Sunday 31 December 2017


I've never done a round up of a year before... maybe a little hopeful contemplation as the year floats away that I did alright, I wasn't a complete disaster, love prevailed... but I feel like recording a few things for this last day of 2017. The brights and the shadows. 

The year started off with a flurry of rejections, which does rather set the spirit at a low hum of despair. But in amidst the form rejections, I had several personalised letters, which I have since learnt is an achievement in itself. Here is the most special among them - inspite of the rejection, I genuinely loved it.

Dear Shaista, Thank you for sending me Blind Wolf, Butterfly Woman and for giving me the opportunity to consider your work. I was consumed by your poignant, affecting story. I found it beautifully and truthfully depicted and it resounded with me deeply. You demonstrate remarkable courage in expressing your story, and I hope that you have found the writing process in some way helpful. Your attitude to your condition is truly an inspiration. However in spite of this I am unfortunately unable to make you an offer of representation. I am really concentrating on building up my fiction list, and while your story is incredibly moving, I am not sure how I would break it out commercially, with a mainstream publisher. The market at the moment is so competitive and publishers are being extremely cautious, particularly when it comes to acquiring memoir. However these judgements are always subjective and you may well find someone who feels very differently. Again, I very much appreciate having had the opportunity to consider your work and wish you all the best in finding the right home for it. Best wishes, ...

Then I had a rejection from the University of Cambridge to do an M. Phil on Vietnamese American post-war literature, and then I had an acceptance from the University of Cambridge to give a TEDx talk on creativity!

I think I successfully convinced everyone in that room that creativity can and must be taught, particularly to young children, and particularly at school. Perhaps I will share my speech another day. I didn't realise it wouldn't be recorded, but it was a TEDx salon talk, and those are more intimate. It was a special day, the 25th of January, Mum and Dad's anniversary, and as you know they are very much central to my creative life.

In February I was rejected (or rather not included) in (ironically) the Anglia Ruskin University TEDx event. I don't know how the event went in the end - it was inaugural, so hopefully it was a success. I was extremely fortunate to have been excluded because I developed kidney sepsis at the end of a lovely but hectic surprise visit from the Singaporean crew. Mum's birthday on the 10th of February was a wonderful time of celebration until right at the end, when I was bundled off to A&E, burning up, throwing up. Mum even wore mismatching shoes to the hospital, it was so muddled a morning.

Back in again with more infection at the end of March and into April... and then again in July and August... I had two PICC lines for two different infections, which took such a toll on me. And yet, while in hospital, I recorded a video to accompany my book for a crowdfunding platform called Unbound Publishing. When I was rejected from that I did feel quite awful. I spent September in bed for the most part. For World Poetry Day at the end of September, I recited poetry in the hospital chapel, which was very healing, and by the end of October I felt inspired enough by my summer experience of video making to start a vlog channel and recorded four wonderful talks with my friends Colette and Daisy on living with lupus. I was on radio in November reciting poetry and talking about hospital shenanigans, but that wasn't recorded on a podcast either, so hilariously the only two people who heard me live were the two people I told - Mum and Dad, the two people who listen to me every day, anyway!!

- And our beloved friend Victoria who drove me to the radio station and sat quietly, and supportively, in the booth beside me!

And finally on Boxing Day, I had a piece published in sisterhood mag, on my complicated and beautiful religious and spiritual life. Deeyah Khan, the founder of the magazine, and an extraordinary documentarian, had tweeted me earlier to consider contributing, and I am so glad she did...

We lost dear friends this year - our beloved John Haybittle, and two days ago, our childhood friend Vinit. We celebrate how wonderful they were, and hold on to each other more tightly. Tomorrow it will all be the same, and yet a little different. Happy New Year, my dear friends, whichever it is. 

Friday 17 November 2017


We thought it would come quietly,
the final bend in the road;
we shored ourselves up, with
pots of tea, evening crackers
and Sunday nights in Downton Abbey.

Seventy-four years ago,
you walked down the aisle with me;
a pair of jaundiced eyes wouldn't keep
you from marrying me.

Sometimes the morning light
catches the emerald in my ring;
my fingers catch the chords of notes
you liked to hear me play.

Here we are, you and I,
a litte stuck today -
I, tucked up in our bed,
and you, in your room,
many miles away.

But the lamp is on,
and when tomorrow comes,
beside you, I will stay.

I wrote this poem last year for my beloved Mary on John's 95th birthday. These are wrenching times for Mary, because she is separated from John, who is too ill to live at home anymore. Five days after their wedding John left to be with the RAF, but then he came back, and then the children came, and then, and then... life... all of life. And then one day Mary met my father, who was a medical student of John's at Addenbrooke's, the same hospital I now haunt. And then years later she met my mother. More years passed. And then my brothers and I. I was fifteen and my life has been the richer, the more beautiful, the truer for her friendship. Lucky, lucky me. 

Sunday 12 November 2017


Today the new cover of British Vogue under the new leadership of Edward Enninful was released. 

While many people have expressed pure appreciation for the choice of the model, Adwoa Aboah, some (the Daily Mail contingent, and others) have decided that this choice in model was too 'safe', she is too 'light-skinned' - Eddinful should have been 'braver', gone 'darker'. 

The concept of light skinned privilege is a very complex negotiation - and also very basic. People seem to forget the ‘one drop’ policy whenever convenient. But if you are black in any measure, you don’t get white skinned privileges. You are forever playing Double Dutch. Neither community will fully accept you, but one community will historically always keep you guessing as to whether you are accepted or not. Since that is no way to live, most ‘mixed race’ (a bizarre, misleading term because it implies a 'pure' race exists, which of course does not since race is purely a construct, and not a biological reality) or perceived light skinned people, will inevitably gravitate towards the people of colour they are also representative of. Barack Obama’s half whiteness was embraced by many white folk because he was an excellent human being but had he been less than excellent his blackness would have been the only perception. Halle Berry may look light skinned but she has experienced racism her whole life. I may be perceived as light skinned as compared to darker South Asians but I have also been described as 'coloured' and 'black'. No one actually aspires to whiteness - we all aspire to equality, to equal human rights, to equal representation in positions of power as well as ordinary positions of being a bus driver or a teacher. It’s all a sliding scale from the outside so who you are within is what you have to hold on to.

The idea that Enninful chose Aboah because she’s light skinned is laughable. They are both Ghanaian. Aboah is not just ‘known for being light skinned and having freckles’, she is an incredibly brave and outspoken person, who has battled addiction for years and finally created Gurls Talk, a space for young girls, especially but not exclusively in the modelling world, to be able to talk about things like drugs and self harming - these girls are totally unprotected and unchaperoned, especially when they travel, and many fall victim to all sorts of exploitation. Aboah is also bipolar and actively involved in the mental heath campaign Heads Together - here is a brief YouTube clip of her talking to her mother on the subject of depression...

So Enninful’s choice of Aboah is far more nuanced than the colour of her skin. I think he is giving her a huge platform because he believes her voice needs to be more widely heard.

Thursday 2 November 2017


I think I know this:
I could be happy at 80.

Or perhaps 81, 
When I am safely on board. 

This being in my thirties
Is neither here nor there

And waiting for forty 
Is a certain death.

Death to youth. I know this
Because I keep getting told this.

You are not young,
Anymore. They say.

As though I was curious
As to what I was. 

(c) Shaista Tayabali, 2017 
(Poetry prompt for Dverse Open Link Night

Today happens to be my friend Sylvia's birthday - one of those 'big 0' numbers that have to be faced down every ten years... Sylvia is a cyclist, a cartographer, a mathematician, a feminist, a gardener, a reader, a thinker - oh also wife, mother and grandmother but really, what has her age to do with anything? Her Sylvia-ness is everything. Sylvia and her delightful husband Colin live in a magnificent five hundred year old farmhouse, and each timber frame is guarded by Old Man Rayner, who watches over my friends with care and looks with equal care, possibly suspicion, at outsiders walking past his giant iron shoulders. 

Tuesday 31 October 2017


My friend Colette and I spent a few hours earlier this month recording a conversation we had about life with auto-immunity, the complex relationship we have with language - the patient-physician dynamic as well as the social dance. I edited it, divided it into two parts, and posted it on YouTube.

Colette is truly brilliant at the jigsaw puzzle of piecing together life in broken particles - her mind sees connections and after 40 years of being in a health-wilderness herself, she is now able to offer extraordinary support to others in the wilderness. In my case, Colette offered up the term PTSD. I may never have applied that to myself but I can see now that Post Traumatic Stress is exactly what I suffer from. 

I had a difficult appointment at the hospital a few days ago. In August, while sick with a campylobacter infection that had spread into my bloodstream causing sepsis, my consultant visited. I had asked her registrar the day before about Benlysta, the first drug to ever be licensed for Lupus, and my consultant felt she needed to inform me personally that I was not sick enough to qualify for it. ‘You need raging disease to qualify’ were her words. Words familiar to me. I had heard her say them in 2008, during a hospital admission which included a painful lymph node biopsy. The drug in question then was Rituximab. I proceeded to become sick enough with the necessary raging disease in 2009 and have been on Rituximab ever since. Life opened up, I travelled, I finally did my MA and I wrote a book. I learned something of the language necessary to navigate this complex life. But I keep failing; it is never enough.

Whether I can or should still receive Rituximab is once again in question. Biologics are both expensive and in their long-term usage, an unknown. Exactly what it is doing to my immune system after eight years in subtle ways is as yet unclear. I was already in a shadowy place this year with the infections, four hospitalisations, PICC lines and now this uncertainty while my body fragments once more on old lines. Not knowing once again what the future holds means I cannot plan for a Christmas trip to see my brother in Singapore. It means battling depression and anxiety on a daily basis. It means walking inexorably towards getting worse while having to accept ‘worse’ is only so in my subjective opinion. Halloween’s ghosts come in many forms. 

Thursday 28 September 2017


Happy National Poetry Day! I recited two poems at the Addenbrooke's hospital chapel, which Mum recorded (albeit slightly shakily). It was fun to see the main entrance to the hospital festooned with lines of poetry, written in chalk on the cement and strung up into bunting flags. It was not much fun to witness the terror and repulsion of some people when they were offered poems. 'Would you like a free pome?' I asked nicely, naively. 'NO!' was the short sharp response. 'Yikes!' I may have said. 'Any reason?' 'I just hate it!' 'Er...right,' I stammered, 'since when?' 'Since they rammed it down my throat at school.' 'Fair enough,' I produced, cravenly, and skulked back to my friend Kaddy Benyon, who had warned me. She'd been at it for far longer than I. Never mind. The reading itself was lovely.

It's strange the way life circles. The first time I visited this chapel, I was in a wheelchair. That was eight years ago. And today, an extraordinary thing - after the reading was over, a woman in the audience said she recognised me from eight years ago, from my time being incarcerated on the Infectious Diseases ward for months. She said she was glad to see me walking.

Also, my surgeon came - which was very supportive of him - and immaculately timed to perfection, catching the poet before me, me, and the one after me, who happened to be the last poet of the day. Must be a surgeon's skill.

Wednesday 27 September 2017


Thursday 28th September at 12:30 - 1:30 in the Addenbrooke's hospital chapel. Are you free?
Oh, I haven't told you why...

It's National Poetry Day, and Addenbrooke's Arts has an ongoing project called Taking Note: Poetry in Moments, during which an emergency poet, Deb Alma, will be on hand to hand out poetry as prescription in her 1970s original ambulance, poems on postcards will be handed to you or placed on your coffee tray at Costa, and yours truly will be reading her poetry along with several other poets including Kaddy Benyon, Eve Lacey, Jo Shapcott and Rebecca Watts. 

I've always wanted to be part of the artistic life at Addenbrooke's so this is really one of my dreams manifesting into reality. I hope it will be a fun day. I shall tell you all about it when it's over...

Thursday 21 September 2017


Carl Brandien Hurricane at Tarpon Bend, September 15, 1945

That rumbling rolling
Coming from thunder sound -
The storm is about to break.

Open the window
And the raindrops wet me,
Forehead, cheek and chin -

Look down to write you
Into a poem, and lightning
Flashes beside me.

The puddles are jumping,
The willow sashaying,
And then just as quick, everything stills.

I turn away. Light candles.
Run a bath of lavender
And lily scented froth.

Sometimes you fear it,
Sometimes you don't -
The thunder rolls back for her audience.

(c) Shaista Tayabali, 2017 for Open Night at Dverse Poets 

Edgar Degas Woman in a Bath Sponging her Leg c.1883

Tuesday 5 September 2017


Evening. The sun has set, I think. The day has faded away, and I haven't really paid attention. The twins left this morning en route to the airport and the next chapter of their life. I, who have been on a rollercoaster month of rocky infections, antibiotics and hospital admissions, feel jet lagged. Woozy with tiredness, I want to sleep for days without hours. But keeping time with the clock, they say, is important.

September is here. I had a birthday. My mother travelled to Vancouver to be with her two brothers at a wedding, and returned.

I had two PICC lines inserted and two PICC lines removed. Today was the removal of the second. My arm doesn't feel free yet. Still weighted with the memory of discomfort, it will take a while for the entry point wound to feel healed.

Other things will happen this month and the next. But until then I am going to crawl away and hibernate. Until then, here is a picture of me in Ellie's penguin hat, sitting, tube-free in the hospital Jubilee Garden...

Wednesday 30 August 2017


You know how all of us, or is it only some of us, are plagued by and plague each other by asking the perennial question, 'So, what do you DO?'

What do you do with your life? Not who are you in your life. Not how are you in your skin? Your mind. Your heart. But... where in the cogs do you fit...

A peculiar character like myself with the odd wolf disease is bound to feel on the defensive about what she does, because mostly she doesn't. 

But when I'm in hospital, you would think I'd be let off the hook for a bit.

I have been hospitalised four times this year with persistent infections. I've become too immuno compromised by the monoclonal/ chemo therapy; time for a break from it to give my immune system a chance to recover. The reality of such immunological machinations is, not surprisingly, that I am very fatigued. And need, and must, rest. 

And yet, the number of times I am teased by medical staff about sleeping in, in the mornings, is baffling. Does every other patient rise and shine, stretch and leap out of their narrow white beds to... do what? I was moved from my fateful room on N2 late last Friday evening. I am now in an enclosed room, with negative pressure controlled air vents circulating a draft eddy of mechanical air. I am on heavy antibiotics... and yet... 'sleeping beauty' they call me! 'Every time I've seen you,' sez the male nurse today, 'you've been sleeping!'
'What should I be doing?' I ask. 'Inventing a new gadget?' 

So I am trying like mad to occupy myself - painting Pooh in watercolour and pastel. Writing this blog post. Trying to look extra busy to account for the bizarre preoccupation of society even on the most isolated Infectious Diseases ward to DO SOMETHING DO ANYTHING JUST DO. SOMETHING. 

'So,' asks my consultant when she visits, 'what have you been up to in here? Writing anything? What are you working on now?' Gaaaaah 🙈🙈🙈🙈🙈

So I did do something. Only it was accidental. I pushed open the heavy door to my room, stepped out, ostensibly to discover when my next antibiotic dose was, and had a quiet mooch down the long unfamiliar corridor ahead of me. We are eleven beds on this ward, locked away from each other. I made it to the end of the corridor, and saw a portrait of Mary Seacole on the wall. Hello, Mary! 

I had reached the fire door right at the end, and while contemplating Mary, I leant against the door. Suddenly, a wild alarm set off, ringing around the ward. I put my hands up in true Crime Drama fashion as two burly male nurses hefted their way towards me. 'Sorry!' I bleated, and slunk away from the crime scene. 

'You won't be doing that again,' sez the same male nurse to me. 

Honestly. I just can't win. Back to bed, I think...

(P.s. In case you don't know much about Mary Seacole, the Jamaican British nurse who gave succour to many during the Crimean War, look her up. Now she really did DO many, many things.)

Monday 28 August 2017


When we were little and Dad was teaching us the surahs, he encouraged my brothers and I to choose a favourite surah, one we could feel we personally belonged to. I chose Alam Nash Rah - not knowing anything about the dark nights that lay ahead nor the dawn that would bring ease. I just loved the musicality of the recitation, and the repetition of the line, 'Verily, with hardship, comes relief...'
ألم ناش راه لك 
و و دانا أنك وازرق 
... فى إن مال أسري يسرا 
إن مال أسري يسرا 
To this day I think of the surah as 'mine', not least because the pattern of my particular life has fallen into the poem of dark heartsore nights and gentler tender dawns.

Mum and I were supposed to travel to Vancouver for my cousin's wedding. Rizwan and Angelina were bringing the mice to keep Dad company. And then I started to spike fever. By the time I was recording 38.4 degrees I knew jumping on a plane was looking less than likely. For five days, the Infectious Diseases team treated me with IV antibiotics and, with no fever in sight, discharged me. A day later I was spiking fever again, and the day after someone from ID called to say the microbiologists had picked up campylobacter in my bloodstream, an oddity, and readmitted me through Accident and Emergency to the exact ward, the exact side room into which I was incarcerated in 2009 from February to June - the place that inspired my blog to become what it became, the place that forged the person I am today, whoever she may be. 

I was admitted the night of my birthday. Rizwan stayed with me until just past midnight to wish me and hand deliver the cards written by my twinnies, and later that night when Singapore awoke, I had a video from my other munchkins singing me happy birthday in English, Mandarin and Malay! Angelina baked me a three layer chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting and the girls decorated it with sprinkles... 

Meanwhile across the oceans I practised a little art of deception - we had all chivvied Mum to get on that plane alone. You can imagine her reluctance at leaving her daughter in hospital. While I was being readmitted, while the IV antibiotics were being fed through me, faraway on a hilltop in North Vancouver, a beautiful Parsi engagement ceremony was unfolding amid garlands of flowers, and pretty lanterns anointed my uncle's home. I'll just tell them tomorrow about the hospital thing, I thought, so long as they don't video call me!!

Time enough, time enough. Not always, but sometimes, there is time enough for everything we dream about, hope for, and even, are surprised by. Rizwan and Angelina bought me a beautiful salwaar kameez intended for the wedding, but when Angelina told me to wear it anyway in hospital, I did...

Irfan and Theresa sent me an eye mask with headphones cleverly attached so my photosensitive eyes are protected from glaucoma glare, and I can escape into Philip Pullman's world, into Georgette Heyer and Marian Keyes' worlds... 

I've had two PICC lines surgically inserted in a short space of time, so I feel tender and 'cloudy' to use Clive's description of me. We might be doing a poetry reading together late next month if needles and toes align. Until then, a cheery cloudy farewell from N2. Home soon, I hope...

Friday 25 August 2017


You could crick your neck in here,
Waiting for their arrival.

The slats let little in. Light
From the other side is thin.

Every footfall, every apron
And pair of plastic gloves rustles

In warning of their imminence.
Their eminence, one might think.

My heart is grouchy today,
A tired, scrappy thing; cross

About the new PICC line they put
In. Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter,

In case you were wondering; a long, soft
Tube snaking in to the Superior Vena Cava,

Indwelling, one hopes, temporarily. Tea lady
Now, cleaner next, obs third, and on the neck cricks

On the neck cricks on.  
(c) Shaista Tayabali, 2017 Included in Dverse Poetry Pub's latest Open Link Night...

Sunday 13 August 2017


Most of my friends know by now that I am the sort of movie watcher who almost attends a film school of her own, so dedicated am I to catching films at the Arts Picturehouse Cinema in Cambridge. It is a cosy little three screen cineplex, each screen snuggled up to the next, and all tucked into the smallest edge of a building. I visit it as you would a library - while returning one lot of books, your eyes spy a new possibility. In my case, Maudie, directed by Irish director Aisling Walsh. 

The tender biopic reveals the unamorous coupling of Maud Lewis, the Nova Scotia painter and her fish smuggling peasant Everett Lewis. Maud's life would move anyone to tears - born with juvenile arthritis that eventually crippled her, she was also betrayed by dishonourable members of her family who sold her precious newborn for money, telling Maud that her baby had been born deformed like her mother and buried immediately.

Years later Maud learns the truth. Everett takes her to see her baby, now a grown woman, happy, tending to roses outside the white and blue shutters of her home. Maud cowers in the shadow of her husband's truck, broken and healed, simultaneously.

The shadows of Maud's life are painted over by her extraordinary capacity for wielding joy into simple brushwork. Deceptively simple. Her work began to sell, began to be loved - passers by to her tiny, wildly decorated house, were enchanted. She was commissioned by the likes of Richard Nixon, then President of the United States. 

In my own little cabin in the garden, I have been wielding my brushes and paint. Every dark or gloomy corner now has a fresh white or blue coat, reassuring my eyes of light. The past week has been a complex one to navigate - I had a slender catheter surgically inserted into my vein, one end hanging outside for me to self administer liquid antibiotics, and the other end resting atop my heart. Self administration makes me respect my nurses even more than usual - so many little details to concentrate on; air bubbles and contamination to be careful of. Twenty eight injected infusions done, two to go. Unless the doctors decide otherwise.

By the end of her life, Maud was crippled with arthritis, unable to walk, but still able to hook her brush into the curled claw of her hand, and do the thing that made her utterly content with her life. Paint pictures. The whole world framed in a tiny square of happiness. To be an artist is to know suffering, but to know beauty and joy more. 

Sunday 16 July 2017


The first was the writer, Vikram Seth. Dad called out to me to come listen. Seth was being interviewed but in between conversation he was picking out tracks of music, and not books. The combination was so much more illuminating and I was hooked. Then came the dancer, Akram Khan, and then the doctor, Atul Gawande... you might think this a particularly Indian immigrant selection, but those were the voices I remember. They spoke to me and drew me in. Now my Sundays are Desert Island Disc days. And oftentimes the discs weave into my weekdays, into the threads of my own narrative. Today, for example, is a John Agard day, moving from Kate Bush's 'Wuthering Heights' through Bob Dylan's 'Shelter from the Storm' towards the Calypsonian Lord Invader's 'You Don't Need Glasses To See'. And through it all his thoughts on poetry, on being the only Afro-Guyanese Queen's Gold Medal Winner for Poetry, on being part of the GCSE syllabus, on his teachers, his daughters, on being a 'joker' as a young boy...

I stopped listening to, or rather seeking out music, some years ago. Too much of my past is caught up in music and peace of mind is often a choice between memory and silence. I credit these brief interludes with strangers who become anything but in the hour in which they share a loose web of geography, history, parentage or parenting, grief, loss, enormous successes, imprisonment, exile. I have my favourites even though the list keeps growing. The archives are a well of treasure. Dip in! Whose eight tracks would you like to hear while discovering their life story? I love...

Aung San Suu Kyi, the only guest who didn't come into the studio for obvious reasons - something about Kirsty Young being in Myanmar, sharing a moment in exile with the Burmese freedom fighter, makes the entire programme magical...

Alice Walker, one of my earliest literary and poetic heroes, the one who set my voice on its path to claiming a fully formed womanist self...

Dr David Nott, vascular and war surgeon, who made me cry because he cried...

Bryan Stevenson, a human rights lawyer focusing on the brutal percentages of incarcerated black men in the so-called United States...

Poets, activists, philanthropists like Bill Gates (whose choice of wife is really what inspires me about him!), Sigrid Rausing, journalists Alex Crawford and Christiane Amanpour, musicians, physicists... in a world where media is desperately trying to colonise our minds and make us afraid of each other, Desert Island Discs provides a counter-narrative, casting us towards one another rather than isolating us. I find the gift of the Bible at the end an interesting moment - yes, occasionally a Sikh will choose the Guru Granth Sahib or a Muslim will choose the Quran, but no one really resists this aspect of the programme. What does it say about the programme that in a determinedly atheist society, a Holy Book is one all castaways are cast away with?

Have some music while you're here... this is South African singer and anti-apartheid activist Miriam Makeba with 'Pata Pata' ('Touch Touch' in Xhosa) and if this doesn't get you dancing with a smile on your face this rainy day, nothing will! Turn that volume up and let's dance!

Sunday 25 June 2017

MOONLIGHT (a review)

In Moonlight, Black Boys Look Blue. This was the original title for Barry Jenkins' Oscar winning film 'Moonlight'. The film was based on an unpublished, semi-autobiographical play written by Tarell Alvin McCraney. I missed it during the pre-Oscars season buzz, so when I saw it playing for one day only on a random June afternoon, I jumped out of my lethargic skin and dove into the empty cinema. After the film had started I was joined by a group of three strangers, but I pretended it was just me and Chiron. And some popcorn. (It wasn't a popcorn eating type of film, but hey, where else am I gonna eat popcorn?).

Moonlight is a triptych. A piece of art. The sound of the sea begins the film, and a seaside palette of Provence blue and daffodil yellow bathes our eyes at unexpected moments, so you begin to float, suspending fear, anxiety, prejudice. You are 'Little' Chiron, held loosely but safely in the hands of Juan. Mehershala Ali won that Oscar because even though his character mysteriously disappears a third into the film, you feel his ghostly presence throughout. Weaving in and out on classical strings, Cuban and hip hop beats. 

But at the same time that sudden absence also made me tighten up, and I couldn't relax into the lyrical beauty. I wouldn't let myself cry until the film had ended, the credits were rolling and I realised Barry Jenkins had kept us safe throughout. I don't think I've ever talked to a film director in my head before, but I was willing Jenkins not to let me, us, fall through all the cracks we already know exist for Chiron and his kind of invisible blue blackness.
'Moonlight' is as serious as it gets and as loving. The two faces of woman in the film aren't polarised through moral judgement. They are just being themselves - human, fallible, trying. Failing, losing, surviving. Loving. Speaking of love, I think I'll watch anything with Janelle Monae - she has such a fierce, feisty, authentic presence here as in 'Hidden Figures'. And Naomie Harris - from Bond woman to crack addict - a powerhouse performance.

There is a moment at the beginning of the film when little Chiron looks up at Juan - a side along gaze that asks with big eyes, 'Who are you?' Why should I trust you, say those eyes. When Chiron's mother meets Juan for the first time, she looks at him, eyes heavy with suspicion. 'And who is you?' Juan replies: 'I'm nobody'. And finally, towards the end, the second love of Chiron's life, Kevin, asks the same question: 'Who is you?' And with that question, there is a chance for Chiron to not answer: 'I'm nobody'. He is being offered a chance to be somebody. To someone. 
'Who is you?' is the heartbeat of the film, echoed, mirrored. We grow up and into ourselves, and some of us get to be loved by people who ask that question of us, who listen for the answer. Who wait for the answer. Even when it changes. 

Saturday 17 June 2017


In the middle of a YouTube interview with
Zadie Smith, and therefore the middle of
my own imaginary conversation where it's
really me interviewing Zadie Smith or being
interviewed beside Zadie Smith, I pause.

Birdsong is emanating from my father's room. 

(C) Shaista Tayabali, 2017

Sunday 4 June 2017


for Richard, who misses my blog posts

It seems strange to speak of joy, or write of joy, when all around us joyless events directed by joyless people rip at the fabric of our lives. Every day I look about me and give thanks for clouds in the sky, and not drones, for roses beginning to climb our trellis, and not militia, for my mother loudly shooing away the muntjac and a squirrel I've named Nutkin, rather than... anything else. None of these are small things. They constitute the biggest thing of all - freedom. A word that almost feels sacred now. Almost like superstition. Better not utter it out loud, in case those that lurk in the dark places encroach upon your light. 

And yet of course this is the paradox of a life like mine: if you keep small, and hide away as much as possible, tending to the bird feeder and sorting through your books, you wonder if after all you ought to be trying for the other life, the one with the spotlight and the megaphone, denouncing hatred, fighting for rights, yours and those denied others. Then your body reminds you of its tumultuous nature - scar tissue, antibiotics and a twenty year long fight to stay alive.

Into my small but sweet life, a fellow patient gave me The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. My friend is Italian so the book was actually called Il Magico Potere Del Riordino. It was her personal copy, with notes to herself inscribed in pencil. It has taken me a few years to actually begin the process of tidying up my life in the specifically thorough way offered by Japanese tidying expert Marie Kondo. The KonMari method.

There are two books, actually. The second is called Spark Joy: An Illustrated Guide to the Japanese Art of Tidying, and this one is filled with delightful illustrations. There is a certain order to the process but always the same outcome - to spark joy from the tiniest of your possessions. Gather your belongings into their particular categories. Hold each object in your hands, and consider it. If the time has come to send it on its way, thank it before you despatch it. [The first edition was given to me by my friend Angelica, and the second guide by my sister Angelina. I take my angels where I get them.] 

I find myself telling people truthfully what I am 'up to' - facing that dreaded question of 'What are you doing now? Have you published your book yet?' If only writing a book and publishing it were as natural a pair of siblings as we imagine when first embarking on that book. I have tentatively begun the second - never mind what it's about - but first, I have a date with a woman named Marie, who is leading me towards a certain joy.