Survival Kit
// by Ilana Masad



I am so incredibly privileged. This is where it all starts for me. In remembering that I am so, so, so fucking privileged. And I don’t mean privileged for the world. I mean privileged even in the West, in which I have resided most of my life. Of course, there are caveats. I’m white (but culturally Middle Eastern as well as North American--but then the Middle East, Israel in particular, so Americanized, but then again, it’s also not, and I have to remind myself that I learned more racism here than I did there). I’m straight-reading (mostly. And I’m not straight. And I hate being read as straight. Even though it’s a privilege. Passing is privilege). I’m able-bodied (but I suffer a constant chronic headache as well as almost daily migraines and body aches and pains that are unexplained). I’m financially stable and I have a mother who can help me out if need be (but my dad died when I was 16 and I remember being poor growing up though my mom says now that we weren’t really poor but as a child I thought we actually were, and I don’t know which one of us is misremembering, and also the reason we’re doing okay money-wise is because five people died before I turned 17. Also I work all the time, really hard, and am constantly exhausted because in my line of work I never know if I will have a job tomorrow or the next day). If you ignore the parentheticals, which most of the world will, I have nothing to complain about.
But being different--as if there were a true norm to which we could aspire to, when it doesn’t really work that way, even if the American Dream wants to tell us that it does--has helped me grow, and I don’t regret or bemoan any of who or what I am. Growing up in a first-world war zone taught me healthy fear, and that people are awful, and that finding good ones is how we can measure luck day by day, droplet by droplet. Being queer has brought me to a place of deeper understanding of others and of the spectrum of experiences there are. Being in pain all the time has made me resilient, my pain threshold high, my body able to withstand the pinpricks of needles on and through skin. And working hard and worrying has made me responsible and careful. Being different, being Other, is the best teacher of empathy that I will ever have. As a writer, that is invaluable.


Three Pieces of Art

1. “Good Old Neon,” David Foster Wallace:
It may be cliche, but this was the first piece of fiction I ever read that felt to me like a true depiction of depression. I’ve read more since, but this was the first time I realized that you can do something with depression in art.

2. “Welcome to the Black Parade,” My Chemical Romance:
You may be noticing a trend here - cliches. That’s because things that are formative happened to me when I was younger, before I’d developed refined taste (whatever that is) - and here, look at me, apologizing for things I loved. I listened to this song over and over and over again while my father was dying in the hospital, so the lyrics’ connection to a father, and the line “your weary widow marches on” slayed me, pierced right through my hard front, and let me cry when I needed it, which was usually alone, walking the halls, away from the my father’s hospital room, where I remained strong.

3. Alifim, Esther Streit-Wurzel:
I read and reread this book (it’s a Hebrew book) seemingly endlessly, along with many other books. But this one, with its ensemble cast, in retrospect, taught me a lot about things I care about today, things that are encompassed in social justice discussions, like loneliness, abandonment, respect, understanding. The novel is set in 1960s Israel and revolves around teenagers living in a farming school, and is wonderful and atmospheric. Oddly enough, the author’s protege wrote a book about mental illness and institutionalization that I also reread endlessly.


Two People That Make You Feel Less Alone

1. My mother:
I don’t have quotes of hers, though I wish I did. But the fact that she cares, that she carries on things my father used to say and keeps them in our conversations, the fact that for years and years she wanted to “kiss away” my headaches and that she still wishes she could just take all of my aches and pains and depressions away… She’s been there through thick and thin (and very, very thin) and I don’t know how I’ll survive in this world without her.

2. Neil Gaiman:
Because he writes things like “Grown-ups don't look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they're big and thoughtless and they always know what they're doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. Truth is, there aren't any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.”


One Thing You Carry With You

A book. Always. A physical, pageful, covered and often tattered or increasingly tattering in my bag, print book. Because I can’t live without the escape into stories, into fiction, into words. If I were stuck with one book, I would read it over and over. I have a hard time staying inside my brain, where it is often loud and many-voiced and aggravatingly hot with all the pressure and cold with all the exhaustion and sadness. That’s why I leave my brain behind as much as I can by using it for things like this. For writing. 




Ilana Masad is an Israeli-American fiction writer and book critic living in New York City. Having struggled with complex trauma (a term she’s still coming to terms with, as it were), an eating disorder, depression, and anxiety (as well as queerness, being a woman, and bi-culturalism--which is, shockingly, a word), she’s found constant solace in books, in writing, and in deep connections with others (terrifying and earth-shattering as they may be). Her work can be found in The New Yorker, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune’s Printer’s Row, McSweeney’s, and more. She is very social media oriented, and you can find her on her website, Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and Instagram.