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Hello, my name is Sonu.
(Sorry, I just got here.)
(I’ll explain more at the bottom, but this month I’m skipping the advice column and just ... writing. See me read this piece live on video from my bedroom here.)
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My body is getting flabby and weak. I’ve been home in America for almost a month now, moving slowly back into the house that I lived in three years ago, and I’ve barely been exercising. It’s been all family time, and meals, and laundry, and unpacking, and a lot of gazing into the middle distance when I’m not trying to figure out where a thing goes, or where it went, or where it used it go, or whether it’s still there, anywhere. Seventeen friends have lived in this house — off and on, at different times, in different formations — since the pandemic started and my one-week tour of New Zealand turned into a multiple-year ordeal.
Time to circuit-break. I woke up the other morning, feeling my doughy belly with my hands as it spilled over my waistband, and decided I wanted to go to a yoga class. I googled. My old favorite teacher wasn’t teaching at the studio I know and love in Woodstock.
It was 6 in the morning, and I engaged in one of my old favorite activities from many years of touring: last-minute online yoga-class shopping. Google. Maps. Search. Find a studio. Click on the studio. Peruse the studio’s website, make sure it’s real, decide whether or not it’s worth going on a date with this studio. Tinder for the mindful. See if there’s a morning class I can get to after Ash is in camp. Ohhh. This was good. This was nearby. This was HOT yoga. I fucking love a hot yoga class. I like to sweat and feel my body get inflamed. I like how stretchy you become in the heat. I always feel cleansed and shiny afterwards. Yes, yes, yes, I will date you, hot yoga class.
Nowadays, you can pay ahead for classes and reserve your space with a credit card.
Sometimes I risk just dropping in on a studio, but I’ve occasionally dropped in on yoga classes only to be told they were full. So I booked ahead. Now I had to go.
I grabbed my keys and got in the car, throwing an old, dried-out yoga mat I found in the basement (where is all my shit?) and a bath towel on the back seat. The morning sky was darkening with threatening clouds, and I left with enough time to arrive on the early side — you never know if something’s going to go wrong — and when I arrived at the yoga studio’s address, it did not exist. There was an empty storefront. It was bucketing down rain by that point, and I reversed, turned around, drove by a second and third time to make sure my eyes weren’t deceiving me.
I’m still getting used to driving on the right-hand side of the road. In New Zealand — as in the U.K., Australia, and the other queen-centric lands — they drive on the left. The driver also sits on the right (wrong) side of the vehicle.
It fucked me up the entire time I was over there. I bought a car after about three months of living in New Zealand, after borrowing one from a friend during the first months of lockdown. I drove that car for two years. I did not love the car. It was a blue sedan that happened to be on sale at the used car store, and I was desperate for a car when I bought it. I never took a photo of it, I never had any pride in it, I never named it. I ruined both sides of it in different fender benders. It was kicked, once, by a crazy drunk on Waiheke Island, and someday I’ll tell you the whole story, which ended up with Ash getting his first mug shot and a hot chocolate.
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But the right and left thing … I don’t know. I think I might be fucked up for good. Instead of becoming ambidextrous and ultra-capable: I feel like I’m now confused for life, second-guessing every driving decision. Even though I was in New Zealand for two years and two months, I never quite got the hang of it. The week before I left for America, especially if I was tired or distracted (which was most of the time), I was still wandering over to the left side of my car, keys in hand, only to be confronted with a seat that had no steering wheel. My Kiwi friends kept laughing at me. For years, this went on.
The turn signal and windshield wiper levers are also reversed. The entire time I was in New Zealand, I was turning on the windshield wipers when I wanted to indicate that I was turning right or left, and I was indicating that I wanted to turn every time I needed to turn on the goddamn windshield wipers. I got better, gradually, but I never nailed it. Now that I’m back in America, the problem is backwards, and relentless.
I can’t fight it. I have simply accepted that my brain’s understanding of the dashboard and its levers is now experimental and fluid. Instead of judging myself for being really terrible at remembering which lever does which thing, I’m just trying to feel a sort of quiet and curious joy in the wondering. What will happen when I need to turn? What will happen when it rains?
I don’t know.
I’ll pull a lever, and something will happen. Maybe the indicator will come on. Maybe the wipers will wipe. If I get it wrong, it’s simply … the other lever. I’ll try that one. Who fucking cares at this point?
I pulled over to the side of the road as the storm thrashed down on the car, and pulled my phone out.
I traced my internet steps back to the yoga website I had booked into, and discovered that the address on Apple Maps didn’t match the address on the yoga studio’s website. I still had 10 minutes to make it to the class on time, and Maps said the new address was only half a mile away.
I drove to the new address, but there was no yoga studio at that address either. Just a giant, stone, empty-looking church. I mused. Little, independent yoga classes are often in church basements. But full, independent yoga studios are usually not. And a HOT yoga studio? Hot yoga studios are usually freestanding buildings, or storefronts in strip malls, in places where you can crank up the heat in the room and have a bank of showers for all the sweaty people at the end of class. How do you do that in a church basement? I was doubtful that I was in the right place. It was three minutes to the start of class time. I had to at least get out of the car to find out. Nah, fuck it. Just drive home. I probably wasn’t going to get a yoga class. I’d driven a half hour for no reason.
Just as I was pondering whether or not this reconnaissance mission to get out of the car — and wade through the pouring rain to the possible locked church door — was worth the effort, a woman in a raincoat, clutching a purple yoga mat, scuttled from the church parking lot to the church’s side door and disappeared inside. Salvation! I grabbed my yoga mat and scuttled after her. Like Alice following the White Rabbit, I caught a blurry glimpse of her as she rounded a corner at the end of a long hallway, and I chased her and her yoga mat down two unmarked hallways and a staircase, until we came to a room.
This was not a hot yoga class. It was a cold yoga class in a church basement. I did not fucking care. At this point, I was ebullient and thrilled that I had made it, against all odds, to the land of any yoga. Underground. The teacher was a sweet lady in her 30s, and there were three other women — regulars, apparently — with their mats rolled out.
I left my sopping wet shoes at the door, laid my mat down on the floor, and felt grateful that the clothes — hiking pants and a T-shirt — that I was wearing atop my hot-yoga attire (a sports bra and short stretch pants) were yoga-friendly. The teacher was setting up her laptop on a set of two yoga blocks. She must be streaming the class live, I thought. That’s going to be weird. Is this normal now? Is this, like, a normal part of every yoga class, because Covid?
I hurriedly set my wallet, phone, and keys on a bench next to my towel, and the teacher came up to me to say hello. I looked at her apologetically.
“Sorry, I just got here. It was a wild goose chase to find the studio.”
“Oh, sorry about that, yes, it’s a little bit of a maze, but welcome!” she said with a warm smile. “Are you new?”
“I’m so new,” I said, smiling back. You have no idea how new I am, nice yoga lady. I haven’t been in this country in three years. I feel like a newborn kitten with no skin.
“Wow, what a beautiful name.”
“Sorry?” I said.
“Did you say your name was Sonu?”
And in the next third of a second, I changed my life.
“Yes, I’m Sonu.”
And there, the die was cast.
I am going to change my name.
Sonu. A name that would give my new life, and my new identity in America, a perfect before and after. Before New Zealand, I was Amanda. In New Zealand, I was Amanda. But when I got back to America, when my whole life was being started over from scratch? When Roe was overturned? When Trump got back into office, when the war started? That, kids, is when I decided to change my name to Sonu.
Not some dumb-ass, hippie-dippy, super-obvious new name for a transformed person, like Nova, or Delta, or Chrysalis, or WhateverTheFuckIWasBeforeForgetAboutIt.
Sonu. A perfect name. The sound of it!! Like a song. Like Maria in West Side Story. Like ... all the beautiful sounds of the world in a single word. Sonu. Sonu Sonu Sonu. I’ve just met a girl named Sonu. The most musical name. A mysterious name. Sort of … Persian? Indian? Like Uma, or Sita? Polynesian? Sonu. It could be anything. From anywhere.
So. New. Not just new. SO new. So fucking new it blinds you. A blinding name. An audible name. A scientifically beautiful name. Like sonar. A sound. A detective. A rebel name. Sew. New. Sewing. A whole new pattern, a whole new project. Let’s start a new thread. SEW. New.
But also, Nu. Totally terrible-sounding, in some ways. Like the brand of some horrible stevia-sweetened iced-coffee energy drink, I could see the lightning bolts on the billboard. IT’S NOT JUST NU! IT’S SO!!! NU!!!
But also, like mu. Not moo like a cow, which gives it a slightly silly ring. But like the Greek letter mu, the symbol µ, which is nerdy, because it’s used in math, and for the nerdy, they’ll know that mu is sometimes used to represent permeability, an expression of the extent to which a substance concentrates magnetic lines of flux. So … MU. The thing that is flexible. She who can change. A fluttering name. A twilight name — neither here nor there. A little sleepy. Slumber-y. Somnambulist-y. A chantable name. Sooooooo … muuuuuuu … your eyes are getting heavy … you’re very sleeeeeepy … listening to the sound of my voice … you are … falling … soooo … muuuuuu.
I would have to tell people about my name change.
They’ll roll their eyes. Oh god, please. So pretentious. So narcissistic. Leave it to Amanda Palmer to change her name to something really stupid.
Who would I tell first? Sxip and Coco, over dinner? Michael? Will they laugh? Or will they solemnly support me, gaze into my eyes, and say: You never looked like an Amanda to me, you always looked like a Sonu. I have felt this coming for a very long time. They would wrap their arms around me, like a loving mother embracing a prodigal child. Welcome home, Sonu, they would softly whisper in my ear. And then and there, I would break down weeping in their arms, fully seen, finally, for being my truest and highest self.
What will Ash think? He really only knows me as “Mama.” I don’t think he’ll care … much? I’m still Mama. If my grown-up name changes, who cares? He won’t mind.
Will I have to change my passport? What about all those songs I’ve put out on Apple Music? Should I ditch my last name and go full Cher/Madonna/Prince? Should I just go for broke and announce I’m nonbinary? It couldn’t hurt at this point. Everything’s up for grabs. I’ve always felt like a man trapped inside a woman’s body trapped in a man’s body trapped in a woman’s body anyway.
And Ash is confused about everything right now, while accepting everything as a simple reality, the way any normal 6-year-old would. He’s moved back to a different country, a different landscape, family, trees. He didn’t know what an oak tree was. He didn’t know what a maple tree was. He could tell the difference between a pohutukawa and a puriri tree. Those are gone now. Maple or oak. They’re everywhere. They’re GIGANTIC. It brings me incredible joy to teach him the difference. It’s a game we play now: Maple or oak? These ordinary trees seem so magical all of a sudden. I didn’t know.
He hadn’t seen a squirrel. He, like the Australians I once toured with, was so excited about seeing ordinary squirrels upon our arrival. I suppose they’re amazing, if you don’t remember ever having seen one. Little bears, I told him. Bear cousins.
We left when he was 3. He doesn’t remember anything, really. Maybe I can tell him that people have different names in different countries. That now that Mama is back in America, you’ll hear people calling her “Sonu,” and it’s just … an American thing. People do that here.
An American nickname. Think nothing of it.
When you’re a parent, you can say anything. They’ll believe you. For a while, at least.
So that’s it.
I could, I should, I can, I want, I will.
I want to change everything, so that everything can change.
My name change will change the whole fucking world, I know it will.
Maybe, if I change my name, I’ll ram a wrench into the giant cog of the patriarchy; reality and time will bend. Abortion will stay legal. Trump will have never been elected. January sixth will always be remembered as a ho-hum day when everyone was just bored and cold and not wanting to go back to work, still slightly hungover from the holidays. George Floyd wasn’t murdered.
Covid didn’t even happen. I never went to New Zealand. Nothing fell apart. Everything held. Nothing broke.
The third of a second was over.
“No,” I said to the teacher, laughing, to put her at ease.
“No, I’m just new.
My name’s Amanda.”
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Photo by Allan Amato, Los Angeles, 2018
Copy editor: Rina Bander
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Hi everyone. I’m home in America now, and currently based in Woodstock, N.Y. This space is usually where I publish my advice column, “Ask Amanda.” The column was on hiatus for a few months while I packed up my life in New Zealand. I’m still reeling, honestly.
This month, I decided to write a little nonfiction piece instead of agony-aunting. This Substack feed will probably morph into a combination of my advice column and publishable/copyedited nonfiction/(fiction?) essay writing — a catchall for the writing that is more substantial than my diarrhea-mind-stream-of-consciousness-and-promo blog. If you are a subscriber and don’t want to pay for this month because you’re like, “WTF, THIS IS NOT AN ADVICE COLUMN,” your chance to unsubscribe is now. :) You won’t be charged for the month if you unsubscribe today. But I figured if you subscribed, you like me and my writing, whatever form it may take. If I’m wrong … tell me.
If, on the other hand, you want the Full Treatment (my blog, photos, podcast, songwriting/music and video feed, webcasts, first grab at tickets, and all-around community hub and workshop), you can go to my Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/amandapalmer. We will love you over there. The Patreon is my main source of income and makes it possible for me to work and live.
One more note: Anything that I write here, I’ll usually record in either audio or video format and send to the paying Substack subscribers (and probably my patrons too). I just video-recorded this piece in my bedroom in Woodstock and uploaded it to Patreon HERE. It is free to all, and I’ll post that link to the $5 Substack subscribers as well. If you wanna skip the full-throttle Patreon and just want to support me and get occasional pieces of writing and the advice column, this is the way to do it.
Once again, thanks for reading. Subscribe for free to receive all the posts here, and if you’d like to get audio and video recordings of the writing, please join for $10/month.
And YES. We are still taking Ask Amanda submissions. Email them to AskAmanda@gmail.com (and please try to keep it under 300 words and let us know whether or not you’d like to remain anonymous). We are reading everything, and thank you all for writing in.
I’m always reading all the comments. Go for it.