The HOW TO BE YOUR OWN NATURE interview for (the very end of) Scorpio season is with Nabil Kashyap, who has been my friend and a hero for close to 20 years. Last year my sister and I loved his book of essays so much that we had to publish it, and if you know anything about independent publishing, that means we loved this book a lot. There’s a link below to buy it. (Buying books from independent publishers is a beautiful and important act, sort of like supporting an endangered species.) Nabil, and especially his writing, of which I have been a fan since I’ve known him, is an incredible expression of Scorpio, Virgo, and Taurus, among other things. The precision, detail and wit of Virgo, the penetrating insights of Scorpio, and the sensory immersion of Taurus contribute to a feeling that it doesn’t matter what he’s writing about, I want to read it. So happy to share this interview with you, to engage with his specific perspective on the world.
Nabil Kashyap is a writer, librarian, and technologist living in Philadelphia. He is the author of an essay collection, The Obvious Earth (Carville Annex Press, 2017). He works on websites and digital projects related to critical perspectives on computing, public art, and activism.
1. What brings you the most joy?
I think it's hard for me to think of something out there bringing me joy in here forever and for all time. E.g., I really do like ice cream sandwiches, but sometimes they bring me zero joy plus maybe a stomach ache. I probably feel compelled to make the distinction in the first place because I tilt towards obsessiveness, so I have had to learn how to cool it on trying to recreate a situation or get more of a thing because that situation or thing brought me something good at one point.
Ice cream sandwiches aside, I will say there are three joys that come to mind and I can't say which is most. I would find it hard to exist without some of each. First, every once in awhile I wake up or otherwise find myself engaging the tasks of the day (make coffee, stir oatmeal, pour cat food, tie shoes) and I'm struck by how oddly fun it is, how the implements feel in my hands, how I like moving my body in just the ways required. Joy #2 is maybe because I know this is supposed to be about scorpios and it's something I had to learn. Has to do with sometimes, only occasionally, being with a few people, a little dinner party maybe, people you like and/or love, when without qualification, without thinking about it, suddenly feeling connected to these humans, feeling supported, seen. Number three is the big guns, the splashes of colossal feeling that sneak past, outside, ahead of what is immediately occupying my current scene. What might spur such a feeling is, in multiple senses, private. Rarest, but seems essential to be reminded we have access to such places. Don't forget.
2. How do you relate to Scorpio characteristics?
Yes. More or less all of the Scorpio memes. But I should add that much of what resonates does so because it helps me think about my past rather than what's going on this very minute. People grow up! One thing I'll call out because it seems kind of meta-Scorpio: A reason astro signs are compelling to me at all (they have not always been) is how embarrassingly helpful to have names with which to name the motivations of others in relation to my own. It used to be comically challenging for me to fully get that not everyone was experiencing the world, especially one-on-one interpersonal dynamics, as intensely and fixedly as I was. My first visits home after moving away for college, I'd try to describe what I was learning or adventures I was going on, but always with too much enthusiasm, speaking too quickly, gesticulating, intense. My family had a code for it. Oh, like camping, they'd say. The first time I was visibly puzzled. In-tents, get it? Followed by peals of laughter. They still rib me about it. Scorpios are so in tents.
3. How does your work as a librarian and as a writer interact? Where do the two diverge? How do they relate to your politics?
Old story: Hard to prioritize nebulous creative projects when swimming in emails reminding you of more concrete obligations. Before deciding to abandon the adjunct grind and go to library school, I had a fantasy of a job I could stand behind for a not-terrible institution that would allow me space to make stuff. As it turns out, it's challenging for me to stand behind a job if I am not totally into it, and as a result, I am much more intellectually (often emotionally) invested in my library than I'd thought.
Still, there are some ways they interact. At the library I am surrounded by new ideas with a density and constancy that I take for granted, which is definitely part of how I think through writing. I am deep in the minutiae of how cultural production is published, acquired, and preserved, how all that's changing--which has reshaped how I think about the forms writing takes in the world, how a reader might encounter it, and what the implications of those systems might be.
Also, in my regular life, I feel resistant to minor performances of my politics, especially on social media. Among my acquaintances, too much is assumed to be shared and too little is at stake. But in the library, weirdly, it seems to make a difference, however tiny, just saying, just articulating what I am for. On discussing what I think to be uncontroversial readings I've assigned, hearing computer science students say stuff like wait, algorithms aren't objective? or I had just thought tech meant progress. Direct quotes! Or a student stunned by the fact I am willing to sign her BDS petition, that I could suggest related activities in the city. Or the student who hovered awkwardly to ask about the quote on my door about financial capitalism and the instrumentalization of language. I am not and have not been a human to tape a goofy critical theory quote to my door, but in an environment where little adults are actively pitching around for models for how to be in the world, well, there it is. I think this impacts my writing in realizing what ought to be named, even if it has been said before, even if I can claim no special relationship or expertise.
4. How does writing affect your relationship with the world? Does it bring you closer to yourself? Further away? What about with other humans?
I think it has something to do with investigation, how I'm too lazy to investigate if not in writing. I operate in an active cloud of impressions, about how the world works, how iniquity happens, memory, emotional states, the ways I think ideas fit together. Having to shape those impressions in sentences always reveals how flimsy my premises. To be clear, this isn't about articulation or accurate description. More about practicing for myself what a durable connection feels like, a way through, even if the terrain is murky and is probably going to stay so. I'm convinced that practice is important to me not just as a writer but as a human intent on getting a sense for how one fits inside a world.
Coming from poetry, I mostly think of language as material. If I perform myself or some version of myself in writing as I have done in the essays I started after poetry school, it is to leave open a wider entrance than poetry usually allows. Plus throwing in the personal adds a little bit of risk, even if artificially. That's how I see it. How strange a surprise, then, when people read something of mine, whether already close to me or strangers, and suggest that they know me better or feel closer to me. This has only happened a couple of times, but in each case felt super disorienting. Gut response is invariably: You don't know me. If anything, my writing involves a kind of aestheticization, remove, and maybe even control, not at all what bring me closer to living breathing others.
5. Can you tell us something about butterflies?
Eek, a little embarrassing. Nothing complicated, just little flashes of color in the periphery, what will not sit still or brook heavy examination, little calls to attention, and like any kind of attention, the more you see the more you see. Of course for the acquisitive kind of nerd eros (Sarah calls it Virgo Venus), there is the endless tiny intricacy of insect anatomy to suck you in. Not cute or auspicious or inauspicious or gendered or mammalian, thousands of years of overuse in the stories of every culture where there are butterflies, and still they resist. No matter how many shitty ankle tattoos or greeting card prints, looking close, a butterfly is indelibly, inscrutably weird.
ARIES | March 21-April 19
Question - What part of your body feels the best right now?
Meditation - pleasure.
Assignment - Locate and notice wherever feels best in your body, throughout this week. Let yourself return to this, even if it’s just a spot on your body that is the absence of pain. No matter what you have going on this week, take care to notice this and feel into it everyday, even for a few minutes. There is pleasure to be found, and finding it changes your life.
TAURUS | April 20-May 20
Question - When has not knowing benefit you?
Meditation - the earth rotating around the sun
Assignment - Take some time to write about times in your past where you didn’t know the outcome of something, or some other uncertainty, and that not knowing benefited you in some way. Just look into your past and see what you find about times you didn’t feel ‘secure’ and what you learned. It can help your current situation, whatever it is, look more whole.
GEMINI | May 21-June 20
Question - What part of yourself do you need to reunite with?
Meditation - exposing yourself to yourself
Assignment - This full moon in Gemini later in the week will likely affect you significantly - take note and slow down so that you can soak it in, whatever it brings. Use this shift in energy, the movement into Sagittarius season along with your Full Moon to connect you with your deepest conversation. What have you left that you need to return to? What do you need to call back? Don’t be afraid of intensity during this week. Remind yourself if this does arise that intensity helps you connect with your own truth - it can be nature showing you what you might have forgotten or turned away from.
CANCER | June 21-July 22
Question - What are you giving to others right now?
Meditation - give it away.
Assignment - Return to the kitchen, or some other domestic space this week, and let your time there heal you. Make something for someone else (maybe delicious food), and by doing so remember that you nourish yourself this way. It’s about letting the act itself remind you of truths, instead of having to do any kind of intellectual work. Feel it in your body, in the making of a life-giving thing.
LEO | July 23-August 22
Question - What are you paying attention to most right now?
Meditation - sweeping the floor
Assignment - The image this week is picking up all the scattered things you’ve left around your space, especially forgotten things in the corner. Tidy up. Do this in an unassuming and quiet way, and trust that it will bring you back to knowing what your next step is. Don’t forget that small detailed acts of attending to one’s life can powerfully affect your orientation. So if there’s any overwhelm or the to-do list is feeling too long, being with the smallest thing. Don’t neglect the smallest things in your need to be big.
VIRGO | August 23-September 22
Question - Are you branching out enough?
Meditation - branches seeking sun
Assignment - Write and reflect on where your vision lies lately. As in how focused you are on your work and responsibilities, and how much space you’re making for more different surface areas to catch more light. Tell yourself a new story of productivity, to turn your attention out to the sides of your life also, to places your health and love will benefit if you give your body and mind more time spread out, not spread thin.
LIBRA | September 23-October 23
Question - In what ways does your people-pleasing get activated during holiday times?
Meditation - strength and relaxation in your pelvic bowl
Assignment - Take note of your familiar tendencies to worry about what others are thinking and how they are doing during this week. Especially if you are interacting with family at all. Don’t worry about trying to fix yourself in this, or stop it, just notice. When we notice, we shift so much without effort. Remind yourself also that every other person has their own agency, and can communicate with you about what they need. You don’t have to spend so much energy trying to predict and alter things based on your predictions, it’s exhausting and likely not as effective as you think.
SCORPIO | October 23-November 21
Question - Where do you resist change?
Meditation - yielding
Assignment - Put your body in open and receiving positions this week. A significant week of shifting, from Scorpio season into Sagittarius, with the full moon later in the week. Do legs up the wall, or lie on the ground, or in child’s pose, or any other positions that feel receiving to you. Notice any resistance you feel this week. Let it pass through. Let breath in deeper and deeper, without more effort. Imagine your breath coming in as if through your pelvis, and the ground itself.
SAGITTARIUS | November 22-December 21
Question - What do you need to shift as you enter a new year?
Meditation - from the river to the sea
Assignment - The beginning of Sagittarius season starts with a Full Moon this week. Let this be an opportunity to be with yourself in a way you might not usually be. Choose an activity that allows you to be as close to yourself as possible, and commit to doing that at least once this week, ideally a few times during the month of this Sagittarius season. All you have to do during this time is listen. To yourself. Let things move through.
CAPRICORN | December 22-January 19
Question - When do you feel most serious and rigid?
Meditation - breathing from the soil itself
Assignment - Look at when you feel serious and rigid, because those are the moments when you can learn the most from nature, and how nature responds. When you’re feeling serious and rigid it’s easy to freeze and not adapt, not know what to do. When you remember that you don’t ever actually have to feel serious and rigid, that it doesn’t matter if people like you, or even respect you (spend some time with that one!) what might that free up for you? What obligations arise for you during the holidays? How do you manage those / that feeling? Loosen up your body as much as you can, and the most important part is to not judge yourself even more for when you do feel serious and rigid. Noticing is all that is needed, with the eyes of compassion.
AQUARIUS | January 20 to February 18
Question - Where do you need to compromise?
Meditation - fluency
Assignment - Just check in this week and see where you might need to bend and shift, sway even, instead of hold fast. Is there some aesthetic or social rules you’re trying to follow that keep you from exploring what new collaboration might take place? Remember that limitation is such an important part of creative expression. It’s not just okay, it’s often what creates moments of inspiration or connection itself. Look for where there might be limitation that you can reframe for yourself to have a better time, and feel more connected.
PISCES | February 19 to March 20
Question - What stage of transformation are you in?
Meditation - stages and seasons
Assignment - As soon as you look at your life through the lens of transformation and growth, it starts to shift your perspective on the challenges you encounter. It starts to immediately give you more agency. Where is this simple shift in perspective, just a light remembering of the truth that you’re developing, available in your field right now? You don’t have to like your circumstances or even be happy or grateful. You can just take note of what is being learned, or what might be learned, and see what that does. Remember we don’t have any control over what happens to us but we can control how we breathe, and how we see what is happening. Learning is always available. Naming it is reclaiming some of our power.