Having “Mercy” in the writing life

“I only question my father about these half-truths now, after all these years, because of the nightmares. Because I think about my mother. Because I imagine leaving my husband.”

— Excerpt from, “Mercy,” in Guernica’s newest issue

As always, I feel like I am running through life without stopping. This past week, we traveled back home to L.A. because of familial loss. We flew back to Virginia, I taught, and then up we went to New York for my #LitCrawlNYC reading with Hyphen Magazine, Alexander Chee (who’s AMAZING, btw), Sally Wen Mao, Cathy Linh Che, and Jason Koo. I am so exhausted.

Today, my story, “Mercy,” was published in Guernica. When I got the acceptance news a few weeks ago, this piece had been rejected by over 30 other journals. I came home that night exhausted from teaching a Wednesday morning class, working my second job at a military magazine, and teaching a night class at a community college. I ran around my empty apartment, alone, for my husband was away at sea, and I wept on the floor nearby the porch window. I was so exhausted.

But there is something I said last July at the Kweli Journal Conference, which was also in the beautiful city of New York, that alleviated my exhaustion:

Mind you, before I came to the Kweli Journal Writers’ Conference, I was still mulling over my workshop with Junot Díaz. The one caveat he left us with before we headed into the world was this: “The whole culture is telling you to hurry, while the art tells you to take your time. Always listen to the art.” Coming to the Kweli Conference, I had this implanted in my mind—that despite what the behemoth of the industry would say, at the end of the day, I must, as an artist, separate “the work” from “the machine. As I sat in the pews waiting for the conference to begin, I could feel the anxiety rise from the belly to the throat. But my VONA tribe was there: all of us sat together, ready to get our pitches out.

— Excerpt from, “From the Belly to the Throat,” in Kweli Journal’s blog

In New York this last weekend trip, many of my writer friends were exhausted. When we took a cab to Dumbo Sky after my reading in Lower East Side, we commiserated on working over two jobs, teaching, filling up class time with writing prompts and videos and making more activities so we could have less time to talk to our students, commiserated over the amount of time it takes to eke out a life and survive while finding precious moments to write. We knew each other’s pains, growing pains, our anxiety over this “writing life,” our hopes and awkwardnesses and dreams and maybes and what-ifs.

I remembered what Steve Barnes said to me at the VONA 15th Party I planned back in June:

“I love being awkward. It’s a sign of transition, of growth. If you’re in that state, be thankful. It means you are growing.”

I don’t know if I’m growing. I know I’m in an awkward phase of my life–I’m in transition, I’m running, I’m always in transition, it is always painful, but I feel the growing. I feel the rushes from the belly to the throat; I feel my soul under pressure; I feel exhausted; I am exhausted; however, I am hopeful. I’m not sure what I’m hopeful for. Maybe this emotion is hopeful because I finally feel as if I have found my place in the world. As I sat on the second deck of the bus and watched the enormous city pass by me, I felt at home–it wasn’t necessarily New York, it wasn’t necessarily that I was traveling back down the coast to Virginia, it wasn’t necessarily my husband holding my hand next to me–but it was part of it. It’s like what I said to my half-Kurdish, half-Persian student last week–it’s what we do when we’re born of the Diaspora. Home means the city passing by you; home means the skyscrapers looking down at you; home means the taxi cab driver who lifts his fingers in the air and roars, claiming his name means “lion” in his native language. Home means here, this place where my heart meets my tongue, my memories, this trauma I’ve inherited, it means having mercy when I am feeling low, when I am lost, when I am hopeful, when I am awkward. I don’t know where I’m heading next in these few years, or where my writing will bring me, but home is like the sound of my mother’s name, “Mercy,” slow and sweet and heavy, meaning a thousand things and the embodiment of silence and acceptance at the same time.

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4 thoughts on “Having “Mercy” in the writing life

  1. Congratulations on the publication! And thanks for sharing this, I’m going to have to write down some of these quotes. Why do you think they finally published your piece? Why did so many others reject it?

    1. Hi P.S.! First off–thank you for the congrats. Secondly, every journal has a certain aesthetic and particular need for every issue. Acceptances into journals require merit (of course) but also it’s incredibly subjective–sometimes a piece fits more with another piece, sometimes the pieces that are accepted/curated build a certain mood, theme, etc. It’s why, per usual, if my piece is rejected over 30 times but receives “higher-tiered rejections,” I know the story is the best it can be at that particular moment, and it’s honestly a waiting game more than anything else. You have to send your strongest work out there to the fray and cross your fingers and hope.

      1. To be writer, you have to have thick skin. There are a million talented writers out there. These questions are irrelevant at the end of the day–it doesn’t quite matter how many tiered rejections you receive, what matters is if the art is ready, if you know/feel the art is ready to be out in the world, and to believe that it is ready.

        Look at Rejection Wiki to find the wordings as well. Google will help you more than I can.

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