Aug 26, 2021 • 10M

Love Should be Digestible

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Hello and apologies for radio silence, but thanks so much for sticking around. It’s been a while and I wish I could say the time apart has been filled with laughter and rest and joy but mostly I’ve been in a fugue, in writer’s block - or revision block? - and negotiating the possibilities of immense change that I cannot control or predict. I decided to do something different this time and just talk out what I want to say to you. So you can read it, or listen to me and pretend it is a long voicemail. Up to you.

(Note: This edition is not so much about the beauty industry but about family and falling out so if you don’t have the energy for that - bounce out now.)

I’ve spent the last month and a half not actively pitching or writing freelance assignments for the first time, really, in years. Even on “vacations” I’ve always worked - conceptualized stories I wanted to tell eventually, outlined pieces due, did reading relevant to pieces I was in the process of. But this month? The last? I did none of that. I wasn’t curious in a way I wanted to capitalize into productivity at all. There were feelings of guilt, that I was letting myself down and that I’d regret not working in some…distant future, but then I remembered I’ve worked so hard so that I could do exactly this. And that if I kept putting it off, there would be no intervention from the universe to tell me to rest in a kind way. I would simply shut down. My body would force me to at an inopportune time, and so I might as well rest before that happens….again… and I would avoid the shame of deja vu and not having learned anything at all. So I sat and kept sitting and waited to feel more inclined to do something else. Days turned to weeks turned to more than a month.

I’ve also been sitting because I’ve fallen out with my mother for what feels like a final moment in time. Not that I’ll never speak to her again, but that whatever efforts I’d made in the past to establish a kind of version of her I could love the way I wanted to - that’s gone now. Any lessons I thought she learned herself about accepting a queer child without conditions - those only existed in my mind. On my last visit with her, she said things that made me realize how much generational trauma and crisis she’s experiencing and how that has been placed on me. Perhaps a more filial daughter would work through that with their parent directly but I….I don’t actually think familial love has to be unconditional when it is wrapped in various forms of abuse. If a void continues to act as a void even as you seek it’s shape, your compassion for seeking the shape of a void does not render it into a more approachable form. All that happens is you’ve embraced the void as it swallows you whole. I don’t need that. I would rather have the sun and stars, you know? Love that is not so fraught. A way of being recognized that does not ask that I change my form. Love is recognition.

I’m so grateful for being queer and for having chosen family and familial bonds that prepared me for that things I heard that day, because as it happened, I just felt incredibly calm and held by all the other people in my life that have never made me feel like I ever had to be anything else. Also, it’s not as if I was deeply surprised to be having - once again - a conversation on how queerness is an illness or whatever - this person intentionally isolated me in spaces that punished my queerness multiple times. I never forgave those times and she never apologized for them. But a lot of people are taught that blood family is….some sort of unbreakable bond? But people break all the time when they aren’t cared for. If someone can’t care for me in the ways I ask for - which is to say, to see me without denial for the person I am and the people I love - then I don’t need their love. It’s not digestible.

The last thing I said my mom was the question, “What would honor you?” She had been saying that I didn’t respect her as a mother, that my queerness was disrespectful - that it was a choice that I made wrongly. I explained calmly that it was as much of a choice as the act of breathing. That it has always been so. And then I just asked her what would honor her that did not require me to be less than who I was. She didn’t have an answer to that, and so I left without saying goodbye. I hope one day she has an answer we can talk about, that doesn’t require me to lie about who I am or who I love.

I imagine even writing this is an act of dishonor as an Asian child, but secrets never kept me safe from abuse or neglect, so they don’t deserve my allegiance.


I haven’t written since that happened because I have been afraid of the fact of it would overshadow everything I’m trying to revise. But I also know I need to metabolize it before I can do anything else. I’m not trying to distract myself from the questions I have or the fact I am not owed answers that I want or could dare to hope for. I am trying to unwind my projections from my actual loss. And I am trying to understand what has to be written about, or written through. What do I edit out when what I’m going shapes the stories searching for? Since I don’t have the answers cleanly, I’ve felt more or less stuck. And then I revisited something important:

Your Questions Answered: How Have You Overcome Writers Block? | by Alexander Chee | Medium

I am still in the process of forgiving myself for wanting a better relationship with my mother. I am afraid that my lack of knowledge of her side of the family will make me feel less than, and on top of that - a worse writer because I can’t get to the core of what I’m trying to write at the moment. But I think I’m supposed to just own up to all of that? I’m supposed to remember that recognizing emotions - not managing them into different ones - is the key to emotional intelligence and ultimately to letting them pass on. That sitting with them isn’t a passive action but an event that lets you connect more honestly and openly with other people.

I took a writing class from Yanyi this weekend and it was comforting to sit in a Google Doc with so many other writers actively writing about the things that frightened us and to remind each other of what structure and exploration can look like. And how revision is often led by feelings and intuition - what you hone when you just sit and observe your internal dialog. It let me return to my work with more kindness to myself. It didn’t make me less afraid of what I have to navigate or the undigested questions and fears I have yet to process - but it made me feel more able to persevere through them.

And share them with you. To let you know what I’m up to. And I know this isn’t really a beauty missive - but I think you’re okay with that, or at least I hope.

With that in mind, here are the things I’ve been finding useful as I wade through the waters:

  1. Pulling a spread from my Oblique Strategies deck. Which has an online version!

  2. Dionne Brand’s A Map to the Door of No Return, paired directly with A Vertical Interrogation of Strangers by Bhanu Kapil.

  3. Index card writing. Esme teaches a course on this method, if you haven’t heard of it before.

Anyway. How are you? Have you ever fallen out with your family? Any advice for me?

Sending you love.

Arabelle