. Fussed and gushed over in interviews and reviews, the writers wish they were back home writing quietly in their room, before their books took off. I roll my eyes, I’m so far away from all of that.

I call myself lazy. “It takes discipline and dedication and I had neither.” I shamed myself.

There are market expectations that dampened my enthusiasm. One agent wrote “I’m looking for lean masculine writing”, which was strange because the reason I took interest in her in the first place, was that her genre was women’s fiction and more specifically, women in jeopardy. But the masculine and lean description bothered me too. Why are we gendering writing? And did she think feminine writing is fleshy?  

A judge for a writing competition, which called for unfinished novels, wrote he was looking for exciting writing like Gone Girl. I loved Gone Girl, but there can’t be another Gone Girl.

The numerous rejections I received after sending out short stories and personal essays. Confirmed my lack of writing talent. It took months for them to respond to my submission, months of hoping, were crushed by many who claimed my piece “wasn’t for them.” As they put it. “It doesn’t fit our needs..”, “Thank you for giving us the chance to read your submission, we regret..”, “we are unable to place your work in our magazine..” and the most bizarre rejection; “our selection process is a mysterious one, even we don’t understand it..” I wished they didn’t patronize me, I wished they’d tell me plainly that my writing is bad. My first reaction is indignation; yes! Okay, my writing isn’t noble prize worthy, but it wasn’t shit either! So why wasn’t anything I wrote getting through? I read poorly written, uninteresting, overused clichés in these magazines all the time, why do their standards suddenly go up when it comes to my submissions? But after my initial anger, my hot frustration died into self-deprecating submission; they’re right, my writing is crap, this piece is terrible, it’s not worthy of publication. At the same time, I knew I would feel completely different had they accepted my submission and published it. I would agree with their choice, I would go over the piece again and see it was clever, crafty, worthy of reading, and superior to my other work. I saw my writing through their eyes, not mine. Often when I got a rejection, I’d picture the editor holding my story, and another writer’s story in each hand, and comparing the two. They’d need one more piece for the issue, one more story and they’re ready for publication, they’d look at my story, and the other writer’s story, and finally decide that the other one is just a notch above mine; braver, tighter, had an edge, had that extra element that mine lacked; experimental, unconventional work that maybe had suspense, or more relatable characters, or was relevant to a current social affairs. In my more petty moods, I blamed racism, imagining the judge of a writing competition holding my piece and another writer’s piece in each hand, then finally throwing mine in the slush pile, because my name was foreign. But I always shook myself out of my pettiness, remembering that competitions were anonymous, and submissions were rejected if the author’s name, or any indication to the author’s identity appeared on the submission.

When I put my ideas on the blank page, they never came out right. My words felt motionless and forced, while the ideas in my head were fluid, flowing, and always in motion.

I wish I kept notes on how low the lows were after every unfinished story; the aching in my bones, the sluggishness in my brain, the colors sucked out of life, my food tasting gray. “I’ll never write anything again” I obsessed dramatically to myself, knowing, and not knowing that I would write, a dark doubt rumbling through me never letting me rest.

With my soul suffocating in tar, I wandered in the woods during the day, when I hoped people would be at work, but I still came across a person or two, and wished they couldn’t see me. I preferred the joggers who had their headphones on, and would rush past me without acknowledgment. But the odd dog walker would always nod, especially when the dog came close to sniff me, and then I was under a tremendous pressure to smile and say hello, it took everything I had to look at someone and be a fellow human being.

18 Oct 2020

In the Woods


 To listen to an audio of this memoir click here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V2YvEW3z4xU&t=34s 

We laughed about it once in the woods. How every year tens of female mosquitoes drink my blood to grow their eggs. Every sweltering summer I unwillingly create the next generation of mosquitoes. My skin bears the scars, like a tribal Ethiopian woman at her scarification ceremony, the excruciating process of having her skin raised with thorns, delicate swirls and dotted patterns, she wears them proudly, a sign of beauty, maturity, belonging, and her ability to endure childbirth.

“Why don’t they ever bite you?” I asked him playfully and a little indignant. “You just taste better” he says in his vacuous way, not looking at me. When the vicious bugs have just had their fill, all I see are harmless little pink bumps, shyly rising on the fleshy parts of my arms and thighs, as my blood begins to battle the intrusion. A few hours later I’m dragging my bruised body to the nearest chemist, blinded with the aggravation, desperate for a gel or a cream stronger than what I’ve already drench my skin with. The itch that began with a quiet murmur is now an endless red-hot scream, my skin implacable, I scratch as if peeling it off, I want to dig out the sinister creature that has clawed its way into me, eating away at my flesh.

I wish for sleep, while my limbs ache and throb, in my delirium, I mutter pathetically to myself. My sleeplessness is half injury and half qualm, “girls must be punished for fooling around with boys in the woods”, the sound of my female shame, and the penance hammered into me since childhood. I imagined how he sleeps, untouched, his skin smooth and cool and white, while a ravenous fire sears mine.

 he asks me “do you want to meet?” I know what I don’t want; I don’t want to be bitten by mosquitoes, but I go into the woods with him, and I don’t spray my skin with repellent, so it smells of perfume - and just in case - tastes of coco butter. Broody female mosquitoes smell me from half a mile away, the cicadas’ mating call, a thousand rattles shaking in unison.

8 Oct 2020

Things You Can Do to Kill Time Until You're Forty

 To listen to an audio of this piece, click here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g8A2__MtsU8&t=1s

 1.      Learn how to crawl and walk.

 2.       Learn how to ride a bike, swim, and play monopoly.

 3.      Go to school and learn all the things you’ll spend all your adulthood unlearning.

 4.      Gain childhood trauma.

 5.      Dream of running away from home.

 6.      Encounter Barbie, and allow a plastic doll to fuck up your perception of what it means to be female.

 7.      Allow Disney to trick you into believing that the only happy ending is in marrying a man.

 8.      Discover books, and allow the most insatiable sense of freedom and adventure to open up inside your mind.

 9.      Discover coffee in you late teens; & from the tasteless muddy looking water that only adults drink, it will become the greatest love of your life.

 10.  Allow shitty men to make you question your own self-worth, and who you should be.

 11.  Gain emotional baggage.

 12.  Go to college and learn all the things that won’t help you much in your adulthood.

 13.  Get a job and hate it.

 14.  Marry an abusive man and divorce him.

 15.  Have a wonderful child who will teach you everything you need to know about being a good human being.

 16.  Do your postgraduates to prove to everyone else that you are intelligent, even though you knew it all along.

 17.  Travel.

 18.  Turn from a fussy eater to a foodie who loves EVERYTHING.

 19.  Turn thirty, then turn thirty one, thirty two, thirty three, thirty four you get the picture..

 20.  While in your thirties obsess about how terrified you are of turning forty.

 21.  Obsess about weight, skin, and hair. Be superficial and vain.

 22.  Actually leave home and never return.

 23.  Paint beautiful pictures that might not generate revenue, but that feed your soul.

 24.  Write a memoir, try to get it published, and endure the agony of endless rejections.

 25.  Keep writing and painting (despite the knowledge that nothing may come of it).

 26.  Feel guilty about almost everything you’ve done in your life so far.

 27.  Be depressed and think about ending your life.

 28.  Be dramatic, slip in and out of love for life.

 29.  Follow your inner moonlight even when nobody else understands your choices or approves of them.

 30.  Let go of the illusion that things could have been different.

 31.  Meet yourself for the very first time, and absolutely love her.

 32.  Realize that aging has given you the greatest gift; the love of your own company more than anyone else’s.

 33.  Buy a pretty red vintage dress from Etsy, do the twirl, and feel fabulous.

 34.  Care less about what people think, a little bit less, a little bit less, a liiitttlllee bit less about what others think… Perfect.


Your life begins now.



1 Oct 2020

From the Virus's Point of View


Listen to an audio of my flash fiction piece: "From the Virus's point of view"


26 Sep 2020

Our Truth

The left over yarn we keep in a shoebox. The half onion we wrap in foil, and promise to use, only to rediscover three weeks later dry and shriveled in the fridge. The manuscript we give up on after so many rejections. The admiration we hide for someone we’ve just met, so as not to seem too ardent or desperate. The parts of us we keep hidden after the world told us they are madness. The potential we ignore because the world convinced us it has no value. The joyous belly laughter we suppress, until all humor dies inside us.

Our families strip us from our truth, when they tell us who we should be. Our societies rob us from our individuality when they mold us into something only useful to the collective.

From the very beginning, we set off in search of ourselves. We don’t know how we lost our selves or where. We look for our truth in superstition, in personality tests, in zodiac signs, in religion and spirituality, and worse of all in other people. We are afraid of being alone, because loneliness is the only mirror that reflects us, and we’ve never met us before. We are afraid of being alone, because in our solitude we’re forced to listen to our inner thoughts, the thoughts that don’t sugarcoat, or flatter us. They are sharp, plain, and honest.

Later in life we discover that our truth is in the things we are passionate about, the things that don’t necessarily bring us revenue, but bring us fulfillment. Our quiet moments when we choose to turn our backs to the noisy world outside. The courage we feel, when we learn how much ridicule, persecution, and isolation, the creatives we admire had to endure, fighting for their truth, being who they really are.

Listen to this vignette here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2_qmo-8PYsE&t=11s

25 Sep 2020

We Met Online

You can listen to an audio of this memoir piece here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=treCJ9lhvAw

In a sea of photos, captured at flattering angles, every user on the site was suspicious. Did their photo truly represent them? Or was it taken a decade ago? Why did they cover their eyes with shades? Why did they use a filter? Why was their photo too dark? Or too far away? Why were they looking away from the camera? Why was it a headshot and not a full body shot? What were these men hiding? What’s wrong with them? Why were they here? But then again, I was here too!

I was only on the site for five minutes when LakeWoodBoy (Eric) sent me a message: “what color panties are you wearing?” followed by a winking Emoji, a kiss Emoji, and an Emoji with heart eyes.

The user names were just as ridiculous as the users. No one could go with their first name alone, there were too many Johns, Matts, and Davids, they used nicknames followed by their first names in brackets, or some random numbers. NoMoreTears (Ben), CoffeeGuy (Marcus), SacreCrow 225, Rahul-007, PipeFitter (Jim)! I mean I get that Jim is proud of what he does, but this was taking it to the next level.

Then there were the profiles, reading them made me scratch my head. Every profile said: “fun, loving man, seeking fun, loving woman”, and some were left blank. In the interest section HappyDude (Joe) wrote “food and water”, that’s what interests Joe; food and water, he’s a simple guy.

Meanwhile Steve-78, who was blond and blue-eyed, put down his ethnicity as “Native American”. This is how Steve described himself in his profile: “I’m such a lovely, sweet, caring, wonderful, trust worthy, faithful, honest, God fearing man. I’m also amazing in bed, I have testimonials.” Curious about those testimonials, I considered messaging Steve, but decided against it.

Alex, was a few years younger, he had nice hair, and his profile caught my eye because it said he likes poetry. We discussed literature, and hair maintenance. We exchanged numbers, and texted about our favorites poets. What we’d come back as if we we’re re-incarnated, the color of our tooth brushes, how we like our eggs, and which countries we’d like to visit someday. Then, when we finally decided where we’d meet for a first date, he told me he had a child with a woman he was no longer with. I paused; “but this wasn’t mentioned in your profile!” I said. The site shows you a user’s age, where they live, what they do, their body type, their zodiac sign, their social status, whether they have kids, whether they want kids, what kind of relationship they’re seeking; serious, or just casual dating, if they had pets, whether they’re religious, and whether they drink, smoke, or do drugs.

“It’s no one’s business” Alex argued. “If I found someone I’m comfortable dating, then I’ll tell her” he continued. “But that’s not fair” I wrote back, “you expect women on the site to be transparent with you about everything, but you keep something like this a secret? You’re not concerned about privacy, you wanted to seem like a better catch, you wanted to seem more appealing to the ladies. I could have lied about being a mother or about my age, I know that men prefer to date younger, childless women. No one could blame me, I specified on my profile that I’m seeking casual dating but nothing serious, if a potential partner argues I wasn’t honest, I could simply say ‘it’s not like we’re getting married’. But it’s a matter of principle, it about being a decent human being.” Alex said he was sorry and that I was right. But something in me already changed, and we texted our goodbyes.

ProfessorTodd-330 messaged me: “You remind me of a ruptured appendix, in that I'd like to take you out” I rolled my eyes at the lameness of the joke, then threw my head back and laughed for a whole minute. We exchanged messages for several days, and found we had a lot in common, and by this I mean ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’ is not the only book he’s read, he’s an academic, interested in the arts, and can hold a conversation.

When we agreed to meet in person, for a short walk by the Rocky River, we both told each other we were looking forward to it, he joked that he’ll be the guy in yoga pants. The meeting was awkward, he was so much older than the photo, he couldn’t walk because of a bad knee, and had a tremor in his hands. I was mortified, my mind told me to turn around and get back in my car, while something like a conscious told me to be polite for fifteen minutes, then make an excuse and leave.

Back home, I sat in my car for an hour, I felt angry and cheated, I kicked myself for not requesting a facetime or a skype call, I fell for the most classic trick. Then, my anger melted into a deep melancholy, I contemplated this mammoth monster called loneliness that terrorizes us all. The lengths we are willing to go to, the lies we’re willing to tell, modified faces and bodies, inflated personalities and exaggerated achievements, to hide an ocean of hungry, hungry hearts. Mournful, gray rain began to roll sulkily down my windscreen, breaking and magnifying different parts of the tree outside. To the tree, my face was distorted, like carnival mirrors, the raindrops multiplied me, stretched my nose, doubled my chin, elongated my head, sliced my eyes into threes and fours, gave me a grotesque freakish mouth, then slowly pooled in the groove between the hood, and the wipers, before falling to the ground.