Late Fall 2018

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Our front yard (backyard has the yellow, front has the red-orange)

So many of the leaves in our backyard are yellow. It’s early November now. I have been cutting the rosebushes back, but not the rest of the flowering plants in our yard: geraniums, hydrangeas, and these delicate pink flowers I don’t know the name of.

I haven’t posted for months (it was a rough first half of the year, then recovering), and now where to begin? I’ll begin with news.

In June, I learned I was the recipient of a 2018 New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) / New York State Council for the Arts (NYSCA) Fellowship in Fiction. This was a huge event in my life for a couple of reasons. I’ve applied for it before and not gotten it. That’s the way it works and I wasn’t expecting to get it this year either. It reminded me to persist. Two, the news came at an important time, when I was feeling discouraged about not being further along in my writing life.

The NYFA website quoted me in a recent post, and I’ll also include my words below:

If your stories are like mine, they might be described as non-traditional, experimental, and poetic. You might start to doubt that what you do has relevance, that it is understood, and worth reading. It doesn’t fit neatly into a category. The news about the NYSCA/NYFA Artist Fellowship came after I had received a few rejections in a row for other things. I mentioned this string of rejections to a friend, and she said whenever that happens to her, it means there’s a big yes around the corner.

I’m also quoted in an earlier post about what getting the NYFA meant to me.

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Screenshot from the Literary Hub article about 15 Asian-American writers to know about.

In early October, an article in Literary Hub surprised me. Here’s the link:  “The Newest Wave of Asian-American Writers You Should Know.” It’s a list of 15 Kundiman writers. And I am on that list. I love both Kundiman and Literary Hub. Thank you, Tamiko Beyer, for this article.

I spent most of September in Oaxaca City, Mexico, staying with my friend Wendy, who is teaching there this semester. It was terrific to get that much time with Wendy and to work on our writing projects together. While there, I completed an essay on invisible disability I’ve been working on since July. Wendy’s edits made the difference, as did my deadline. My essay will be published in Jan/Feb 2019 in the Kenyon Review Online and I’m very happy about that.

In mid-October I began teaching a new class out of my home—advanced creative nonfiction—part study (we are reading and discussing an excellent anthology of essays by women called Waveform—I recommend it), writing exercises (imitations) and writing workshop. I’ve been working with the same writers for a couple of years now and it’s a pleasure and privilege to do so. I learn from them, too. There’s room for a couple of more writers to join for the next session—which will be in winter/spring 2019. IMG_1333

Exactly one week ago, I organized the first  Kundiman Northeast reading in western New York (Rochester). The Spirit Room (fierce poets and owners Rachel McKibbens and Jacob Rakovan) generously hosted us: our readers were poet Albert Abonado, activist, filmmaker, and writer Mara Ahmed, and Kundiman Fellow, poet, and essayist Chen Chen. It was a wonderful evening—a chance to hear Asian American voices through the work of three very different writers. Though organizing anything is a lot of work, this event was worth it. And poet and Kundiman Fellow Nghiem Tran drove over from Syracuse and one of my favorite local writers, Ravi Mangla, came, too.

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Mara Ahmed, Sejal Shah, Albert Abonado, and Ravi Mangla

Poet and essayist Chen Chen reads at The Spirit Room

A couple of days ago I had tea with my friend Irene, whom I hadn’t seen in a year. She’s also a writer and we were talking about writing and time—we are both working on books. She reminded me of a poem I had sent to her once. I needed to hear it again and she recited it and then sent me a link to it later. Naomi Shihab Nye’s “The Art of Disappearing.” I’ve mentioned it in my blog before—two years ago. I’ll post it here though the line breaks might not be right.

I miss seeing my friends all the time. And I also know I can’t be out and about too much right now—I need to scale back, draw back, stay home to do this work. And it’s fall when we gather ourselves, and for me that gathering is inside. (It’s western New York after all.) I’ll leave you with Nye’s important poem.

The Art of Disappearing

When they say Don’t I know you?
say no.

When they invite you to the party
remember what parties are like
before answering.
Someone telling you in a loud voice
they once wrote a poem.
Greasy sausage balls on a paper plate.
Then reply.

If they say We should get together
say why?

It’s not that you don’t love them anymore.
You’re trying to remember something
too important to forget.
Trees. The monastery bell at twilight.
Tell them you have a new project.
It will never be finished.

When someone recognizes you in a grocery store
nod briefly and become a cabbage.
When someone you haven’t seen in ten years
appears at the door,
don’t start singing him all your new songs.
You will never catch up.

Walk around feeling like a leaf.
Know you could tumble any second.
Then decide what to do with your time.

 

 

2 thoughts on “Late Fall 2018

  1. Oh, Sejal, I love this post and this poem, which I will be adding to my collection of “Wisdom Literature.”

    I’m leading a Diwali Chapel on Wednesday November 7th.

    Next email will include the order of service for a Diwali presentation I did just this morning… for Decorah UU. 30-40 people gathered in a half-circle around the Unitarian Universalist chalice candle, and a cotton-wick ghee lamp in brass vessel, with local apples as prashaad alongside a bowl of pomegranate seeds.

    That’s because I first knew Diwali as “anaar-puja.” My earliest memories of distinguishing Diwali from the other festivals my parents would celebrate was not the diya lights, but rather that it came when pomegranates were “in season” and on the prashaad thaali.

    More soon, Sandhya

    • Dear Sandhya, Thanks so much for reading. I love hearing what you are up to. We just returned from a Gujarati Diwali function at the India Community Center. Oh, I have a similar memory with pomegranates! That brought back some images. Let me know how Diwali Chapel goes. And yes, I really love that poem, “The Art of Disappearing.”

      more soon as well,
      Sejal

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