I wasn’t small, broke, and kind of dirty until last year when I moved to NYC. Before my move, I was simply small—and broke only half of the time. After moving, I am still small, broke, and undeniably dirty—pretty much all of the time.
But this isn’t a public service announcement to New Yorkers to clean up the city. This is about Toronto-based artist, 2000s pop-culture fanatic, Libra, and published author Hana Shafi.
Reading Hana Shafi’s book “Small, Broke, and Kind of Dirty” was extremely fun, relatable, and easy to get through. While casually leafing through the pages, I caught myself giggling, sighing, gasping, and rolling my eyes. My visceral reactions to the book’s stories lead me to believe that “Small, Broke, and Kind of Dirty” helped me feel seen.
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Shafi’s book reveals her as someone who experienced sadness due to being a misfit but now experiences great joy from healing from those experiences and surrounding herself with affirming people. Shafi’s book is about sharing this joy to amplify everyone’s “power of the feeling of belonging” (112).
Shafi’s book—which is filled with a random assortment of anecdotal vignettes from her very eventful life—taught me both about Shafi’s lived experiences as well as the worlds that Shafi lives in. I found myself relating to some of the worlds, but not all of them, so there were times where I found myself learning about worlds I’ve never known. This hodgepodge of narratives is also intermittently dispersed with a sprinkling of Shafi’s artwork which she creates under the pseudonym of Frizz Kid.
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Shafi’s book takes you through her numerous life experiences by jumping back-and-forth through time. Shafi divides the book based on the themes of Kindness, Bodies, Politics, Self-Love and Healing, and Resilience and Mental Health. While trauma is central to the book, Shafi deliberately labels her book as not “tragic trauma porn” in its introduction (3). I believe she lives up to that goal by also giving the reader opportunities to smile and laugh along.
The message of each story and piece of artwork is varied and organized somewhat erratically. Some stories are about poop, some are about fascism, some are about Christmas hats, some are about body positivity, some are about Pumpkin-Spice Lattes, and some are about Shafi’s obsessions with witches and magic.
So, in an attempt to speak in Hana-Shafi-lingo, “Small, Broke, and Kind of Dirty” is essentially like an overflowing plastic pumpkin (or pillowcase, rather) at the end of a night of Halloween trick-or-treating. You dump everything out and some candies are a blessing, some are too old, some are expensive, some are cheap, some are sour, some are sweet, and some are not even candy. A bit of everything that you can either consume all at once or consume over time.
In her writing, Shafi touches on every facet of identity politics without making her book blatantly political. “I’m a child of whole regions, with no flags holding me down, and in this way I can connect with more people,” she says (94). Thus, her book allows for connection, which is something I felt while reading it.
Shafi’s book focuses on truth-telling through her honest narration. Shafi doesn’t pretend to be perfect, but rather, leans into her imperfections. She also doesn’t pretend to be consistent, but rather, leans into her contradictions—depicting her as a fun, relatable, regular-ass person.