Wednesday, April 22, 2020
Wednesday, April 8, 2020
Don't Let your Keffiyeh Show is one of the earliest short stories I wrote. It was also my first short story to get published in print back in 2005. It was published at a little magazine from Detroit called STRUGGLE. The complete name of the magazine actually was: STRUGGLE: A Magazine of Proletarian Revolutionary Literature. It might still be around. (The website is still up) It was edited by a fellow named Tim Hall (not the indie writer). Back then the story was published under another name--The Existence of Nabil.
I couldn't believe it when I got the acceptance letter. I was so happy when the issue came out, and despite the editor misspelling my last name I showed it to everyone. My friends thought it was cool, but most of them weren't into reading or writing. One of them though, Sean Houser, did read the story and he congratulated me and he continued to read all the stuff I wrote and published. Sadly, Sean passed away not too long ago. So every time I see this story, I think about Sean and about the trippy chaos of the early 2000s. I also think about a little South Miami dive bar called Fox's Sherron Inn where I worked for about 2 1/2 years and where this story was truly born. Fox's is not around anymore, it closed in Summer 2015. I loved that place. I loved working there, and I loved everyone I met and I still remember them all, from the quirky line cooks, life hardened servers, and happy regulars to the owner George Andrews and his family. One of my fondest memories was the free jukebox that was right in front of the bathrooms, next to the busstand.
Eventually, around 2007 I ran into a website called MuslimWakeUp.com that didn't mind running previously published short fiction so I sent them the story. At MuslimWakeUp.com, a great editor and writer by the name of Patricia Dunn accepted it. She suggested changing the name of the story to Don't Let your Keffiyeh Show which I liked.
Before that, the story had already made its way to my short story collection Ciao! Miami as The Existence of Nabil in 2007.
Fast forward to now, the story is back at The Times of Israel Blog. A writer friend in California had recently read it and told me that he thought it was great, and I should send it out again. In addition to being a story born from my place of employment at the time, Don't Let Your Keffiyeh Show was also greatly inspired by an Anton Chekhov short story called The Dance Pianist, which was about a young musician that has a nervous breakdown at a high society party after a girl confuses him for a guest.
Friday, April 3, 2020
1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
I think that in the past I would’ve said something like “there is no perfect happiness,” but now, under quarantine… It’s a long boozy lunch with very good friends, a walk and a nap in the afternoon, and someone compelling keeping me up all night.
2. What is your greatest fear?
Seeing my kid suffer, knowing there’s nothing I can do to stop the suffering.
3. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
My people-pleasing tendencies--the way I’ll contort myself to make others comfortable.
4. What is the trait you most deplore in others?
4. What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Inability or unwillingness to contort themselves to make others comfortable. And the more general or broad version of that: the certainty some people have that they are really at the center of the world, that their concerns are the only concerns.
5. Which living person do you most admire?
Living? That’s the hardest part. My editor and publisher (and friend) Leza Cantoral is pretty high up on the list--it’s like she’s incapable of dishonesty. Also my partner, Philippe, because he has the most finely tuned bullshit detector I’ve ever encountered--his vision is so clear.
6. What is your greatest extravagance?
7. What is your current state of mind?
Approaching contentment and acceptance, with anxiety, fear, and grief hovering around the edges.
8. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
In people who have been conditioned to be self-effacing, it’s humility. In people who have been conditioned to be self-aggrandizing and self-important--to assume the world is theirs--most of their expressions of virtue leave a bad taste in my mouth.
9. On what occasion do you lie?
When the truth will hurt too much.
10.What do you most dislike about your appearance?
I’m only dissatisfied with my corporeal form when I look into my own eyes in the mirror and can see that I haven’t been honest with myself. Otherwise, I’m resigned to being this body and I’m done with hating it. I’ve wasted so many years hating it.
11. Which living person do you most despise?
I can’t focus my hatred on individuals very well.
12. What is the quality you most like in a man?
Patience and attention, because they are both expressions of care.
13. What is the quality you most like in a woman?
The kind of self-possession that’s made possible by self-escape.
14. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
15. What or who is the greatest love of your life?
16. When and where were you happiest?
Simple happiness, uncomplicated happiness: Years ago, deep in Oak Creek Canyon near Sedona. Amber, Derek, Philippe, and I bought a jug of wine and a roast chicken and drove down from Flagstaff. We sat by the water, ate, drank, picked flowers for each other.
Harder happiness, more complicated: The first time I met my daughter, not knowing if either of us would live.
17. Which talent would you most like to have?
I danced as a child, but my family didn’t have the money or stability that would allow me to keep it up, after a certain point. I loved the intensity and the rigor of ballet, despite the more fucked-up aspects of it (the daily weigh-ins, the built-in classism and racism). I’d love to be a great dancer--all that strength and grace.
18. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I’d find a little more joy in discipline.
19. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Not hating myself all the time, understanding that as the first step towards liberation, and beginning to understand how to spread that liberation around--to share it.
20. If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
I’d like to come back as a tree.
21. Where would you most like to live?
I’m good here, in my living room, on the couch. I’ve lived a lot of different places, and there are things I miss about all of them, but I have no interest in living somewhere cool or special or whatever. That said, it would be pretty awesome to live somewhere with a social safety net.
22. What is your most treasured possession?
I don’t have one. I save a lot of things that don’t take up much space--notes and cards and many of my old notebooks--but I don’t have one single treasured possession. If someone gives me a meaningful gift, I’ll keep it in a drawer or next to the bed for a while--in a place of honor, I guess. But once the magic fades, the object finds its way back to the ordinary stuff locations.
23. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Rolling over and playing dead to make it stop.
24. What is your favorite occupation?
Some combination of writing, reading, thinking, talking, listening. Usually that manifests as teaching.
25. What is your most marked characteristic?
I’d like to say it’s what some people have called my “quiet power,” but I think it’s actually my fast metabolism.
26.What do you most value in your friends?
Their kindness--there are so many different kinds of kindness.
27.Who are your favorite writers?
The ones who make me feel simultaneously ashamed and inspired.
28. Who is your hero of fiction?
The narrator in Clarice Lispector’s The Passion According to G.H.
29. Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Hildegard von Bingen. The scholarship on her creation of music and theological writing as mystical expression of female desire is wild.
30. Who are your heroes in real life?
31. What are your favorite names?
I don’t really have any. I find names so embarrassing sometimes.
32. What is it that you most dislike?
People who are stubbornly certain.
33. What is your greatest regret?
I usually regret falling in love--I fall like a body from a balcony--but I’ve stopped letting myself regret this. It’s a gift to be moved by other people. I only regret the times in my life when I’ve been unkind.
34. How would you like to die?
Either radically sober or supremely fucked up, on the edge of mystical vision.
35.What is your motto?