Mogador: The Quest
By Lynn Grasberg, Official ZEE JLF@Boulder Blogger
“You follow the energy and that creates structure. You’re following the body and the heart, not the head.”
I was in the front row, tablet on lap, taking notes at a program called, “Mogador: The Quest” featuring the book’s author, Alberto Ruy-Sanchez, in conversation with Anosh Irani.
Ruy-Sanchez described the writing process he had just taught in a course at Naropa University. “You follow the energy and that creates structure. You’re following the body and the heart, not the head.” He explained that this was different than the usual writing method taught in schools, i.e., mentally create a pre-ordained structure and make your material fit into it. Have a beginning, middle and end.
He said, “There is no climax like in normal fiction. As Mila Caldera said, ‘I want my novels to be meditations.’
“I try to learn from the geometry of Mexican crafts . . . woven so there is no beginning and no end. A skirt can be worn with different parts in front, so the beginning is anywhere. For that to happen, you need to be in a Baroque culture.
“In Protestant (culture), things are or are not. In Baroque (culture), things are and are not at the same time.”
Speaking about his book, Mogador: the Quest, he said, “I wanted to begin a book where it’s not a beginning. You can begin by any chapter and go around. I was trying to apply what the weavers do. The complexity has a double thread, not a plot . . . So, it’s about the poetic charge of each part.”
“I don’t like novels with suspense. I don’t care who is the murderer. What I like is the way every person saw the thing. And that is always different and unexpected.”
Ruy-Sanchez talked about a trip he took to Morocco as a young man. “Going to Morocco was a way of recovering a part of me I didn’t know I had lost.” Because he had little money, he rode in 4th class, in the bowels of the ship, and on the way, there was a storm. “A ship in a storm is more like a car crash. The ship crashes with the waves, every half a minute, every minute, every 10 seconds. There were no seatbelts. Nothing stays inside the body, not even the pills they give you against the storm sickness. You cannot sleep. You vanish.”
When the storm ended, most passengers scrambled to get off the ship. The exception was a group gathered around a storyteller from Marrakesh who was telling a story about the previous night’s storm. “At that moment, the storyteller was talking about a mother who tied one of her children to herself. She was so fat, so the boy was going around her like a moon. That story made me remember I wanted to be a storyteller.”
Ruy-Sanchez read a passage from his novel, written in Spanish, after which Anosh Irani read the same passage in English translation. Although I, like most of the audience, could not understand the Spanish version, the cadence was beautiful and the text lived and breathed. I was in bliss, in the flow of the energy of the words and their reader.
In this vein, Ruy-Sanchez said, “When you are a writer, you live excited by everything that is happening around you. I write to make art, to be loved, to dance, to be quiet, to get naked, to get disguised, to travel, to lose my eyes, and not to travel . . . While we are alive we are unpredictable.”
“The book (Mogador: the Quest) is a rainbow of ways of telling desires. So it’s a documentary but you don’t have to tell it in a sociological way . . . All writing is a kind of poetry. Prose is poetry . . . Poetry is not a way of making beauty. It is a way of exploring humanity that no other speech can reach – no economics, no psychology . . .”
Anosh Irani concluded the program and told the audience that we could meet the author afterwards at the festival bookstore downstairs. I made my way there but Ruy-Sanchez did not show up. I was momentarily disappointed but then realized that I could find him in his books.
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Orientations: Writing Sexuality
By Jaimie Epstein, Official ZEE JLF@Boulder Blogger
In Janice Gould’s poem “The Girl I Used to Be,” from her collection The Force of Gratitude, the subject rises from a clear Sierra stream, “gasping from that brutal creek, terrified, but absolutely clean.” This is a metaphor for the psychic rebirth that each LGBTQ person has to undergo on their journey to owning who they are—not just by coming out but by embracing radical self-acceptance. Each person’s journey of rebirth is as unique as the circumstance of where they were born the first time around.
For Amber Cantorna, the home-schooled daughter of a Focus on the Family executive, coming out meant losing her entire family. Despite the fact that “family values” are at the core of the Christian fundamentalist sect, that’s what drove a wedge between them. “What’s supposed to bind you together is actually what drove us apart,” she says. Her parents’ reputation and maintaining the prescribed appearance of family was evidently more important to them than their own daughter according to her. She hasn’t had contact with her family for years, and they haven’t met her wife. “I can count on one hand the number of people who are still in my life who were in my life before I came out,” she says. “I’ve had only one cousin who has stood by me.”
Crisosto Apache, a poet and Two Spirit advocate, is a Mescalero Apache who grew up on a reservation influenced by fundamental religion but also by tribal cultural beliefs that was seemingly more open-minded. The elders even talked about a time when gender and sexual expression was more fluid. (FYI: The Navajo evidently believe in four and sometimes six genders, or spirits.) Apache says he’s one of the fortunate people whose family accepted him, but that he grew up “with a lot of fears dealing with violence, discrimination, decompartmentalizing—things that no one should have to deal with.”
Growing up near Kamathipura, Bombay’s red-light district, Anosh Irani was a witness to what he calls the deep wound of rejection faced by the transgendered, which drives his recent novel The Parcel, about a transgendered sex worker. “My pain is absolutely zero compared to what I was witnessing,” he says. His connection, as a writer “was that I was inspired by the bravery of individuals and horrified by what people do to each other.”
Born in San Francisco and raised in New Zealand and Michigan, Minal Hajratwala wrote Leaving India: My Family’s Journey from Five Villages to Four Continents so that her huge splayed-all-over-the-world family (she has 35 first cousins) would know who she was, but “I realized that when the book came out, it would be this BIG coming out.” This was a time before social media, before anyone could just look you up and see what you were up to. “I came from a very conservative family of arranged marriages,” she says. “My brother dating a white woman at the same time was a very big deal—it was a radical departure from the way we were raised” and was very difficult. Her parents did come around over the years, and her book was a big part of it. In fact, when her father was dying, he said to her wife: “Don’t let anyone tell you you don’t belong in this family.”
The word for transgender in India is hijra, which means “to migrate.” Although in 2014 India’s Supreme Court gave the hijra legal status as a third gender, they, like other LGBTQ people are constantly migrating to find a home in their own bodies and in society as well, to complete their journey home.