TrIP Phase One is still in progress as TrIPers collectively aim to ride all of the bus routes that make up the LYNX bus system. We still have many routes still to cover. Over the next several days, we will also be posting “addendum” blog posts submitted by participants who we were not able for various reasons to feature Dec. 2-31. TrIP itself is evolving and as the project’s curator Pat Greene would say “on-going..forever.” The TrIP creative collective of participants (TrIPers) continues to grow as well. Today’s post is by Miriam Gabriel who participated in TrIP on November 28.
(1_TrIP_Miri) Taken recently in New York, dressed as I did on Thanksgiving day in Orlando, FL.
I didn’t plan it well. I didn’t plan my whole return to Florida that well at all, nor my re-departure. I spent nine months back in the state where I spent nine out of thirteen of my US years so far, and it felt like one ride. One round of being spun around, simmered into undiscerning vapor by that ever-present sun, and then centrifuged into the most potent goo of life I’ve ever been. Swampy Titusville, long-roared Orlando, hipster Winter Park, layers of flattening that crystallized down the post-graduation tornadoes of confusion I brought down with me to bottom. I am writing this from New York, a week into taking off from that bedrock, layering clothes and muscle on the bones I recently excavated swamp-deep. Nine months of one long TrIP.
Last night you were my neighbor, protector. You helped me set up my roommates’ wedding near your backyard. I felt safe driving, walking home by your door at 4AM. You let your kids pet my roommates’ dogs every morning in between their YMCA games. This morning, you won’t even look at me. I mean, do you even recognize that I’m the same body, same life, same curls, your neighbor?
In friendly Florida, gallery calls you. Forget that happening to start(v)ing artists in New York. I responded to Pat Greene’s phone call (sometime in August, 2013) with an idea of a TrIP to International Drive in an apron, giving away food, spitting poems about the glittered grunt workers of the tourism district. Many of us have been shipped off there for a paycheck, even post-graduation, name tags piled like bills, degrees; philosophies deferred. A fellow TrIPper, Ashley Inguanta, local writer-legend, took long trips to Titusville to see me between March and May. Take me out of a house that made a philosophy out of stacked name tags, and heresy out of risk to let a generation’s dream of fulfilling, expressive work enter you. Push. Get me out of here. Let’s go to the beach. In friendly Florida, artist visits you, becomes friend. I could never be grateful enough for that.
Boots strapped, harem pants loose and melting away the colonized sense of fabulous. Chlorine-stained shirt carries the emblem “PEACE”; my scarf drapes and flows to mask and reveal and mask and reveal this word. This chest, a chiseled organ now, a twin peak bearing banners for your doubtful gaze. I live next door, Winter Park suburb. I know you know this by now.
Five months into re-Florida, I left Titusville, switched server jobs, and stayed up till 7AM reading after many work nights. I applied haplessly to adjunct professor jobs and looked for poetry reading gigs. I’m reading, eating, steaming: alchemy, Egypt, Detroit, literature, e-mails from California, e-mails from Cairo. I gotta write sometime. I seek more silence in Orlando, in Winter Park, and it inscribes purpose back into me. My spine used to be an untamed S. I moved to the US at age thirteen for corrective surgery, but settled here permanently a few years later. Friday October 18th, In Winter Park, I pass the restaurant where I – recently – usually write, because although I just barely re-swerved into this nightless track, I need a break, goddammit! A drum circle by a full moon at Dandelion’s awaits, and I got two Tabla drums all to myself. An overworked young mom was on her way to third shift at Panera’s, by the airport, across from the Cracker Barrel where I worked for a while, and Habibi the Lebanese restaurant where I used to read in between double shifts (“tell them Miriam sent you”). Her lids close. I’m barely past the Chinese restaurant. Just another rear-ended car on Semoran blvd., and my back wants to S inside my body, again, limit the space it occupies. Give up on staying the course.
In 2009, I used to ride these busses for four hours a day sometimes, from Semoran to the airport to I-drive. Work three jobs, ride the bus back. One of them changed the uniform to a corset. Another shortened the shorts and pushed up their logo higher up my chest. An old friend found a promo picture on Facebook, a fellow central Floridian, and feminist, and art geek, and all that. She was a close friend. She left her comment on the picture, bare and public as an emblem on your shirt at a bus station. Her words leave thorns on my tongue, and I swallow. A like button shoves each sharp character up my throat. She was a Texan by culture and a wonder woman by instinct. She knows – senses – when a woman’s mouth, heart, voice, is shoved down the wrong hole on the corners of the Earth, then backs it up with good research.
My work becomes using my car insurance at doctor’s visits, sitting my ass down, and reading Tripping with Allah, by Michael Muhammad Knight — resting a splintered back as my mind smoothly navigates the book. All else sits in the back, seat belts on, eating dust: alchemy, esoterica, world religions, Middle East politics, race theory, poetry, clocking the hell in and out. A collection of ornate scarves is folded neatly or draped around the room. I love collecting scarves, fabric seashells I take home or ask traveling friends to bring back, only to cloister them in my room. Surrounded by books and scarves, shiny tokens of shores I once flew across, I lie still and find myself finishing Tripping before Thanksgiving. I work this Thanksgiving, with family more scattered across states and countries than any other year. I wake up around 9AM, wear one scarf on my head, and walk out. It’s what my mother does every morning before work in Cairo, before vacation with her children in America, for every day that I have known her. You know a local Floridian who does the same every morning. It is what I do for the first time in my life. Something about this book compelled me to do it, to drape myself on the street, melt into the scarf and on the grey, bland asphalt, sacred with Orlandoan lives that drive and walk and work live here. Veiled, I felt… naked, publicly sincere about an aspect of my inner topography in a new way.
My friend’s comment, on my wall, on the promo picture: “Your eyes say it all. These short shorts might as well be a burka.” She is the only friend I have ever had who always ended up landing where I once did, and vice-versa – other than Cairo and Huston, at least. Central Florida, we were there. New York, there too. South Carolina; oddly, yes. Kearny, New Jersey. “Kearny?! Who the f**k else knows about Kearny?”
It felt easy to shroud knees reverberating like violin strings beneath an aloof, turn-table urban exterior that my city upbringing gifted me with as a young female for the new environments to come. But I let the music of what I feel vibrate and re-shape suburb, urban, vulnerability and public fear. I make it a point to smile at almost every passerby. I put on thick headphones and played all songs that started with a “T” on my playlist, all comforting, chasmic, cacophonous, calming, cool and retro and vibe-y, corny. And relevant. Oddly, perfectly concomitant. I am still making my way across the suburb to the LYNX station when “Titanium” by David Guetta plays. I become very aware of my choice of shirt, one I owned for seven years now and have not worn in a while. It is a Universal Mind brand shirt bearing the word ‘PEACE” in large caps, pecked by small holes and bleach marks here and there. My first car didn’t have AC, and if you are an Orlandoian with a sweltering car and a loaded supply of shock bleach for your family pool in the trunk, which spilled all over your car, which is fine because keeping pools in Florida exclusively for human life is near impossible anyways, then your shirt may be bleached by more than just your deodorant marks. Vaporous shock surrounds you and tie-dies your favorite shirt.
Right now, bodies snatch off the hijab for liberation, for authentic self-expression. Right now, bodies slip, tie and pin on the hijab for liberation, for authentic self-expression. Either way, some are glorified and given opportunities and stuff, some are jailed or shot point-blank, some pass for invisible, some are greeted, some touted. Female/feminine bodies are told how to look less like victims, more like sirens, exactly like a model: what to look like and exactly how much of the quantifiable look. As a young adult in Orlando, I was not allowed to be outside of my house hold after 10PM. All my friends and social networking interactions were under the household patriarch’s surveillance. I was allowed to neither pursue artistic/writing opportunities nor date, yet switching majors was the genesis of “but I did it anyways” in my life. I was also, very strictly, not allowed to wear the hijab in public, and any desire to do so was as harshly punished as was wearing shorts. In Cairo, My household was in fact tons more liberal, artistic, hands-off, with the streets increasingly policed and suffocating with pollution and righteous gazes. CNN never got its Muslim Americans right, who are never just Muslim, same as they never seemed to notice the what exactly, and how much of it, that has been dosed into the reporting by patriarch Murdoch, doused into a vestige of a mainstream. CNN is never, ever, just news. In 2009, I used to work for an attraction site on International Drive owned by John Morgan – you know, “for the people.” He knew me by name, greeted me at the elevator. 2013, a day of giving thanks – or taking thanks, as a Native American friend once taught me. My neighbor is inches away from me, won’t even say hello. Won’t look. I walk on.
It isn’t me who is invisible. I refuse to be defined by that. It’s the hands of a fearful consciousness, tightening round my neck, violently snipping its own immediate memories from what it must know exists: women expressed, with their own explanations, that you won’t always know, walking past your Winter Park backyard. The invisibility is bigger than one of “us,” one of “them.” It’s a monster of continual human participation.
Back to David Guetta’s “Titanium.” Do not underestimate the transformative power of the corny, the indelible cultural shifts imprinted by the cheesy. The song is an anthem to a “PEACE” emblem, vaster than an “S” on my chest, topped by a Hijab and falling over harem pants and combat boots. An ecstatic tear falls with the bellowing chorus, “I am titaaaniiiuuuum.” I finally walk my way past aloof neighbors into the LYNX station, as drivers – drive, pause, stare, not notice, notice and comfortably know, I will never know for sure. I am taking a bus to the Islamic Society of Central Florida on Thanksgiving day, while I haven’t been to a Mosque in at least five years. I used to go to the tri-faith dialogues there frequently, where a local Rabbi, Priest and Imam converse with locals from many faith backgrounds (they have a show on NPR now, Three Wise Guys). It’s the wrong bus, but the rightest bus driver, the first person I encounter so far who treats me the exact same as when I walk hijab-less. The local worker. I end up not taking the bus, but I have a conversation with him about what I am doing. I show him a picture of my little brother, a Marine. I mention nothing about my attempted Peace Studies thesis at UCF, but the shirt spills out the gut of those pages into performance… I hope. He is smiling, concerned, aware of a few cases where other hijabis were harassed around here. We have the usual small talk that trickles from the kinder side of the mainstream-visage coin: a few radicals ruin it for everybody. It looks pretty. I treat everyone the same.
I practiced Sufi Islam with my household’s patriarch, and inevitably human, who later on abandoned the couch crown of his patriarchy and took a road trip across The Mediterranean and Egypt to cleanse it all away, wash off the chains of family rulership, whirl like a dervish and listen like a mystic, like a woman. He knows the word “feminist” now, claims it too. Long before he did, he used to say that the most regional and conventional of wisdom has its roots in the cosmos. That’s what he would say about a bus driver’s ethic, esoterically grounded in its simplistic goodness. Still, a couple of nights before, I found myself calling a former classmate, cross-referencing academia, calling myself out with some critical thinking. “I don’t think I can go to I-drive, especially with the condition of my back. Should I wear an apron AND a hijab, and just walk around giving away food on Thanksgiving?” Talk of romanticization and reality, mythology and misrepresentation, women getting punished potentially for what I do with clothes I am taking off the next day as they wear them potentially every day. A Wikipedia explanation of why some women choose to wear the hijab will never summarize the emerging embodiments – because I am more than a body, because my body is this precious, because my Islam is this queer, because my Islam is this classical, or downright conservative, because solidarity, because experimentation. Just as an encyclopedia can’t lay down every relationship between performance and subjectivity, clothes and costume, locality and immigration. The first and only mosque I have ever been into in America is in the Islamic Society of Central Florida, which makes mosques a mark of Orlandoian topography and history in at least one life.
I decide to not try another LYNX. I take out the camera I bought for this project and walk, merge onto Semoran, letting the lens drape and sway with my steps, interrupted by the swoosh of scarf at intervals. I play my songs-beginning-with-T-playlist out loud and press “record,” creating a soundtrack of swaying music and traffic. An hour into the sun, I spot the Cady Way Trail in the horizon, where I always wanted to bike or park. A half an hour later (about 2PM by now), I climb up the bridge as bikers swoop by. Only one woman nervously smiles back. I slow down and steady the camera, Polica’s song “Trippin” playing as backdrop. I hoist the camera round my now stationary book bag after taking out a prayer rug. It’s been so long since I prayed traditionally; I used to keep them five a day for a while, on the dot, with additional Sufi meditations and incantations. There is room in between where I stand and where the camera sits to record passer-by’s up the bridge, but none come by for the duration of my Dzuhr prayer on the Cady Way trail.
It starts shaky. I stop momentarily to turn around. I morbidly imagine someone potentially attacking me. Sinking into the ritual, momentarily looking ahead and around, I eventually cannot help but feel the silent rumble of a land spirit, a concrete deity, to this bridge. I sink into the peace of the words, “in the name of Allah, the most merciful, the most gracious.” Suspended upon ground, I finally am able to summon forth my secret spell. This is the first time I write publicly that, sometimes, when I pray in the more or less traditional Islamic ritual, I call upon Allah as masculine, and as feminine. As a Goddess, an ever-present sense of life beyond yet inseparable from the experience I so haplessly and yet knowingly describe as goddess. “His vast throne stretches across the skies and land,” I recite from the Q’uran, and imagine a goddess, just as I sometimes imagine a god, a sea, a sky, a trail, a neighbor, an inconceivable infinity, or an everyday miracle that maybe someone or some community will act with visceral peace today. If you google “Cady Way Trail,” you read legends the tone of which ranges from epic bike rides, to warm family memories, to eerie nighttime murders. If you are ever on the Cady Way, also know that a local, while touching forehead to floor as part of her prayer, kissed that concrete in gratitude.
In his book, Tripping with Allah, Michael Muhammad Knight journey-writes about pursuing a psychedelic trip from an Islamic context – hell, I’ll straight up come out as a queer spiritual human being and say Islamic soul, body. I can’t summarize the trails and twists, the excavations and burials, the mixing and abandoning of rituals, detailed out in one brilliant book. But I will ruin some of the ending for you: he has an etheogen-induced vision of Fatima, daughter of Muhammad, as a black goddess who instills in him a sense of the earth as womb. He even becomes her for a good portion of the vision, a woman Muslim goddess, consummating with Ali. I finished the book alone after a tough server shift one day, around 7AM. I could not believe the weight I buried thinking I was the only one. You know, he is an academic, too, and has his own beliefs and biases about religion, and a Five Percenter, and a punk/hip hop fan. And a man. He sets it all in the back seat for a bit, seat belt on, and trips. And I was tripping up on that bridge. The heat, the pollution, the stares all day, and the turn inward for something to give back all summoned this goddess, springing from my core and the concrete holding me. Shaking up a major highway. Speaking to the sporadic trees and to walking feet, promising to open you up and turn you on to a bigger you. Whirling, circumnavigating the known and unknown about one’s neighboring life. I literally whirl and spin on the bridge after ending the prayer with the customary “peace to you” send off.
Another Islamic practice I usually retained even more than prayer is Ramadan fasting. I’d go to my “progressive” hippie college up North and skip the locally-grown vegetarian gourmet deliciousness awaiting me until sunset. It just conditioned my body and compass for patience so muscularly well, even when all I did for the rest of the day was read about feminist theory and Tantra Yoga. I wrote some random Facebook post once about how good it feels to fast alone, sometimes joined with my supportive non-Muslim partner. A Muslim convert friend comments, “no one fasts alone, dear Miri.” I grew up half my life with bustling, festive Ramadan’s, followed by another half of lonely Ramadan’s and loud, rambunctious family Thanksgiving’s. This year, both holidays were quiet, contemplative, but I would never remember them as “alone.”
Two neighbors make contact as I beam my way back to my house, on foot. The young man who sits by his porch and talks to himself wanted me to talk back this time. ‘Hey lady, hey lady!” I should respond, but I shyly walk away. I know for some passer-by’s I was something to be shy around. I know the retreat-and-observe of an intimate interest. It’s how I learned English, concocted my sense of “American,” which is easy to forget years later. Another man, a handsome Rastafarian-dressed neighbor I never met before, nods in subdued acknowledgement. We have a moment on planet Outsider for a second, exchanged vows and compared notes on our otherness with one, “how are you doin’?” I wonder if he is checking me out as I walk past, and with how respectful he has been, I’d be flattered.
I walk back home and take out a cranberry-flavored bagel. It is around 3:45PM now, and I work at 4:45. I take out a notebook and write down a chorus I fumbled up from my walk and hummed on the way home. A silly tune. “Sometimes / you treat me like a miracle / when I didn’t do shit to you / didn’t do shit to you / and sometimes / you treat me like a miracle / when I didn’t do shit for you / didn’t do shit for you / whoa, whoa, whoa oh.” I call my family and apologize to my step-mom for having to miss a festive Caribbean Thanksgiving dinner at her home this year. I double the Ibuprofen dose, rest my back as long as I can (it inevitably ached hard and I thank it), wear an apron and take my brief drive to work.
I wish I could hold up Tripping and read it out loud to every neighbor I had in Orlando. I wish I could share with you the videos and photos I took that day, which I lost during the move back to New York. Sorry about that, to myself really. I wish I could find the words, or songs, to express the profundity of layering with strangers and friends the meanings of a shared space, becoming its body and soul. It’s a tough thing to express for a starting artist (and admittedly a somewhat starving one) who wants to be successful, to come out as a spiritual passenger who shares that substance with the space that you are in. Who used our public space to do something that is seemingly buried in contemporary museums and art spaces: prayer (while that same ritual, with its screams and devotions, survives pretty well and in variegated forms in concert halls, I must add). But I am also a starting artist who [pauses] to maybe just for a second transport into your seat, your steps, through your art. Your expression. Your clothes, your gesture, brushing hair, tiding scarf, wiping sweat or a titanium tear. We share those subjective spaces no matter how novel or commonsensical we think our heroic interpretations are, blend into the unknown of one another made known and “common” on the road. Superman, in his first issues, used to be a socialist superhero who traveled to India for spiritual enlightenment. In Cairo, a new comic book hero is on the rise now, a hijabi woman named Al Qahera – meaning the Victorious, also the literal Arabic word for “Cairo.” Wearing all black head scarf to boots, the issues are simple in plot so far in that she kicks every day sexual harasses’ ass. If Time Magazine’s 2011 “Person of the Year” was the protester, and if that protester was a sexual harasser, you can count on Al Qahera to watch the watchmen. Gods and spaces change.
Do not underestimate the transformative entropy of cheese. Unless of course it is too potent a cheese that it masks the narrative. No clue how well I kept you company in this page, but know that the steps we parallel-blazed in Central Florida gave so many of us an indelibly honing, connective experience. Sending love to my fellow TrIPers, bus riders, steady walkers, relentless bikers, stubbornly you. Don’t plan too well.
Playlist of songs that started with T included the following artists: Polica, David Guetta, Talib Kweli, Ramy Essam, and Maryam Saleh.
I took the pictures included to somewhat compensate for the ones I lost during the move.
(1_TrIP_Miri) Taken recently in New York, dressed as I did on Thanksgiving day in Orlando, FL.
(2_TrIP_Miri) The first comic strip from the Qahera series, which you can read entirely here: http://qahera.tumblr.com/post/64031330049
You may also explore much of the series so far here: http://qahera.tumblr.com
(3_TrIP_Miri) I took these pictures of Wonder Woman from my copy of the new 52 edition, Volume 3: Iron, by Brian Azzarello (writer), Cliff Chiang (artist), and Tonk Akins (penciller and co-inker). Copyrighted in 2013 by DC Comics.
(4_TrIP_Miri) Dust, also Sooraya Qadir, from the X-Men series. More pictures of her here: http://www.fanpop.com/clubs/dust-sooraya-qadir/images/29168996/title/dust-sooraya-qadir-photo
(5_TrIP_Miri) M, or Monet Yvette Clarisse Maria, Therese St. Croix, a Muslim, North African member of the X-Men. The picture at the top is from an interesting discussion in an online forum, which you can find here:
The picture at the bottom is just from Wikipedia. Here is the link for a more thorough exploration of M: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M_(comics)
(6_TrIP_Miri) The much-awaited new Ms Marvel: Kamala Khan, a teenager from New Jersey. I got those images from this article by author G. Willow Wilson, which I also recommend reading for fellow comic book geeks: http://herocomplex.latimes.com/comics/new-ms-marvel-isnt-the-first-muslim-or-religious-superhero/#/0