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.