& the constant journey of feeling good about yourself.
Firstly, if you are a paid subscriber to this newsletter, thank you. I know it hasn’t been consistent in the last few months, but, your continued support truly means everything to me. Seriously. It’s a sad reality that a lot of writers are now turning to platforms like Substack (who are great tbh) and relying on patronage, but if it’s something you can afford to do, I urge you to keep doing it for me or any other artists you admire.
Now that we’re really edging/facing the fall of global capitalism, we really have to devise what a future looks like. One thing this year has shown me is that mutual aid is a gift. It saved me this year. So thank you to all of you who have supported me or helped me give money back to causes in Lebanon and to Black liberation. I’ll slowly be getting back to a more regular writing schedule, so please hang in there.
Over the last few days, I’ve been feeling very alone. I don’t often feel so, but when I do I have devices that I’ve developed over the years that save me from the moment. This means I generally plunge myself into reading, writing, and watching something invigorating. It’s what I’ve been doing since I was a kid; as a means of escaping my physical reality, I would push myself into an alternate one. Through these worlds, I would foster a feeling of hope, gently arriving into a solar system where I was loved. In the last few years, I’ve held onto the idea of string theory. Time traveling is a skill I acquired out of self-preservation.
This practice of launching myself like a grenade into the dream plane made me believe in the immense possibility of tomorrow. But, these last few days, nothing has felt like a salve. I’ve felt forlorn, stuck in place like hardened gum. Everything has felt heavy, overwhelming. Yesterday morning my friend Zeba sent me a voice note. As she was describing her own life, we said it together in unison, her out loud, me in my head: “Everything is just too much. It’s just too much.”
Societally it really feels all a bit too much. With yet another mass shooting in upstate New York, continued police brutality of Black people, the death of RBG, an impending US election, fires along the West Coast, another earthquake in Los Angeles... and this is in just America alone. Personally, too, I feel isolated. My sister is in Australia, my father is in Abu Dhabi. I left my beloved back in Portugal, and because I’m not American, I was re-routed back to Canada after trying to fly back home to New York after being with her. So now I am quarantining in my old apartment in Montreal (my friend June now lives here, and generously offered it to me) as I’m being forced to face myself, without my own bed to comfort me.
All this has been happening while my first novel has come out. I don’t even know where to begin to say how lonely this all feels. Liminal, abstracted, scattered, the isolation throughout these last few months has, at times, been unbelievably overbearing. But, I remind myself how many of us escape our daily lives, we don’t really live them. Every time I catch myself over-eating, drinking too much, smoking weed at 8 am, I have to stop myself and ask: what am I running from? I guess, in a way, I’m running from this. The feelings. The sadness. The fear. Death. Really, life teaches you anything but to confront your own mortality.
This state of loneliness always transports me back to a time in my teens. Living in the Sydney suburbs, sitting on my bed in my tiny room, looking at my Is This It CD pamphlet with the boys (Fab, Julian, Nikolai, Nick and Albert from The Strokes) as I dreamt for a future where I was alive and thriving. Even though it was far from my reality, I retained my imagination. Like a bright shining gem, I clutched onto it. My dreams are all I had. In many ways, they’re still all I have.
Yesterday morning, not knowing what to do with myself—with this stagnant, uncomfortable sadness—I decided I would write. I try not to work on weekends, but it felt like a nice anecdote to this feeling. Over the years I haven’t found anything better at consoling my wounds than putting them on a page. Perhaps it’s the only thing I really know how to do, to write. To write myself out of despair. After I sat down in front of the computer, facing myself with the dark screen, I realized the first time I ever wrote was out of loneliness.
I hate questions about my vulnerability. I hate how I can see the glean in people’s eyes, how gross they find my openness. As if to be mean and cold is preferred, almost admirable. I think I feel isolated by this world sometimes because I continue to be confused by people’s actions. A couple of years ago, my best friend at the time stopped talking to me. I emailed her countlessly asking her what happened between us, to take accountability if I had done something wrong. She told me she needed space and was going through things. A few months later, a mutual friend told me that she’d been talking shit about me the whole time. Making up scenarios and reasons for why she was no longer my friend. What shocked me was the lying.
We seem to be a culture of liars, exaggerators. I am not exempt from this, as a writer, I have had to become a better fact-checker of my own memories. But memory itself is flawed, and as a society we must become better at archiving correctly.
I’m vulnerable because I have no choice, not because I want to be. In the last few years, I’ve been pursuing truth-telling. Wildly, I’m attracted to partners that keep me in check. Maybe because I want to be challenged, maybe because I want to be better at being honest, knowing that it’s easier to be theatrical & comedic, than it is to tell the dynamic, whole, truth. Vulnerability is an art-form, and it’s a powerful skill. Above everything, it means being judicious. Real vulnerability is holistic.
When you work on something for eighteen years, at the end you sometimes don’t know what to do with yourself. Being in limbo in Montreal (in the very room I did so many revisions before sending it off to my agent) is a wild experience. Shaka, my ex, called me yesterday, and we reminisced about being in Montreal together. He talked to me about his film (Judas and the Black Messiah) that is coming out next year because he started working on it when we first started going out (in Montreal) and as it’s nearing the final, final cut, he, too, is examining a lot of things. Time is strange, but alongside memory, it’s not a reliable narrator. In our own ways, we are both confronting our art, ourselves, our relationship and our own inevitable mortality. There’s always a sadness when relationships don’t’ work out, even if they weren’t meant to. I like to think of this as complex grief.
People keep asking me how I feel about Like A Bird being out. My dad, who rarely shows interest in anything I write, has been reminiscing about reading the pages I wrote as a kid. The sheets I’d print out and show him, hoping to impress him, hoping that he’d take an interest in me and want to protect me. I don’t blame him for his neglect, but all I want to talk about is grief.
I grieve a child that wrote a story of a gang rape at 12. Nobody who has interviewed me yet has asked me that. What does it feel like to live that? To live with a memory that is so abstracted that it reveals itself to you in a dream. What made me want to write this??? How the fuck did I do it??? Maybe this indecipherable sadness is reckoning with the fact that a lot of children are not protected. Nor tended to. Maybe this lump in my throat, the way that I’ve been mildly catatonic, like a low hum, since the book came out, is because nobody seems to think it’s that strange that a child started writing this story.
In my last session with my therapist, I was frustrated. “Nobody seems to give a shit about what I’ve lived through.” She rarely raises her voice, but it was slight, almost singing, “Fariha! Even you don’t give a shit about what you’ve lived through! Don’t you think you should care first?” I was dumbfounded. She caught me in my bullshit. I immediately started crying. Maybe at how simple the truth really was.
I wrote this story over 18 years and every day I have to fight to take myself seriously. I still suffer from imposter syndrome, I still regularly feel embarrassed by myself. I’m struggling to feel good about something that if anybody else told me they’d achieve I’d be so impressed. But, instead, I shove my complicated sadness down, down, down because of its inappropriate timing. I chastize myself for not being more proud, never once questioning why I don’t. The proof of my journey is that it’s in Like A Bird. I am Taylia and not Taylia.
The struggle of writing about survival is when do you arrive at it? At survival I mean.
When I started writing this newsletter I wanted to understand why I was lonely. I didn’t yet know. This week should feel momentous. But it doesn’t, and I don’t either. However, after writing this over a day and a half, I think I understand why. I’m bad at validating my own thoughts, my own feelings, discarding everything I assume is messy (which is generally my own emotions). Maybe that’s just what loneliness really is: when you feel displaced in yourself because you refuse to see a clear image of who you are.
It’s not a one-size-all answer, but today it feels true. Truth is weird like that. It’s complicated and unruly. As I say goodbye to a book that I’ve spent more than half my life writing, something that no publication has really validated, I feel grief for all the things I lost along the way. Friendships, partnerships, my mother, my sanity, my innocence, my childhood. No one tells you that. That some art takes a big chunk out of you, and what remains is what you made. I endeavor to feel proud of myself one day. Maybe that’s what’ll make me feel less lonely.