Category Archives: essays

Getting Published Feels like This

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I hadn’t thought much that day of the fact that I was getting published. No, really.

It was my first substantial literary essay in a truly literary publication and I’d get to see real-time results, and I’d waited more than three months since it had been accepted, seven  months after starting to write it, nine years since completing grad school, and 38 years for this. So why wasn’t I anxious? Or at least bubbling over with excitement?

 

One of My Biggest Influences, Truman Capote. I’d like a mic, too, please. Photo from Goodreads, a great readerly site.

 

I needed to be literarily accepted. I craved the “published” status. I wanted to know that my grad degree was worth it, that my living this turbulent writer’s life, that failing miserably at relationships and jobs and money, that learning to ask for advice and critiques from writers higher up the food chain, and having to work at this job in Piura, Peru, was because my dedication to my writing was worth it.

Yet, there was so sudden awakening this morning, no lack of sleep the night before. (Though I certainly had whilst writing it.) And today my day had carried on as always.

 

Not the only Sleepless Writer Photo Credit

 

What I felt when I arrived at Starbucks on my lunch hour still hummed below the level of anticipation about the publication of “Burqa to the Loo”.

I loaded up my computer, pressed on with the nonchalance of anyone going through their daily routine: answering emails from one account, the second, the third, before heading over to my professional Facebook profile. But I didn’t make it to the second profile very quickly because there it was.

I audibly gasped. My hands raised to clasp my chest like an old man having a heart attack.

“Awash in a sea of hijab in Mazagaon, I might as well have worn a bathing suit to church.”

The words sang in my ears. Its professional appearance reminded me of the thousands of pieces I’d read by other published writers and authors. Now it was my turn.

Then it really hit: I did that.

 

The statement scrolled through my brain like a ticker in Times Square: I did that I did that I did that. My heart started pounding like it’d leap out of my chest. I dropped my head into my hands, shut my eyes tight as if to keep the tears from spilling over.

 

Suddenly breath raced to my lungs which forced my tears out, and they fell and fell and fell for minutes until I had a headache, until I spent two tissues, until anyone looking at me in this very public place with a wall of windows in front of me, baristas who know me by name behind me, and some international business men to my left. Why couldn’t I just have preacted before it was published and saved these people the confusion of watching a woman get published for the first time?

 

Then I thought of all the hours and weeks and months spent writing since then with nothing new on hand to send to publishers for a repeat performance of this. I’m not the prolific writer I imagine myself to be. The thought released giggles like gas bubbles. They didn’t sound like the woman who was sitting here a moment ago, the woman who wasn’t yet published.

 

My favorite barista, Fiorella wonders what she served up in that latte that made me start blubbering like a bloody whale

 

Now they sounded like a woman acknowledging a blessing.

I can’t believe I did it was followed by Of course you could do it, you sap!

I stood up from the stool. Elation washed through me like a bath in Lourdes and I let it sink in. I started crying again, sobbing actually.

Estás bien?” A barista passed by, greeting me as she came in for her daily shift.

Sí, sí!” I said, suddenly having to pull myself together. “Algo muy bueno pasó. Estoy muy bien, muy bien.”

I let the feelings settle, simmer. I considered returning to my routine but my eyes Facebook post again, glimpse “in a sea of hijab…” and I recalled everything that led to that story, those days in Mazagaon, fearing for my life, what led me to India, what took me from India. It dawned on me what all I’ve been through in four years.

Then another crying jag ceased me.

I suppose I should be in my own bedroom when I receive this notice: “Your book is now selling in stores nationwide.”

 

The good thing is that my slowness has given me time to realize the psychological turmoils of what happens after not just a sweet little, nice little essay like “Burqa” is published but after my book is. As these linked authors indicate, writing is a slow, upward climb. I’ve finally got some rungs beneath me. Let’s hope I can continue advancing, without having an anxiety attack. Though I will accept some tears, especially if it means I’m getting published.

Wearing Hijab in Mumbai, only to be Feared by Muslims as a Terrorist

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I can still hear the azan, or Muslim call to prayer, coming at me from all directions in Mumbai. I remember walking to work. Groups of men knelt on their rugs on dirt-covered street corners. Azans poured out from everywhere, sung by men high in the sky yet and  invisible to us. The words caromed off the walls of high rises and down canyon-esque roads of Mazagaon. They were foreign to me, those words. Protective as a parent of an infant, they melted away any predispositions, cloaking me in their rapture.
That sight, those songs became etched on my soul like a tattoo.

Hear it for yourself.

When Homesickness Dampens Wanderlust

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A month into a year-long contract teaching at a university in Piura, Peru, is not the time to realize I long for home. Nevertheless, here I am, looking out upon the desiccated flora and the abysmal color palette of the flat land surrounding me.

My clothes are sweat-soaked after walking a mile from work where language and cultural barriers have worn my nerves like singed hair. The maid hovers, prattling on in indecipherable Castellano, making me want to cry for privacy. Horns from mototaxis outside the house— just 20 feet from my bedroom—jumble my thoughts. Their Latinized version of Jennifer Lopez’s “Get on the Floor” that plays like a soundtrack on repeat. My spirit is jumbled as a jigsaw puzzle.

 

Trying to Revive My Travel Mojo in Peru's Desert

Auditory fatigue, it’s called. Auditory fatigue alone is almost enough to warrant homesickness.

 

It’s more than that though. It’s exhaustion from life abroad. Exhaustion over converting currency from Peruvian soles into US dollars for half my transactions to determine how much I’m actually spending. Exhaustion from negotiating for each moto or taxi ride. From day-long translating Spanish on signs and in speech and the cultural meanings beneath all of it. I’m tired of my feet being dirty as a peasant’s. I’m tired of cold water in showers with exposed electrical cords, of Internet connections as high-tech as rural American electricity in 1932, of sidewalks whose unpredictable topography requires walking with eyes cast downward.

 

I’m done with a place so conservative that the existence of homosexuality is eschewed, so artless that art and architecture books brought from home serve as relief, so absent of architectural design that I’ve taken to create it in my imagination during my long walks to and from work.

 

Watch out for that WTF in the sidewalk

 

Mostly, I miss the West’s 21st century. There’s a certain liberation in taking things for granted. Yet we don’t know this until we’ve lived abroad. It’s sheltering as a down comforter. Moving abroad– especially serial expatriation– tears that away. It leaves scabs that become mental and physical scars.

 

Drop back a century in time when entering El Peru

 

We learn to treat homesickness with periodic trips back home. They work like Rolaids– but with nine months more in my stay here, it’s as if my medicine cabinet lacks that elixir. So what happens when wanderlust devolves to homesickness? Do we resort to surgery, abandon our post and return to the safe confines of the States?

 

No. I made a commitment. I asked for a long-term job with a living wage. I got it. Let me stop my whining that my wish didn’t look like what I expected. Besides, Peru has an energy, a pulse audible beneath the auditory exhaustion. It tells me there’s a lot to learn here. It’s not home. But it’s a good resting spot until home calls me back for good.

 

I turn back from the desert view and walk to the semi-paved road before my house. I’m not in the mood to haggle and therefore I simply agree to the four soles (or $1.50) the cab charges to take me to Starbucks. There, things begin to look up. Festive employees greet me by name and make my latte just as I like it. The AC cools my body, the free wifi calms my road-weary nerves. For the moment it’s a spa to ensure the health of my wanderlust. It’s a substitute for a real American moment. I’m a closer to 21st-century relief.

 

Fiorella, one of my favorite baristas