Happy Birthday, Jesus and Muhammad

For those of you who don’t know, I am a Sufi Muslim, who attended Catholic elementary school, from a quarter Jewish mother (she is all Jewish culturally. The woman can kibbitz.) and I grew up doing yoga and sound practice. This gave me a casual buffet style approach to religion, and also a weird sense of semi-belonging and semi-apartness in each of them individually. You’re sitting in Church snuffing up incense, enjoying the tenors, and suddenly in your head, “I WASN’T BAPTIZED. YOU WOULD ALL HIT ME WITH YOUR PROGRAMS IF YOU KNEW.”  You go into a mosque with your hijab making a run for it down your back, it’s fringe tangled in your bangs, thank God, but still getting utterly scandalized looks from plump ladies. You slide into a synagogue, you have no idea what the format is, but by cod you’re comfortable with the people.

There are drawbacks, that I’ll think of when I have more time, but o there are benefits.

Benefit 1) Holidays.  Christmas. Ramadan. Other people’s Seder’s that you go to and come in strongly on the Baruch Atah Adonai then gently mumble the rest of while you quaff their grape drank. Presents. Oceans of food (all kinds!). There is no bad here.

Benefit 2) Lack of fear. You ain’t afraid of nobody for their religion, or the way they look.  What you would like to do, is to get a nice outfit like theirs and go hang out at their service. Will we get to handle snakes? Wonderful, I’ll pack my antivenin. And if they’re hurting people for their religion, why, you know enough to tell them that they’re idiots and that’s not what our scriptures dictate.

Benefit 3) SUPER AWESOME GOD JESUS BUDDHA PARTY GO! i.e. you’ve realized that you can get a hit of the Universe most anyplace, in varying flavors.

There are probably others.

But! It is the traditional Jesus birthday in a couple of days. And, you know, also coincidentally the time when Pagan individuals would take a specific mothertrucker DOWN to insure the return of the sun and generally attractive harvest circumstances.  Today is Muhammad (peace be upon him)’s birthday!

How do you do an apostrophe after a parentheses? Should I not do that? Would Oxford frown pityingly at me?

It’s also Nureddin Jerrahi (pointless parentheses to thumb nose at imaginary scornful Oxford dons)’s birthday! He founded the Jerrahi Sufi order, a beautiful and brilliant order centered on the ecstatic love of God.

You now have four reasons to religiously celebrate. Go share a muffin with a homeless person. Go bounce around in the ocean of love, God is the floaty noodle, you’ll be okay.



P.S. I was walking around a suburb of Jackson, MS today (more on that later) and there were all these nativity scenes. Increasingly complex nativity scenes. A certain keeping up with the Nazarenes aspect. And as I was walking along, watching this subtle battle for supremacy, I imagined Christmas Eve. Glowing with lights. Everyone in their beds. Quietly, slowly, the Wise Men stretch their arms. Mary shakes out her robe. Joseph picks up his staff. All the nativity characters, except Jesus, he is just a baby after all, meet in the center of this suburban street. Cardboard cutouts, ceramic statues, little cloth dolls, full size mannequins. There is a tense silence. And then, one of the donkeys kicks a shepherd and it’s a straight up, all out, dead silent brawl. Cardboard is torn, crowns are ripped off, stripey robes are rent from outraged shoulders. Only one can survive. The cloth dolls. They were sturdy, so they were, begorrah. And as they lurch back to their own sweet manger, wounded and busted, but fiercely proud of their victory and the elevation of their Christ Child over all the others on the block, they hear a sound. Giggling? Chatter? The clink of glasses? They get back to their manger, the scene of their victory, only to find all the Jesuses out of bed and hanging out together, probably drinking wine even though they are babies, like there was never the Terrible Suburban Christmas Rumble of ’15.


Happy Birthday, Jesus and Muhammad

A Different Sort of Story

How intimate shall I be? I think it does not hurt me for you to know personal and difficult details, I think it doesn’t hurt you either. Maybe it is even good for us.

Last year I ended up in the hospital with a bladder infection. This came about because 1) I was so very very unhappy that even when I realised that things were going wrong with my body, I didn’t stop drinking 2) I didn’t go to a doctor, but tried to fix it with the traditional cranberry juice and 3) I was in a relationship with someone I didn’t trust or like particularly and I was keeping a lot of things hidden from him and myself, including the fact that I didn’t want to be sexual with him and was basically forcing my poor unwilling body because I thought that was the easiest thing in the short term.

This leaves me at one in the morning, rocking and crying on the toilet and peeing blood.

I can’t drink now. Sometimes I think that the whole thing was a universal set up to make me stop drinking so that avenue of mental escape would be cut off.

Cranberry juice is not my friend. I haven’t been to the doctor yet, (I have an appointment this week) but I recently spoke to a woman at the herb shop who had very similar symptoms and what she had were ulcers in the bladder. So, you pour cranberry juice over ulcers, what do you get? Bleeding. More pain. More abrasion.

The individual I was with at that time is gone now, I put him on a bus to Portland. Or Seattle. Or something. I never properly broke up with him because I found this cheap and easy out (he wanted to get back with his old band), but I should have.

A healer I’ve talked with tells me bladder issues can be related to repressed emotion. They sit in there and fester if you don’t express them. And I am a depressive, child of a depressive, who is from Minnesota. So I am a champ at repressing emotion. I don’t want to anymore. But there is a persistent fear that if you express the emotions, the ugly ones, and they all seem ugly after you’ve hidden them, then the world will crack, and no one will love you and then that’s the end. You sit in a beige wasteland for the rest of your days and get hit by the tumbleweeds of sorrow blown by the winds of pointlessness.

So my problems now are 1) I still suffer from rather bad bladder pain 2) I also get sores in my throat (although they stopped me smoking, you see why I think it’s a God plot) that pop up as soon as I start getting run down and/or drinking again 3) I am afraid that this is all persychological (the psychology of percy) and that there is one big huge bad scary feeling in there and it’s going to bring everything down and that the truth is that I should be alone forever and that is the one true way for me and I’m defying Fate by being traditionally bonded to the man I’m with. But that thought train, as true and as clean as it feels at the beginning, takes me to dark and self-hurting places. When I am in pain, though, I will think anything to try and make the pain stop, be it physical or psychological. I know too that it is, somewhere inside me, a great source of comfort to me to believe that my suffering is related to actions, that if I could find the act that brought on punishment, I could relieve it. That I have power over everything.

Me saying these things now has the thoughts sneering, “Coward. Liar. Trying to make a rational refuge.” That’s not what God sounds like. I know you, I know you’re not God.


Bismillah arahman Abraham.

I want to continually ask for help from Allah and remain merciful towards myself. I want to be truthful with my emotions. I just had a thought pop up, “Well don’t coddle them,” but I do want to coddle them. I want to let them know that they’re loved and useful and helpful and appreciated. That they have a place to live in me and I love them. Now there is a thought, “You’re just pretending to love them because you want to stop hurting,” and that’s not true. The hurting reminds me to love them. It’s not fake. I do need a reminder, but it’s real.

Sugar makes my bladder worse. Spicy things do too. It occurred to me last night that I now have 2/3 of sugar and spice and everything nice as inflammatory agents.

I’m scared for you all to know this much personal stuff about me. But hiding in one form or another appears to be my plague and I don’t want to help it anymore.

Thank you for letting me share with you. It helps.

A Different Sort of Story


I must confess myself overwhelmed by Istanbul. I don’t know what the population density is here but walking down the street is like being trapped in a tide. I am exhausted and we have only been here for two days. Tonight I’m going to zikr. My mom has a friend who knows a lady who will take me. I’m to meet her at the bank of ATMs outside the Uskundar ferry station at eight o’clock. I was nervous about getting here, taking the tram and then the ferry, so I am in Uskundar two hours early. The ferry was beautiful. Cold and sea birds all around us. I sat right up front and the thirty or so people around me and I all got well splashed by a rogue wave. There was a simultaneous shriek, pause and then giggle. I am dressed in half hijab, kind of. I have a long dress and a snazzy jacket on, that look similar to what’s around me, but I am wearing leather boots with red roses on them and my head scarf is somewhat gauzy and inclined to slither away if left unattended.  Right now I am sitting in a slightly dingy cafe in the Uzkundar suburb (suburb does not mean the same thing here as it does in the U.S., this is like just being in another part of the city) eating a cold eclair and drinking rather nasty coffee and writing to you.

Oh my darling, I am tired. We realised today that we’ve been in nothing but capital cities for the last two months, of states and of countries. I think we are a little starved for greenery. We are inclined to be itchy and twitchy and to want to bolt down the street in an all-out sprint, but decide that that would be alarming to the populace and so choose instead to slink back to the room and pace. The ferry helped. Public transit always helps me, because there is nothing I can do to speed it up, so I am forced to just sit there and be a lump. And I like being a lump. I am inherently lumpy, and if I am forced to spend too much time being svelte, stylish and charming, my inner lump rebels and holds a general strike of my internal organs until I give it a blanket and a cup of tea.

Is this a Midwestern thing? Do we just have too much corn and sensible living in our veins? Tell me what you think.

The men here are very stare-y. There is beaucoup de staring. I went out the other night with my knees showing, but my bosom all tucked away and modest and a hat over my head tornado, and they were checking out my knees. Aaron saw it too. He turned to me, “That guy was looking at your knees!” “I know,” I said, “They’re all looking at my knees.” I feel like a Victorian prostitute doing a provocative ankle dance.

I saw a graffito of an egg smoking a cigarette.

Let me tell you what I am seeing. The sun is almost set but it is still bright with neon. There are many people passing me (I am facing the street), men, women and children. About half the women have their heads covered, mostly with scarves with a funny sort of lock and chain design in gold. Their heads are shaped like aliens because their long hair is up in a bun underneath. I think that now that I am wearing a headscarf, I’m less scary, because more women are looking at me and smiling. Once you get used to the headscarf, you do feel naked without it. Unarmed and unarmoured. Unfinished.

The call to prayer is just starting. I can hear two at once. They are not trying to blend, it’s a little silly, but still beautiful. I am imagining a lifelong rivalry between two muezzins in minarets across  the street from one another, training, buying increasingly louder megaphones, amplifiers, training with increasingly ancient masters to perfect tone and volume until finally they are the ancientest and realise that they have to train the next muezzins and finally bury the axe over how green and foolish the young are.

There are lots of mobile phone stores, lots of restaurants, a tanning parlour (why?), signs for businesses that I don’t understand, signs for tourism, cars and cars and cars. I kid you not, there was a point where I was genuinely unsure whether I was on the street or in a parking lot. People just wander out into the street here, and it would not entirely surprise me to see a car wander onto the sidewalk. If you are a law abiding type person, I’m afraid you will never be able to cross a street in Istanbul. You will just have to live on that particular block and never leave it and get people to deliver your toilet paper and kebabs and juice.

Our taxi from the airport. Oh. Oh my. There was a traffic problem, which was one of the only things are cabbie could say in english. “Traffic problem. Traffic cok cok problem” pronounced chalk, which means very. He went one way initially, then swung around and went the other because of the traffic problem. It was problematic. But beautiful. The air smells like pine sap and the hills are green. Packs of dogs and lone dogs, sitting on warm places in the middle of the road. On a freeway, this is. But I didn’t see any roadkill. Men and women standing in the middle of the freeway traffic jam, selling water and flowers and buns through the windows. At one point, our driver took an exit, then decided not to, pulled over on the off ramp, and backed up back onto the freeway. The woman we shared the cab with, Danyel, was in the backseat chanting, “Don’t look, don’t look, don’t look.” We applauded when we reached the main freeway, and he grinned and nodded. I was in the front seat and he and I bopped and bounced to Turkish pop. I had beef jerky in my bag and offered it around the car. He took some and chewed it like a man who is thinking very hard and very calmly about a difficult proposition. He did not like it, but was kind. He gave us napkins to wipe the jerky from our fingers.

We were in the car for an hour and a half before we reached actual Istanbul. We applauded again when we got over the bridge to the European side and he handed out cigarettes to everyone and turned on some dub step loud and I danced like a fool. 

There was a bombing on Saturday. At a Kurdish peace rally. Nebi is all in black and is going to a memorial service. His eyes are more than usually shiny, and he has black eyes, so now they look like stones in a creek that’s flooded.

Aaron and I went to a little restaurant where we did NOT know the protocol at all. Also, I’ve just realised that facebooking all the time has made me start believing that italics don’t exist. I just capitalise instead. Damn you, facebook.

Anyway, this restaurant was not busy, we being people who eat at odd times, and they didn’t have very much English, and we have no Turkish beyond thank you and I’m sorry (both liberally used), so eventually a young man descended to the basement and came back holding a huge wooden platter covered in saran wrapped little dishes all squished together like a completed game of tetris. It was indicated that we should point to choose. We got something eggplant and something chickpea and olives wrapped in fresh sardines and other tiny munchy things and wondered if we were doing this whole thing wrong until two ladies showed up and their entire table was covered in tiny munchy things.

They drink tea as a social foundation here. My belly is sloshing with tea and my veins are pulsing with caffeine. They also smoke cigarettes like Cancer was a hip new boy band. And they eat pita like carbohydrates were a snake in a dress. And they smoke hookah like peach flavouring was a big sloppy man telling your mother about the Christ child.


I am not telling you all this from the bosom of the Ottoman Empire. I wish I were, but I ain’t. I’m telling you this from my cozy bed in New Orleans, where I am hiding because it’s cold outside (cue Minnesotans with weather related bitching). But now I must emerge from bed like a fat cross eyed butterfly coming out of its cocoon, to go eat cheese and play the piano.


Adventure: Part Deux

Budapest. Land of mystery. Land of lots of snacky shops and things. Land of kebabs. Every major European city is now land of kebabs, though.

It is Sunday afternoon. It is my birthday. There is an alarmingly beautiful Frenchman (Valentin), a slightly neurotic Sephardic Jew (Zach), a small and sweet Hungarian (Dudu), a passionate and opinionated Italian (Lucilla), the aforementioned Lulu, who is half French, half Californian and manages to be very calm and to smoulder at the same time, Aaron and myself. There is also a very cool person with dreadlocks but he retreated to his room soon after we arrived and played hysterical and vivid csárdás for the next four days. Csárdás, pronounced chardash, is traditional Hungarian music with a tempo variation, from slow to very fast and back. And forth. And back. This can mess with your head after a while.

We all sat around the table and I told them about cat-sitting and then they started to talk about jazz. People who play jazz are veeeery interested in jazz, and enjoy talking about it no end. I tried to pretend that I was not sulking. After they had talked about jazz for long enough to provide a satisfying hors d’oeuvre, they pulled out instruments and began to play the jazz. There was a stand up bass in the corner with three massive gut strings. Three string basses are traditional around there. I cleverly expressed scholarly curiosity as a smooth smooth lead in to asking to play it. I can’t get it through my head that often people are totally fine with you playing their instruments and kind of confused by your hemming and hawing. With cool Gallic waving of hands and working of eyebrows, I was encouraged to play the bass, so I hauled it over to the kitchen table (only crashing it into things two times, I believe, with a sound that made everyone freeze like squirrels in a flashlight) and hot damn, I was okay. I wasn’t great, for that I would have to commit to doing scales ever in my life, but learning the tenor banjo had made me much more confident and much faster at reading chord charts. I was just less scared. Or maybe I knew musicians better. It was good. We were all really pleased with each other. So they decided to book a show real quick with us. There were two phone calls and a fast and nasty facebook event, and we had a show. We practiced for the next two hours, then packed up instruments, put on all our hats (so many hats) and walked out into the soft and smelly night.

We played a show at a cafe, it was good, you get it. I am worried that if I insist on being too detailed with my timeline and telling you all about everything in sequence, that I will never ever write to you again because more and more time will pass and things will become hazier and hazier and then I’ll just vomit a vaguely accurate fog onto the screen and tear my hair. So. In brief.

Budapest, modern jazz in a basement, palinka, a delicious and potent Hungarian eau de vie, a flaming gay Frenchman and a grim lesbian Canadian took me under their wing and we all bought each other more palinka, a fat Hungarian tech guy told me all about his business and I promised to mail him a copy of Neuromancer (I failed to do this and I have lost his card), everybody chain smoked, we ate the drunkest and best gyro sandwiches in the history of the whole world and all human experience whilst crouching in a doorway and then fell asleep on a hard and drafty couch bed that I suspect was a table with pillows on it.

My hangover the next day was bigger, stronger, more powerful and cruel than any who had come before him. I woke up. I wished I hadn’t, but I did. I believe it was Wednesday. The whole day ached. My head was like a dying member of the ferret family, thrashing around painfully. I tried not to move. I sat very very still in a number of different places. It was decided that we would try and get some food into me. I drank a salty lassi that tasted powerfully of too-ripe egg. I was not a good colour. I made my way back to the apartment. We were going to play another show that night. I was not sure I was able for it. My hands were shaking and my blood felt bleached and my tummy was a science project and my head hurt like Judgement Day. Valentin laughed at me and said, “Maybe a little more palinka, eh?” A convulsion ran through me when he said that word and I sedately descended the stairs to the tiny and poisonous bathroom where I vomited eggy bile for ten minutes and felt much better. We went to the cafe. We played the show. I threw up once more in their clean and flowery bathroom. I swear to cod, that hangover took two weeks to clear and I may never drink palinka again.

Then we flew to Turkey. We needed euro or dollars to buy our visas once we got into the airport, but all we had were Turkish lira that we had already exchanged. They would not take their own currency. I also had many Hungarian forints. How nice for me. I went to the atm and it told me it didn’t have any euro left. I ran my card again and it also informed me that it was all out of dollars. If I wanted some nice Turkish lira, it could oblige me. I waved down a moustached man who did not believe that the atm had no dollars or euros. He ran my card. Twice. He believed. He brought me over to a gaggle of lofty and beautiful airport security men who were just so clearly gossiping in Turkish, who sort of ignored me for awhile, but the other girl who was in my same predicament was fortunately from New York and thus able to shout them into helping us. They were incredulous. They took my card. They ran it through the atm. They believed. There was no other atm this side of security and customs. There was nothing to be done. We would just have to stay there until we died. We stared at the beautiful men, then at each other. They chewed their gum and looked around casually at passing travelers. Like cats. Like really unhelpful cats. Then they sighed, said o all right, took our passports hostage, led us quickly through a back way, up a staircase, down a hallway and to a currency exchange booth. We got euros. We bought visas. It was all very Turkish.




Adventure: Part Deux