“They look for people who are T shaped,” said my spiritual, activist guru friend said as we waited to turn left at a stoplight. The turn signal tick tocked. The tall, geometric building of San Francisco’s financial blocked the sunlight that was just peaking over the horizon. “They want people who know a little bit about a lot of different,” she said as she made a T-shape with her arms and flittered her fingers up and down. The way she moved her fingers reminded me of teeny, tiny insects skimming across the top of water. “And they also want people who have deep knowledge about one specific thing. You see its like a T, you have to go across,” her fingers flickering back forth, “and down.”
The light changes red to green and we turn left. “So you are going to write today?,” my spiritual activist guru friend (who will henceforth be referred to as Stardust, because she has some special magic in her). “Well,” I reply. “I told myself I would write today, but then I realized I haven’t been thinking about writing.”
We pull over. Stardust hops out, gathers her purse and asks me to pop the trunk as I slide into her driver seat. I am dropping her off at a workshop on something that sounds super radical and innovative like “the future of citizen centered government.” It’s a workshop sponsored by IDEO, the design thinking company where she wants to work.
Stardust spent five years studying and writing about youth and social movements in Egypt. Now, she is now fluttering from place to place, job posting to job posting, tip toeing across the top of her T and hoping something will stick. Hoping to find a place where she can “go deep.” Hence, the workshop and impromptu trip to San Francisco.
I have known Stardust for many years. We were friends and study buddies in graduate school. We both studied movements—her focus was on social movements, mine was on migration. We had the same mentor and advisor who we both hold dear.
I hadn’t been in touch with her for many years outside of the occasional Facebook message though I always thought about her and admired her. She, like me, went “deep” into her thesis research and ended up in graduate school for 3 extra years traveling to Egypt, Davis, and eventually landing in her parent’s home wondering “what now?.” Unlike some noncommittal academic wanderers, five years later, she wrote book about the role of social media, youth and the Egyptian revolution. She is still waiting to hear back from publishers.
I finally texted Stardust when I hit a rock bottom. It was the night after my surreptitious vodka chugging followed by a blacked out rant about Trump and feminism and why men needed to give more of shit about what was happening to women. I woke up and knew I had to quit. I stared at my partner, bleary eyed across the kitchen table, and said, “I don’t think I can drink.” Tears falling down my cheeks, breath stuck in my chest. “I don’t think you can drink either,” my partner said lovingly. We smashed all the wine glasses in a paper grocery bag in the kitchen.
My hands were shakey that day. I was dehydrated and terrified. “Hey, you can’t drink, no big deal!” my partner, who shall henceforth be called Sugar, said as he lovingly put his hand on my shoulder. I has been trying to cut back for months. I’d set rules like “no drinking Monday-Thursday” and then I’d break them. I started hiding bottles of sake in the car and drinking them before I went in to have my “one glass” of wine. It was time to face the truth. On the surface, I was very successful—running a program for homeless and foster youth, exercising, paying the bills and underneath it all, I was a mess. A big hot mess. I was breaking up in ways I had only begun to understand.
The day I stopped drinking, my mind bounced manically. I felt restless and exhausted all at once. I thought about all the times when I wouldn’t be able to drink— no having a toast at a wedding, no margaritas at the Whole Enchilada after a hard week’s work, no more ladies nights fueled by endless glasses of Chardonnay and self-validation. I couldn’t think of one person in my social circle who didn’t drink. Then it hit me, text Stardust. Stardust didn’t drink!
Stardust is not only an author and activist, she is also a devout Muslim. So hence, she is and always has been sober. Sober, spiritually awake and shaken to the core by the election results, she was just the woman I needed back in my life. I was having trouble connecting to my lots of my close friends in part, because I was such a hot mess and because I felt like the election meant something different to me than it did to them. Everything about me and the world felt different after the election.
I sent Stardust a text message at 9:30pm. I had only been sober for 12 hours. I don’t remember exactly what I wrote in my text, but I’m sure it sounded kind of raw and desperate. Stardust knew I needed help and she called me right away even though we hadn’t spoken years.
I curled up on my bed with the phone tucked between my shoulder and ear. I didn’t have the guts or maybe wasn’t quite ready to tell Stardust about my drinking problem, so we talked about the election. I told her about how scared I was. I told her about all the things the children were saying—about being scared that they would lose their mom and dad. About the white kids asking the Mexican kids when they were going to be sent “home.” She said she could hear it in my voice, the shakiness. She was someone who understood what it was like to feel shaky.
I remember the moment Stardust found out that Mubarak had been overthrown and there was uprising in Egypt. We were standing in my hallway of a large, marble academic building—me, Stardust and our other study buddy, who I will call G-money. Stardust’s hands trembled, her eyes looked out past the horizon at something no one else could see. I stood next to her and couldn’t fully understand what she was saying. I looked at her, vacant and expectedly, wondering, “what the hell happened? What did I miss?” Embarrassingly, I’ll admit that dictatorships, revolutions and terror of the middle east weren’t things I had thought much about, but in that moment, standing next to Stardust, I knew I was witnessing a person transform. This whole revolution in Egypt was a really big fucking deal for Stardust. Part of her had been ripped open and now she was just standing there, not sure what she would do next. We had many late night conversation about how she didn’t know what she wanted to study or what she was doing in Davis, CA, but that that all changed with one headline—“Egypt erupts in jubilation as Mubarak steps down.”
Six years later, here I was, curled up in my sheets, shaking, clutching my smart phone, asking Stardust for help, bumbling through thoughts, skipping across the top of the water, afraid of what might be just beneath the surface, feeling like I had forgotten how to swim. Stardust talked me to for an hour that night. She reassured me that everything would OK. She told me about a verse from the Quran that said something like, “ we don’t know if this election will be a good or bad thing. Only God knows.” They way she said it was way more eloquent. I am occasionally cynical, but I could believe something like that because it was coming from Stardust.
So back to today, I dropped Stardust off at her workshop, parked the car and started wandering around San Francisco’s financial district desperately looking for coffee, and wondering what I might write about.
It’s my 3 month soberversary. It’s been 90 days since I quit drinking. Older, wiser, sober folks have said that the first 90 days in the hardest and that we should celebrate this important milestone. Celebrations are important to maintain sobriety. I didn’t have a real plan to celebrate. But as Stardust and I drove to the city, I remembered this milestone was coming up soon. I reached for my purse and opened the “I am sober” app on my I-phone and sure enough, the screen read, “Congratulations! 3 months sober. Share this milestone.” I showed Stardust the bright screen and smiled ear to ear. “Three months sober today!,” I said gleefully. She took her right hand off the steering wheel and gave me a high five. She said something in Arabic that sounded like “ma brutha.” It meant congratulations, she explained.
When Stardust asked me what I was going to write about today, on this important, sober milestone, I didn’t know. My mind felt like it was just jumping around the top of a letter T. The first month of Trump’s presidency had come and gone and so much had happened that I felt like I couldn’t write about any of it. I had been skipping from headline to headline unable to grasp it, feeling overwhelmed. The unravelling was so fast I felt unable to connect one thing to another. All I had were these frozen moments that reminded me everything had changed.
There was the day when 3/4 of the parents left our playgroup, running home with their toddlers, because there was rumors that ICE was at the Reynosos’ market down the street. Among the few people that stayed were two veiled Muslim women and their little babies. Our tiny community has a very visible devout Muslim population. Two women, heads covered in colorful scarfs, bodies covered in flowing fabric, stood there in the middle of the room, pushing strollers back and forth, their children playing with colored macaroni noodles on the miniature table. Almost all the Mexicans had gone home, scared. I sent Stardust a text, “FUCK! ICE raid.” She replied, “Is there any sanctuary spaces near by? I don’t even know what that means.” Me neither, I thought.
My boss walked around main street talking to people and trying to figure out what was going on. She came back and told us ICE wasn’t here and it was all just a rumor. We could go back to work. So, everyone put their heads down and kept going. But we couldn’t hear the familiar sound of children squealing and playing anymore. No one talked about it.
So, I didn’t think I could write today. I thought I couldn’t connect point a) 90 days sober to point b) Trump, the racist, Facist scum sucking pig. But I guess when you trust gut and reach out to the right people, it all starts to connect. Together, we can travel from the surface, the top of the T, to a deeper, more meaningful, slower space.
Thanks, Stardust, for asking me to come to San Francisco with you this morning, telling me the wonderful significance of the letter T and then asking me what I would write about. Te amo.
As promised, a photo of the Gorgonzola Cheese-whiz monster himself, Gizmo! Oooshey, booshey, you are getting so big!! On the right, you can see the leg of Gizmo’s friend, Slug. Slug is an epileptic American bull-dog. Slug also farts frequently and it smells like “rotting intestines.”