Aaron Qayumi on Letting Go of the Idea that Anything Can Possibly Stop You from Doing Something that You Want To Do
An interview with Aaron Qayumi from The Write Stuff series:
Aaron Qayumi is a writer whose work centers around living with and overcoming struggles related to depression, addiction, and healing from trauma. Aaron’s debut poetry collection A New Me draws inspiration from his experience living with depression and seeking healing through therapy, faith, and other modalities. Aaron hopes to give others who are struggling with depression hope that things can get better, and empathy for the experiences they are having on their healing journey.
If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?
Usually when people say this, it comes with the unspoken assumption that there is something standing in their way, that is stopping them from writing or pursuing another creative passion of theirs. My advice would be to let go of the idea that anything can possibly stop you from doing something that you want to do. The unspoken implication there is — if you are not doing something, it is probably because you don’t really want it that much compared to other things you are focused on in your life (and that’s OK too). So it’s less about feeling stuck that something is standing in your way, and more about tuning into what you are excited about now.
What’s been most important to your writing: education, or the real world? Why?
Somewhere in between ‘education’ and ‘the real world’ is the journey of taking a look around at what others are creating and what inspires you from that. That is what is most important for me – reading poetry that inspires me and spurs me to pursue finding my own voice. For me at the moment that is poetry by Rumi, Rupi Kaur, and Ocean Vuong.
If you could give advice to your 15 year old self, what would it be?
- Find a therapist you like and commit to doing the work.
- Take your big dreams and break them up into tiny achievable chunks.
- Don’t put so much pressure on yourself.
Do you consider yourself successful? Why?
Yes because I have figured out that there is more to my life than what I do and achieve. For a long time I felt this big fear that I would go to my grave without ever having published a book. And that fear would kind of hang over me, but also dangling alongside it was this feeling that, “Wow, once you do write a book… everything will be amazing!” I am very proud of the short poetry collection I published, but now that I have achieved that goal (and escaped the deathbed regret I used to fear) I realize that actually the goal was quite arbitrary. I realize now that once a book is published… that is not the end. How will the book be marketed? What will I work on next? Where do I put all the unsold copies I have stacked up in my living room? And seeing that things never really end, that there is no goal at which the journey stops, in some way frees me up to feel more patience and perspective for the entire creative process to unfold. I suppose I also have the luxury of having a day job that provides me with a stable source of income, and having that security also makes me feel successful.
Why do you get up every morning?
For a long time I struggled to get out of bed in the morning. Partly it was because I was depressed for many years. Partly also it was because I think a lot, and would just lie in bed thinking and thinking about the meaning of life and what was my purpose and all that. These days I get up more out of mechanical momentum – to set the gears turning on the morning routines I have established. Go to the bathroom, brush my teeth, walk the dog. I suppose that these routines helped “de-dramatize” the moment of waking up for me – rather than lying there trying to figure out what is important every day and act accordingly, I sort of made up my mind what I think is important in general, and try to just go with that until I need to adjust or adapt.
Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her/their story?
My Grandma Ruthie was born in Pennsylvania to a family of Orthodox Jews. By the time she was a pre-teen, she and her siblings were orphaned. These were the times of the Great Depression. She and her brother took responsibility to take care of the other siblings.
Later she met my grandfather, married him, and had two kids. But one day when the kids were young he just left. So she raised them on her own, also while working full time as a nurse. Also on the side she was a political activist and got involved in the civil rights movement.
She died when I was about nine I think. I remember her as being very radiant – full of energy and opinions and zeal for life even in her old age. We used to play “Concentration” together – a card game that involved matching pairs.
What is your fondest memory?
As a newlywed, I am contractually obligated to say that it’s my wedding day. You heard it here first folks – matrimony is fun. Seriously though, my wife and I got engaged before the pandemic, and signed a contract with a venue in January 2020 for a wedding in fall 2020. We ended up postponing the wedding until the fall of 2021, and besides being a beautiful day it was also very meaningful to be able to be together with our loved ones in person (and vaccinated) after a long time of everyone isolating and social distancing. There is just so much symbolism involved in a wedding day… it is just a day, but I love to remember it because to me it represents how much I love my wife, our journey together as a couple, our shared hopes and dreams for our future together, and the many blessings that surround and support us. I suppose all the photos and videos of the day make the memories a bit fonder too.
What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?
I would like to live in a world where people do not physically harm other people intentionally. Although I suppose you could make an exception to that rule when it’s consensual…
What is art? Is it necessary? Why?
Art begins as a primordial urge to create. Then when it gets into the physical world, it’s imperfect and for the artist becomes more a matter of chipping away until the physical reality of the piece of art gets close enough to his feeling of what it could be and deserves to be and yearns to be.
The artist needs to create art because keeping it inside him is destructive – to himself or to others. The public needs art because it reminds them of their humanity – aspects they can relate to from themselves, and aspects that they did not realize existed within themselves. Also what else are you going to do with all that space on your wall, bookshelf, and Netflix queue?
What is the relationship between your identity and your desires? Perhaps related, perhaps not: why is sex (un)important to you?
My identity is a shell that I wear like a hermit crab, and change from time to time. My desires are what move me forward from one place to another, and when they get big enough they inspire me to look for a new shell. Sex is important because I always desire it, and because being naked is a brief relief from the weight of wearing an identity-shell.
What’s your relationship to clothes? Or: describe the shoes you’re currently wearing.
Growing up I was taught that clothing stores rip you off, so you should always buy something on sale. I was also taught that spending money was bad, so I would wear clothes until they became full of holes. I avoided name brands, which I was taught charge you more just for their branding.
One thing I love about my wife is her passion for fashion, for clothes as a creative medium. She has definitely influenced me to see clothes in a more playful way, and to experiment with making wardrobe choices beyond the shirt that I have worn since the 8th grade (still in my closet, no joke).
What are you working on right now? Or: what kind of work would you like to do?
I’m working on a short story called Lord Schlorbey Goes to the Space Casino about an alien ruler who decides to escape his duties for a weekend of fun with a friend, before an unexpected space hijacking occurs. My influences for the story are probably something like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Die Hard, Cowboy Bebop, Rick & Morty, and all the science fiction I have ever read.
If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?
It would be great if it were safe for men and women to walk around any area, any time of the day without fear of being robbed or assaulted or harassed.
A night on the town: what does that mean to you?
Go to a dimly lit cocktail bar and order a drink with Mezcal. When the lines start to blur, stumble to a dive bar. Down a pint or two. End up at somewhere with live music. Make a few friends, and maybe an enemy or two along the way. Wake up the next day with a raging hangover and make some scrambled eggs and toast for breakfast.
What are you unable to live without?
My Bose noise-canceling headphones. My life has never been the same since they arrived–for the first time ever I could find peace, on demand.
If you got an all-expenses-paid life experience of your choice, what would it be?
I’ve always fancied doing a full blown guided Galapagos tour and cruise. The kind that National Geographic offers that are prohibitively expensive because they are staffed with real biologists, trace Darwin’s journey, and pamper you a lot.
If you could live in your ideal society, what would your average day be like?
My ideal society would be slower than ours, more community-oriented, and more aligned to encouraging independence, exploration, and creativity.
I would wake up, get ready then walk over to a coffee shop a few blocks away where I know most of the people and they know me. I’d order my usual drink, then sit down to do some writing to start the day.
Then I would go and explore a bit–maybe wander around the neighborhood or hop in my car to go for a walk by the water or check out a new exhibit at a local museum.
Then I would come home and write some more–pound the keys on the keyboard a bit.
Then it would be lunch time, and I would make myself a salad or something.
Then I would take a nap, and maybe call a friend or distract my wife from her work, or play with my pets.
Then maybe I would read a bit, or just browse the internet, or just do something else that seems fun and does not carry the weight of needing to be “productive.”
By then the day would be waning and I would walk a bit more if I felt like I had been sitting too much, and get ready for dinner and winding down. I would say a prayer, or do some yoga, and tuck myself in, and that would be alright.