Here’s an interview with the magical Rachel Khong, for this New Moon in Cancer week! Rachel’s work is an inspiring expression of Cancer (through her focus on food, family, memory, the past, and domestic space / experience), Gemini (through her bringing together of so many people and ideas), and Capricorn (through her astounding work ethic and responsibility), among other things! She's created a work (Capricorn) space that feels cozy and inviting like a home (Cancer), to bring people doing all different kinds of arts and letters (Gemini) activities. Read her books and her writing, and visit the Ruby for classes and/or for co-working.
Rachel Khong is a writer and novelist living in the Mission, in San Francisco. She is the founder of The Ruby, also located in the Mission, a shared work and gathering space for women of all definitions.
1. When do you experience the most joy?
When writing is easy, when it feels like magic. Reading a good book, or watching a good movie. Cooking and eating a meal with friends who make me laugh. Being in someone’s garden (I wish I had my own!). When I’ve written or cooked something that I think is good; both the process and the result can be a joy. Maybe that’s the main thing: I like making stuff, or enjoying something that someone else has made.
2. How integrated do your various roles feel? How much does it matter if they are integrated to you?
My roles feel fairly integrated in my body though I know they’re disparate to say out loud. I write fiction and nonfiction; as of January, I’ve also run a small business. I finally feel I’m at a place of just, like, feeling fully myself — doing the things that I want and love to be doing (along with, you know, chores! But I don’t mind chores). In the past I’ve felt unhappy and just off when I was doing too much of one thing; I think often because my sense of worth would be wrapped up in whatever work I was doing. There were years I worked incredibly hard at my magazine job, and though the work itself was satisfying, I was also miserable because I felt I was failing at finishing my novel. At the same time, I’ve also been really unhappy at times in my life when I had nothing to do but write fiction. These days, I get to work on my novel, write the occasional magazine piece, eat and cook food, and do things that I love at The Ruby, like learn how to make or do things, learn things period, talk about books, and even just play mahjong (I shouldn’t say just; mahjong is serious stuff!). Working on The Ruby has been the most interesting puzzle: making this thing for other people that, for me, has been so special and so valuable, too. The Ruby has been a way to bring many of my interests and skills together, a way to engage these different aspects of myself. We are all so many things, at once. It can be frustrating to be seen only as one part of you, or to have your worth feel tied up in a specific output. With The Ruby, I especially want to acknowledge this about us, as humans: we’re multifaceted, and have many interests and needs. I want The Ruby to be a site of integration and also belonging. You are not only the work that you do; you are your interests, you are your sense of humor, you are your generosity, you are so much.
3. Do you relate to the typical Cancer problem of absorbing others' emotions, and if so, how do you manage that?
I do! As I get older I’m managing it better. I think recognizing that you do this is a first step. When I was younger I was so conflict averse I avoided conflicts altogether; I thought that even having an argument with my partner would mean that we were doomed — the relationship would fall apart — which of course wasn’t and isn’t true. I think as a Cancer and a woman and a minority I have done, in life, a lot of second-guessing myself. That problem of taking in what other people feel — not creating space for myself, and not drawing boundaries that need to exist — is so real. The way that I dealt with this tendency when I was younger was by simply retreating or running from problems — being emotionally unavailable, to not get close enough to people to let people’s emotions really impact me. Being detached and cool. Finally, now, I’m learning that really delicate balance of how to be a person in the world. I’ve had to; I’ve been forced to. I am a writer and I have books that strangers read; I’m a business owner and strangers think things about this business. Not all of the things, of course, are positive. But I’ve learned that people can say terrible things, and people can misunderstand you, and not everybody will like you, and that has to be okay. It just has to. I have had to decide not to be absorbent, but not in the way that I used to, of being emotionally unavailable. These days I’m always reminding myself: people will think what they think; I have my work — the work that I love — to do.
4. You support so many people in the food industry (who probably don't call it the 'food industry', but I don't know the official words). Will you talk about your own personal relationship to food, and how it factors into your every day?
Food has always been so personal and fascinating to me. There’s so much history and identity wrapped up in food, at the same time it does this very simple, elemental thing of nourishing us. We need it to stay alive; every person on earth eats. And, honestly, I just love eating. Food is good! I grew up with a mother who worked full-time yet cooked when she could; my diet growing up alternated between junk food and these really amazing Malaysian curries and noodle soups. When I moved to San Francisco, after college, I went to farmers’ markets for the first time and learned how to cook, and that was its own exciting discovery and joy. Probably this goes back to question number one: it brings me happiness to make things, and to eat things that other people have made. You can learn so much from both of those experiences.
I also love that food can be both public (shared with people) and private (a solitary pleasure). Anthony Bourdain was a cancer; so was MFK Fisher. They were both public and private people, and I get it. Food can be public or private, social or not. It can be a way that a private, perhaps on-guard person can exist in the world, get to know other people more intimately — over a shared meal. Food can do a lot of things at once. There’s a book I love called Home Cooking, by Laurie Colwin, and in it she writes, “For the socially timid, the kitchen is the place to be. At least, it is a place to start.” That has always resonated with me.
5. I'm astounded at the various ways you support other artists, especially at The Ruby. What do you want to be asked about that you don't get asked about enough?
I was reflecting on the fact that I sometimes feel squeamish when I get asked about the thing I’m currently writing, or about The Ruby itself as a project. I shift and I stammer and I freak out slightly inside, and I wonder, why is it so uncomfortable for me to talk about the things that I so deeply love and care about? I think part of the reason is that I’m afraid to articulate the projects incorrectly. That, if I start talking about something, it will be incorrectly received, or that something I say will lead to a misunderstanding. That’s a crazy way to think, of course, because I’m in the business of using language to communicate. And yet, misunderstandings and miscommunication are a really central part of the human experience. We communicate only in flawed ways; we do not understand one another perfectly. It’s a heartbreaking reality that I explore in my fiction, and have recently been exploring with The Ruby, too. This question of: Well, how can we connect, despite our various backgrounds, and our various baggage? I’m so interested in that question.
ARIES | March 21-April 19
Question - What is new around you in this moment? What do you not know about, right now?
Meditation - newness is unavoidable.
Assignment - Use your desire to start new things as a way to get more curious about your moment-to-moment experience. This can be hard for Aries, often easily bored! Without even maybe realizing or calling it that, Aries really thrives in moving from experience to experience, new stimulation. So instead of trying to make this desire go away, I’m suggesting that you use it in a new way - shifting your perspective. Using it to get more curious about how new this very moment is. And that it’s actually a habitual asleepness that makes us think that this moment and all it contains is NOT new. That’s impossible! We cannot possibly know what is coming next, and that is a good thing. That’s your job, as an Aries, in long term sustainability in your life - to use this newness and excitement for the things that might not on the surface look exciting. To see deeply into how vivid the present moment actually is.
TAURUS | April 20-May 20
Question - When do you initiate in your life?
Meditation - initiating
Assignment - Experiment with initiating, even if in small ways this week. Take notice of how much you are the initiator or not in your life. How much of the time do you start things, suggest things, begin things? Taurus tends to be good at running things that are already going but can be hesitant to start things because change can feel so jarring. But it’s useful to flex that muscle if you realize that you’ve been not initiating anything.
GEMINI | May 21-June 20
Question - What is going in and out of your mouth?
Meditation - inspiration and expiration.
Assignment - Tune in to what is going in and out of your mouth. Breath! Food! Water! Connect with your mouth and throat as a location for your mindfulness this week. What is being communicated and what is transpiring through you, at this point. Prepare tea for yourself, using your intuition about what tea feels most nourishing. Use plants in drinkable form to connect to your own body through what you ingest. Drink it slowly. Breathe in between sips. Be the child of this earth that you are, intertwined with the lives of plants.
CANCER | June 21-July 22
Question - When are you most being yourself?
Meditation - being yourself.
Assignment - Being yourself can be hard for Cancer because it’s such a sponge, such a a chameleon, so good at mimicking. This is why Cancers are often good actors, good at language, because they learn through osmosis. But for this reason it’s important that you find ways to clarify your own path, your own emotions, your own free will. Discern what is yours, what is good for you, not anyone else. This is a daily practice, it’s not something you determine once and then set. Use the new moon in Cancer this week as a time to set intentions to return to yourself, your own knowing and way of being. The more you embrace and own these Cancer tendencies, the more easily you can discern what is yours and what is not.
LEO | July 23-August 22
Question - How often do you think you’re right?
Meditation - pleasurable, freeing uncertainty.
Assignment - The thing is, you are often right, about what is happening with other people and what they should be doing, etc. However, this can cause you a lot of suffering when people don’t do what you think they should. So being right can be quite lonely and painful! In fact it often is! So just because you have a sense of what should be happening with someone else, I invite you to pull your energy back into your own sphere, as the most loving and respectful act you can do FOR ANOTHER PERSON. Because the more you do this, the more you invite people around you to do it. But! We don’t do this action, pulling back out of other people’s business, so that they will change. We do it because this is what we can control, this is our domain, and ultimately what is best for us. The bi-products that we can’t control are wonderful when they happen, but not the point. The point is what thoughts sustain your life, and which ones drain it - look into this.
VIRGO | August 23-September 22
Question - What are your perfect pictures today?
Meditation - suffering as essential information.
Assignment - So much of the time you get stuck because you’re in a perfect picture. Your mind created an idea of what perfection looks like, without your consent, and now you’re paralyzed because you or your project isn’t living up to this. This is your suffering! So the task is not to work toward that acheivement of the perfect picture - the task is to use your suffering (anxiety / stress / defeat) as information that lets you know your mind made this perfect picture, and THAT is the thing to expose and get rid of. Let the suffering be a lightbulb that helps you investigate the seed of it, which is always a thought/s about what you are doing that is not right or not enough. The more you look and and handle the perfect picture (as the boss!), the more your self and creation will become what you want it to be.
LIBRA | September 23-October 23
Question - What needs to come out of you?
Meditation - coming out.
Assignment - Let your meditation this week be asking yourself what needs to come out? What needs to be spoken, or expressed, that you are keeping in because you are concerned about how other people will feel about it? How does this concern prevent you from listening to yourself? What would it feel like to release what needs to be released? Make a list of what needs to come out. Live with it for a while, see how it feels to write it first, then experiment with saying it.
SCORPIO | October 23-November 21
Question - What’s the relationship between your emotions and your shoulders?
Meditation - shoulders opening
Assignment - Track the relationship between your emotional life and your body this week. Especially in your shoulders. When do they feel ‘open’ and when do they feel ‘closed’? What does this have to do with your heart center? How can you notice this, with a lot of kindness? Don’t worry about doing anything about what you notice - the noticing is the doing. Just notice, over and over, what is going on in this area of your body and see what your shoulders can tell you.
SAGITTARIUS | November 22-December 21
Question - Who and what in your life brings you down to earth and holds you to your commitments?
Meditation - coming down to earth.
Assignment - Sagittarius has such a tendency to plan and think big. This talent will never leave you. But what gets missed in that big picture view? You love knowledge and wisdom for its own sake but who and what in your life keeps you connected to the ACTUAL? To the real life manifestation? To what it takes to actually make a change in your life? You are good at knowing how to talk about what needs to change, but what processes, practices, and people can help you, remind you regularly, to come down to earth and execute a plan about how to really make changes? Cultivate those things, give them life and energy and nurturing.
CAPRICORN | December 22-January 19
Question - What does ‘not following through’ open up, or allow you to follow through on?
Meditation - gravity.
Assignment - Letting yourself be tired. Letting yourself be ‘irresponsible’. Letting yourself go. Letting yourself not follow through. Let yourself experience gravity. Let gravity remind you that you are in a body, and the body is subject to rules of the earth, and your job is to not override your body’s information, but to listen to it. This is about getting wiser about what being responsible means. To whom and what are you responsible? How would your life look different if you made decisions from the point of view of what your body needs? Examine what parts of your life feel like they are in conflict with this type of being responsible. Remember gravity, over and over and over, and let your body be held by it.
AQUARIUS | January 20 to February 18
Question - What is happening in your stomach and how does this relate to your mental life?
Meditation - digestion.
Assignment - How connected are you to your digestion? How is it functioning lately? Look into this, track it with your attention this week. Notice how it relates to your mental life, and how the two affect each other. Use digestion as a metaphor for helping your mind - let more things be digested! Let more of your mental process be processed, recycled back into the earth, with less analysis. The power and health-giving properties of digestion!
PISCES | February 19 to March 20
Question - What ideas about yourself might be outdated?
Meditation - protecting your neck.
Assignment - You can think of your emotional life as fragile, because Pisces can be fragile at times, or just, so tuned into the other world, the emotional and or spirit world that it can be hard to inhabit your body. But you can also think of your vivid emotional life as part of your strength, and your fluidity as exactly the way you wield power in your life. Whatever ideas you’ve picked up along the way about being ‘sensitive’ - look at those in front of you and let them be recycled back into the earth. And! Protect your neck. Some people think of the neck as a psychic door, and also as a site that, when exposed, makes us more prone to sickness. So especially if it’s windy where you live, use a handkerchief or scarf on your neck. This can also be a symbol of owning your emotional and psychic life in a new way. It’s a chance to update your beliefs about yourself.