Note: This essay was originally published in April 2020 by Z. Ahmed (@mirrorgrl on Instagram), curator of quarantine art series Homebodies and reposted with permission. The call for submissions is still open!

ALSO: This is my first time trying to include alternate text on images, which is to increase accessibility. I would appreciate feedback.

Name: Lekey Leidecker
Hometown: Berea, KY factually; New York City spiritually
Home during COVID-19: North London, UK
Preferred Creative Medium: Words
Favorite Yoga Pose: Viparita Virabhadrasana (reverse warrior)
Best British Phrase: “You f*ckin’ what?!”

5 Quarantine Trends You’ll Sit Out On:

  1. being more productive
  2. producing extensive content about COVID-19 (this is the first and only thing I’ve made about it)
  3. adopting new hobbies/starting new projects
  4. sharing extensively about new hobbies/projects
  5. Tiger King
A background photo of colorful cloths has a white square with black text, read in the photo caption.
A background photo of colorful cloths has a white square with black text, read in the photo caption.
Same background has a white square with a sketch of Big Ben and handwritten text, read in the photo caption.
Same background has a white square with a sketch of Big Ben and handwritten text, read in the photo caption.
A background photo of colorful cloths has a white square with a sketch of Big Ben and handwritten text that says: I moved to London at the top of 2020. No job, no network barely familiar with the city.
A background photo of colorful cloths has a white square and handwritten text, read in the photo caption.
A background photo of colorful cloths has a white square and handwritten text, read in the photo caption.
So, my life in social distancing isn’t that different than before: LOTS of video calls, time alone, writing!!!, cooking for comfort and sustenance
A background photo of colorful cloths has a white square and handwritten text, read in the photo caption.
A background photo of colorful cloths has a white square and handwritten text, read in the photo caption.
My partner’s work station (and frequent work video calls) happen in the living room —
A background photo of colorful cloths has a white square and handwritten text, read in the photo caption.
A background photo of colorful cloths has a white square and handwritten text, read in the photo caption.
Words follow the outline of a sketch of someone in warrior one yoga pose and says: so when I want to do YOGA during the day,
A background photo of colorful cloths has a white square and handwritten text, read in the photo caption.
A background photo of colorful cloths has a white square and handwritten text, read in the photo caption.
A sketch of a rectangle, sides labeled clothes rack, bed, wall, my desk. The handwritten text reads: I am relegated to our bedroom. The floorspace is just big enough for me to lie on my back (corpse pose).
A background photo of colorful cloths has a white square and handwritten text, read in the photo caption.
A background photo of colorful cloths has a white square and handwritten text, read in the photo caption.
I constantly bump things and make minor movements to adjust for limited space and end up frustrated and overwhelmed just as much as relaxed or energized.
A background photo of colorful cloths has a white square and handwritten text, read in the photo caption.
A background photo of colorful cloths has a white square and handwritten text, read in the photo caption.
Sketch of a Union Jack flag: My entire time in the UK thus far has felt like this, and the current conditions make things worse.
A background photo of colorful cloths has a white square and handwritten text, read in the photo caption.
A background photo of colorful cloths has a white square and handwritten text, read in the photo caption.
I’ve gained a deeper appreciation for the adaptive brilliance of Tibetans (and others) who have found ways of making home in the face of the unfamiliar.
A background photo of colorful cloths has a white square and handwritten text, read in the photo caption.
A background photo of colorful cloths has a white square and handwritten text, read in the photo caption.
In the face of uncertainty, fear, and change, I’m remembering that survival is in my DNA, all the ways we are connected, and how HOME is something we build together. The last photo is signed with a drawn heart, the initials LL, and Lekey’s name in Tibetan.


Note: This letter was inspired by a question I received after the High Peaks Pure Earth Tibetan women poets Instagram takeover series, where I talked about writing from my experiences and how impostor syndrome can silence us. I credit Food 4 Thot podcast for their “We Don’t Belong” episode featuring an in-depth discussion of impostor syndrome as queer writers, mostly of color. I credit Brainpickings for featuring an Anne Lamott essay in which she references impostor syndrome as a writer. I credit Gloria Anzaldúa for her letter to third world women writers for inspiring this format.

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Dear R,

Thank you for your question. I have been mulling it over since last night. I went to sleep thinking about what I wanted to tell you, and marvelling at the fact that someone is asking me, of all people, about this topic. I suppose that is how impostor syndrome works: making you think that there is always someone more worthwhile, more qualified to speak on a topic.

I am all for humbleness. There is too much to learn in the world not to be humble. But I ask you this: what called you to write in the first place? Did you read someone else’s words and the world fell a little more into place? Finding words that made sense made me glow inside, embers of an internal flame being fed. I have been feeling that glow well before I could even imagine calling myself a writer.

I don’t know why we write, what calls us to do it, and in the long run I am not very concerned with that question at all because I cannot help myself. I have written habitually since I was thirteen years old. I have had an overflowing Notes app ever since my first smartphone. The words just come to me, and somewhere along the way I realized or decided that I could shape them.

It is a scary thing, to fear misrepresenting a community you care about. For this I just caution you to tell the truth. Be honest. Do not write what you think you should be writing, write what you wonder about. Write about how you feel, what you know, and what you wish you knew.* You do not have to have answers to write, you have to practice wondering articulately enough that others might want to read it. If we are lucky, we pass on the wonder to another, or provide solace to another who is wondering. If we are very lucky, we sometimes get an answer.

In a world where our communities are squeezed so tightly, breathe all the life you can into what you want to say. Do not pretend to be an expert when you are not. Seek to create or deepen relationships within your community and be able to recognize the gift of critique from a trusted and beloved person. There are often a host of interests in maintaining specific narratives about one’s community. Trust your work to tell the truth you need to tell, and do everything you can to ensure that it does. Also read Michelle Tea on writing people you know and Rebecca Solnit’s rules for writing, just in case. …


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Hello! Are you a/do you care about/do you have some weird vested interest in having an opinion about Tibetan women? Do you live in or near London?

Join us to find out how Tibetan women have been shifting paradigms and changing the world at the first-ever London Machik Khabda on March 14th, 3–5pm (TBA Central London location)! We’ll be honoring Tibetan woman dynamo Gen Huamo Tso and talking about my favorite things: Tibetan women, feminism, and poetry!

Let us know you’re coming at this link and share it with your friends/enemies/LinkedIn connections.

From the Machik Khabda website:

To mark International Women’s Day 2020, we are celebrating the disruptive thought and visionary work of Professor Huamo Tso — poet, scholar and powerful champion of Tibetan women’s empowerment. Resisting conventional interpretations of Tibetan history, Gen Huamo Tso has drawn on the concept of srinmo (སྲིན་མོ་), ogress or demoness, to create important new women’s spaces inside Tibet — through women’s literature, social critique and civic engagement in women’s health and reproductive rights. …


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No matter the distance or obscurity of locale, we travel to each other.

I became a writer because of loneliness. A protracted feeling that I did not ‘fit’ in my surroundings began a lifelong habit of recording my innermost thoughts, as if to hear them reflected back to me, to create an archive of myself where there previously was none. It became a way to express thoughts that would otherwise go unsaid. A dedicated introvert, I relish solitude. I write almost exclusively alone. My recent relocation to a new country has, however, spurred a consideration of how loneliness pervades the lives of diaspora Tibetans, and the practices we enact to counter it.

Having experienced an incomparably smaller magnitude of dislocation than most Tibetans, my appreciation for its challenges has still deepened. I have begun to notice the ways that loneliness, or maybe the desire to abate it, underlies so much of diasporic Tibetan life. My first memories of being with Tibetans are my family’s living room filled with Tibetan Berea College students and their friends. …


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Relocation is a nightmare for the change-averse. It is overwhelming, unsettling, a recipe for decision fatigue. Since moving to London, I have nearly burst into tears several times at the indecipherable symbols on the washing machine, or after realizing I failed to switch on the rice cooker in time for dinner. In an effort to curtail future appliance-related meltdowns, I have had to create a feeling of home for myself. …


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A Tashi Sholpa performer enters the stage during ANU’s performance of “Apologize” on Chinese singing competition ‘Singer’ — a screenshot from the Instagram Live video posted by High Peaks Pure Earth

The story appeared on my Instagram feed. I clicked the familiar name Anu Ranglug (also known as ANU). From my basement apartment in Washington DC, I watched, transfixed, ANU’s brilliant Tibetan and Chinese language performance of OneRepublic’s “Apologize.” Suddenly, the tempo slowed and a bell chimed. The triumphant cry of a Tashi Sholpa performer echoed from my phone. The camera cut to the shocked faces of the show’s Chinese judges and audience members. I shouted in surprised joy, and my friend viewing with me asked “Are you gonna cry?”

The moment lasts maybe fifteen seconds in an otherwise skillful but unremarkable ANU performance. But the Tashi Sholpa in “Apologize”, on a show on a network in a language I cannot understand, illustrates something about what it is to be a diaspora Tibetan living in the world today. Moments like these, proud, even joyful, proclamations of Tibetanness in unexpected places, reach a tender place within myself that is always searching. …

About

Lekey Leidecker

Opinionated Tibetan American storyteller www.lekeyleidecker.com

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