COVID, My Kid, and a Conference

“One way that I know I am a writer is that either I am writing, or I’m wishing that I was.”
-Jericho Brown, Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference, 2022

As I reflect on this in the wake of the conference, it occurs to me that this is also one way that I know I am a mom.

The Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference was an absolute delight this year. The weather in Homer was flawless, the faculty phenomenal, and the conversation among the attendees was a much-needed jolt in the doldrums of the pandemic.

Yet, amidst the sun and soft breeze, a small, dark cloud hung over me and still hangs over me, keeping the memory of those four days from perfection: missing my kid.

During the conference, with masks optional for attendees and airline passengers, I isolated from my kid, husband, and parents, forgoing the comforts of our camper, and instead sleeping in the back of my car. In the little time I had with my daughter on lunch or in the evenings, I watched her play or shared meals from a distance, always outdoors and masked as appropriate. I write this from the confines of a self-inflicted, post-conference quarantine in my parents’ guest room, waiting to find out if I got sick or am in the clear to return home and finally snuggle my panik.

So many—certainly the government, virtually all businesses, and most people—are starting to view the pandemic as a thing of the past, forgetting or blissfully ignorant that there are still 18 million children under 5 in the United States who are ineligible for vaccination.

As I reconnected with writers I knew before the age of COVID and connected with some for the first time in person, many inquired as to the state of my daughter, who recently turned four years old. I explained our situation with a longing ache. One friend was particularly kind and told me I was a great mother, a salve on my constant questioning if I’m doing the right thing keeping her isolated. She’s had three of her birthdays in the pandemic. She barely remembers playing indoors with other children, eating in restaurants, or visiting the homes of others. She talks longingly of all the things she’ll get to do and people she will visit with, “When I get my shot!”

Still, she thrives, and most importantly, she is healthy. She is one of the estimated 25 percent or so of kids who haven’t caught COVID, at least not yet. “We don’t want to trip at the finish line,” I keep saying, but that finish line keeps moving further away, and nobody seems to hear the pleas of parents to expedite the approval process. Delay after delay dash my hopes, and I am tired. So, so tired. I want my kid safe.

Selfishly, I want to go back to real life, too. Those four days of the conference, masked and anxious though I was, were the closest four days to “normal” I’ve had in more than two years. Despite my little dark cloud, I was invigorated, happy, reassured that I knew who my people were. I dreaded coming home to Anchorage, back to the environment that slowly eats away at my extroverted personality, poisons my mind into depression, separates me from so many and so much that I love.

I am a writer, because either I am writing or I’m wishing that I was. Right now, I am writing, but wishing I was momming. Sometime soon, I’ll be momming and wishing I was writing.

Thoughts on a Trial and a Snowstorm

Thoughts on a Trial and a Snowstorm

It’s always the lifted pickups in the ditch
the day after a good snow. Silly,
isn’t the type of whiteness that makes you

When I dig my way out of my house,
this whiteness is heavy, but for me, how
is this different
from any other day, dealing with the
avalanche of your

A Second Coming Out

When I was around 9 years old, a boy—who I went to school with for several years before and after—teased me about being a girl. I don’t remember what he said, precisely, but I recall he was attempting to gatekeep one of my (many) traditionally masculine interests. My response has stuck with me for two decades: “I’m not a girl.”

“Then what are you?” he sneered? “An it? Look,” he looked around at our peers and pointed at me. “That’s an it.”

The “It” moniker followed me for several years. Now that I’m older, I understand the real meaning behind that statement: that if I was not a cisgender girl, I was not a human. I was an object. I don’t hold anything against that classmate of mine. Twenty years ago, society was not as woke as it is now, and that kid was as clueless as I was, probably just parroting what he’d heard from adults. He was only nine or ten, after all, and I have no idea his stance on gender issues now, nor do I care.

The thing that nagged at me for many years later was, why did I respond that way? Why did I say I wasn’t a girl? Especially since, most of the time, I do feel like a proud Indigenous woman. A happy and confident mother. I wrote it off as internalized misogyny.

But other things over the years nagged at me as well. Alternating between a desire to dress masculine and feminine. Periods of body dysphoria I dismissed at times when the pendulum swung toward comfortable. And why, in my fiction writing, did I gravitate toward male protagonists? Was it just derivative, defaulting to the options presented to me as a young reader of young adult fantasy?

Those of you who know me probably know that I have been open about being bisexual and queer for… well, forever. I went through an awkward period in my late teens/early twenties where I wanted to eschew labels, but as long as I was old enough to be attracted to people, I have openly acknowledged an attraction to multiple genders. There was no “coming out” moment with most of my family. They’re intelligent, educated, and accepting people (and a few of them are openly in the LGBTQ+ community as well).

But I’m sure many other queer people could tell you that “coming out” is a repeated process with every new person you meet. When is the right time to share this info with a new acquaintance? Your work buddy? Your boss? Your in-laws? (Small note: I use the term “right” here to mean “right for the person,” not “right for society.” Fuck society. Queerness is not validated by your status as in or out, nor does society or etiquette dictate the “right” time to make that transition, if ever.)

So, most people in my life know that I am bisexual and have known I am bisexual for a long time. But it is time for a sort-of-second coming out, not because I was closeted, but because I was figuring things out. Now, rapidly approaching thirty years old (no, seriously, my birthday is this week), and thanks to a lot of interactions online, I have realized I am genderfluid and sometimes genderqueer.

This might be confusing or foreign to some of you who are cisgender, but the best way I can describe it is that sometimes I am a woman and other times, I am just… not. When I told my husband, I used some comical descriptions I saw on TikTok: sometimes I am Girl… sometimes Girl Lite…  Girl+ …. and—my favorite—Girl you ordered from Wish (mostly girl, but something is a bit off).

As unsettling as this realization has been for me (and may be for you who have known me a long time), I find comfort in the knowledge that nothing about me has changed. All I am saying by coming out as genderfluid is, “Here is a label I feel fits a certain set of characteristics I already possess.” Characteristics I have always possessed. If someone close to you comes out, I think that’s important to remember. They’re the same person before and after.

This experience is my own and should not be taken to represent the experiences of any other genderfluid, genderqueer, bisexual, or other LGBTQ+ individuals. Best policy is to always ask the individual about their pronouns and labels, and to subsequently not be a dick by arguing with them about those pronouns or labels. Since some of you lovelies will likely ask, I am happy using she/her pronouns, but they/them or he/him don’t bother me in the slightest. The shirt pictured depicts the genderfluid flag and was created from a Lord of the Rings content creator @donmarshall72 on TikTok and comes in a variety of flag options, with 20% of profits during Pride Month going to The Trevor Project.

Immuk and Cookies

I set my laptop down and get up from my parents’ couch. I walk into their kitchen, where my mom stands chopping potatoes at the dining table. My two-year-old sits on her knees on a chair, spectating. “Water!” she says proudly, pointing into a silver pot next to her. The potatoes’ destiny.

“What is all over your face?” I tease. She has a dark smear of… something… under her chin. A little goatee, fitting for a tiny demon.

“Immuk and cookies,” my mom says. It’s no lie… the unmistakable smell of Oreo finds me.

“Immuk and cookies!” I grab a damp paper towel and wipe my wriggling child’s face, laughing at my mom’s joke.

This week I made the announcement on Twitter that my micro-chapbook, Immuk and Cookies, is available from Kissing Dynamite Poetry. It’s my first book and a dream come true for an emerging writer. The KD website describes it as, “a song of matrilineal heritage, a symbol of the mother-daughter bond, and a tribute to Iñupiaq culture.” I like to think this kitchen is happy to be housing three generations of that matrilineal heritage, especially after nearly four months apart.

Immuk and Cookies is a seven-poem collection documenting my love for my daughter and the legacy I pass onto her as a biracial woman—a legacy I inherited from my mom. The title and cover (by KD’s amazing EIC Christine Taylor) capture the duality that is ever-present in my life and my poetry, as an Iñupiaq and white person who grew up in both California and Alaska. “Immuk,” as you might have guessed, is “milk” in Iñupiatun.

My daughter loves immuk and cookies, and I hope the world does too.

Permanent In(u)k: Thoughts a Year and a Half After Trading In My White-Passing Privilege

On December 7, 2018, I was in the lower floor of a split level in Anchorage doing something western culture disdains: getting a face tattoo.

I grew up the San Francisco Bay Area, where the cities run together, and the freeway signs are often the only mark from one to the next. My dad, my sister, and I lived in a gated apartment complex across from a busy shopping center. A Jack-in-the-Box carved out a little square on the corner of our complex. The trees grew from squares in the concrete.

The fact that I was Iñupiaq on my absent mother’s side was something I didn’t often talk about at school. It was usually followed by a short and awkward exchange. My classmates didn’t understand Alaska and I didn’t really care enough to explain it to them, beyond clarifying that people did not live in igloos or ride polar bears.

I spent a handful of summers in Utqiaġvik when I was little, so I had an idea that being Iñupiaq had something to do with dancing, dressing a certain way, and eating a lot of strange food. But it was always something other from myself, and often unpleasant. I didn’t get the “weird” food or unpaved roads or the constant harassment from strangers who claimed to be related to me in some way. They all knew my mom or my Aaka. They didn’t know me. I didn’t want to know them.

Truthfully, I was relieved when my mom and stepdad decided to move to Anchorage and I spent summers there instead. It was much closer to my typical American upbringing. Anchorage was smaller than the Bay Area, but at least there were trees. I spent my last full summer in Utqiaġvik when I was eleven. When I ended up at the University of Alaska Anchorage for college, my motives were largely financial.

Alaska is a small town. It wasn’t long before I fell into a group of friends who came from Utqiaġvik. Half of them were actually my cousins. It was nice to have a connection to somebody, after growing up two thousand miles away.

Coming back to Alaska, meeting those people, and living with the Iñupiaq side of my family set me on a path to understanding my own traumas, systemic racism, how to reconnect with my own culture. I’m still on that path, and walking it is hard, but makes my heart happy.

The scariest thing about receiving my traditional chin markings was giving up my white-passing privilege. Being mixed race, my appearance sometimes prompted strangers to assume I was “something,” but I think most people assumed I was white. Passing as white meant I was typically safe from being racially profiled or stereotyped. I was scared that with my chin markings I would experience those things more often.

Growing up, I was subject to microaggressions from my classmates and teachers who knew my ethnic background, and even my own father. I witnessed and struggled with stereotyped representations of Inuit people in all kinds of media. But I had a privilege over those people who looked more Native. When I got my tavluġun, I gave it up voluntarily. I traded it for something better.

I remember beaming in the mirror the morning after I got my chin markings. When I got my other tattoos—one a watercolor Elmer the Elephant, one a Harry Potter script tattoo, and one a symbol from Avatar: The Last Airbender—they seemed foreign on my body. I loved them, but they were something I had to get used to. There was something different about my tavluġun. For one, it hurt less (hand-poking is slower, but much less traumatic to the skin than a tattoo gun), but also it felt like it belonged there. Like a feature of my face rather than an accent.

Like many other Inuit women, getting my tavluġun was an act of healing. It was one step closer to my culture and my ancestors. It was one step closer to peeling myself out of my own biases. I’m still ashamed by those beliefs that my own cultural foods and clothing were weird, back when I didn’t know about what a white-centric culture was. I didn’t know that American culture makes whiteness the default, and everything else is an “other,” and that I had internalized that.

The tattoo has opened me up to more microaggressions. The most common one is that people assume some sort of ownership over my tattoo, and assume they have the right to ask what it means. Please don’t do that. My markings are personal and it’s intrusive. I usually take the opportunity to politely educate people on Inuit tattooing in general and the historical purpose of the tavluġun instead.

Traditional tattoos are gaining more traction in Alaska, as waves radiate from cultural revitalization efforts like the Tupik Mi project. More and more people are recognizing and accepting traditional markings. Outside of Alaska, I get funny looks and sometimes stares. Occasionally angry or disgusted looks. People elbow their friends and then point to me and then their own chins like I’m not standing right there. Mostly I ignore them or sometimes laugh. I’m aware now that every interaction I have with a stranger can be associated with my race. Every opinion they form about me might also be applied to my people.

I have been profiled or stereotyped more often. Earlier this year, I was verbally harassed by an older white male in an elevator at my work. I had an interaction with a police officer that was far more negative than any before my tattoo. People have openly assumed I am less educated than I am, have made comments that it’s weird that I write fantasy fiction (because diverse people are only allowed to write about their diversity, apparently), and I have been used as the token Native in more than one setting.

It’s still worth it, for all that I’ve gained in self-respect taking those steps away from my internalized racism.

Getting my markings was a political act. I rejected a white-centric culture. I still try to make these choices. I try to correct myself and others when we call Utqiaġvik by its English name, “Barrow.” I try, slowly, to learn more of our dying language. I try to raise my daughter without the biases I had. I’m not perfect, but through my tavluġun and other acts, I can make myself and my culture visible just by being. And I can embrace my whiteness and my Nativeness on more even footing now.

As a bonus, I’d like to share a poem I wrote a few months ago.

The Taste of Bitter

The learning of History
Taught me what it was like
To munch
On something Bitter.

Before I knew the name
Of Bitter,
I knew the questions:

Do you live in an igloo?
Do you ride a dogsled to school?
Do you ride a whale to school?

I go to school here. Right now.
Minutes ago I sang
A song with you
About Columbus
In 1492,
And in twelve years
I’ll go home
And begin
The learning of History
And hear the name
Of Genocide.

Before I knew the name
Of Bitter,
I knew the questions:

You’re a girl?
Are you a boy?
Are you an it?
Are you queer?

[Two of those are true.]

Before I knew the name
Of Bitter,
I knew the taste of you.
But Bitter on the tongue
Is tempered by Salt,
Not Sweet.

Now that I know the name
Of Bitter,
I relish the taste of Salt.