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Black Tea

I woke up early that morning, I'm not sure why. There was a lot on my mind I guess. The birds had begun whispering over head, while the Sun had stretched her lazy morning stretch and now settled into a cradle of soft white clouds, enveloping Wednesday in a cozy grey lining. I filled the stainless steel pot with water, and set it on the lit stove. Passed down from generations of Indian and British tradition, I had become accustomed to chai in the morning.

Taking the mortar and pestle, I ground up two pieces of elaichi, and a little pinch of kaisar for the tea.

The beads of black tea looked like microscopic caviar. I took two lumps, and threw it into the boiling water. The water reacted at first, then settled. I could smell the strength and bitterness of the tea as it simmered in the water, a comfortable and familiar smell.

I grabbed my favorite mug. It had the shape of a woman with the most perfect hourglass figure, pinched at the waist but blooming curvaceously from there, with elegance.

Black tea into the mug, then the mele of Kaisar and elaichi, then a dollop of milk and two teaspoons of granulated white sugar. Almost ready to sit down, I grabbed two pieces of wheat bread, and threw them into the toaster. I always dipped toast in my tea. I could not have one without the other.

The clouds began breaking overhead and the Sun tiptoed out from behind them. Rays fell on my shoulder, beating down through the glass window panes, and I felt wrapped in warmth. -NJ

I always smell the teabag first, ground to leaf to olfactory to anticipation. The steeping is sexy, a swirl seductive in its intentions, to color the water slowly, slowly, reaching its foreign fingers to the banks of the cup until it's overtaken the clear city water, New York meets whatever country we're to believe this tea came from. The steam is a facial, a beckoning, the dew drops invisible on my skin but it feels like a soft kiss from a baby cousin, or a tear being wiped away by someone who loves you. The kiss of the steam the kind of warm you feel when a friend who loves you, a friend you can be silent with, traces your scalp with their fingers and makes and unmakes lazy braids on your head.

Days and days of black tea. I love the bland smell and the burnt tongue and the slow burn, teeth, tongue, throat, down, down, you can feel your insides being touched and loved and sparking up a bit from the caffeine of it. The hot in your hands, remember it, the raw of the burn on your tongue, remember it, our body's memory screaming I'm here! You're alive! Wake up. Feel me! Treat me well! Live a life! -KM

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Laundromat

The spinning made her dizzy, like the Brooklyn Bridge Park Carousel. It spun round and around, quickly and dexterously, becoming a blur, a finger painting of colors, registering in her amygdala as one endless tie-died ribbon, like the carousel. It smelled old in here, like 1970, but she couldn't be sure, she hadn't been born yet. She didn't like coming here, but she didn't have a washer and dryer in her apartment. After all, it was her first home, her first adult digs post college.

Maybe she'd read a book while she waited. The cast of characters at the laundromat were an interesting melange of eccentricities. The old hispanic woman in the corner, always sitting in the same manner, in the same corner, counting what seemed to be black beans in her hand, one-by-one, one, two, three, four...Then there was the couple - she could tell, newly dating, too handsy and excited to be at the laundromat, too in love, too cute for the laundromat. She immediately knew that she was jealous.

It was so stale in here, stark, opaque from the oldness. The humming of all the appliances eventually became a blanket of white noise. She didn't like white. It was so medicinal, and proper, and always reminded her of sitting in the doctors office, waiting for her prognosis. -NJ

I love the lazy spinning and the way my clothes flop helplessly, the up and down a forced meditation, for a moment anyway. I love the smell and the uniformity of the smell, the chemical clean something to count on in a world where every surface is covered in shit, which I wish I didn't know. I love the forced intimacy, this strange man beside me saw me drop my period panties and there's nothing to do but act like it didn't happen, I guess. It's funny what becomes normal and abnormal with the times, or with American-ness, or whatever. Waste is a secret, covered up with chemicals and bleached white porcelain but by all means, wash your dirty bras and underwear and yellowed wifebeaters in the company of strangers, in close quarters! What about New York doesn't occur in close quarters?

What is with all of the romantic comedies that begin with love in the laundromat? Surely they weren't thinking of my laundromat in Brooklyn, surely not one of these in any of these boroughs where nobody wants to look anybody in the eye, or everybody with the means just drops it off, pay by the pound. Mine is a thin slice of Bed Stuy, a shotgun house, a shithole, basically, but it's close and it gets the job done. You have no choice but to graze the bodies of other launderers trying to get to your machine, trying to transfer your clothes, a stationary subway. I keep to myself, no love for me at the laundromat. I've become far too proud of myself for doing such a necessary, easy task, for everything that's routine everywhere else is made colossal, built up in the brain to be some large errand, something to be anxious about, here.

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Lamp

Porcelain blue, runs up the glass body, engulfing it in swirls of seafoam, like the most elegant whirlpool. Blue, always her favorite. Teal to be exact, turquoise - that perfect blue you'll find dancing atop the Caribbean Sea.

The lamp poses, like the crown jewel of her apartment. The eye immediately brought to it, a calm placed around the minds' eye.

The apartment had been dim, maybe even lifeless - it had smelt stale, without movement. The lamp created a stir - a soft white light under a teal hue, blanketing the apartment ever so warmly. She felt home, for the first time since she moved, she felt home. She tasted home in blue, in teal, and in turquoise. Dainty blue, hypnotized by that ruby blue, magnetized by it.

The body of the lamp, staring at her with the deepest pools of india ink blue, hard and sturdy and strong. She flicked her finger against the blue glass, always loving the sound it made, most satisfying of all, tink, tink, like the prettiest young ballerina tip-toeing and sashaying across the space to be hers. That was her color. The lamp shone high, that small lamp, lit every corner of the apartment with its blue boldness and mischief, creating life, smells of sea spray, tastes of lobster butteriness, supple and pink. -NJ

The lean of the lamp is disconcerting, a cheap garbage lamp that doesn't look good in the life I'm trying to curate for myself. In true contradictory fashion, of loving beautiful things but loving things with memories more I bought the same lamp I had in my college dorm, then in my first, second, and third apartments.  This was supposed to by Me On My Own, a grown up lady with grown up things but instead I've outfitted my surroundings sparsely, a lazy vase of flowers, a desk, a bed, a lamp, more a hostel than a permanent living space, the lamp from college a daily physical metaphor for all the things I hold onto that I shouldn't be carrying still.

There's a magic hour, when the sun shines right into my bedroom and of course I make it about me, thinking Thank you sweet god for this light, I needed it.  The dust of my century-old corner of Brooklyn swirls in the light of the lamp and it's so pretty that you almost forget it's just dead skin, little bits of you. -KM

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Lipstick

It smelled like crayons, I always loved the smell of lipstick. I’d stare at mum while she carefully traced the outline of her lips with a pencil, then like a painter, colored across her pout. She’d smack her lips together, making that sound, I always asked if I could try it. She said I was too young. She always wore the same shade, that deep ruby red, that made her porcelain and flawless skin look even more fragile. She was beautiful, even though she didn’t know it

Sometimes when she was downstairs cooking roti daal I’d sneak upstairs to her vanity tray. With trepidation, and excitement, I flurried through her potpurri of colors. I didn’t want her to know, but I wanted to try. Wanted to try and be pretty, I wondered if the boys would ever like me. The hot pink was my favorite, it reminded me of Jem and the holograms, her electric pink hair. I pranced around the carpet for a few minutes in hot pink, feeling like I had been overcome with hot pink sass. Strutting back in forth in her bedroom, I wondered if this is what it felt like to be a woman. I couldn’t wait. I wanted her to show me how to use the pencil to outline my lips, perfectly traced and inviting, like hers. But I knew she would get angry. I was still a kid she’d say. I had plenty of time.

I know what she means now. I never feel like I can be a blank canvas when I go out into the world, lipstick is matted on me. I feel naked without it, stirring with insecurities from my youth. -NJ

Lips that beg to be painted, blooming from a moonface so open that it has its very own moons, two baby crescents that wane and wax below her eyes with the tides of her life. One puckered slightly above the other, lifted straight from her mother's face in that way daughters have of stealing features.

Lipstick was dance recitals, bright red, lifted from her mother's purse, smelling like crayola and like lady-dom. Etched ever so, ever so, on her toddler moth, bottom lip, then top lip, then, Watch Mommy! Smash, rub, smash, but ever so, so you don't color outside the line and dye your toddler skin. Then, Look at Mommy! Lipstick smudged on her long fingertips to mush into the toddler cheeks, a living dollbaby now.

Now, lipstick is hope, an adornment added to her centerpiece that thinks to itself, maybe tonight, maybe tonight. Lipstick is trying to feel young and trying to feel like a Woman (TM) all at the same time, which has been her way her entire life, born an old woman and hoping to die a baby. She still does it Mommy's way, in that way daughters have of stealing their mothers' mannerisms. Bottom lip, then top lip, then mash them together, and feel it all at once. -KM

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Sunblock

Oceans and sea spray, cockleshells, mist and sunblock. Always the sunblock. Cakey and glue like, it owned me since I was a baby, being born in the dark chocolate tone of my skin. It would wear me like a white sheet, I always put too much. I hated it, hated it. Sunblock ruined all the fun. The swishing waves, colorful screams across the hot july beach days, kites flown high up in the air, and sunblock, always the sunblock. SPF 15 never would do, skin baked so quickly, chocolate to dark chocolate to blueish purple. Too much sun turned me purple, I never thought that was beautiful. Off to the water, back out, reapply. It always took so long, someone always had to get my back. I couldn’t reach myself. It smelled of chemicals, what was I slathering on my body. But I had to, covering myself like a mummy, preserving my golden brown butteriness, my mark of age, my youth. It was important. So laborious though, spray sunblock never worked.-NJ

Sunblock always made my brown summered skin purple, a filmy barrier of me against the sun, a sticky trap for the sand and the dirt and the dust of Myrtle Beach.

Sunblock is South Carolina in a house with all of my cousins, who are me and who I am, and all of my aunts, ,who I'm made of, and all of my uncles, who are less me but still a little, yes. It is spending all day getting dark and not really taking the threat of the sun seriously, because Oh, Sweet Melanin! the gift that frees us from the stress of the sun, the fear of the rays, the gift that leaves a scrunchie-stripe on my wrist in less than ten minutes and I marvel at my skin that I'm blessed to have been taught to love.

How can I talk about it without talking about that smell. I need to be a better writer to capture what a perfect smell that is, how it always smells the same and brings you back to the beach, even when it's winter and I'm cleaning out the bathroom cabinet and get a little on me, that white glob of chemicals a time machine to better times, to brighter suns. I remember Hawaii with my dad, waking up at 5 am to watch the sunrise, and I could cry at how much he loves me, and how great he is at saying it and how great he is at saying it in ways like waking me for the sunrise in Hawaii. He had a video camera and it rained a little and we sat on the beach and talked about Me, and here I am, the Me we were talking about, flailing about in New York City. -KM

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Yarn

I felt like a child in a candyshop, a kaleidoscope of colors. I ran my fingers around the rough edges of the yarn, stout and warm. It would live around me eventually, reminding me of winters past and winters to come. The comfort of the yarn was familiar in its look and its smell: Sunday afternoons with Grandma on the couch, the smell of pulao floating through the hallway, my 10 year old self taking cold metal needles, wrapping the frayed yarn. Knit 1, Purl 2, Knit 1, Purl 2 , staring intently, scrunching my face from concentrating so hard. As I got better, the act of knitting became a ride, fluid and automated. knit 1, purl 2, knit 1, purl 2, knit 1, purl 2. Textured yarn hugging my cold metal needles. Clink clink, clink clink, went the needles as I quickened my pace, yarn like a fruit by the foot unraveling. -NJ

You are a ball of yarn. You are compact and quiet but as you unravel, you take up space. You are soft. You are strong. Don't let anyone mistake you for anything lesser. You feel like home. At the end of a long day, you are there, and quite, and reassuring. You are shape shifting. Weaving yourself through needles as if their ends do not even touch you. Your softness cannot be torn. Your patterns will not be undone. You are warm. You are home. You are strong. -AD

The yarn reminded me of genes. Wrapping tightly round the fiber of my being, of my I, in and out, in and out, until a girl, and then a woman, spins silently from mom and dad, from mom and dad.

I remember falling asleep on the train to the rhythm of your needles, in and out, in and out, until I made it home and wondered what it'd turn into later. I'll never know, but your furrowed brow and tight lips told me that whatever it was, it would be something special for someone special. Dad used to braid my hair when mom was away, in and out, in and out, and he'd laugh, proud, and I'd laugh, embarrassed, the knitted knotted braids a mess upon my head, the schoolyard. The smell of hard-boiled eggs in salt-water as I left home, knowing too young how people look at others and think cunty thoughts.

My mom used to peel the green beans... -KM

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Licorice

Taffy pull, sticky gooey, separating the licorice pieces on by one, pulling on them like I was unpeeling a banana, sticky gooey. It smelt like burnt cherries, with remnants of strawberry and anise. I'd been saving this piece. An after swim treat, my lips parched, back sunburnt, a piece of licorice and a cold glass of fizzy strawberry lemonade.

Bright red like the first summer sunset, the glean on the licorice made it even more enticing. Flashes of sweet red sparkled across as I sunk my two front teeth in, gummy along the ridges of my teeth, in my mouth, in my mouth.

I could feel it sticking stubbornly to my molars, I didn't care. I was so happy, under the sun, with my cherry licorice, sticky gooey.

Cherry licorice reminded me of the happy of happiest days, a spin on the coney island carousel, sinking my feet into warm sand, hopping on my bike, riding through late spring New York City streets, alive, curious and filled to the brim with love, a love for all that's simple and good in the world.  -NJ

You are spiced and sweet. Full of color, black beauty. You turn, twist, move with confidence. Mouth fulls of childhood. Stuck on teeth like nostalgia.

A namesake that makes me wonder. Now I am more interested in you without ice. -AD

Twizzlers at the movies. My mom, always, Twizzlers at the movies. She taught me about the drug store before the movies, and stuffing your prizes in your purse so they can't see them or take them from you. It was something to count on, and one way to say I love you is to say, I know what you love. At the drugstore before the car rides my brother and I would pick out the snacks and it was Twizzlers for Mom, always.

Always in the mornings she'd shake me, who loved school but hated waking, even then, ,and sometimes when I wouldn't get up it was a dixie cup of water to the face, the lick of the cold enough to bring me to the world for the day.

Have you ever noticed how Twizzlers smell like crayons? Have you ever in your life met a person who enjoys black liquorice? I hate hating a black anything, but the taste of it is wrong, a factory mistake that somehow people accepted as candy.

Back to the movies with my mom. The rustling susurous of the bag at a quiet part always made me feel more guilty than it should have, how dare my pinky finger twitch inside the bag at the sad quiet part, how dare I crackle crackle, sending nose through the quiet black, cutting the white light with my greed?  -KM

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Shoes

Laces frayed, blackened at the ends from being untied too many times, then stepped on. White as vanilla bean, they now had the faint look of age, weathered and tattered from the rain and my hard stride. I felt like a child in them, petite and small against the rest of the world, a timid conversation in a grandiose and vast world. The smell of canvas was strong and deliberate, the soles rubbery and peeled, but I still wore them religiously. They were my Saturday morning shoes. I took them out for a spin with my morning coffee, 2 sugars and whole milk, my Saturday ritual. A moment of routine and familiarity amidst the bombastic New York morning.

The red piping along the edges of my shoe, so subtle but my favorite part. I knew I'd out grow them soon, but for now they would do. -NJ

I take my time deciding. I need to make sure you're the right fit. You like a fun night out, but you feel like regret. Like pain. Superficial confidence, pumped through media images and supermodel dreams, superimposed on my ego. Heel to toe, I am a goddess. Head to toe, I am modest and uncomfortable. I look tall but don't feel grounded. I can't feel ground. I only feel you. -AD

My toe, the second from left on the left foot, hurts, but everyone will look at me if I don't wear shoes today. It's also winter, and even though the bitter bites through the leather, they're necessary, another shield, another coat of armor.

I can smell them wearing down. I wear the brown scuffed boots every day, a creature of habit in a world that wears you down when you stay the same and it changes, but oh well. They're the ones that hurt my toes the least. My stocking-ed feet rub the insides like a mother rubs vix vapor rub on your chest, comforting but the cough is still there. My toe rubs one too many times and I can feel the penny water seeping slowly into the leather but i'm not where i need to be yet, not even close. I'll bleed stubbornly into my old leather boots that carry me daily because I'm cheap and I'm broke and New York City is breaking me slowly, but at least my shoes are broken in, accustomed to the cold of the wind and the wind of the looks from the people. -KM

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Group object writing

I think this cold has been wearing us all down. As a resolution to pump us up, myself and two wonderfully talented musician friends, Kim Mayo and Ashni Dave, have decided to embark on a three week journey of daily object writing exercises.

Object writing is a tool used by lyricists and writers, as a way to deep dive into writing. It works upon engaging all of your senses – writing from the perspective of touch, taste, smell, sight, sound, plus two other sense: organic sense which is your awareness of inner bodily functions – pulse, heartbeat, muscle tension, etc. And Kinesthetic sense – roughly your sense of relation to the world around you like when you’re on a train and get seasick, the world around you blurs.

Each day for the next three weeks we'll choose a different object every morning, and writing upon that. Please join us and submit your exercises to us! We want this to be a community experience! I'll be posting our first three object adventures. Yarn, Shoe, and Licorice

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Object 6: The Notebook

By her bed it rested, asleep and waiting to be stirred, much like the owner herself. A gift from her closest friend, a way for her to articulate her most private thoughts. The pages smelled musty, of old library books, a smell that instantly comforted her. She ran her finger down the spine of the notebook, feeling its hard edge, imagining pages that would come to life with the touch of her pen to the paper.

She sat at her desk, staring intently into the cherry leather bound cover. This was her first grown up journal, no pictures of fairies or purple flowers on the cover, just a simple leather bound book for her to fill her imagination with. She sat a bit longer, taking in the sound of the morning silence around her, only the faint hum of the heater hissing, creating a pillowy ostinato for her first entry.

The blank pages stared at her and stared at her. The cream colored pages were becoming blurry the longer she stared, the navy inked lines on the page doubling under the intent of her stare. She stared and they stared. The pages stared.

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