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“The Banal and the Profane” is a monthly Lambda Literary column in which we lift the veil on both the writerly life and the publishing industry. In each installment, we ask a different LGBT writer, or LGBT person of interest in the book industry, to guide us through a week in their lives.
This month’s “Banal and Profane” column comes to us from writer and editor Rohin Guha.
Guha is currently and may forever be hard at work on his first novel, City of Princes. He currently pens the Pop For Skeptics column at Flavorwire. He’s also the author of the short story collection, Relief Work (Birds of Lace, 2010) and serves as the Online Editor at Moonshot Magazine. His literary work has appeared in Union Station Magazine. His non-literary work has appeared in Gawker, New York Magazine, The Village Voice, and a chickens’ coop of other publications.
It’s not scientifically proven, but I feel like on Monday mornings, more than any other time of any other day, the Earth’s gravitational pull is especially aggressive. My alarm rings. My alarm is a pop song. My alarm is “Radioactive” by Marina and the Diamonds. A discothèque impulse stirs me awake and I stare outside my window. Well, I stare through the obstruction of houseplants I’ve set up in front of my window in lieu of curtains: Cacti, a spider plant, a dracaena, a bird of paradise, and a shamrock. Mine is an east-facing bedroom so in the mornings, sunlight floods in and I am scorched. I should probably put up curtains, but if I’ve gone this long without them, what’s one more day?
Staring at these plants—many which I forget to water for weeks at a time—I’m agog at how resilient life is, in spite of all of the horrible things that come to pass on a daily basis. My thoughts are meandering down a dark tunnel and then my phone chimes. It’s a text from the poet Niina Pollari. It’s an inside joke or a weather report. It makes me chuckle so I decide to take that as a cue to start my morning.
My routine is banal lately. I left my job several months ago to pursue something more consistent with my worldview. I look for jobs all livelong day. I send out emails. I set up meetings. I drink coffee; I drink a lot of coffee; I drink so much coffee that if I would’ve started drinking coffee at age twelve, I’d be no taller than four feet.
I work on the novel. I chew up sentences and phrases. I catch up with television shows from the week before. I listen to pop songs, back-to-back-to-back-to-back because their market-researched approach to “hope” is more convincing than others I was sold on.
I pause for a moment and consider how each of the Spice Girls—we all have our idols—must’ve had moments where life was turning up lemons. I breathe. I drink more coffee. Monday is the day for beginnings.
My uncle sent over an obituary my cousins penned for my paternal grandmother who, after an extended hospital stay, died. They wanted me to take a pass at it. I sip coffee and pour over how to summarize the legacy of someone who knew me since I was no bigger than a sack of potatoes in about thirty to forty words. It’s been a week since the news broke and curiously, I’ve managed to avoid crying. “I’m such a bad-ass that copy-editing is grieving for me,” I figure.
On another afternoon, some other cousins are in town with their four kids. Over a late lunch of dim sum, I catch up with them; it’s been years and years. Their kids have grown up and are now anywhere between three to thirteen years of age. I’m pressing the tines of my fork down into a black sesame roll when I think that maybe I could even raise a child, too—but only if someone fixes the world first.
In the evenings, I go to the gym. The gym is a carnival of aesthetes. Some of them stare me down with laser-like intensity and I wonder if they’re truly straight and if they realize that I’m utterly filthy after yoga, 30 minutes on the elliptical, and lifting weights. Some of them are handsome. Some of them are eating Baked Lays while walking on the treadmill. None of them are for me. But that does inspire me to end the night with a gymtini—a cocktail after the gym. Liquor kills your metabolism and this fact doesn’t escape me, but these are dire times!
A while ago, before summertime prematurely arrived, I was dating what I thought was a prince. We went to a hookah bar; we ate pizza; we cheered on drag queens—he even trekked down to Crown Heights once to hear me read some words that I created, off a piece of paper. He was sure a prince, I thought.
For one potential gig, I fly down to Atlanta. It is the first time that I speculate how leaving New York indefinitely wouldn’t be the worst life decision in the world: It’s a city where making art is becoming increasingly difficult without assistance from a benefactor or a well-connected mentor. People break their backs more to get their work showcased than to create it; it’s lop-sided.
Now I think about moving back to Detroit, or perhaps decamping to my aunt’s house in Delhi; I think about settling in a small town in the middle of nowhere where internet is still serviced through 56K modems. I think about how New York has taught me to shut up and get things done; now it’s my turn to teach people in other places to do the same.
I think about the how poorly institutionalized the literary world has become in New York. It’s always been like this, hasn’t it? I think about the unsustainability of measuring the quality of a writer’s work by his willingness to debase himself to please “the right people.”
Then I lust after other cities: There is more fertile, creative ground. Kansas City, Phoenix, Seattle, Chicago, Vancouver, Toronto, Montréal: There is an entire jungle outside of New York.
I’m flying back from Atlanta and just before the plane is about to take off, the prince I’m dating texts me that he is at the bar having go-go boys shove their junk in his face. This is humanity. This, after he swore me to exclusivity. He tries to instigate a text-message tiff but the flight attendant announces that all electronic devices must be shut off. I’m saved.
When I get back home, I try again with prince but the magic has worn off. Last-minute incantations and pepperings of pixie dust don’t work. He turns out to be a frog; he tells me that he won’t even meet with me unless I get turned down for the job in Atlanta. Goodbye, frog.
The poet Traci Brimhall is in town. She fled New York several years earlier and is back doing a book tour. She is happy and beautiful and it puts a smile on my face to see her at Grassroots Tavern on St. Marks. It’s my first time seeing her, and the poet Garrett Burrell, in over a year. I’m mostly friends with poets, I suppose. They’re better with words—and the space between words—than prose writers are. At Grassroots, we decide to do an exquisite corpse on the back of a receipt from a book store. My contributions are all laced with Grindr-themed terminology. Hours later, Niina Pollari and Eve Bates arrive. Another hour after that, we’ve relocated to a bigger table and after a few more beers, I start bawling.
There’s no shortcut around grief. It’s the big cry over my grandmother’s passing I had been trying to thwart and in that crowded East Village bar, I finally mourn the loss. At Niina’s insistence, a few of us head out and back home towards Bushwick.
The morning after Grassroots, Eve demands brunch at Northeast Kingdom in Bushwick. I know never to say no to Eve. We start with coffee. “Bottomless Coffee” as printed on the menu. I make a crude joke: “Hey Eve, much like two tops trying to figure out how to have good sex, this coffee is bottomless.” She cracks up. She knows I’m in a better place this morning. We get shrimp and grits and remark about the curious people who take pictures of their unremarkable salads at restaurants and, before even tasting it, post it to Facebook. Like it’s a Pavlovian impulse.
A few weeks later, I’m staying with a friend out in Boston’s North End. We spend Saturday nursing hangovers from Friday. I’m sucking down so much coffee at brunch, the waitress remarks, “You drink a lot of coffee don’t you?” and I retort, “Oh honey, you have no idea.”
As we walk around town, through Haymarket Square, I realize forsaking New York for Boston wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world. We head back to his place and kill a few hours playing video games and by nightfall, we head back out to meet one of his best friends who has just closed on a condo on the South End–at the age of 29.
With only months until my own 29th birthday, I suddenly feel like a delinquent, but then again, this is what happens when you decide you’d rather make stories than money.
Usually on Sundays I wake up, funnel coffee into my mouth, and head off to yoga and I spend the rest of the day writing, returning emails, or watching terrible television. Time stands still on Sundays. But today is an exception to my routine.
I’m on a bus headed back to New York from Boston. It’s raining considerably—the first good downpour in months—and as the bus tears down I-90, I decide to listen to all the Fleetwood Mac I can: I’m feeling pensive. This particular Sunday isn’t so easy. A side project for me, while in Boston, had been to get back in touch with someone I very briefly dated years ago—but someone, who by virtue of not being a complete asshole, left a frustratingly indelible impression—if only to force a little closure or set the tone for a sustainable friendship. He was amenable to this idea, but then never followed up. So during “Tusk” or “Silver Springs,” the following text exchange occurs:
ME: Hey. It’s a shame we couldn’t have met up, but it would’ve been awesome if you made an effort. I’ve been having a shitty several months lately.
ME: I think you should stop texting me until you’re ready to respect me—even as friends.
HIM: I just got out of a complicated two-year relationship and I’m sorry you feel ignored.
HIM: I wasn’t sure of your intentions and I was naturally hesitant.
His deflection of responsibility makes me smirk on the bus and I think to myself, “Frog.” With the rain still pouring, the bus still speeding down the highway, it seems like the setting is cinematically perfect as the exchange ends there and “Landslide” starts up. At some point, every relationship comes to an impasse and this one wasn’t worth salvaging. Whatever we shared had reached a natural conclusion, although the coming months will find him relocating to New York. But that is the beauty of a large wilderness like New York: It’s easy to disappear from anybody’s life.
My mother calls today, like she does everyday. She’ll ask how things are. I’ll take a deep breath. We have a colloquial saying in Bengali that roughly translates to “Things are cutting away and blood isn’t spilling.”
I put my own spin on it: “Things are cutting away and a little bit of blood is spilling.” She chuckles.
I tell her about the minutiae of my day; she tells me hers. She passes the phone to my dad who offers no shortage of encouraging maxims. I repeat the same run-down of minutiae to him and he tells me about his day; he passes the phone to my maternal grandmother. She and I will lament loudly that we haven’t seen each other in ages and this is a tragedy and there’s Bollywood gossip and talk about the best way to prepare vegetables and cooking tips from Rachael Ray and by this point, we’re basically talking over one another because we’re both so excited to talk to one another. Then we hang up. It’s a ten-minute routine I’ve secretly come to love.
This year has been about things ending, but in a grander way, they’ve been about setting things up to start. People die, former lovers dramatically vanish, you suddenly find yourself in need of new employment, and there is a lot of entropy and chaos—but, and this is probably why I bother tending to my Grey Gardens gallery of houseplants—in that chaos is the potential to make new opportunities bloom from the remains of that which has passed.
Which is what Sunday is: A day to lay down the groundwork for Monday.