dear publisher

Dear Publisher,

I’ve been waiting all day for your call.

I rearranged four kitchen cabinets and organized both freezers—the one connected to the fridge and the one we got to store middle school fundraiser cheesecakes.

The bread cupboard is now filled with mugs; the pots are now exchanged for serving dishes. Tupperwares have lids, stacked over each other, leaning. Water bottles are matched with their caps.  But the dishwasher’s bottom drawer is pulled all the way out. So is the utensils drawer. I had to stop putting their contents away and scurrying in order to ask you a question about my manuscript.

Did you get to the part where Ellie meets Paul?

Are you in the lawyer’s office with Mariam?

Wait, no. It’s only been some weeks, and all of you are super busy. Maybe you’re getting closer to Chapter 3. I heard that’s where most of you know if it’s a yes or if it’s a no. So that means you’re getting closer.  

I’ve read online how editors are juggling current clients and reading manuscripts for new ones when they can, maybe the weekends or early in the morning if their assistant thinks they’d like them? I understand. That’s the time I grade my students’ essays, too. So many essays in my life. I love to see the product, but getting to them is like reaching through fog for the horizon most days.

I’ve opened my email 23 times today even though I will get a red alert on my app if there is any news. It’s a habit. Twenty-three, Michael Jordan’s jersey number. I’m from Chicago; maybe it’s a good sign. But I can’t get my hopes up. Instead, let me look at the names of editors at your houses who have my book and say them in my head. If I say your name, maybe we’ll connect faster. In Farsi we say, Del be del ra dare. There is a path from your heart to my heart.

You know what I’ll do? I’ll keep positive. I’ve made it this far. I’ll be very cool and will find a healthy line between hope and reality, and that’s the safest way to exist when on submission.  

Have you read the pool scene with Ellie and Paul?

How did you feel about the limes?

It’s too early. I’ll go measure the dining room table for a new runner. I’ll put away my work laptop and open my personal computer.

Did you get a sense from the book how for most children of immigrants, particularly from impossible homelands, we can’t ever see our parents’ childhoods; thus, there will always be an additional barrier to understanding them? Do you see how this strains Ellie and Mariam’s relationship and closes them off to a line of questioning that is ultimately tragic?

Did what happened at the restaurant surprise you?

I’m writing book number two like a suspect, looking over my shoulder hoping I don’t get caught moving onto something new. Don’t worry; I won’t get too distracted. Right? I mean, I should, but I’m in between relationships. I have to be ready to come back to the book you are reading so that when you—the editor at the publishing house, the person who likes how I write the world—when you sit straight, smile, and say, “Hey [insert colleague’s name], come see this. I found it.” My hand will already be outstretched, ready to take yours and dive back into Ellie’s world with you.

I changed the location of two plants. I hung a frame with a temporary nail. I made the kids beds. The Vanilla Bean Noel candle is burning. I had one left after Christmas and we need the smell of cake in the house today.

Maybe I should make a cake. That will take 30 minutes prep and 50 minutes in the oven; that’s 80 minutes of distraction from waiting for your call.

You have my number and know what I want out of our future relationship. She told you about me. You have all my social media and my writing over the years. 

Did you get to the scene, the one in Bolivia?

Have you seen inside the barn?

Before I fall asleep at night, I think of you. In my imagination, you’re up reading my book with the lamp light on.

No, wait, that’s likely untrue.

The lights are off. The person you sleep next to is already snoring, and you’re grateful because you don’t want to feel guilty for bringing your job to bed, but you love your job. You’re an editor at a publishing house; it’s what you’ve worked for all your life. You can’t help it. Some days you get swept up in all the stress, but other nights, maybe like this one, you’re reading this book by an admiring woman who is waiting for your call all the time.




this woman

I bought four Zwilling, double-paned tea mugs I loved at my aunt and uncle’s house as soon as we returned from Canada last year after my cousin’s wedding. Every time I pull one out of the cabinet, they remind me of that last visit, when we cheered for bride and groom alongside my belated grandfather who was like a king in our family. During that wedding timeframe, at the end of each day with family, we’d return to their house, get into pajamas, and talk to each other with our glasses full of hot, garnet tea, fiery enough to make parts of your tongue red, the only color suitable for the proper sip.  

The reunion of cousins and their children compared with our retired parents and elderly announced, as though from the older generation’s mouths, I’ve been where you are; I know what this is like. I wonder what you’re doing with it?  It. This true adulthood where I remember my parents when I was a kid my kid’s age, the adulthood that is recording. The internal red dot is on, and we are where they’ve been, which also means we will be where they are looking at our youth and then thinking of our own time as parents. This makes the sum of all parts the goal, and I find comfort in that since it’s impossible, though we try, to remember all the little things.  

My aunt and uncle have a chef’s stove, and the hood sucks out any scent nearby. I liked walking by the kitchen and seeing a glimpse of my aunt leaning in to light her cigarette in the gas range, smoking quietly while the tea brewed. She’d blow the smoke up to the hood, and the house wouldn’t know any different. “Hi, Khaleh,” she’d say. Each day and night, we’d meet this way in the kitchen.

Like the smoking she cared not to be lectured about, her quiet sense of style, and her unique tea mugs, she’s been her own woman distinguished from in-law and other roles for years. She handled and supported her family discreetly and strongly, perhaps coating against my family’s side full of well-intended, strong opinions by protecting her own—keeping to her own way of life without fuss. In spending time with her, I realized that what I always considered her quietness was actually a strength of preservation. Discreetly, perhaps, she has protected her mind and family from ways big families have the influence to demand sacrifice for the whole.

At this stage, I see that this is often what we need to do to be ourselves in our middle eastern culture: we are our own selves alone and we take shape of what we should be when we are with family. As I get older, I see this less of a bad thing and less separatist. Sometimes, our alone selves are insufferable—hard to please, restless, vulnerable. But our families and our responsibilities force us out of that comfortable solitude and rely on culture and sound to replace that internal rattle. Where I’m learning to make that work is by strengthening my own cartilage. I want my individual self to say “Hi Khaleh,” when you pass by me doing my own thing, and I want to feel at home doing it.

My other aunt, one of my favorite never-to-conform women on this planet, just swept my 83-year old grandmother off her feet by taking her to Turkey and Greece. Recently widowed, my grandmother hasn’t travelled anywhere for years as she cared for my grandfather. This aunt is vibrant, independent, and a pillar of womanhood in my eyes. Her sister, my mother, recently retired, couldn’t go with them on this trip because she felt guilty to leave my dad alone that long. She has her own rhythm of life miles away from her family’s and her own unique limitations. In that distance and in her circumstance, she has strengthened on her own. She wouldn’t have considered herself a strong woman years ago, but I see her that way. As an artist I met recently said, Eastern ways of strength and healing look differently than the typical Western norms. Our hero’s journey isn’t the same. The women of my family alone write a book about this that their children revisit inside our minds.

In front of me, I’ve had a gallery of women whose art I recognize the more I turn my gaze inside and see them. And in my life of women, I take note of the roles they fill where I lack. Since turning 40, changing work, and being vulnerably waiting on submission, I’ve had to make choices to further strengthen my boundaries for my own mental health. But yesterday was a good example of how strengthening inside needs a village, too. I chose to go to a class for my own sanity over going to my son’s game, and my husband got delayed at a meeting. My son, alone, had a scary incident at the game, and my friend and another soccer mom helped by standing in as moms. I felt so guilty. There’s no talking myself out of knowledge that when I make a choice that is not for the whole, I don’t feel great about it. The consequences of individuality within a family can’t always be dressed up. But I need that chef’s stove, the hood, the ways of being my own self in order to be an authentic member of a whole. It doesn’t come easy, but I’m committed to working on it.


There was no time to blog when I was switching gears.

I officially started a new job in January, the process of which had me in knots for 6 weeks before my first day. I teach online now at a school that wants the experience to be excellent. So do I. I’m using the same muscles that I used in a brick and mortar school with modern technology and logical challenges. Everywhere, kids are kids, and that’s the underlying comfort, for me, of switching schools.

I’ve been settling into the new position and the experience of working from home. When I worried about the transition, my friend said plainly, “You do well learning on the job,” which was just a simple observation she made about me that I hadn’t made about myself. It proves to be true for most of us, I think. Also, I’m still teaching, still in education. I am reminded that high school teachers can pretty much do any job out there, which is why it’s really kind of special–about the world of education–so many educators stay with it (and understandable when they don’t). I think the world’s nostalgic reverie for teachers tilts in the face of this modern era of choices—so many choices we have to make as parents as though education should only be a personalized, a la carte experience. The information era and this a la carte essence are hard on them and on us. But that’s a subject for another day. What rings true is that schools are remarkable entities, little ecosystems of which I’ve lived in for most of my life.

When I left the school I’d been teaching for almost 17 years, I didn’t get to say goodbye the way I wanted. I had been trying to prevent that for weeks, but red tape made it so I couldn’t either feel my transfer was complete or tell my students. I never envisioned my departure to be abrupt, a few emails near the last day of school. I knew somewhere there had to be a reason—maybe the churned-out nature of the transition is the only way I could have left? How else could I have left the home of my career? Maybe I’d never leave—as I hadn’t left when so many of my colleagues had over the years—if it weren’t for a compressed, difficult situation that kept renewing my fight for it at each turn. There was a hallway of memories that only I could rekindle, a cycle of seeing students grow and graduate, a cycle or remembering my own self waddling down the hallway with two pregnant bellies, an origin story of a young 23-year old figuring it out alongside her most favorite teacher friends that I was also mourning and remembering when I decided to leave.

But when some of my students came by on my last day and surprised me with gifts, tears, and warm wishes, I got a small taste of the good-bye I needed and maybe was able to give some of them the same in return. When I was packing up my classroom, I left two posters on my classroom walls for my teacher replacement. My secret message I borrowed from Zora Neale Hurston to future students.

Hurston says there are years that ask questions, and I have been in that phase for some time.

Working from home is different, perplexing actually. I’m in live classes all day and, like many teachers, have tributaries of work expectations that are invisible and incomprehensible to anyone who isn’t a teacher. Somehow my family thinks I’m working more, which is a funny statement because “more” is out of place. Teachers are always working more. But their statement is less how I understood it and probably just because they didn’t actually see me working when I’d leave the house and return. I had to laugh when they said it because it’s not a phrase that has a rubric or measure.

I have taken notes from family members and friends who’ve given me the ups and downs of working from home and tried to set a standard for myself to be easy on me, thanks Adele, and to embrace, most importantly, the reasons I decided the transition was right for me: to intensify my writing goals, to be physically present in my family’s life even more, and to grow with change.

The last few years I’ve been outside this blog home because I was focused on writing and revising a novel and writing short pieces to grow a collection. I’ve saved so much interior narration that normally comes out here and poured them into works whenever I could. I’ve also tried really hard to balance life and be in it. Writing here helps me do that, too, but I had to consolidate my writing head space. If you’ve been on here with me for a long time or you’re my friend, you know I work full time and have a full-time family; I enjoy working out and need outside walks as much as possible; I try to be a good friend; I respond to messages pretty fast and write paragraph text messages if I’m not voice memo-ing you. I believe firmly in Zan Zendegi Azadi; I have a liberal mind but have realized I live a pretty conservative life. I’m apparently a Parisian Perfectionist according to this quiz, so I’m always low-key hopeful that you’re pleased by me. I rarely relax the way I’m supposed to, and I love early, quiet mornings the way some people only light up when it’s late. I can sink into frenzied productivity and never leave it unless, well, have to. If my daughter texts me to ask that I make zereshk polo, I’ll do it with joy (happened yesterday, and I stopped, dropped, and rolled to do it). Sometimes I’m a little late because I was trying to squeeze in just one more thing. Lots of family work and the calendar of four lives jump around without a secretary in my head. Like most of you, I’m just trying to make it all work, sometimes giving myself a gold star, sometimes looking for them in a pile of dirty dishes, or sometimes unable to find the sticker pack because I’ve drifted into a self-critical mood.

If this is your first time here, welcome. I hope you’ll stick around for more coming soon since 2022 is still left to be processed and 2023 appears to me, InshaAllah, to be a year that answers some questions I’ve been humming for some time.

June Joon

I closed the curtains at dusk when fireflies had already begun their cocktail hour. The flicks of gold against the shadows of trees—or at least my awareness of them—are the start of June.

I got curious about June. I clicked around at the last seven years of June entries on this blog. June 2014, 2016, 2019. Then, I typed “June” on my phone and 5,612 photos from all the Junes it can remember came up. I got sad comparing Junes to each other, old versions of myself, my family. I wanted to be in Jordan when my mother-in-law was still alive. I wanted to hold my kids in oversized sunglasses. I wanted the alignment of previous years. Kuhshkeh.

I’ve been thinking of this Farsi word a lot lately. Kuhshkeh. It’s a shoulder-shrug word, a casual response to seeing something you want or remembering an outcome you’d want to change. It’s akin to it would have been nice, or I wish. Tonally sad but as universal as the cracking of sunflower seeds between teeth. Swiping leaves off the patio chair. Scent of rainwater on warm dirt.

Kuhshkeh I could gather the old June scenes like material things, like palm-sized trinkets on a dining table that I could hold in my hand or put in my pocket or in my mouth or anywhere but in the unvisitable. Because I love them and feel glad for them and never quite know what to do with the feeling of visiting past years. Gratitude. Reflection. And then, a tender mourning mixed with the hope for more of the same. Living with a mix of it, even though living means the threat of harm by the unexpected, by an absolute stranger.

I think of the photographs of Japanese fireflies accessorizing the beach or a forest in dazzling clusters of bioluminescent blue pearls. I think kushkeh like the extensive stretches of light, I could see all those Junes all at once. A string of them lit over the patio while the grill sizzles, forthcoming. Living with a mix of it, because living is also a spray of thoughtfulness coming back to you from people you don’t expect.

Fireflies bloom for a short period in summertime, so I’m silly for not expecting them tonight. The cape of the year disguised their annual palooza and, now, drew the curtains.


Outside my window is a partial view of 50 acres of land. On it sits an understated ranch home that looks the same as it had almost 40 years ago. I’m sure there are glimpses of that view somewhere on here. Our neighbor occasionally bring us tomatoes from the harvest. His late wife used to give us muscadine grapes from the bushes around the side of their home. When she passed a few years ago, the church they were members of was packed full of lives they’d influenced. We sat upstairs in the overflow room and watched the service from a television. I didn’t know them well, but the respect and love in the room moved me; thinking about all that time on this earth moved me. I felt embarrassed for crying since I could tell no one there knew who I was. I keep the funeral pamphlet off to the side in the china cabinet. I see her face from time to time and think of the nearly 60 years they spent together. Their matrimony to this place and to each other feels like a life well lived. Land like that just like marriages like that are rare. Up until recently, people would ask him, with trepidation, if he would ever sell the land, to which his reply was that he’d keep everything the same for his wife, that he wouldn’t make changes while his wife was still with him.

The entire street has enjoyed the charm of his blue Christmas lights that light up the whole street like a runway around Thanksgiving each year. We’ve loved seeing his red car curve up the winding driveway. The view is unreal from any angle you see it. That era is coming to an end now, that land soon to be developed and changed forever. I see it now exactly as it was the day we moved here, yet I know it’s going to change soon and wonder how everything else will change with it. Many new houses will be built on that stretch. Where one family saw our side of the street all these years, now new families will look out. Their view will be our side of the street, and they won’t have known a time any different.  Our view—especially for some time—will have, simultaneously, the memory of what has been and what came after. The chapters that close can be reopened inside by strangers, by ourselves; we can unlock them deep inside and stretch them for our own future. This is what we’ve been doing this year, knowing how things were in the before but living now in the after.

When we stayed in the mountains for a couple nights recently, I noted physical changes in the kids and how their humor has evolved. Layla stood with her dad in the kitchen skewering vegetables. Under the living room light, Zade looked like the beginnings of a teenager, his cheeks trim and arms long. I started to do the math about how many years of uninterrupted time with them I’ll have left God willing before a list of the inevitable scenarios roll onward: where they don’t just want to be with their friends, when their interest in love hasn’t distracted them from their family, when they don’t have their own family to consider. I felt panic and saw it all change in front of me.  I didn’t rush to hold them close though; I know better because to live is the blessing to see life change all the time, and it involves a lot of letting go.

Something that I assumed I’d stop writing about for some time is about home and time, but here we are again, nearly a year after my last post here in this place, nearly a novel later, and I find myself—true and true—coming back to this group of feeling. When I wrote this essay “Migratory Patterns of Serious Girls” earlier this year, I thought for sure I’m out of things to say for now. That piece carved me out and over time then let me be still. Like my friend and I say, one day, maybe, I will write about something else. One day when I’ve worked it out, maybe that motif won’t keep coming up. I wanted to return to this site with a changed voice. But here I am again staring out the window as usual.

The difference, maybe, is that I have felt some changes. For starters, I have success I’m not regretful of: I’ve not let go of things that matter to me. So much of that was threatened last year. I often talk about things I’m wistful for or things I imagine, but I don’t necessarily focus on things I’m glad I have continued. I wrote. I showed up for people. I’ve been a family member and a mother. I’ve dug deep for my students. In my last post, I didn’t know what word I could name to set out my intentions for the year. I was absolutely undecided. I’ve thought often about what the word could be, but came up short. Today, though, I felt the word stir from a phrase: the memory of strive.

I remember what strive looked like and felt like before the pandemic. I had ten thousand goals and raced to them, woke up at 4 am to get to them, planned out the calendar to get to them. It may appear the same now, but it isn’t. It’s not so much the goal I’m after. Goals belong to 2019 for now. It’s not that I stopped having them, but it’s that they aren’t enough to get me going. What is enough for me right now is to just live and do, carry on and feel. Many times this year, I’ve just used muscle memory. I’m accustomed to motivate myself past what I think I’m capable of, but not this year, not in truth anyway. Sometimes I felt that I was poking at my feelings through a clear plastic glass. Do you feel this? I’d ask. I could remember the chase, a memory of what it all was like. I called on it often because memories can haunt us, but they can also carry us.

I started the actions and just did them without the same old feelings of drive. I planned a trip; I finished a novel just enough to move on to the next step; I read with my kids; I masked up and got back to the gym. This time it was to save myself from leaving strive behind. The neighbor’s land out in front of me now will be a memory that will carry; the time with my family will carry; the time I spend on myself will carry. The memory of strive is carrying. Even if the motivation is somewhat, it’s carrying me. Sometimes, in the mornings, I think maybe somewhat is better than strive. So that became my word for this year. I’m no longer undecided. Instead, I tried. I’m somewhat there.


I began last year with a green Leuchtturm1917 dotted journal and a neat row of writing markers to go with it. They traveled around a lot like a new couple happy to be seen in the living room, on my bedside console, at the corner of my desk. And I wrote in it craftily while sitting on the couch or right before falling asleep until I stopped the habit, some time in March, then May, and then in October, and then for a second in December. I think complete insecurity in the time period made searching for internal answers feel less prudent when I needed concrete answers from the real world. Also, many of us were forthright with our fears and concerns; we relied so much on text chains and mutual commiseration that I didn’t feel the urge to work them out so much in my personal notebook.

What I had not remembered until looking at the first pages recently is that my word for 2020 was almostcontrol.” Ha- that sounds ridiculous now. What about this year showed any control? I am glad I was unsettled enough with the term back at the shiny start of the year and recognized its underlying terror and replaced it swiftly with the word “focus.”

I’m a little pleased that pre-pandemic me crossed it out and explained to myself that the word indicates failure. Alas, I didn’t fill up my journal, and so I’ve reacted this week. I panicked that 2020 would be gone, and though we’ve said we want it to be over as it was the longest year of our time, I didn’t want to forget what my life looked like during the year that paused the world. So I started a quest last week to fill it up, not so much with my own words, but with articles and literature of the time.

That effort got me scrolling through my phone to see what each month this year looked like. I looked at Kal and said things like, “Did you know it was February when we went to that diner with Zade’s friend?” I loosely picked a few pictures from each month and spent a few hours over a couple days making an album. The best part of the project is I knew I couldn’t go too wrong with it: that I was trying to preserve the year was ironic enough, and I wasn’t trying to make it neat. In fact, the picture that made the cover was of a stack of firewood. We have many stacks of those around the house since a storm took down our favorite oak tree this year. It’s like the old saying of lemons and lemonade but this time with a tree and logs.

I wrote a list of word associations at the front of the album; I only stopped because there was a word limit, and I wanted to be done with the project.

My neighbor told me yesterday that she wrote her gratitude list for the year. She said despite it all, it was a good year for her; she enjoyed her family more and appreciates letting go of the extra stresses. She wrote her intentions for next year and has her list of goals, and I could see she felt lighter having done so.

I, however, probably won’t write a list of goals for 2021. I think 2019 momentum and security made me feel as though if I focused even more on my goals, I would accomplish more and therefore feel better. I was in a position then to feel that more control and more focus would be best. That feeling helped launch my focus for the year, and I’m grateful to it. But for the last few months, I’m most shaken at my core Capricorn belief that productivity is the essential preservation of my feelings, that doing it all is vital and important to them. I am still disquieted by what I’ve let go and what I’ll do with the knowledge that slower and softer may be here to stay in this new and disoriented year. I’ve already thrown a blanket and pillow on this year’s uncomfortable couch and now don’t know what I’ll do about it.

I will try to consider a word, phrase, or quote that may help project my intentions for 2021. I’ll think on it while I purge the pantry and clean out the fridge today. I will do so knowing that neither of the two actions will have a grand, lasting effect on my feelings. They are the maintenance before the joy, often the eve of whatever else happens. Rather than pre-wrangling next year in any way, I think I’m going to be true to my instinct and sit still with the idea and my new purple notebook a little longer. I’m undecided. In any case, I know more and more that everything has always been there, happening. We just come to it when we do.

not sure but getting there

Stephen King says writers should wait at least 6 weeks before revisiting a finished manuscript, that we should walk away from it and return to it for revision after getting distance. In his craft memoir, he says, “How long you let a book rest—sort of like bread dough between kneadings—is entirely up to you, but I think it should be a minimum of six weeks. During this time, your manuscript will be safely shut away in a desk drawer, aging and (one hopes) mellowing. Your thoughts will turn to it frequently, and you’ll likely be tempted a dozen times or more to take it out, if only to re-read some passage that seems particular fine in your memory, something you’d like to go back to so you can re-experience what a really excellent writer you are.”

Maybe this year is that long 6-week break for us to review our manuscript, or in this case, the stuff we’ll return to one day.  

Neither my story nor my manuscript is finished, but after talking to my writers group last night, I got a sense that the 2020 pause is more productive than we’re giving ourselves credit. It is taking a confounding pandemic to take the fat off the bone of our daily lives, leaving us to determine if this dish is better with it or without it. And beyond that analogy that references the old daily stuff—the hamster wheel and no-rest weekends–I’d like to consider if the confusion that has messed with our equilibrium is so bad for creativity. I know it’s been relatively bad for productivity, but that’s because we got tired of separating the wheat from the chaff.

Though boredom can be the playhouse of creativity, this equilibrium shift has made some much less productive than usual, or at least it feels this way. Up until recently, I think, I don’t remember a time I was bored. Boredom sounds like a waste of imagination and energy. It is something I confess that I associate with luxury and laziness. Being alone in a quiet space with nothing to do is not what I mean; I mean the lackluster association with what you’re seeing. But as I look back a smidgen, I think boredom became a defense mechanism from August until recently; it was as though my body was fed up with 2020 and sent out a blast of ennui. When this weird-bored bug hit, my body didn’t even know what to call it. I did my work and did my chores and shined myself and managed my family world, so it wasn’t that I wasn’t moving about trying to sludge through; it was that I found little personal satisfaction in it. I knew the painful situation involving my mother-in-law’s illness and ultimately her passing away had something to do with how monotone I felt; even my sweet tooth went away for some time, which is not important except that it’s something to appreciate alone, and those feelings felt inaccessible.

None of the usual suspects got me going, and I couldn’t fake it because I had stopped going to 5 am classes at the gym; those always got me feeling a high of accomplishment as though I squeezed the last drop I could of the day to shape myself. Consumerism wasn’t as appealing, and my emotions were all caught up family litmus tests, Instagram posts, and CNN. Like the rest of the U.S., I stared at the election map of the US waiting for it to get colored in, wanting to take a blue crayon to it and write 270 already!

 The last few months—at work and at home—took the weird-new realities of 2020 and replaced them with boring-new realities of 2020. While there have been some absolutely lovely interactions—recent ones involving backyard Halloween and a neighborhood toast to Stacey Abrams —those that playfully punctuate the long simple sentence, with its prepositional phrases droning on and on, this fall season started strangely. But we’re getting past some of that now, and people are trying to take their joy back.

This is the year where Christmas trees came out early. I noticed a few days before Halloween, the Thanksgiving stuff got shuffled to the back near the Clearance aisle and Christmas took over, though no one really complained. There was hardly any rumbling on social media about holiday consumerism. We welcome it. People have posted about their holiday décor with unapologetic hashtags as they are determined to create cheer, even people like me who had a beautiful Saturday after the election results bloomed blue.  So much depleted us this year that frankly there is a no-holds-barred banner on twinkle lights, plaid, and change.

I asked a question of the writing group last night: “Do you get so far along in your writing that you fear you’re forgetting what you’ve already written?” I worry that not remembering some organic details will make my re-reading of the manuscript painful in case I see holes that will let air out of the story. It’s not as though I’m writing freely and never looking back; I’m making careful choices each step of the way. The way each day of life begets one decision after another, writing a story does the same.

So, too, is my feeling about life:  Are we driving so hard to the next plot point of our lives that it took the pandemic smackdown and this heavy year to… get bored? Will our 6-week holdout bring us back to a more creative soil? King urges us to “resist temptation” before we look back at what we made. In the spirit of this analogy, I think we’ve cheated in this case because we’ve had so much happen this year that reflection became part of every decision. Yet, I’m also intrigued by the “strange, often exhilarating experience” when you finally do sit down to that “correct evening.” I have this imaginary future moment that I’ve described to my best friend where we are old and sitting on a beach shore. We’re talking about the things we wish we’d done and stuff we worried about that seems so silly now. I keep recalling this image so much so that I feel the breeze and feel sure that it’s us talking.  And you know what is most compelling to me about that imaginary moment?  It’s the recognition that so much of what keeps me up now is likely not so much at all, and that the time of ennui won’t even equate in the future. It will be one long draw of breath. The image doesn’t take the bite out of reality now, no, but it does make me want to laugh with our old selves and see which part of our story never really helped the plot after all.


Last week I wrote a note in my phone. The weather in Georgia shifted for a few days, and it felt like the scent of Fall. It was so surprising that for a moment I forgot that it was the cause of my mood shift, the part inside me who slumbers, sometimes kicking the blanket past her legs, waiting for a gentle shoulder rub and a, “good morning, honey, it’s time.” It was Labor Day weekend, and I sat with family visitors on my brother-in-law’s back patio. One knee to chin, one cup of coffee in hand, I inhaled the weather changes as though I walked into a bakery dusted with powdered sugar. My note to self for this post was, “do you feel that, too?” Artists of the world, I thought, are you looking up at the sky and nodding?

Monday afternoon, though, became like most of the other days now, a search for motivation to work hard, organize hard, get everyone ready to go hard; I did what I had to do. I graded and planned for 6 hours while the beautiful fall-ish light deepened into night. All I wanted to do was seize the quiet feeling that swirls gently like the ghost of a darwish who also wants to just talk, taste, explore, and be. But I felt I had to strap up for the week ahead and carry the effort of caring about kids’ school experience.

This week my kids’ school county said they are going face to face soon and had us elect whether we wanted to remain virtual or go back f2f. A few days later, my school county said kids are going to be welcomed back f2f the week after next. All I could think was that I’m unable to envision the future and unable to make a decision: do I send them back to school, or do they continue to come to work with me most days? I had just settled into an uncomfortable routine, and once again, another change. Do I trust how I feel, or trust what I know?

Everything feels like it’s on sand and not in a good way. Lately, I’ve seen a few friends more, had a few more kids over, even walked into a TJ Maxx and shopped. I’ve gripped onto what a few months ago would be considered extreme: not eating inside a restaurant or being anywhere public without a mask. To be honest, though, I have to push myself into the effort of being afraid despite the fatigue of all the pandemic consequences. Just tired. Still masked and cautious, but tired. Still super-judgy–and maybe even a little jealous at how they ripped the caution tape– about how careless some have been, but just tired anyway. How strange that the chick who wiped down every last grocery item and didn’t leave the house for months is now playing that balancing act of, “is this decision worth it? Is this decision right?” Checks and balances for every move. I’m even finding myself wanting to seize moments because next year will make this one look…fresh. Don’t analyze my choices these days, because maybe they don’t add up as expected.

So when I clicked “remote learning” for them for the duration of the semester, I knew it was the wrong choice. But when I hovered over the f2f option, I felt that was the wrong choice. I’m carrying a suitcase of every tantrum Zade has had and every oddly emotional moment Layla has had, and I’m carrying another one in the other arm for the inevitable consequences from the new grind of living. Though I didn’t make these conditions, they are my children; their effects are my effects. These days I feel like an old lady sifting through moments searching for the right, and then something sharply bright happens and I think all may be okay, Sam, all will be fine, only for the next decision to come. We have been back at school for 3 weeks, and it feels like a semester has passed. We’ve all learned how independent we can be just as sharply as how dependent we are on human interaction and experience. Teachers continue to be outstanding, their inner hearts beaming as loud as possible, and students’ families are trying so hard.

It’s fair to mention that my decision fatigue is not just anchored in school and socializing. I’ve been trying to be a wife to a Libra. In the spring, Kal was with his mom in Jordan. He woke up to a thousand messages from family and friends urging him to come back. Trump said he was closing down international travel, and at the height of the pandemic fear and this erratic president, Kal got on the next flight home. Since then, my mother-in-law’s condition seems more and more dire, and we’ve faced feeling doubly trapped in limited choices about her health and about whether he can even get to her: does he go back to see her in case things turn for the worst, or does he not? Can he live with himself if he doesn’t track the limitations ahead and be there for when she needs him? Can he ignore his best quality—loyalty?  The angst and burden of making the right choice, one that you know may be one thing but feel may be another; this is the analogy that applies to my world lately.  

I’ve also been preoccupied thinking about how much has stalled for artists. In my rabbit-hole reading about how the pandemic has affected the arts, I came across an article in The Atlantic from a few months back. So many considerations, so many people whose moment was right now that I hope will still have their time. The article closed on a few sentiments including, “There are flashes of positivity; most theatre-makers describe themselves as optimists. ‘“ Someone right now is writing a really great play they wouldn’t have got round to.”’ Layla and her friend are writing separate books with names like Anna and familiar plots that transcend into their imagination and onto their little laptops. They share links and edit each others’ works, often facetiming and shrieking about the next climactic scene. Maybe they wouldn’t have time for things like this if things were normal. Art endures, right? Zade and I invent stories at bedtime together where he giggles when I sneak in his name; last night he drove off in a McLaren down a beautiful open road alongside a fictional friend he named Leo. Childhood endures, right?

Lastly, I watched a talk with Alden Jones and Cheryl Strayed this week on where both talked about Jones’ memoir. I quickly wrote this down after Strayed said her go-to line about memoir: “The engine behind Wild isn’t look at me this is interesting, I did an amazing thing, or I suffered an amazing loss. It’s that I have something to say about those things.” She says, “I didn’t write Wild because I took a hike. I wrote Wild because I’m a writer.” And being writer has an effect on how you perceive life just like being a physician has an effect on how you view life or how any line of thought that usually governs your answers affects your cause and your effect.

I think all the people in this rip current, this family of storymakers who observe angles of any moment, consistently examines the knowing and the feeling, are the people I wanted to spend that Labor Day Monday with. I think that slumbering person wanting to wake up was tired of decisions though aware of her luck in being able to be part of them. She didn’t want to complain and still doesn’t want to. She just wanted to be thoughtful in a room of her own while her kids felt whole and her husband felt whole and the future felt dependable and there was still some glorious early-Fall light left of the day.



There’s this funny story my athlete friends get a kick out of. When we lived in Chicago, we had a basketball hoop in the driveway. Any time I’d lace up to shoot hoops, I’d get a sense that I was being watched. Not in a creepy call-for-help way, but in a way that was more of a possibility than a fear. I used to imagine that cars passing by our street may have someone in there who’d see my moves and instantly say, hey there, what you’re doing looks great. You’ve obviously got talent that even you haven’t noticed. The funny part isn’t that this young person wanted to be recognized for something she hadn’t identified; the general sentiment of wondering if someone sees something different in you than you see in yourself, that it’s infinitely cooler than you’d imagined, has got to be in the hearts of most suburban emotional adolescents. Otherwise, why would we yearn as we do?

My daughter sometimes watches me when I sing in the car, especially when she sees me really get into it, when I move my head with the slopes of the song. We had just left the last stop before getting home from work, which for the time being is as much their digital classroom as it is mine. The trunk lined with Trader Joe’s paper bags, the kids snacking on chocolate chip dunkers while arguing over music. I decided to play one of my writing playlists to tune out the early evening moment parents know, when the rising action of kids’ noise is colliding with the apex of your patience for the day, and you know deep down that you must get home—hopefully safely—to a quiet room for even just 15 minutes. Close to home, I caught Layla looking at me like she saw something in me the way I felt something in the song, looking at me with a recognition that for whatever its ingredients made me feel like I was that kid in gym shoes, only this time, a girl sitting in the passenger seat of my Honda said with one look, hey there, I think you’re cool. I like who you are.

Why is it that with every breathtaking feeling kids give us, we feel warmth and loss simultaneously? Is it that we know kids are impermanent? That their eyes on us could one day shift to inspection as they, too, stand in basketball shoes on the cracked driveway of their childhood home, as they feel the whoosh of yearning to be seen as more than what they recognize in themselves? The inevitability of this is what brings me here tonight, the last weeknight of the first week of the new school year.

This month feels like a book with words on one page followed by a set of intermittent blank pages, familiar and odd, over and over. Notes about this strange time have been written already by beautiful writers I follow. Instead, I just want to put a bookmark on something else this Thursday night when my girl gave me something casually and innocently, something I guess I have always wanted, as though she is the eyes that I searched for long before it was possible. She wasn’t born yet, and yet the feeling matches up as true in reverse as it is forward, so much so that the memory of my standing in the driveway looks different now.

It’s almost time to go inside. I have the ball at my hip, and I look up to the other side where there’s nothing to look at except for blue sky over a line of houses. Patience cradles my chest because even though I won’t know that it will be my child who offers me the purist sense of belonging, I’ll grow to understand it.



Lately, I make vegan thumbprint cookies a lot. Finely milled or blanched almond flour and raspberry or apricot preserves are on my grocery list each week nowadays. Baking for me indicates patience, more time, and up until recently, Pillsbury boxes have been my go-to, helping me save both. During some phases of the last few months, I had more of that slow-patient time once I figured out how to harbor it. Layla passed my lazy mise en place on the island one day and said, “You really like those cookies.”

I wonder if any of my family will remember these as a print of the last few months, where times changed, where Mom added a little more baking to her skill set, where Mom explained distancing and its phases, and where Mom talked with us about race. Either batch of conversation ended like the moment you take cookies out of the oven and wonder if they came out okay, looking under them and waiting on them to cool to figure out what else to do better next time.

You couldn’t tell it now, but I organized my pantry and spice cabinets. This seemed like what I was supposed to do once time opened up some; seems like people everywhere turned their attention on stuff inside their house. Once donation sites opened up collections again, I emptied my car trunk filled with trash bags, toys denting little slits in them. After hunkering down for months, I’ve had “porch time” dates with friends where we sit on rockers about 6 ft away from each other and chat. I’ve learned how to inflate pools in minutes with a blow dryer and an empty water bottle. I invested in some outdoor games. I’ve watched a confetto of shows so incongruous that the selection serves as evidence of these unorthodox hours and days since March 12th, a date for us in Georgia, when stuff started to stop being old-normal. Recently, I’ve cautiously shelved—for now—the person who looks just like me who bought 5 boxes of hair dye and extra Tylenol in March. I purchased raised garden beds once they came back in stock.  I’ve grown tomato plants from tomatoes with the moral support of my green-thumbed followers. For months I’ve washed produce extensively and sanitized groceries, but I’ve been a little lax on that the last few trips. Getting up at 4:30 am to go to the gym feels like a symbol of an old life. Even what I was doing in April feels like an old, old life.

By May, clinging on to daily routines through their changed contexts was tiring, but I was still trying. Digital days, treadmill-walking in the garage, long-text message threads with friends about what’s going on in the news, those continued. Working digital life for the family had completed its strange toll, becoming more and more routine until finally, the school year was over. And by the end of it, there was a softness, one of those exhausted breaths that winds down a day of worrying and settles like bare feet on cool grass.

This June has gone by without tapping my shoulder, without that trip to Ireland and Scotland I’d planned with excited students; without typical June weather, without a lot of good things; stuff is weird. Sorry to use such a basic word. Weird, though, things feel. Neighbors’ kids run through the sprinklers. There are cars driving on roads, lots of them, Amazon trucks delivering items, and cereal on the store shelf, but there is a revolution happening, and there is a pandemic panning.

Normal things are still occurring in a changing world; momentum is building; people are strengthening their skill sets in this strange bracketed time; some are just surviving and trying to do right; some are suffering and clinging; some are thriving and feeling guilty; some are cancelled; some are cultured; some are stepping out of their comfort zones and trying; some took a vacation by easing up on the news, and then went back hardcore when they returned; some are mourning; some are resting; some are judging.

Some are lonely, away from parts of life that fill in quiet gaps between work and sleep; and some are having Zoom weddings and celebrations. Some are maskless and promiscuous; some are cautious and controlled. Saharan dust and COVID-19 and George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Black Lives Matter and PRIDE, the absolutely natural, instinctive fight for normal human existence and dignity; these names, monumental and powerful associations from this time that cannot leave any of us the same as before because then, come-on-now, then, you would have missed something essential. Not the allusion to Tiger King or the eye roll about toilet paper, but you would have missed this time in our present when call to action goes beyond our plans for the summer, this summer of staying alive and well, this summer of learning how to listen and learn, about how to get smarter about things you thought you knew. This season, not defined by weather but by cultural tone and political dissatisfaction, has positioned us powerfully in a state of awareness inside our lives and outside into others’.

Awareness and thumbprint cookies, masks and cereal, Instagram stories and platform exchanges, lakeside photos and reading the news at 1 am, embarrassed or horrified or both. Online shopping mixed with online GoFundMe donations; masks and protests, masks and protests. All the daily juxtapositions may leave us feeling differently about the same things each night. We paused back in March, then unpaused slowly like when your streaming show comes in and out after a storm, and now we’re kind of in this whatever-this-is until school starts again in a whichever-way-it-starts way for those of us in the southeast.

And then what? The weirdest thing is that as a teacher gearing up to face the academic, social, and health realities rolling among us, I really don’t know, but I feel anything coming up is going to be hard work. But I’m going to keep on trying new things, listening to new people to me, and trying to improve in a lasting way so that all of this time we’ve had to think about our lives–about our time, our human race, our perspective, our health, our thinking, our way of life– isn’t just burned; it isn’t a batch of time one would rather forget rather than improve. Instead, we work at it and endure the cracks of discomfort and find time to be patient about it until it has no other choice. At least this is what I know is true for me on my educator timeline, with my elementary-aged children, as July is down the street and old-normal and changed-normal are assigned to gear up and set some kind of table.

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