A late look back

Update Jan 31, 2022


I wrote this letter at the beginning of the month, the beginning of the year, and now it is the end of the month— another new moon, and its new year. Perhaps a bit silly to send this now, and I’m still conflicted on the year-end format, but I do want to celebrate some of the last year’s work and have some closure as new projects gestate and emerge.

I have been, in a good and literal sense, quite lost and wandering this last month; driving up from Los Angeles into the snowstorms of the Sierra Nevada, back down into the expanses of Nevada and Oregon, out to the many islands and waterways of the Salish coast, and then back down along the 101 highway’s curving to the Bay Area, where I am now. I’ve lived and felt much that I hope to share soon, though it’s been difficult to make time and routine within which to write. Much planting and presence to distill for you.

I am also in an increasingly financially unstable position, with my savings running out and concerns about how to cover my meager necessities rising to the fore. I am looking for employment on the road, but I just want to express how grateful I am to all of you supporters on Patreon, as every bit helps me spend more time making art and less working for the knife (all hail the queen!). And thank you, as always, for that gift of reading.

A sunset over the Pacific after a full day of hiking the Lost Coast Trail in the King Range National Conservation Area, CA. Glowing hills of grass and firs roll into cliffs that fall sharply into narrow beaches where elephant seals and treacherous waves meet. A long walk back to the campsite in the dark still awaits, but the beauty gives strength to tired legs and soothes sore feet. Digital photo by Nico; January 2022; Mattole and Sinkyone land.

Early January, 2022:

Another bewildering and heavy but joyful year comes to a close. I wanted to write a quick note to say thank you for all your support for me and this space of experimentation, and for you patience with the long silences.

For nearly as long as I’ve been politically aware, I’ve been concerned with questions about how my politics and ethics are reflected in my actions and daily life. In this year after graduating and leaving my job, those concerns have grown (perhaps out of proportion) into the main rudder of my life. I put almost everything I own, which amounts to a couple of boxes of books and kitchenware and a few suitcases of clothes, in storage in August and have been traveling ever since. Friends and family have kindly shared couches and guest beds with me for days and sometimes weeks, and I expect to continue living that way until my savings run out or I grow tired. A large part of living on the road for me right now has to do with my ethical questioning, with the sort of thinking that emerges from movement and the way I am forced to make do with less, to work within stricter constraints and rely on others’ generosity and abundance.

That isn’t to say that nomadism, or migration, is inherently better in any way than staying, rooting, and forming deep ties with a place. On the contrary, in the long run, I believe that that is what I want for myself, especially in terms of relating to land, plants, and people that are interdependent upon one other in a tight-knit community. For some months in the spring of this year, that’s what I thought I needed to do, in fact— start an artist-commune farm with my friends and learn to survive. Then I realized I still have a lot of growing, learning, and exploring to do before I’m ready for a commitment like that, and so traveling — rather than claiming a space of my own, either in the country or in a major U.S. city, in the middle of a crisis — felt like the best option.

I was reticent to travel at first, after two years of nesting and sheltering in wonderful, cozy little houses in Providence with dear friends and gardens I could tend to. I grew up moving around a lot and have always had the traveling bug, but this time it wasn’t biting much. Most of my friends moved to Brooklyn, settling into cute apartments with jobs to busy them for at least the next few months, and I had very little clue what I was doing.

Amidst all that uncertainty in the late summer and early fall, perhaps the most stable thing I had was my book, which was in the final editing stages. I housesat for my mentor for two weeks in the middle of the summer and aside from feeding the cats three (!) times a day and doing some cleaning in the kitchen and work in the garden, took it as a writing retreat to immerse myself in the manuscript again and finish editing in time for my deadline. Though I made a lot of progress and felt good about the book, the deadline came and went and I didn’t send anything in. I said to myself I just needed to take a week’s distance, reread the whole thing to be sure, and then I’d send it.

Weeks passed of moving and emptying my house, teaching a documentary film class to kids, exploring the last beaches on my Rhode Island list, and suddenly it was the end of August and I was in Chile, almost a month and a half late on the book. My editors hadn’t reached out but it was there, gnawing at the back of my mind every day, so I sat down with my mom and the problem sections of the books, pretty much cut out everything I’d been unsure of— and finally sent it off. It felt (mostly) right, and arbitrary, and mysterious, and I guess that’s what I know about writing so far.

I began this newsletter in December of 2020, a year+ ago, as a place where I could share my writing in progress, play with different forms and ideas, and discover what my creative practice outside of an institutional, educational setting looks like. On a broader scale, it’s an attempt at bridging some of my politics and my art. Decentralizing publishing, working at smaller and slower scales of creating that allow for rest and flexibility, connecting directly with other artists and readers. It hasn’t grown much since the initial accumulation of subscribers—all of you, to whom I’m very grateful—and I’ve had periods of feeling quite confident about sharing work like this online, and long bouts of self-doubt and insecurity about the level of vulnerability and personal excavation of deep questions I put out there for anyone to read. Some of you have reached out in return to continue the conversations I begin here, others have simply sent words of encouragement, and a few have committed to help me write by supporting my Patreon and buying me a bit of time to write, a small financial relief, much of which I still redistribute to other artists and queer people. I have many ideas of things I’d like to do in this space, but before I get ahead of myself with too many projects (always my fault), I wanted to share a recap of some of my posts from the year, as well as some other projects I was involved in away from this space that I haven’t gotten a chance to share yet:

Americón, my collection of poems published by Wendy’s Subway

I’ve written about it in-depth before here and alluded to some of my process above as well, but only a few months over schedule, we are finally wrapping the editorial process up! I’ve been, perhaps naively, surprised by just how slow and stilted the process of editing feels— much waiting for emails, being late to respond to other emails, reaching out to strangers for blurbs, back and forth with designers, awkward but pleasant zoom meetings, etc. But the cover and interior designs are in the final iterations and the blurbs are all now in, so we’re set to go to print sometime in February or March. I’ve already done a few small readings from the book in various places on my travels, but hope to do some more in the near future, so be on the lookout for possible zoom or irl invitations. I’ve also heard that pre-orders can be quite helpful to bookstores and publishers when figuring out how many copies of a book to print/stock, so I’ll send a link out as soon as I have that information and would much appreciate your support! I’m also thinking about having some signed or special edition offers available for patreon supporters… (if you’re interested in writing a review, hosting a reading/performance, or any other sort of collaboration, please get in touch!)

Subtitles for dawn_chorusiii: the fruit they don’t have here / coro_del_albaiii: la fruta que no tienen aquí / 破曉歌聲 iii: 這裏沒有的水果 by Sofía Córdova, December

Just closed (lol) at the Chinese Cultural Center in San Francisco!

In November, I was hired by the incredible, multidisciplinary, experimental Puerto Rican artist Sofía Córdova to transcribe, translate, and subtitle her newest documentary project, dawn_chorusiii. I didn’t quite know what I was getting myself into until I received four different, simultaneous audio tracks of dialogue to work with. The film interweaves six stories of migrant women from Latin American and East Asia arriving to the Bay Area for various reasons, and resists the traditional linearity of migrant stories with layers of audio and images to craft a sort of magical realist documentary that is tremendously moving. It was a challenge to translate because many lines were cut off, or poeticized, or obscured, but I really enjoyed the process and would love to do more of this kind of work (hmu if you know of or need anything!). You can read more about the project in this great article from KQED. dawn_chorusiii was on view December 3, 2021 to January 29, 2022 at 41 Ross, “a neighborhood art space that brings together local residents, neighbors, and visitors to engage in art and culture-making activities,” and I’m not sure when/if it will be available online, unfortunately.

Documentary Filmmaking Workshop with 8-10 year olds at Providence ¡CityArts!, July

After leaving my full-time job in May, some very special and random opportunities emerged. I’d applied to teach a summer workshop with ¡CityArts! on a whim and didn’t hear back until the last minute, when another teaching artist dropped out. I had a month or so to prepare a two-week workshop for a small class of 8-10 year olds and decided to focus on making short documentaries about the South Providence/Elmwood area where ¡CityArts! is located. At some point I plan to write more about my experience teaching and share some of the curriculum as well as helpful references I found, but for now I’ll just say that it was deeply challenging and fun and made me think a lot about how I’d like to be involved in and give back to my communities as an artist. And young creative minds! Are so brilliant! And inspiring! It’s a cliché, but I truly did feel like the kids were teaching me all the time.

Esta es mi ardiente esperanza - Lectura de poesía #OctubreTrans - YouTube

Esta es Mi Ardiente Esperanza poetry reading with Organizando Trans Diversidades, October

Over the summer, I took a month-long queer writing workshop on zoom with trans Chilean poet Esther Margaritas, which I would highly recommend if you’re interested in working on writing in Spanish— she’s very welcoming and generous. We’ve stayed in contact since, and she invited me to join a virtual reading in October with Organizando Trans Diversidades (OTD), an important Chilean NGO for trans rights. I translated some poems from Americón for the occasion and read for about 10 minutes at the end, which I’ve linked to directly here if you’re interested: https://youtu.be/oifjpVkguF4?t=2531. The other readers were incredible, including Esther and Raquel Salas Rivera from Puerto Rico, so I’d suggest watching the whole thing.

Queer landscape photography project with Ana Rosa Marx, ongoing

From October through December, my close friend Ana Rosa Marx was with me on the road and we began collaborating on several projects, including a really exciting portraitish series exploring trans embodiment in landscape (the film photos opening and closing this post are a sneak-peek of some of the tamer side of this project). In many ways, it’s a deepening of the ideas I’ve already been exploring in poetry, taken to a visual and performance space. The collaborative nature of my relationship with Ana has really expanded the scope of my thinking, however, and we plan to continue doing shoots periodically over the next several months, or even years, reflecting on bodies and landscapes changing in time and the seasons, transing, aging, flooding, burning, flowing in and out of proximity.

Dances on the road

One of the things I’m very grateful for having had in college was the space to explore a variety of creative mediums and expressions, usually simultaneously. Most semesters I took some combination of writing, film, performance, and dance classes, and I’ve been slowly realizing, after the fact, how necessary that balance is for me. These last few months on the road my poetry practice has often felt stilted and difficult, so reconnecting with dance, especially, has been incredibly helpful in nourishing my creativity and play. The ephemerality of dance, as well as the fact that I have no professional aspirations tied to the practice, lets me be in a way that is often more free and honest. Translating the lessons of dance back into my writing is something I’m still working on, but am very grateful to be more aware of.

Nico is silhouetted against sand dunes and distant mountains smoldering in the sunset. Her body is twisted toward the camera and up, though her arms and legs reach back into the sand for stability and grounding. A few clouds swoop across the sky, catch the colors in contrast with her shadowy figure. 35mm film; October, 2021; White Sands National Park, NM; Apache land.