DISPATCH 007: The Fridge Is Empty, The Dogs Keep Barking, My Purpose Remains A Mystery. The Newsletter Gets Written.
On continuously creating that which does not exist.
Hello. This is the seventh installment of Dispatches from Chrysalis, an honest offering from me to you in the form of a newsletter. My name is Priya Florence Dadlani and I am an NYC-based cultural worker. I was born and raised in Silver Spring, MD to parents each of their own unique double diaspora. In 2018, I founded SPICY, a collective led by and for queer people of color utilizing the transformative power of art to change the world. I am also a member of the Jahajee Sisters grassroots action team, working to end gender-based violence in Caribbean communities. I work with both Media Sutra and Third Wave Fund.
As I build a digital community in different, more intimate corners of the internet, I’ll pop up in your inbox every now and then with Dispatches from Chrysalis - the liminal space I often find myself, constantly on the edge of becoming. I’ll also be including journal prompts in my newsletters so we can process various topics together from wherever. I feel like it’s important to say that these newsletters are for me to work through the chaos of my life as much as they are for y’all. I’m no expert, no genius, and I don’t have it all figured out. I’m simply trying — trying to heal, trying to find my way, trying to find the words. And I’m infinitely grateful you’ve agreed to be a part of this process.
In order to financially support myself, I have finally created a paid subscription to my newsletter. Paying subscribers will have access to exclusive dispatches, personal email responses, & private journaling workshops. Please consider subscribing so I can keep writing, or make a one-time gift via Venmo @priyafdadlani.
“It is six A.M., and I am working. I am absentminded, reckless, heedless of social obligations, etc. It is as it must be. The tire goes flat, the tooth falls out, there will be a hundred meals without mustard. The poem gets written. I have wrestled with the angel and I am stained with light and I have no shame. Neither do I have guilt.” — Mary Oliver, Upstream
The last two years took me far away from myself. I felt overcome by things that happened completely outside of my control, and for better or worse I did what I had to do to cope and make it through. Finding equilibrium was my primary focus. I have no regrets, but since finding a new sense of stability and balance, I want something else for myself. Resentment and anger, powerful emotions that I have learned over time to respect and not despise, are slowly exiting stage left. Not gone, but not quite as centerstage.
Now this year is about time, power, discipline, and nourishment. It is about sitting with my thoughts, writing them down, backspacing, rewriting, but always moving forward. It is about taking the necessary steps, wielding the necessary tools, and being disciplined enough to chip away, little by little, at the wall that separates me from the bubbling, erupting, red molten lava that makes up my truest self. I will be grateful for the moments of cringe, failure, embarrassment, and loss that will come my way. It’s time for me to release the heavy weight of fear I’m carrying that keeps me from moving forward with ease and disciplined intention.
It’s this level of dedication that is pushing me to really be honest with myself, relinquish perfectionism, and have deeper conversations with the long-ignored parts of me (see my Out for 2023 list). It has always been difficult for me to tell my story… the one about how I came to be. Of course there is one version of this story that perfectly pill sizes and encapsulates my “Hero’s Journey” with just the right amount of optimism, clarity, and charisma. The first paragraph of a cover letter, the three sentences that tell you literally EVERYTHING you need to know about me. The lovely elevator pitch. I guess I have one for Priya and I don’t know if it’s the most authentic, but it gets the job done. For the most part I never gave a damn about this version of my story, and see it simply as a means to an end, finessing it here and there when needed.
But there is a second version of this story. The one that allows me to deeply know myself, my origins, the long-winded version, the heavier one. When I want to understand myself, when I want clarity on how the hell I ended up here, I have trouble figuring this version out. Looking back, my path here seems foggy. I don’t care about making my story appealable to the masses, but right now I’m at a place in my life where I want to figure out what may be next for me - where do I want to go? What do I want to do? What is drawing me? What is my God-given purpose on this planet? How can I be authentically me if I struggle to piece together the puzzle of my life? I am unsure. But I believe that if I begin to trace back, to understand the peaks and valleys, loops, and shifts that led me here, I’ll find something. Maybe a portal that allows me to sit with all of me, feast with my past self, and plot on next moves with my future self. Does this make sense? If not read this poem. My favorite poem.
I just read a post by Alice Sparkly Cat titled, “How Other People See Aquarius'' and it said 1.) that Aquarius is in detriment when it’s your sun sign (incredible), and 2.) that many Aquarius suns, “might struggle to stitch the memories of their life together to create the cohesion of self-narration.” Well that’s very me, and I also know it doesn’t all have to do with my zodiac. I just feel immense confusion when I try and understand how I came to be. But every now and then, usually when I’m in the shower absent-mindedly daydreaming, I connect some dots and get a beautiful feeling. A feeling that in one second shoots a bright thread, weaving all the versions of myself tightly together with a single, swift movement. Everything makes sense all of a sudden; it all clicks. I think, “Of course, that’s why.” I try and savor it for as long as possible. It soon slips away and the day’s monotony sets in. Sure, I am an ever-changing work in progress, constantly transforming, eternally becoming, etc. etc. you know the drill… but I wonder if it is important for me to take stock of the last 28 years. I wonder if I must trace this bright thread all the way back to the beginning to understand who I really am. I want my past to be the key to a new future, no longer the lock.
I had always been a creative kid, expressing myself through my wardrobe, my many diaries, my MySpace page and Tumblr, always immersing myself in books and poems, often writing my own stories and even creating my own construction paper magazine. But in my house it felt like art was seen as something outside of us, something only privileged geniuses can engage in, not a valid path for me. Despite all my creative inclinations, I didn’t refer to myself as a creative or artist until I was in my early 20s, and in 2019 had only recently started naming myself a cultural worker because it more accurately described the intersection of my art, organizing work, and leftist politic.
In 2021 I took a course at The People's Forum on Art & Revolution. SPICY was going through a transition in how we wanted to show up for our community more adequately and radically, and I felt like this course could support us. It absolutely did, and then some. I had been politicized further and further left for years…*pauses & pours one out for the days I wept reading Eve Ensler, thought Bernie was our savior, and especially the days when I thought my dream career was being a reporter for CNN* …but this course created a bridge between the work I do and a desired, tangible world order that many are already collectively organizing towards.
Self-determination, self-expression, and ultimately art made by and for working class people is one of the most important tools in shifting culture. I always knew in my bones that art moves light years faster than the government ever could. I always knew that a poem, theater production, song, or painting could radicalize a person in an instant. It has happened to me many times. I have also always had an utter distaste for the “institution” of art. The large, exploitative, pillaging, colonizing, capitalist, multi-million dollar institutions that have always felt violent, sterile, and quite frankly lame to me. These institutions are why so many, including younger me, feel like art is not for them. I am currently reading Capitalism: A Ghost Story by Arundhati Roy, a collection of essays on the dark side of India’s “democracy”. In the first 21 pages, I learned that here in New York City in 1933 the Rockefellers demolished a massive Diego Rivera mural designed for them at the Rockefeller Center, because it depicted capitalists in a corrupt light and a valiant Lenin. Not too surprising. I also learned that the Rockefellers helped found and open the Museum of Modern Art. It was a cute lil’ idea developed in 1929 by Abby Aldrich Rockefeller (wife of John D. Rockefeller, Jr.) and her friends. The link between formalized arts institutions and violent capitalists couldn’t be starker — and it’s clear they always knew the impact a mural or museum could have on influencing the public.
Institutionalized art is also Thee Art that many people care most about. It is highly curated, it’s where the money is, and it can look beautiful. Sure, I have stepped in a museum and enjoyed myself, and I understand there are arts institutions that are trying to do right by people, archives, and communities they exist in. But of course they often recycle the same art without ever truly producing anything new. I have even held zine-making workshops at one museum in NYC and it was an overall positive experience (although knowing what I know now about them, I would never again). The truth is, I do not care about grand art institutions, and I don’t believe they are capable of being revolutionary. I do, however, believe that all art is political, and I believe that some art, a lot of art these days actually, is doing more harm than good. From the course I took at The People's Forum, I was reminded that the meaning of an art piece is not the only thing that makes it political — it’s really who is making it, what materials are being used, who is being compensated, where is the art being made, where is it being shown, who is able to see it and engage with it — these are the questions that need to be considered.
For example, I see the memes and jokes about “mango diaspora poetry” and I get it. I giggle. I understand the joke. And, it’s not a new take! Back in 1999, the character Amrit in Atima Srivastava’s novel Looking for Maya knocks diasporic writing as consisting merely of “mangoes and coconuts and grandmothers,” which I learned reading this amazing essay by Urvi Kumbhat. There is a big problem with reducing the diasporic experience to a simple fruit while romanticizing a place and life you know absolutely nothing about. But I don’t believe diasporic poetry is inherently the problem here, I just think context matters. Especially for young people in the diaspora, coming into cultural consciousness… I understand the need to express the complicated emotions of displacement and longing, especially as I reflect on my maternal ancestors indentureship in the Caribbean, or my paternal ancestors nomadic lifestyle as merchants in Cambodia, Tanzania, Canada, the U.S. Virgin Islands, etc. I mean if only you all could see some of my cringe, confused, teen poetry O_O…
However, when I see a US-born, high-caste, wealthy af, Hindu, grown person share some clear mango diaspora type musings, I get so upset. It is harmful to be in an American context, profiting off your high-caste status, invoking and romanticizing a longing for a homeland in which your own people have been terrorizing marginalized groups… context matters! And it’s the small things too. Not to be a total killjoy, but if you read the article by Kumbhat I linked above, you’ll learn that even the literal Alphonso mango known and coveted in India has a very complicated history due to Portuguese colonization in western parts of the country, and the very exploitative, very violent labor systems they implemented. And please let it be known right now that this is not mango slander. I love mangos. I especially like them when they’re hard and green, pickled in pepper sauce and vinegar and salted. It is actually the best midnight snack. And I am not saying that all diasporic poetry is trash, I’m just saying we have to ask questions because art is never just simply for aesthetic or vibes, it reflects so much more.
One of the most motivating things I’ve ever heard that actually propelled me to create SPICY, was someone saying that people need to stop making art about periods and body hair, and just move on to making “real art”. This is a sentiment I honestly still hear often. I encourage people with that frame of thinking to indeed go on and make the art they seek to make, but we are still living in a world where people are fighting for free access to menstrual products and where showing some body hair can get a queer person violently harassed online. So I think people — especially people carrying the weight of multiple, marginalizing, intersecting identities across the world — must create independently, on their own terms. Outside of the pressures to get chosen by an institution. Create to express, to be affirmed, to make someone else feel affirmed, to heal, to heal someone else, to spark hope, to drive action… over and over again. And above all, create consciously, divesting from capitalism’s desire to turn you too into another gate-keeper.
In February, I pursued one of my most creative endeavors to date: I celebrated my birthday with a murder mystery party. I wrote a script with 19 characters, 15 of which were suspects, and it took me two months to write, with some help from my partner. I was able to loosely use a template from the first murder mystery script I wrote in 2021, which was inspired by the first murder mystery party I ever went to hosted by my uncle and aunt in 2020. This year’s version was a 1920s jazz club themed murder mystery, and on February 11th with the help of so many (see full caption w/ gratitudes here) I transformed my apartment into a “jazz club”. It was fit with live music played by my loves Sali, Jordan, and Maya, a delicious spread cooked by Meena & Reed, and lovely signage by the one and only Niktari. We acted out the murder mystery, ate, drank, etc. and it was truly one of the best nights of my life. Don’t get me wrong, it took hours of creative labor and weeks to concoct, but it’s a real healing activity to write a story from start to finish, especially a murder mystery that writes like a math equation, with perfect characters, perfectly placed red herrings and clues that add up into the perfect crime, with the perfect killer, and the perfect confession. It ends so neatly, with a beautiful, bloody bow on it. Nothing is hidden by the end, all loose threads are visible and tied. Light has been shown in every, single dark place. How satisfying.
Art-making, writing, and yes, especially murder mystery script writing are activities that when further examined actually bring a sense of understanding and healing to my own story. I struggle with my memory, I struggle with piecing my life’s narrative together. But being creative flexes some muscle that I need to build in order to one day see myself as whole. In writing these newsletters, zine-making, watercoloring, and yes even creating a web of suspects and victims for the murder mystery plot, it’s really me exercising precise control over what is happening internally and giving it space to flourish externally.
I never have to face my own history, narrative, memories, shortcomings, failures, losses, heartbreaks, wins, loves, pain alone as long as I have art. And the key ingredient is not just my art. It’s everyone’s art. I love reading, watching movies, hosting creative workshops, and everyday I intake so much damn culture and save so many memes to my phone loving that I don’t have to explain myself. Because y’all just get it! When I hyper-focus on my origin story, I think I sometimes forget that we all have them too. We all experience joy, pain, grief, and love. My story becomes so much less important in the best way. The pressure is off. Maybe my only task is to be. Sometimes I think I have to face the music 24/7 and force myself to remember things I worked really hard to forget just to know I am healed, just to know I am whole, but I don’t know if that’s true. Maybe I just have to get to know the world around me, make the art I’m called to, be present with the people I love, listen deeply, and my story will piece itself together for me.
I wanted this newsletter to be one that would take me down a path to understand who I am and how I came to be here. The kind of clean math of my past that would make me go, “Ah yes, this happened then, so of course I landed here.” But nothing is that simple, my life isn’t a perfectly crafted murder mystery script. Instead when I sit down to write about how I came to be, all I end up writing about is art. The ability to create that which does not exist, which is really what I do every day with myself. Art is a powerful force that can begin, propel, and sustain revolution within us and outside of us. I can feel the bright thread of my story weaving through me now. I know I am touching my purpose.
A strange thing happened to me the other night. I was almost asleep, and had an idea for something I wanted to write about. But I was so damn sleepy, I couldn’t move a muscle, couldn’t reach for my phone, couldn’t grab a notebook. So instead, I pressed my eyes shut, crinkled my eyebrows, and flexed my brain muscle so hard to send a message to Morning Priya with the brilliant idea. It was like I was shooting a laser out of my forehead into the future hoping Morning Priya would receive it and interpret the message, saving my brilliant idea from its trip to what I assume is an expansive Idea Cemetery in my mind (I am very forgetful). The next day I woke up and was making myself some coffee. Jordan asks me something like, “What was that show we were watching before bed?” The words “before bed” are the trigger that alert my mind, I have a very That’s So Raven moment, and the pleas I made to myself before bed to remember this idea flood my mind. I received myself. For a moment, Nighttime Priya and Morning Priya were in direct conversation.
I realized that if I pay attention, I am actually constantly receiving myself. Constantly in communication with every version of me. It’s in that way that I cease to see my story, the one I’ve been trying to uncover this whole time, as linear. It’s actually all happening at once. I think that’s part of the reason why it’s so hard to string together a clear narrative of myself, because it just doesn’t exist. And with that realization, the fog lifts. I understand that in order to look back on my past, I need only look in the mirror. In order to see my future, I need only be present. In order to be whole, I need only be.
And in order for me to feel the thread of my purpose tighten within me, I need only write about it.
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Journal Prompts As I Attempt Connect With All Versions of Myself
How did you get here?
If someone was trying to summon you, what objects should they use?
Who do you crave to be understood by?
How much time do you waste becoming palatable?
When in your life do you feel most whole?
What does wholeness feel like for you?
When in your life does everything make the most sense?
When does it all “click”?
What are you constantly creating?
Write a letter of thanks to your favorite artist.
How has their existence transformed you? Let them know.
What is a moment you wish could last forever?
Who, if anyone, would you like to enjoy this moment with you?
Draw two points on a piece of paper. Label on Point A, and the other Point B. Starting at Point A, without picking up your writing utensil, draw a line with as many movements necessary that represents your life journey to Point B.
What is a message you’d like to send to your future or past self?
Close your eyes, focus, and laser the message to the version of you who needs it.
If you’re able to do the journal prompts, please let me know how it goes and do share any feedback! You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or DM me at @priya.florence.