Tara Dorabji on Knowing Your Boundaries and Going for the Jugular
Tara Dorabji is a writer, strategist at Youth Speaks, mother, and radio journalist at KPFA. She finds humor in the most uncomfortable situations and often sneaks ice cream after her kids are asleep. She has no idea how San Francisco became her home, but dreams of having a farm that someone else takes care of one day. You can find her enjoying happy hour with her friends in Oakland, because Oakland has better bars, food and culture. Her work is published in Al Jazeera, Tayo Literary Magazine, and Huizache. Tara is working on novels, set in Kashmir and Livermore. Her projects can be viewed at dorabji.com.
When people ask what do you do, you tell them…?
I’m with Youth Speaks. For the guy who asks me on a plane, I say, “I work in education—nonprofit management.” For years, my answer was, “I’m unemployed.” I rarely tell people that I write unless they are a writer, too. I think at the core of all that I do, I’m a storyteller, but I usually won’t drop that on the plane ride.
What’s your biggest struggle—work or otherwise?
Staying centered and feeling my breath is a daily challenge. Every day, it’s a choice and struggle to see if I’m going to be a source of calm in the world or give way to the chaos. Really, right now, my journey is about moving from my head to my heart in what I lead with. My mind is a tricky, prickly thing that has trouble trusting the wisdom of my heart.
If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?
Know your boundaries and then go for the jugular.
Do you consider yourself successful? Why?
Yeah, have you met my kids? I’m on my path in many ways. If the question is about my success as a writer, then I think so. My twin novels are not yet, published, and I do want them to come to light. So, in that sense, there is more work to do. As a writer, I think my biggest success is the uncompromising force by which I tell stories. I try to stretch boundaries beyond the page. In my reporting too, I think my biggest success is broadcasting from the center of controversy without pretending that neutrality exists. People who claim to be neutral generally are a mouthpiece for the power structures. Claiming neutrality is like standing on a hill and denying the force of gravity.
When you’re sad/grumpy/pissed off, what YouTube video makes you feel better?
I try to stay away from YouTube when upset. Facebook is like flushing yourself down the toilet in that mode. I run, or I go to the beach. I saw whales at the beach today. Sometimes, I go in for the afternoon nap…
Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her story?
In terms of migration story, I come from fire keepers, but that was a thousand years ago. My Opa taught me to stand on my head. My Auntie Silloo taught me the Ashem Vohu, the first prayer that had meaning in my life. My parents met at the I-House at UC Berkeley. I’m a product of the I-House.
Who did you admire when you were 10 years old? What did you want to be?
I probably wanted to be a lawyer—glad I let that go. I think Dr. Martin Luther King was who I admired most at age 10. There’s some continuity to that. I think I’ll play his “Beyond Vietnam” speech for my daughters this year then take them to Bringing the Noise for Dr. Martin Luther King.
Describe your week in the wilderness. It doesn’t have to be ideal.
My wilderness is south of Big Sur. The ideal is camping with my boyfriend on the ridge—we got that spot this year around my birthday. Everyone tried to swoop in on our spot. The reality is bugs and no toilet, but we have waterfalls, beaches, solitude, stars and a grill. We saw a few pods of whales and avoided the poison oak. Generally in the wilderness, I walk up hill.
Would you ever perform a striptease? Describe some of your moves. Feel free to set the mood.
That’s a private showing.
How much money do you have in your checking account?
Enough to pay my bills on auto payment.
What’s wrong with society today?
I think a lot of it has to do with our relationship to fire. We are broken in our communities and families. Women, the creators of life, seem to be at the center of the destruction in many ways. There is so much taking. It’s hard to give and nurture and care-take when so much is set up to zap you dry. I think a big part of changing this starts with women healing themselves.
Are you using any medications? If so, which ones?
Nope. Well sometimes, I take Advil when I get a headache. When I get sick, I take traditional Chinese herbs.
What is your fondest memory?
What comes to mind recently is standing in hot springs in the Sierras with my boyfriend, watching a meteor shower. But in my lifetime, it would have to be giving birth to my twin daughters.
How many times do you fall in love each day?
I am in love, so there is no falling.
What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?
Reunification (of the self, community and across borders)—essentially a crumbling of the nation state through a people’s movement. And Reinvestment from fear to love (cheesy, but really from police to schools from the military to the community).
What is art? Is it necessary? Why?
Art is the pulse that connects us and reflects our ironies and beauty.
It is humor and resistance.
When you have sex, what are some of the things you like to do?
Release and connect. For me, sex gets better with age.
What are you working on right now?
Not going nuts. In terms of writing—I like to mix up what I’m working on. I’m working on shorter pieces—fiction, narrative, journalistic, poetry, etc. I have a novel set in Livermore that I’m in the middle of a second draft of. My first novel is in a state of purgatory.
What kind of work would you like to do? Or: what kind of writing do you most admire?
I admire writers that show me a new form and aren’t afraid to be raw and real and shed light on what we most want to keep hidden. Risk taking is huge for me in writing. Voices of Our Nation (VONA)—founded by and for writers of color as a revolution—has been instrumental in my definition of quality. I’ve never seen a group of writers push the edge as much as this community. VONA has my heart.
If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?
Close your eyes and visualize, real, functioning public transportation—everywhere.
A night on the town: what does that mean to you?
Food, great music, maybe some theater, definitely some interesting conversation, shooting stars and a dark and stormy with homemade ginger brew. I like heat.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen?
Those men in Amsterdam in leather chaps, hitting trees with whips.
What can you do with 50 words? 50 dollars?
Haiku and dinner
What are some of your favorite smells?
The first scent of rain, cookies baking, copal and cedar trees.
If you got an all expenses paid life experience of your choice, what would it be?
I keep deleting the true answer. It has something to do with art and resistance in a global sense, but for your publication I’ll say trekking in the Himalayas and hitting some hot springs.
Photo by Sheila Menezes