A Prairie Homo Does New York: Gratitude

Right now I’m sitting in the living room on the top floor of my Brooklyn flat on an old velvet couch underneath strings of lightbulbs hanging from the ceiling. At my publishing internship, I get to read manuscripts and meet famous people. There’s some sort of concert happening down the street from me: the beat of the bass, the occasional lyric, and the smell of pot are all carried by the breeze through the window to this beautiful room where I get to write for Autostraddle, the “the world’s most popular independently-owned lesbian website.”

Brooklyn kinda looks like Sesame Street via http://www.kidlantis.com

Brooklyn kinda looks like Sesame Street
via http://www.kidlantis.com

Whoa, go me! Is this even real? Not too long before I applied to be an intern, I was reading a lot of articles that said the publishing industry was becoming increasingly geared towards rich white kids because publishing internships are unpaid and in expensive cities. I think I might have cried when I read that. Were all the people who had told me I was wasting my time getting an English degree right? Was I stupid for not taking advantage of all of Alberta’s “opportunities” in the oil industry? Why didn’t I just get a grip on reality and accept the big bucks to work for a company involved in activities like cutting down the boreal forest and polluting the river systems? Or I could just give up and stop doing this writing thing.

Fuck that.

I got a second job at a liquor store. I applied for the unpaid internship in the expensive city. I was repeatedly harassed at the liquor store by drunken men who smelled like how I imagine the patriarchy would smell if it had a scent. “Hey honey, you’re so beautiful. What races are you mixed with?” “I bet you’re just hired to stand here and look pretty.” I got a third job and quit the liquor store; and about the same time I found out I had been accepted as an intern (yay!!) I realized I was hardly going to be getting any hours at Job #3 so I cried some more and stressed out about making no money for three months while living in New York City of all places! I thought back to everything I had read about the inaccessibility of publishing internships. Why should publishing internships just be for rich? And people who already live in big, expensive cities or have family there they can stay with? And people who aren’t me?

Fuck that too.

Here’s what I did: a fundraiser. At first the thought of asking people to give money to me, and not, you know, starving children in the third-world, or amazing non-profits, made my stomach feel gassy, my palms sticky, my brain itchy, you get it — I was neck-deep in uncomfortableness; but not head-deep, so I was still able to drink lots of wine to calm me down while I planned a silent auction fundraiser.

Women are socialized to take care of other people before themselves, to not want too much, to apologize profusely even when they’ve done nothing wrong. Women of colour are taught that the world doesn’t exist for us, but if we’re lucky we can get a starring role as the exotic so-and-so alongside Mr. White Patriarchy. Queer women and queer women of colour are constantly left out of queer spaces and feminist spaces until we start to question our own legitimacy. Going after what you want is even hard for the straight, white men out there, so it’s no wonder I felt a little shy, a little uncertain, a little insecure when it came to organizing a fundraiser for my internship. Who was I to even want these things that I wanted? Who was I to ask for them? The thought of doing a fundraiser made me feel vulnerable, like suddenly I couldn’t hide behind jobs I hated and pretend to want the same things other people did. I was open, naked: This is me. This is what I want. I need your help.

But here’s the thing: No one laughed at me or told me I was wrong to do a fundraiser. Instead, people were inspired and eager to help me out. I had many discussions with others and explained that they too were fed up with a class, economic, and education system catered to well-off people in big cities. Good for me for taking the initiative to tackle those obstacles, they said. The more people who helped me, and the less uncomfortable I felt. It was hard to be nervous when I was surrounded by so much love and support from everyone — my family, my friends, businesses, and random strangers I called up to ask for donations. Autostraddle’s very own Gabrielle Rivera even offered to let me crash on her couch for my first couple of weeks in New York while I waited to move into my Brooklyn sublet. It’s hard to feel much fear and anxiety when you’re bursting to your ear-tops with gratitude. Who am I to do this was replaced with Who am I not to? There are people rooting for me! Who am I to let them down?

We live in a culture of fear and anxiety, and nowhere is this more apparent than in a city like New York, full of crowds, cars, noise, racial tensions, religious tensions. This is why it’s all the more important to feel gratitude for all the wonderful people who help you in this noisy, confusing life. Say thank you. I mean, you don’t have to constantly say it all the time to everybody who’s nice to you. There’s no need to turn up the Canadian to an annoyingly polite pitch, but think it, to yourself. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I grew up Catholic and there’s a lot of fucked up shit that comes with that but I think one of the benefits is this ingrained belief in remembering to give thanks, for your food, for your life, for your opportunities, for the people in the world who step up and help you.

I promise I’m not writing this while sitting on a patchouli-lotus leaf smoking flower-sparkle-fairy dust and cleansing my aura with sunlight filtered through a tie-dyed t-shirt decorated with representations of the goddess’s vagina. Though if I were I hope you wouldn’t judge me. What I’m trying to say is we live in a culture that, cynical towards positivity, encourages us to be anxious, fearful and stressed. There is no lack of fake positivity and insincere gratitude. Women, especially women of colour, are often encouraged to convince others of our (ultimately insincere gratitude) to make white people feel comfortable, to make the patriarchy comfortable, to make everyone feel comfortable except ourselves. If we don’t we’re told we’re angry and have no sense of humour. What I want to feel and for others to be able to feel is more real gratitude. Real gratitude makes you feel like your body isn’t big enough because there’s not enough room between your cells and your blood vessels to contain it all. Real gratitude makes your heart electric and your brain cells bounce around singing Kool and The Gang’s “Celebration” like at some cheesy, junior high dance party. This kind of gratitude, this real gratitude, is radical, necessary, and often undervalued.

As I sit in my Brooklyn living room listening to the music and smelling the pot, thinking about what an awesome day I’ve had at my internship, I think it’s important to remember to do all of the impossible things. The systems that are in place to oppress us maintain that we should be capable of doing everything on our own, without help, even though classism, racism, cissexim, homophobia and more make that almost impossible. But we don’t always have to do it on our own, even when we’re told that’s the only way. For every person who de-legitimizes you, there are so, so many more who will affirm you.

Avatar of Malaika

Malaika likes books, drinking tea, long conversations, dinner parties, making funny faces, bike rides, and dogs. Originally from Edmonton, she now lives in Montreal where she edits, runs, and writes about the Alberta Tar Sands for The Media Co-op. You can follow her on twitter @Malaika_Aleba.

Malaika has written 84 articles for us.

37 Comments

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    malaika i don’t think i really knew the full background story of how you made all your dreams happen until i read this post, and i am so so so glad you didn’t let anything stand in your way. seriously, i’m in awe of you. i can’t wait to meet you in person IN NEW YORK finally this summer. <3

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    Malaika, you’re such an amazing writer! I never cease to be amazed at how moving your words and ideas are.
    Thank you for verbalizing this – it’s something maybe a lot of us struggle with and don’t realize why, because it’s always been that way!

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      I needed to write something positive because it’s so easy to get bogged down and discouraged by the depressing economy, student debt, setbacks, etc.

      And yeah,I agree, these are things a lot of us struggle with. and if you want a great book about women, success, and ambition, I recommend Appetites! I’ve been having lots of conversations about things like jealousy lately, and idk sometimes it feels like everyone is so competitive, especially in a place like New York but maybe instead of feeling jealous or not good enough or whatever unwanted emotion we ALL feel sometimes, instead we can see other ppl’s successes as proof that we can do cool stuff too! And there are so many ppl who can help you out!

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    “Women are socialized to take care of other people before themselves, to not want too much, to apologize profusely even when they’ve done nothing wrong. Women of colour are taught that the world doesn’t exist for us, but if we’re lucky we can get a starring role as the exotic so-and-so alongside Mr. White Patriarchy. Queer women and queer women of colour are constantly left out of queer spaces and feminist spaces until we start to question our own legitimacy.”

    SPOT ON Malaika! You’re a star! Congrats on everything you’ve achieved. I’m so proud of you!

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      are you NYC-local?! did i not know this until right now?! WILL YOU BE AT AN NYC AS MEETUP THIS SUMMER?!?!

      sorry there are certain commenters who feel like celebs to me and you are one of them. just got a teeny bit excited about the idea of meeting you in person. or omg have i ALREADY MET YOU IN PERSON?! having a #mindblown moment over here, don’t mind me…

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        OMG YES I AM! I live in Brooklyn!

        CAN WE HAVE THIS MEET UP!?! I’LL BRING INCLUSIVE CUPCAKES! OR BEER (and cider)!***

        ***Chances are when I make these inclusive cupcakes I’ll cry and give up and just buy beer because…it’s beer!

        BUT I’M STILL EXCITED ON THE IDEA OF AN AS MEETUP THIS SUMMER, I COULD JUST EXPLODE!

        I promise I’ll not be a hot mess like the last time I met Gabby at Hot rabbit. I nearly tackled her in excitement luckily my friend held me back, calmed me down and told me to just say, “HI I LOVE YOUR WORK!”

        I managed a ‘hi,” and an awkward whiskey smile.

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          OKAY

          1. YES MEET UP. gabrielle and i are plotting some kind of crafternoon situation at some point, maybe a picnic, uncertain of the details but it’s gonna happen.

          2. i was quite possibly with gabby at hot rabbit when you tackled her?! i have only ever been to hot rabbit once, with laura and gabby, and an excited autostraddle reader totally recognized gabby and did indeed almost tackle her. BUT i imagine that happens to gabby often, so possibly it wasn’t you. but anyway, MISSED CONNECTIONS of the auto kind…

          3. inclusive cupcakes or beer or cider or just yourself would be super super welcome. i am so excited. THE FUTURE IS SO BRIGHT AND SO SUMMER.

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    Dear Malaika –

    Usually when I do my “dear so-and-so” comments, they’re a bit funny or witty or something, and usually not super deep. But I just wanted to tell you that pretty much everything you write makes my soul sing. It’s like you leave a little of your wonderful heart on everything you type. I love everything about this essay, this column, and the fact that you’re in New York City and I can see your beautiful face with so much more regularity. You’re kicking ass and taking names and making books and making art and you’re just wonderful.

    Love,

    Ali

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    This is such an encouraging article as I head to NYC for a dance internship this summer (yet another industry where I have no idea how I’m going to make money or be successful, or where I am going to stay for the last two weeks of June before my sublet starts). Is there a fb group for NYC Autostraddlers??

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    Malaika – THANK YOU for writing this. I shared it with my “Gender in Law” class yesterday morning at NYU (woo NYC summer!!)

    This really made me think about the actions that we DON’T take because of societal oppressions. One of those, of course, being “asking for help” as well as thanking people.

    Thanks again for sharing!

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    Malaika, thank you so, so much for writing this and SUPER congratulations on your internship! You are such an inspiration to me, for real. This summer, I got a full scholarship to an English program in Scotland for July, but went through a similar experience having no idea how I was going to last two months after second semester paying rent and eating after that bloody plane ticket! For the first time in a very long while, I couldn’t fully take care of myself and had to ask for help which (you’re so right) can be terrifically difficult. After my tears and insecurities, I did, though. I too am extremely thankful for those that share what they have and encourage you to keep going after your dreams.

    Thank you again for your words. I always look forward to your articles!

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