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“There is in every true woman’s heart a spark of heavenly fire, which lies dormant in the broad daylight of prosperity, but which kindles up and beams and blazes in the dark hour of adversity.” - Washington Irving ISSUE No. I


. F E AT U R I N G . L U X A L P T R A U M . J I L L F I L I P O V I C H . F E M I N I S TA J O N E S . A L I C E L A N C A S T E R A M A N D A M A R C O T T E . E M I LY M AY . A L I D A N U G E N T . L I Z P L A N K . A I - J E N P O O D E B B I E S T O L L E R . A D E L L E W A L D M A N . L Y N N Y A E ER


ABOUT US Enchantress Magazine is dedicated to telling the remarkable real stories of remarkable real women, celebrating and commiserating together through the power of instant photography and first person storytelling. There’s no airbrushing and no editorial ‘we’— just us. All of us. Interspersed with interviews, graphic memoir and personal essays, Enchantress is on a mission to reconsider traditional magazine conventions: There is no pandering, airbrushing, beauty tip dispensing. If you want to find out what a celebrity baby is wearing or how to fashion adorable crafts from mason jars, there are many other publications to consult. Likewise, if you’re contemplating trying out the cabbage soup diet, this is also not the place for you. (Although our suggestion? Don’t.) Neither a news destination nor a fashion bible, Enchantress is here to encourage and support women in sharing their stories in a way that “aspirational” magazines simply can’t. Imagine, for a moment, that magazines were pieces of furniture. If GQ is a leather Chesterfield sofa and Vogue is the set of porcelain elephant end tables in Joan Didion’s living room, Enchantress, then, is an IKEA armchair. Not because we’re cheap or made in Sweden, but because we’re something you can really get comfortable with.

FR I E Given its infinite connotations and definitions, how would one even begin to cover all of the dimensions of fire, Enchantress’ first editorial theme? How can it even be quantified (a flicker, a spark, a blaze, a smolder?), much less defined in literal terms? A chemical reaction resulting in primarily carbon dioxide, water vapor, oxygen and nitrogen? The burning feeling you get in the back of your throat after too many shots of tequila? That stuff cavemen figured out? One-quarter of the zodiac signs opposite Earth, Wind and Water?


Four little letters, one big word. From the thirteenth-century Middle English “fier,” both noun and verb, never has one four-letter F-word had so many connotations. (Even the other F-word you’re thinking of.) What else stands as a metaphor for both creation and destruction, death and life anew alike?

Further adding fuel to the fire (pun completely intended), the word has no shortage of symbolism: Mythology gave us Prometheus, who stole fire from the Greek Gods, Agni, the Sanskrit deity who rode a chariot of flaming horses and Hui Lu, the Chinese magician who, according to legend, kept one hundred birds of fire in a gourd. Literature runs the gamut from Fahrenheit 451 to Lord of the Flies to The Hunger Games. And of course, music presents fire imagery everywhere you listen from Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the…” to Alicia Keys’ “Girl on…” to The Doors’ “Light My…”


/’fi( )r/

1. a (1) : the phenomenon of combustion manifested in light, flame, and heat (2) : one of the four elements of the alchemists. b (1) : burning passion : ardor (2) : liveliness of imagination : inspiration 2. a : fuel in a state of combustion (as on a hearth) b British : a small gas or electric space heater 3. a : a destructive burning (as of a building). b (1) : death or torture by fire (2) : severe trial or ordeal 4. brilliancy, luminosity <the fire of a gem> 5. a : the firing of weapons (as firearms, artillery, or missiles). b : intense verbal attack or criticism. c : a rapidly delivered series (as of remarks).

Perhaps above all else, fire represents passion. A collective fire, after all, is what created every great nation, movement and creative work. It’s what drives the oppressed to rise up against injustice, the daring to create the unheard of and the emboldened to dare to change the world. Fire unites us as powerfully is it can destroy. Never has one little image covered so much ground.

From the women firefighters who now make up .04% of the FDNY (read about our cover women in “The Women of New York’s Bravest”) to Tinder’s iconic logo (see “An Illustrated History of My Best and Worst Tinder Dates”) to actually breathing fire (“How to Fight Fear with Fire”) we’ve tackled our inaugural issue’s editorial theme from every angle and invite you to take the journey with us.


enchantress Issue N O 1 Spring/Summer 2016 CHLOE KENT Founder & Editor-in-Chief


KATIE MINCHAK Designer & Creative Director






Editorial Assistant

Contributing Editor

NICOLE KENNEY Contributing Photographer

KS RIVES REVIVO Contributing Photographer

LESLIE AGAN Contributing Illustrator

TIFFANY MALLERY Contributing Illustrator

EMMAJEAN HOLLEY Contributing Writer

ESME BLEGVAD Contributing Writer

JAMIE L. ROTANTE Contributing Writer

VICTORIA WINTER Contributing Writer


Aley Saparoff

Dana Venerable

E.R. Pulgar

Kate Bradshaw

Katelyn Peters

Maya MacDonald

Nasanin Rosado

Nora Kipnis

SPECIAL THANKS The United Women Firefighters, The New York City Fire Museum, The Fire Department of the City of New York, Women, Action, and the Media, Centre for Social Innovation


enchantress Issue N O 1 Spring/Summer 2016






“10 Quick Tips in Media Literacy”

“An Illustrated History of My Best and Worst Tinder Dates”








“I’m with the Band”

“The Women of New York’s Bravest”

“Unspontaneous Human Combustion”










“Mind Maps”


“How to Fight Fear with Fire”







“Voices of Varanasi”

“Lynn Yaeger’s ‘Funny Little World’”

“On Almost Giving Up”














And, moreimportantly, importantly, howdodowewestart startsolving solvingit?it? And, more how

JILL JILL FILIPOVICH FILIPOVICH Lawyer Lawyer /// /// Journalist Journalist /// /// Former Former Senior Senior Political Political Writer, Writer, CORPORATE CORPORATE CULTURE CULTURE

“Yougetgeta alotlotof ofnice niceplatitudes platitudesas asa a “You young professional— confident!’ ‘Beyoung professional— ‘Be‘Be confident!’ ‘Believein inyourself yourself !’—and andallallthat thatis isimimlieve !’— portant, from a woman’s perspective, portant, butbut from a woman’s perspective, you stuck between this rock and you cancan getget stuck between this rock and hardplace placeof ofeither eitherbeing beingrespected respected a ahard seen a bitch, being liked butbut seen as as a bitch, or or being liked butbut notnot valued your intelligence. There’s been valued forfor your intelligence. There’s been a bunch studies this: Even if woma bunch of of studies onon this: Even if womand negotiate work, they’re enen trytry and negotiate at at work, they’re notnot successful men, and they’re seen as as successful as as men, and they’re seen as as aggressive when they assert themaggressive when they trytry to to assert themselves. I don’t think change that selves. I don’t think wewe cancan change that makingyoung youngwomen womenchange changetheir their bybymaking behavior alone. I think need create behavior alone. I think wewe need to to create intentional and purposeful shifts among intentional and purposeful shifts among people positions power that able people in in positions of of power that areare able magnify these women’s voices that to to magnify these women’s voices so so that whenyoung youngwomen womendodoputputthemselves themselves when thereprofessionally professionallyand andencounter encounter outoutthere quietend endof ofunintentional unintentionalsexism, sexism, thethequiet they benefit same ways that young they benefit in in thethe same ways that young men generally do.” men generally do.”


ALICE LANCASTER ALICE Painter LANCASTER /// Illustrator Painter OBJECTIFICATION /// Illustrator thinkOBJECTIFICATION one of the biggest problems

“I that one we put toobiggest much worth on is ap“I isthink of the problems pearance sexuality andoncelebrating that we put and too much worth appearwomen purely and for celebrating their beauty only ance and sexuality womit. beauty We asonly women have enperpetuates purely for their perpetubeen taught that beauty and taught sex apates it. We as women have been peal are the valuable assets and that beauty and most sex appeal are the most it’s causing all of ourfoenvaluable assets us andtoit’sfocus causing us to onour ourenergy lookson instead of our skills, cusergy all of our looks instead canbut begin solving by teachof but our we skills, we can beginitsolving it girls at a young age that theythey have bying teaching girls at a young age that much more to to offer thethe world have much more offer worldbeyond betheir sexuality.” yond their sexuality.”



EMILY MAY Street Harassment Activist /// Co-Founder & Executive Director, Hollaback! LACK OF CONFIDENCE



AI-JEN POO Director, National Domestic LIZ PLANK Workers Alliance /// Senior Co-Director, Correspondent, Caring Across Vox ///Generations Former MSNBC LACK OFCorrespondent, FAMILY CARE KrystalOPTIONS Clear “The greatest challenge facing millennial REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTSwom-

so not many issuesa supthat it en“We’ve today isprogressed that we stillon have created “The challenges millennial women face port feels like for when it comes to reproductive system family care.Millennial womenrights in are as diverse as the women themselves, thewe’re reallywill stuck in the Stone Age.chalThree workforce struggle with the same and I think that’s a beautiful thing. There lenges timestheir more anti-abortion passed mothers and fathersbills did were of finding is no single issue, because there is no unibetween 2011 and 2014 than over the last ten and affording quality child care and eldercare. EMILY MAY versal millennial woman. To solve any of years combined. Coming from Canada, I myWe can address this challenge by prioritizing Street Harassment Activist /// Co-Founder the problems plague us we need to investing self didn’ realize how important reproductive intreal solutions— in public policy and & Executivethat Director, Hollaback! do twochallenges things: speak up loudly to pow- in rights were, but it’sthat so elementary: you afdon’t “The millennial womthe marketplace— make qualityIfcare er, those whose have control overand your own body, what do you en and facelisten are astodiverse as the experiences womfordable, accessible sustainable.” are different from own. that’s I ultimately have control over? You don’t have to go out on en themselves, andour I think a found my thing. cause d’etre got street the streets and start campaigns and petitions, beautiful Therebecause is no Isingle harassed a lot. Then off about but certainly sharing articles and sharing your issue, because thereI isgotnopissed universal it. Then I thought canPLANK enlighten others in ways millennial woman.we Tomight solve have any aofsolu- thoughts reallyLIZ tion, so we tried It could have been a Senior moreCorrespondent, powerful than the problems thatit.plague us we need Voxwe ///think. FormerWomen MSNBChave big failure, but it wasn’t. change so many opportunities, but if it isn’t to do two things: speakMaking up loudly to is access to Correspondent, Krystal Clear truly asand simple as to this: Getwhose pissedexoff, try up toREPRODUCTIVE you when and if youRIGHTS have children, then power, listen those to make the better, it works, “We’ve what’sprogressed the point? Are youmany reallyissues free if that you don’ periences are world different fromhope our own. on so it t and if it does,found share my yourcause idea. Change have bodily autonomy?” I ultimately d’etre is feelS like when it comes to reproductive rights uncomfortable. Peopleharassed will thrash against we’re really stuck in the Stone Age. I think that because I got street a lot. it, hate onpissed it and, enough, Then I got offoddly about it. Then I even young women may not realize that that’s one sometimes jealous ofait.solution, But you’ve thought webe might have so got of the biggest issues LUXfacing ALPTRAUM them today. Three to to trust yourself wedevelop tried it.strategies It could have been a big and timesSexmore Writeranti-abortion and Educator ///bills Co-Director, were passed Out of wade through all the Making noise.” change failure, but it wasn’t. between the Binders, 2011Inc. and&2014 BinderCon than over /// Former the last CEO ten& is truly as simple as this: Get pissed years combined. Coming Publisher,from Fleshbot Canada, I mynot onehow specific cause within media that off, try to make the world better, self“There’ didn’tsrealize important reproductive I’ m more interested in, especially because I think hope it works,AI-JEN and ifPOO it does, share rights were, but it’s so elementary: If you don’ t they’ r e all connected: I don’ t see it sexism in Holyour idea. Change is uncomfortable. Director, National Domestic Workers Alliance /// have control over your own body, what do you lywood as over? different People will thrash against hate on Co-Director, Caring Across it, Generations have control Youfrom don’tsexism have toingopublishing. out on We’ r e all being held back by theand same issues and it LACK and, oddly enough, even someOF FAMILY CARE OPTIONS the streets and start campaigns petitions, “The greatest challenge same discrimination, andand thesharing more weyour come times be jealous of it. Butfacing you’vemillennigot butthe certainly sharing articles al develop women today is that we still have not thoughts togetherreally to fight it, the more progress we’ll make. to strategies to trust yourself can enlighten others in ways created a support for family care. more If the tides startthan turning publishing, and female and wade through system all the noise.” powerful we inthink. Our capacity Millennial women in the workforce will forand gender nonconforming authors start getting influencing other people, because of social struggle with the same challenges their media treated better, I think that makes a stronger case and because of the shifts in the way mothers and fathers did of finding and weto, say, start changing things in Hollywood. communicate online, is huge. And I think If affording quality child care and eldercare. people you demonstrate that womenhow make money shouldn’t underestimate much in- in We can address this challenge by prior- fluence one medium, other media will follow, and and power they have on social media. as itizing investing in real solutions— in Women more women and to gender nonconforming peohave access so many opportunities, public policy and in the marketplace— butpleif find success in one it opens others. it isn’ t up to you industry when and if youuphave that make quality care affordable, acces- children, We need to what’ attacks on frontsAre if we’ re going then theallpoint? you really to sible and sustainable.” success.” freefind if you don’t have bodily autonomy?”





10 QUICK LESSONS IN MEDIA LITERACY BY DEBBIE STOLLER CO-FOUNDER & EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, BUST MAGAZINE /// BESTSELLING AUTHOR, STITCH ‘N BITCH SERIES AS TOLD TO ENCHANTRESS Women are drastically underrepresented in the media... If you were a martian and you went to the movie theater, you would think that the world is mostly men and only a few women, all of whom are pretty and young. ....And when we are represented, there’s very little variety. Any regular ol’ television actress is usually beautiful. You can’t say the same for the men, and I think that makes women feel that they’re only valued in terms of what they’re worth to a man. So rather than realizing that the media is only showing you a narrow slice of the female population and that people come in a whole variety of looks, you probably feel a lot of the time that you fall short. You still feel like you’re less than or you’re left out. Women today, as much as ever, face constant pressure to try to reach a certain beauty ideal. Because we live in such a can-do society, I think women end up feeling like it’s partially their fault if they don’t measure up and they have to spend a lot of time and energy to measure up. So if you don’t have the body of a model and the face of a model, it’s your responsibility to figure out how close you can get to model or movie star beautiful, and if you don’t, you’re just slacking off. It’s really kind of a requirement that you engage in that or else you’re seen as being somewhat offensive. Media representation is important in that it gives people a sense of place in society. When you’re getting someone else’s vision of the world and are constantly being shown how limited your place in that vision is, even though you might try to fight that in your mind, you still wind up having a more limited view, I think, of what women are like in the world. The cultural images we see are one of the most important social influences on our lives. More so than laws and politics or anything else, I think it’s the way a society thinks and the things that a culture believes that are reflected in the media that’s out there, and when the media starts to change that’s what starts to change the whole society’s vision of what women are and what they should be. I always feel like it’s the cultural that leads these things and lot the other way around. I really think you have more power if you become an executive at Comedy Central than if you become a Senator. Negative and limiting media images influence you for your entire life. People often talk about how negative media images distort a little girl’s view of how she’s going to grow up when she’s a woman, but I think it’s a problem for everyone: Media also distorts women’s views of themselves

and their place in society as adults. It’s impossible, really, to separate yourself from these messages. Even if you’re very media literate, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re really freed from it. Being aware of sexism might help to water down its influence on you a little bit, but it doesn’t stop having an influence on your life. Ads determine a lot of the content you see. Even on the web, where a lot more women’s voices are being heard, where there’s an alternative, smarter women’s voice that’s not so focused on image and how someone looks and is much more focused on women’s words and women’s ideas, at the tops of those websites are usually men who can always just to decide to flip a switch and turn it off whenever they want and who, I’m sure, if they feel like most of the ad dollars are coming from fashion and beauty brands, that they would require that the sites talk about fashion and beauty. Men still have a bigger slice of control of the storytelling. They have particular view of the world they want to present of the world and their view usually doesn’t include average- or unattractive-looking women. More women behind the scenes, writing screenplays and directing movies and heading studios, would change that. Good news, too: There’s definitely more variety coming in that’s representative of a more types of women-I don’t necessarily mean with sexuality, although that’s important, too-- but just a variety in types of women and types of female lifestyles, and I think that’s important. Shows like Broad City and Girls and Inside Amy Schumer, and even the success of people like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, and Beyonce. I think it’s wonderful that the most beautiful and the most desirable woman in the world and in America right now is actually a woman of color, I think that’s really interesting and represents so much. Know that there’s a greater variety of women in the world than what some women’s media outlets would let us see. The reason we started BUST was because we knew people were living Broad City lives, but it was never getting represented in the media and it was making women feel extremely lonely, they were most certainly not the only people living like that majority our lives according to what women’s magazines were telling us women were supposed to be. It’s not that everybody’s watching them. The fact that a greater variety of female characters exists is really, really important in that it shows women that there’s different lifestyles to be had.



AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF MY BEST AND WORST TINDER DATES When a seemingly harmless app becomes something more akin to a board game. WRITTEN BY ESME BLEGVAD ILLUSTRATED BY LESLIE AGAN


was one of the last people I knew to get Tinder. My friends had been extolling its virtues all summer long, but there was just something about the concept I found off-putting. I was too embarrassed to even try OkCupid. (All those questions! Ugh!)

I was in no state of mind to go man fishing anyway, having just had my heart, brain and motor skills stolen by a non-committal fuckboi. ( W ho now happens to be my devoted boyfriend, which Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll get to later...) But summer turned to fall, and then winter, and by the time December rolled around I was still single, heartbroken and desperate for anything to take my mind off the pain of my unrequited love.



So, on one dark, lonely night with nothing better to do, I downloaded Tinder. Of course, I was instantly hooked. Tinder was, in a word, phenomenal. I suddenly had access to an entire universe of new boys with which to stoke the embers of my recovering ego to bushfire proportions. And all from the comfort of my own bed. What a rush!



I went on my first real Tinder date with the 35th (or so) guy I talked to, an extremely handsome and sweet illustrator. Our date was like something out of a CosmoGIRL! fairytale. Seriously, it was like I’d dreamt it. Tinder seemed to be manipulating the dating gods in my favor at last! Although the illustrator and I only had one date (he moved across the country shortly thereafter), the experience served to remind me that I was the master of my own sexual agency. After all, how could I feel so sad ‘n’ hopeless about my heart-stealing fuckboi when there were so many other fuckbois out there? Plus, choosing to date a stranger from the internet made me feel strangely powerful.

...Until the dark side of Tinder reared its ugly head: Fun as it was, I quickly found myself sucked into a digital vortex that grew with ever y flick of the thumb. I compulsively swiped through loser after loser for hours, damning the universe for refusing to provide me with any cuties.



Also, there was no denying the slight awkwardness of a location-based dating app mostly used for casual sex, and the requests to ‘go for drinks’ with new matches started to get a little monotonous. (I mean, why not take advantage of the whole range of interesting date possibilities?) So for my second Tinder date (with a dude who impressed me with his pretentious H olocaust literature banter and almost ruined it by inviting me out for boring drinks) , I had an idea: I suggested he meet me in Union Square the next morning and accompany me to the dentist.

... Which, to my astonishment, he did! In theory, it was a funny idea for a date, but in practice, it fell completely flat. It took us about three seconds to realize that we had zero chemistry, but we were both too polite to bail on our little gag, so we ended up just being a pair of strangers at the dentist ’s.

Holocaust Dentist Guy was perfectly nice, but the second he left, I burst into tears in the dentist ’s chair. With a drill still in my mouth, I realized that I’d turned to Tinder to open up a world beyond the fuckboi I was trying to get over, but in taking advantage of that world, all I really learned was that my heart still belonged to said fuckboi , and I had to face it.



So, mustering all the strength and wisdom I’d gained from internet dating, I confronted the fuckboi once and for all and (just like I told you would happen) he became my boyfriend! Tinder really did help me find true love. Just not on the app itself. Of course, I don’t use it anymore, but I’ll be forever indebted to the lessons Tinder taught me, like... There are plenty of fish in the sea, even if chasing them leads you back into the belly of the whale . Or... I’m in control of my my own destiny, even if I don’t always choose to pursue it. Or....The dentist is no place to get to know someone on a first date. ( You might actually be better off just going for drinks. )




IN WITH THE BAND On finding myself between the solo and the sidelines. BY EMMAJEAN HOLLEY




’d like to preface this by maintaining that I do, in fact, have a little bit of musical talent. I know this because a music instructor once told me as much. His exact words were, “You have a little bit of musical talent.” I’ve been known to play a song or two on the piano (“Greensleeves,” the right-hand component of “Desperado”) and hell, I even know a scrap of music theory— vestigial remains from elementary school, where I showed early signs of precocity on the jazz flute before acquiring the certain mental scarring of consistently butchered solos. I even got an acoustic guitar for Christmas six years ago, on which I have dutifully learned an average of one chord per year. (Though admittedly it now sits in the far corner of my closet, collecting dust and vague intentions to pick it up again, sometime.) Given such musical prowess, it might be surprising to learn that when I went to college and found myself in the company of other musically-inclined individuals, I was not asked to participate in the weekly jam ritual that evolved into their four-person band.

beyond all human reason, and to use that gift to dwarf the smallness of that reason; to rise above it, toward something celestial and important. Mo, Patrick, Adam and John may not be as terrifyingly prodigious as Hendrix, but they are able to transcend the soundproof parameters of their little practice room in a way I never could. When they perfect a cover, it becomes raw and complex and actually thrums with each of their personalities, as if they’d written it themselves. It’s fascinating to watch how seamlessly each part is subsumed by the whole, how naturally each individual sound rises to meet the collective energy behind it, binding like embers that glow and grow into so many fires.

Between the four of them— the Matriarch, the Mild-Mannered, the Melancholic, and the Comic Relief— they comprise what seems to be the cultural magic number for musical groups. What is it, after all, about the four-person band that connotes such balance and completion? Just look at the Red Hot Chili Peppers, barbershop quartets, I’D WONDER, USUALLY LATE AT NIGHT the Beatles, Queen. There AS GUITAR SOLOS FROM THE NEXT are certainly exceptions ROOM TWISTED LIKE SMOKE UNDER MY (the Rolling Stones), but I DOORFRAME: AM I THE YOKO? I DIDN’T respect the symmetry and WANT TO CLEAVE APART THEIR fortitude of a four-piece FAMILIAL FOUR-PERSON STRUCTURE, paradigm whose influence BUT I WANTED MORE THAN TO HOVER has endured the seismic AT THE SIDELINES, IMPRESSED. shift from one generation to the next.

Their dynamic is one of a self-sustaining ecosystem, and began with my now-boyfriend, Patrick, all startled eyes and unnecessary apologies (whose guitar-playing was transcendent enough to do most of the wooing in the initial stages of our courtship), and my best friend, Mo, a statuesque track star with an attitude like brass knuckles and a voice like spun gold. Over the next year, Mo, the reigning queen of every room she enters, would acquire two more subjects: Adam, the obligatory tortured intellectual of the group (whose neat, deeply felt bass pickings are second only to his old fashioned’s) and John, a drummer with a savant-like ability to identify any note with his eyes closed (but who otherwise operates on a plane of thought based entirely in non sequiturs).

Together, the four of them breathe new life into songs I’d otherwise skip on iTunes: lesser-known Sublime, the Raconteurs, anything that calls for the moderate abuse of Patrick’s distortion pedal. But when Jimi Hendrix inevitably worked his way into their repertoire, this was more up my alley: My most salient memories of adolescence revolve around bong rips in finished basements, where, gazing up at replicas of Woodstock-era posters with a kind of nostalgia without memory, I’d think, What a lucky thing to enter this world gifted


This, of course, led me to wonder, usually late at night as Patrick practiced softly in the next room, his guitar solos twisting like smoke under my doorframe: Am I the Yoko? I didn’t want to cleave apart their familial four-person structure, but I wanted more than to hover at the sidelines, impressed. I wanted to be impressive— at least to myself. Sometimes, less now, I’d sit in the corner while they practiced, my back hunched over an essay that wouldn’t get written there, and think, If I could harness their creative spirit, it would be intrinsically tied to me. I would belong to it, and to them. This logic, of course, was flawed, as most of mine is. We’re not friends because they’re in a band together; They’re in a band together because we’re friends. Close ones, even. Ones who signed a lease to live together (a situation that aptly sums up my position of being— if not in— with the band). It’s easy to forget that there’s some disparity— in talent, or dedication, or whatever you want to call it— that separates me from them, and


it’s a binary that sometimes feels collapsible. “Goddammit, John!” Mo will rant, half-laughingly, when he forgets to show up for a yet another gig. “EJ’s more of a member of this band than you are!” I doubt she realizes what these explicit moments of inclusion mean to me. It’s comments like these (even if they’re contingent upon John’s goldfish-like memory for logistics) that validate my sense of belonging in our friendship circle. But if I stop taking my own insecurities so seriously, these moments are everywhere— embedded in each anecdote we’ve collected between the five of us, written in the subtext of the misadventures by which they’re composed.

While Patrick and Mo built small ziggurats of caviar and crab crostini on their plates, I surveyed the bounty of crystalline bowls for vegetarian options, and, finding none save for an ornate fruit salad sculpture (whose touching policy I was never clear on but probably violated), trotted around with my camera to maintain appearances. I was easily the most active person at the venue, which called attention to the fact that I was also the youngest person in the building by at least fifty years. A grandfatherly Brit took a shine to me, and I learned to waltz to Patrick and Mo’s acoustic (and almost criminally tamed) rendition of My Chemical Romance’s “Helena.” Meanwhile, my curly blonde hair attracted a small cult following among the postmenopausal set, and while I was not yet impaired enough to reveal that my only style tip was being one-quarter black, I did mention that I grew up around Martha’s Vineyard, leaving out that I was only able to pay my way through college by spending summers there at their beck and call, bagging their souvenirs and fetching their gluten-free muffins. “Did you see Obama on his vacation?” a droopy-eyed lady asked.

Once, before Adam and John were solidified members of the group, an older gentleman Mo knew from work hired her and Patrick for a gig— their first paid one— at his Massachusetts country club’s annual Christmas party. It was somehow decided— almost certainly by Mo— that I’d accompany the two of them under the guise of part-time tambourine player, part-time photographer, and so, teetering in my impractical heels, I loaded the Zipcar with the silver-buckled cases, the breaking-down amp and I shook my head. I didn’t SOMEWHERE IN THAT GREAT AND the corresponding props for know anyone who had. ENDLESS ACID TRIP IN THE SKY, my backup story. “Good for you,” she nodded JIMI HENDRIX WAS LOOKING DOWN approvingly, as if I’d avoidAT US, FACEPALMING. None of us had ever freed him on principle. quented a country club, so I’m not sure what we exNormally this was the pected— Chelsea Clinton, crowd for whom I was almaybe? The cast of Gossip ways the help and never the Girl?— but in retrospect, equal, but tonight, I was the atmosphere was utterCinderella, a gussied-up ly unsurprising: gaggles commoner in this palatial of WASPs with impeccable postures and stiff upper gated community. Unlike Cinderella, however, my solips, diamonds cascading from clavicles and earlobes cial capital did not come crashing down at midnight, and fingers, gold watches glinting beneath the light of but sometime around Patrick’s third drink, when he crystal chandeliers. Duchenne smiles— what psycholdecided it was time to whip out the big guns with Jimi ogists deem the authentic ones that engage the muscles Hendrix’s “Fire.” Mo had ran off to find a bathroom, around the eyes— were nowhere to be found, presumand this, I knew, was my cue to step up and finally take ably either repressed or Botoxed from sight. Instead, charge on the tambourine I’d been neglecting all night baring one’s teeth seemed to be the accepted mode of (even though both he and I knew it was a hopelessly greeting, and I was somewhat gratified to find most inadequate substitute for the percussive chutzpah that grimaces were wine-stained. formed the song’s rhythmic backbone).

“Welcome, welcome,” drawled the man who’d invited us. He was a stout, elvish-looking fellow, and Mo, with her Amazonian legs, towered over him in five-inch stilettos. “Please make yourself at home by the baby grand and help yourself to some hors d’oeuvres.”

But I wasn’t the only one paying a shitty homage. Despite Patrick’s normally hot and heavy relationship with his distortion pedal, he’d been laying off the PDA all night and I could tell it was killing him. He rolled through the opening riffs with his trademark technical precision, but there was something missing: that spark of life they were meant to bring to every



digm-shattering solo, every improvised revolution of sound. They, partly, meaning the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and they, wholly, meaning these people, these strange and beautiful people, to whom I so desperately wanted to belong. “Give it a little pizzazz!” called out the old waltzing Brit who, fully inebriated at this point, was gyrating and smacking one butt cheek as if to lead by example. The air was flammable with exhaled alcohol, but this was no fire. This was a controlled burn, and somewhere in that great and endless acid trip in the sky, Jimi Hendrix was looking down at us, facepalming. “What are you doing?” I hissed into his ear midsong. “This is blasphemy!”

“Turn it off !” someone cried, and was soon joined by others. It was clear that this was their hands-off version of tossing us out by our ears, and so, moments later, we were once again scrambling to load up the Zipcar, howling in laughter as a throng of one-percenters gaped at us through the lavish French windows. I’ll admit that there are still times (specifically when the four of them return from jam sessions with cups of frozen yogurt scraped clean) when I feel left out of this motley crew and the fires they ignite together. It’s only natural, I think, to feel this way when you’re gazing at something so bright and hot and alive, something so searing and incandescent, when all you’ve got are the pages in your notebooks and the notebooks in your drawers.

I’ve come to realize that I do, in fact, occupy a specific role in the band, and one not easily replaced, let alone defined. I’m more than just an audience member— I’m their number-one “Exactly,” I said, nodding my head at the old Brit. “They’re fan. And I’m more than just a groupie— I’m a support system. all too drunk to care.” I’m a lugger of amps and a finder of capos and, on occasion, a striker of tambourines. I’m the He considered this for a mofirst to “like” the mediocre picment, then fiddled with the tures Mo posts on the band’s settings on his amp and pedFacebook page after a gig. More IF WOODSTOCK HAD TAKEN PLACE al board until a conflagration often than not, I’m the one who ON A GOLF COURSE IN GREENWICH, roared in overdrive from his took those mediocre pictures. CONNECTICUT INSTEAD OF A fretboard. Mo resumed her What luck to live in a house that CERTAIN REMOTE DAIRY FARM IN place onstage just in time to harkens back to a handful of UPSTATE NEW YORK, THE AUDIENCE’S belt out the refrain with all the Liverpool bars circa ’62, and to REACTION MIGHT HAVE LOOKED incandescence of her sixties-era share in an energy rarely found predecessor, each note leaping SOMETHING AKIN TO THE ONE BEFORE outside an upstate dairy farm in US, WHICH IS TO SAY, A MASS up to the ceilings: I have only ’69. While I will probably never REENACTMENT OF A CERTAIN one burning desire! Let me stand be on fire, musically speaking, EDVARD MUNCH PAINTING. next to your fire! not even the brightest embers can spark something larger This was what I wanted, wasn’t without a certain unseen force it? To be a part of it? And yet fanning the flames. there I was, tapping the tambourine ineffectively against my hip, more self-conscious than ever. If this was Mean Girls, I was the Cady Heron of the night, and Mo the Regina George who let me sit with her; If this was Cinderella, Patrick’s fretboard was the magic wand that sparked my transformation from rags to the illusion of riches. I could bask in their glow all night long, but I could never create my own; I would only ever stand beside their fire. He stared back at me. “This is a country club.”

Before I could wallow for too long, though, I realized I was wrong about the audience being too drunk to care. So wrong, I think, that if Woodstock had taken place on a golf course in Greenwich, Connecticut instead of a certain remote dairy farm in upstate New York, the audience’s reaction might have looked something akin to the one before us, which is to say, a mass reenactment of a certain Edvard Munch painting.




An adventure through New York City in search of the FDNY’s .04%.



here are exactly forty-nine women firefighters in New York City, and chances are, you’ll never meet one unless you happen to become the fiftieth. Women comprise just .04% of the FDNY’s roughly 10,800-person force. It’s a figure infinitesimal even in comparison to fields where gender disparity remains an oft-discussed topic. Take, for example, engineering (where women make up 11.7% of the industry), the Marine Corps (7%), or even the city’s own police force (17%). Statistically, you’re slightly more likely to meet a billionaire (79 call New York City home) or a MacArthur Fellow (of which there are over 130 living in Manhattan alone.) The FDNY traces its roots back to loosely-organized bucket brigades in the Dutch colonial period during the 1600’s, but the department would not see the swearing-in of its first class of women firefighters until 1982. In the 34 years since, women have indeed enjoyed great and well-deserved success within the FDNY ’s ranks, from Rochelle “Rocky” Jones, the department’s first woman battalion chief, to Regina Wilson, the first female president in the 75- year history of the Vulcan Society, the fraternal organization representing African American firefighters. Yet the early history of women in the FDNY was also wrought with strife, wracked by years of lawsuits and years to come of harassment and ostracism. Over three decades later, the topic of women firefighters continues to attract a great deal of opposition. Yet, for a minority that represents a fraction of one percent,

the FDNY ’s women firefighters have managed to forge a strong sense of solidarity thanks in part to the early establishment of their union, the United Women Firefighters (UWF). Prior to 1982, the documented history of women volunteers in the FDNY begins and ends in 1818, when the nation’s first known woman firefighter, a slave named Molly Williams, joined her master at 99 Wooster Street, a site that has long since functioned as a Swiss Army store. (The country at large wouldn’t see its first crop of full-time, paid female firefighter until the mid-1970s, after Congress extended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include government employers.) It seems hard to believe that just 34 years ago, the FDNY ’s original class of women firefighters were so persecuted for the right to fair representation in a profession that many women weren’t interested in anyway. Yet perhaps the most surprising opposition of all in fact came from other women— specifically, the spouses of current FDNY firefighters. In San Diego, eight years before Berkman’s lawsuit, protests from a group of around 300 firemen’s wives led to the dismissal of the department’s first five women just six weeks into their hiring. (The San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, as it was, wouldn’t see a successful woman candidate for another three years.) Similar clashes arose with the wives of firefighters in Gainesville, Florida, who deemed the department’s newly coed sleeping quarters “completely immoral,” due in part to the fact that, as one wife explained to the Associated Press, “The men there sleep wearing only their underwear, and those bunks are only a few feet apart.” Unbeknownst to me when I set out to tell their story over a year ago, simply f inding these women wasn’t the difficult part— It was getting to them to talk. Women in the FDNY have gotten a rash of negative press in the past, and speaking publicly about their experiences still presents something of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they hope to encourage women and girls to consider firefighting as a viable career and raise awareness of how they serve the public in the same way as their male peers. At the same time, any special media treatment



holds the possibility of inviting resentment or even harassment from male coworkers with perhaps more years on the job but fewer media accolades. A notable instance arose in 1983, after Zaida Gonzalez, who was among the FDNY’s original class of women, appeared on the cover of New York Magazine. The men in her firehouse, she would tell The New York Times later that year, ‘’were upset because they said I didn’t deserve the publicity I received [as] a probationary officer [and] treated me with disgust. We didn’t talk. It affected my training. It affected what I could do on the job.” Gonzalez was later abruptly dismissed from the force, along with another woman firefighter, immediately after their eleven-month probationary period; Both sued on the grounds of sexual discrimination and were later reinstated. Accordingly, the women firefighters have largely minimized their media exposure. Some native New Yorkers, even, don’t realize they exist. So when I’m given an in— or, at the very least, the possibility of one— I take it, and the reception from other women eventually comes, albeit slowly. By the time I interview a third woman firefighter, I start to feel as though I’m rushing some sort of FDNY sorority, carefully drawing out each source from the one before like a game of monkeys in a barrel, one leading to another, until finally, maybe, I get a grasp on what it means to be as in a profession as unfathomably male-dominated as firefighting. Several days shy of the end of spring, I arrive at the magnificent columned Municipal Archives building in TriBeCa, where labor activist and author Jane LaTour, standing before a room of Neighborhood Watch types, thumbs through a copy of her book, Sisters in the Brotherhoods: Working Women Organizing for Equality. The firefighter who appears in uniform on the book’s cover, Brenda Berkman, sits beside her along with several others on a panel discussing the subject to which LaTour has dedicated her career. Nontraditional employment— that is, industries where one gender comprises less than 25% of the total workforce— emphasizes the many advantages blue collar jobs present to women as an alternative route to financial independence: higher wages, better benefits and more promising opportunities for career advancement among them. For the majority of the women firefighters, though, it seems that the allure has more to do with the host of other benefits the position promises, namely: excitement, day-to-day variety, job security, camaraderie, physical challenge and, particularly for those with children and families, the flexibility of working a manageable nine 24-hour shifts each month. Although the majority of the women firefighters indeed regard themselves as leaders in some sense of


the term, not every woman views it as her role to be a champion of the cause, just as not all 49 women join the UWF— a group which, as it stands, remains the FDNY’s only women’s union. It’s an association some deem too polarizing; others simply aren’t interested in taking part in the expected advocacy work members take on to, for one, recruit greater numbers of women to train for the department’s physical exam, the Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT). “Would you consider yourself a feminist?” I later ask a woman firefighter who expresses how the job has cemented her belief that women are capable of anything men are. “No,” she says flatly, and I recite for her the definition of a feminist: someone who supports the social, political and economic equality of women. “Well, then yes,” she reluctantly agrees after a moment. “I guess that makes me a feminist.” Hers was a common reaction but nonetheless a surprising distinction for this group of women to make given every woman firefighter I spoke with seemed to possess all of the makings of a feminist. And while it’s impossible to speak for all of the women, they do not, at large, seem to regard themselves Rosie the Riveter types, even though they all indeed take part in a profession the world largely deems “a man’s job.” Nor are they, for the most part, “capital F” feminists, so to speak. Rather, they represent a quieter breed who focus on a more clearly-delineated segment of women’s equality, which doesn’t necessarily translate to strong opinions in discussions about, say, access to birth control. Yet, if there was a woman who fell into the former category, it would be Brenda Berkman, without whom there might not be a single woman firefighter in the FDNY to begin with. It was her name, after all, that appeared atop the landmark legal case that fought the city to allow women the opportunity to take the FDNY ’s entrance exams, and it was she who, along with fellow woman firefighter Zaida Gonzalez, fought once more to get reinstated to the force after their abruptly dismissal. To those who know Berkman in uniform only, the opening line from Taking the Heat— the Susan Sarandon-narrated documentary on the women’s fight for gender equality— might ring true: “Brenda Berkman was the scariest person I ever met.” At first, the sentiment doesn’t shock me, either. Admittedly, she does cut an intimidating figure when I’m introduced to her at the Archives. It’s not her build or her expression but her gaze; it’s the fact that she doesn’t flinch. But really, I catch myself, Why would she? This is a woman, after all, who has endured more in her 25-year tenure than any firefighter ever should: a string of lawsuits, unrelenting media scrutiny, public harassment, sexual assault. Even death threats.



When we finally speak a few weeks later, I find Berkman charming, articulate, intelligent; even warm. And after a while, I finally work up the nerve to ask her the question that continued to weigh on me after I watched and rewatched her documentary: Given all of the harassment and hardship, why even continue on The FDNY ’s Training Academy stretches across in the force? Her answer marks the first and only time twenty-seven miles along the East River on Randall’s I would see the exceedingly articulate and media- Island, where the torsos of charred crash dummies savvy Berkman so much as pause. “As I’ve gotten old dotting the sidewalks cast a vaguely post-apocalypand more self -aware,” she says after a long while, “I tic tone to the grey afternoon light. Shortly after know that it’s because I’d gotten tired of people say- my interview with Berkman, I receive an invitation ing to me, ‘You can’t do that because you’re a girl.’ If from the UWF’s current president, Sarinya Srisakul, I hadn’t been capable of doing the work, I wouldn’t to attend a women’s recruitment event. Reluctanthave stayed; I’m not a complete idiot. I would never ly wielding my camera, I shadow the dozen or so do anything to put myself or others at risk. When I women firefighters volunteering their Saturday affound out I could do the job, I thought, ‘Why should ternoons to teach groups of FDNY hopefuls how to I once again stop doing something I really love?’ I operate the Jaws of Life and master the finer points stopped playing baseball because girls only played of what’s referred to as “roof rope rescue.” softball. I stopped studying math because my teachIf the event’s 85 or so er told me it was for boys participants walked into and I should concentrate this cold-turkey hours beon English. I was told fore, I would never know girls couldn’t be president of the student coun- I STOPPED PLAYING BASEBALL BECAUSE it as we circle through cil. That went on and on GIRLS ONLY PLAYED SOFTBALL. I STOPPED rotations such as Forced STUDYING MATH BECAUSE MY TEACHER Entry, where I watch a throughout my life, and when I reached the point TOLD ME IT WAS FOR BOYS AND I SHOULD woman barely five feet tall of being in the fire de- CONCENTRATE ON ENGLISH. I WAS TOLD hack down a door with an GIRLS COULDN’T BE PRESIDENT OF THE axe in under a minute. At partment, I thought, “I’m not going to let these idi- STUDENT COUNCIL. THAT WENT ON AND Car Extrication, a trio of ON THROUGHOUT MY LIFE, AND WHEN I women who look to be ots say to me, once again, ‘You can’t do this because REACHED THE POINT OF BEING IN THE FIRE in their late teens peel DEPARTMENT, I THOUGHT, I’M NOT GOING back the roof of a white you’re a girl.’” TO LET THESE IDIOTS SAY TO ME, ONCE Toyota convertible like it AGAIN, ‘YOU CAN’T DO THIS BECAUSE was a lid on a tin can of It’s a sentiment that YOU’RE A GIRL.’ tuna fish. Just as the car crosses Berkman’s mind is forklifted from sight each time she hears a and replaced with a nearly woman firefighter reidentical Hyundai sedan, ferred to as a fireman— we’re called to calisthenthe term, when used interchangeably, remains a point of contention seen ics, where the entire group meets in a large wareas an unsubtle protest against women in the fire house bookmarked by rows of facades labeled ‘Deli’ service industry, particularly amongst the pioneer- and ‘Jewelry Store’ and ‘Pizza’ and ‘Hardware.’ Before ing class of women who fought for the title in spite any of the hopefuls will sign up to take their CPAT, of condescending monikers (‘firefems,’‘firebabes’) however, they’ll train in thrice-weekly practice drills bestowed upon them by the local media. “What hosted at the New York Sports Club, an initiaI didn’t want to have happen was have the sto- tive overseen by Srisakul and led by former marine ries lost of the women who were so instrumental Thompson Plyler, who stands before us now, imposin creating possibilities for these young women,” ing and muscular, like a football coach at a halftime Berkman tearfully echoes in Taking the Heat. “Kids pep talk. “Let me be your remote control,” he tells the who only have six months or a year on the job and group before launching into a routine I immediately are full of all of the things they’re going to accom- bow out of. Plyler is sweating in a matter of seconds. plish. And, you know, I hope they do. I hope they accomplish every little part of their dream, ‘cause “You’ve done this more than once?” I whisper to Engine there’s a lot of suffering that has gone into making 257’s Melissa Bennett, only somewhat joking. Equal parts calm and authoritative, Bennett is a woman that possible, and it ’s easy to forget that.” who radiates the sort of energy— easy, tempered—



one could equally imagine in repose or channeled— bouncing from one foot to the other— in a boxing match. This, I would learn, is the de facto personality trait amongst all firefighters on the job: reactive, responsive, ready to go at a moment’s notice, but lacking any hint of in-your-face aggression palpable in the sorts of “firefighter films”— Backdraft, Ladder 49— those in the profession are so quick to dismiss. “You have to have a tough skin and keep a cool head around here,” she says, shrugging off the compliment. “You have to.” Like the majority of her female cohorts, Bennett didn’t realize firefighting was even an option for her until she reached adulthood. In fact, it wasn’t until her final year at Brooklyn College that a professor in her geology department mentioned a woman firefighter who had also studied in her program, Kinga Kusek, who seems surprised when I recount the story, but agrees: She too hadn’t known more than a handful of women firefighters before coming on the job in 2003, even after three years of working alongside firefighters every day as an EMS. Kusek, who stands just under six feet tall, has piercing blue eyes and an expression that, like the gaze of the black and white subject in Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother,” suggests grit. Perseverance. That she’s not one to be easily rattled. And while the woman before me has neither the weathered skin nor the crumpled posture of the woman in the Lange photograph, Kusek is, it’s worth mentioning, a woman who gave birth to all four of her children at home — one, even, in the midst of Hurricane Sandy. Naturally assuming what she deems the “mama” role both in and out of the firehouse, she warns me of how “when you put on that uniform, you’re someone else,” and it’s indeed a palpable difference: the moment her uniform comes on— the pants and the suspenders and the protective jacket and the helmet and all of the fifty-plus pounds of accoutrements used to, say, hack down a locked door— her stance visibly changes. “But you’d be shocked how good we look when we’re all dolled up,” she’s quick to add. Since 9/11, the FDNY has substantially enhanced their training technology with an impressive roster of multimillion-dollar, state-of- the- art simulators. There’s the scale replica of a New York City subway station ($8 million; fitted with authentic tiles and even recorded screams), the 4,000 square foot highrise simulator ($4.2 million, and the only one of its kind in the nation) and the 132-foot reproduction ship ($3.3 million, and docked on dry land). The fire department, after all, must rise to the unique


challenges of protecting over eight million New Yorkers each day across 305 square miles. With 221 firehouses freckling New York City’s five boroughs, the FDNY is the second-largest fire department in the world after Tokyo, and reminders of its exceptional history abound at every turn, beginning with the refurbished horse-drawn steam engine from 1896 parked in a gleaming entryway. These earliest days of the force, when volunteers still raced to fires on foot and firehouses dually functioned as social groups, marked an unrivaled era of fraternal pageantry. During an age when firemen donned gilded oil cloth capes and fringed ceremonial medallions to march in parades, relics from the era exude an expected festivity, from pre-extinguisher “fire bombs” made from ornate blown glass, to plumes of feathers ornamenting hand-pulled hose reel trucks and silver “presentation trumpets” used to commemorate promotions. The FDNY opened preliminary testing to women for the first time in its 117-year history on September 7, 1977. That day, nearly 500 women joined the crowds outside the city’s Personnel Department awaiting the paperwork required to take the department’s two-part test. Among the 389 women who passed the written portion, less than a third showed up to take the physical test, of which not a single one passed. (Over half the men failed as well.) In 1981, all 389 women who successfully completed the written exam four years earlier received legal notices from the law firm of Debevoise & Plimpton informing them that a class action discrimination lawsuit— Brenda Berkman, et al. v. The City of New York— had been filed on their behalf. It was the second court case in recent memory contesting portions of the FDNY ’s entrance exam: Ten years earlier in 1971, the written portion of the test had come under scrutiny when members of both the Hispanic Society and the Vulcan Society successfully argued its bias against minorities. In March of 1982, a federal judge ruled in favor of the women, mandating that the FDNY set aside up to 45 jobs for those who passed a revised test. On September 22, 1982, 42 women took their place among the other probationary firefighters (deemed “probies”) in a local high school’s auditorium for a ceremony presided over by then-Mayor Ed Koch, who proclaimed, “The City of New York formally acknowledges what all just and thinking men and women have known all along: the valor of the human spirit knows no sex.” It was, remarked Assistant Deputy Fire Commissioner John Mulligan to The Associated Press, “a day of champagne or a day of tears depending upon whose side you’re on.” Those initially opposed to the FDNY ’s in-


duction of women didn’t change their stance. For the duration of Koch’s speech, The New York Times noted, “two men in the back of the auditorium held aloft a banner that read, ‘NYC needs the best, not an easy test.’” In the months to follow, demonstrators protested outside City Hall with signs that read, “I want to be saved by firemen.” Bumper stickers printed with the slogan “Don’t send a girl to do a man’s job” began appearing on cars and buildings and sometimes even the insides of firehouses. Nonetheless, in spite of the resistance, on November 5th of that year, eleven women were sworn in— a number that would triple by 1985— and their legacy carries on to this day with the 49 women firefighters who make up the largest class of women in FDNY histor y.

victim-blaming: We continue to ask why women aren’t succeeding, when the real question is, how can we best help them to do so? It seems counterintuitive to ask women to change their behavior to conform to gender stereotypes at work, particularly when the ver y nature of the profession seems to require setting them aside. “I honestly believe that there are women out there who put themselves at greater risk than the men do because they feel they have to prove themselves; You have to ‘out-macho’ the men!” Berkman tells me, referencing one study conducted by ‘a sociologist friend who knows what she’s talking about.’ “One slip up reflects poorly on all of the women. It ’s really a ver y difficult situation to be in when you’re so tokenized. It was impossible in the early days for me to do things that might have been in my own best interest and my own safety, because I didn’t want the men to perceive me as being weak.”

Admittedly, many of the barriers that confront women in the fire service industr y are applicable to women from most any other nontraHow, then, does a ditional employment 10,800- person agency role. However, firecombat such deep-rootDEMONSTRATORS PROTESTED OUTSIDE fighting presents aded problems? As with ditional hurdles, both CITY HALL WITH SIGNS THAT READ, “I WANT most other male-domTO BE SAVED BY FIREMEN.” BUMPER institutional (working inated industries, enSTICKERS PRINTED WITH THE SLOGAN long shifts in stations couraging greater diwith bathing and sleep- “DON’T SEND A GIRL TO DO A MAN’S JOB” versity and acceptance BEGAN APPEARING ON CARS AND ing areas designated for starts at the top. FDNY BUILDINGS AND SOMETIMES EVEN THE only men) and social Commissioner Daniel INSIDES OF FIREHOUSES. (routinely getting misNigro has been adamant taken with their male that the department EMTs). Unfortunateand Mayor de Blasio ly, neither anecdotal continue to look into nor scientific findings new means of forming seem to agree on best an agency that “truly practices for contendreflects the people it ing with inherent gender bias in the workplace, ser ves,” admitting to The Wall Street Journal and much of the research findings on women in last year, “Are there people in the department male-dominated fields seems to contradict: For that still think it should be a man-only world? ever y study suggesting women stand to beneI’m sure there are. Is that number going down fit from emphasizing professional traits seen each and ever y day? It certainly is. And I think as traditionally masculine, like assertiveness, that will continue.” It indeed seems that adanother cautions against it. A Fortune piece ministrative tides are slowly and incrementally from August, 2014 noted how a study from the turning: In December, the department vowed Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psyto install women’s bathrooms in ever y firehouse cholog y found that “women who are aggressive, by the end of 2016 and launched a mandator y assertive, and confident— and can turn those diversity training initiative “to review behavtraits on and off depending on the situation— iors that can improve the experience of women get more promotions than either men or other and racial minorities at the FDNY.” women.” It ’s advice that seems to amount to, ‘Be assertive! But not too assertive! And know how to turn it on and off like a light switch!’ The problem with this running narrative is that much of the research essentially amounts to




“ There’s a running joke that you’ ll never meet a police officer who really loves her job, or a firefighter who really doesn’t,” journalist Terr y Golway tells me over the phone one day. It ’s late into a midsummer afternoon, and I’m sitting outside in a record heatwave, feverishly taking notes from Golway ’s book, So Others Might Live: A History of New York’s Bravest: The FDNY f rom 1700 to Present. For the past few weeks, I’ve been entertaining the notion that if I piece through the department ’s histor y long enough, I’ ll be able to make sense of how and why a major agency in a city as diverse as New York has been able to remain as over whelmingly caucasian, male, hetereosexual and cisgender as it has for the past centur y and a half. I’m still hunting for answers as I walk to the New York City Fire Museum in SoHo the following morning when, but two minutes into my visit to museum’s the second floor exhibit, I’m able to perfectly trace the origins of the men’s cultural resistance to change. The fire ser vice, clearly, remains an industr y that not only prizes tradition but self-sufficiency. Affixing to the wall beside an antique hose reel, a plaque describes how, before horse- or motor-powered equipment, volunteer firemen relied on strength and agility to extinguish fires, and often publicly competed with one another as to who could arrive on the scene fastest; W hen the FDNY purchased its first horse in 1832, its lone recipient firehouse was taunted for being weak. Likewise, even though a self-propelled steam-powered engine was built in 1841, most firefighters continued to pull equipment manually until 1922. Just as the nature of fire ser vice has evolved from volunteer labor suitable for most any man who could carr y a hose, so too has its work force. A h ost of incoming firefighters, both men and women alike, combat the stereotypes attached to both the job and the archetypal FDNY firefighter. They ’re not of Irish ancestr y, nor are they particularly tall, and an increasing number hold advanced degrees. T he fourth firefighter I meet entered the department with an archetypal profile not atypical of the archetypal FDNY which is to say, a third generation firefighter Caucasian of Irish ancestr y. Except for one thing: Brooke Guinan also happens to be the FDNY ’s f irst (and, thus far, only) transgender


firefighter, a position she’s occupied with incredible grace. W hile Guinam acknowledges the department ’s unwavering support during her transition, she deems the day -to -day reality of being a trans woman in the FDNY multi layered. “It ’s unfortunate that we still live in a culture that looks at women as weak physically. As soon as women started becoming firefighters in the eighties, that ’s been the narrative. There’s this vague notion that we shouldn’t be here, but there are women and transgender firefighters in much higher numbers across the nation. There’s so much preventing us from having access, but I’ ll never let that stop me. I break down glass ceilings as I’m breaking down doors. That ’s sort of how I look at it.” Though its corporate culture has been decidedly reconsidered since the days when women first came on the force, the firehouse as an institution still has deep roots as a sort of combination locker room-fraternity house, harkening back to a pre-WWII era when firefighters typically worked six days a week and mostly lived at their places of work. W hile it does seem that firehouses have cracked down on corporate culture across the board, finding acceptance as a woman firefighter seems to be more a matter of getting along with the men in one’s fire company rather than necessarily assimilating completely. For some, this requires presenting no gender-stereotypical behaviors that might make them stand out. For others, it requires finding and setting personal boundaries with an eye towards simply maintaining peace at work. W hile many early women firefighters experienced incredible hardship, others, like the Fire Academy ’s first African American woman graduate, JoAnn Jacobs, had a markedly different experience, although she admits it required finding her own means of adjusting to then-commonplace workplace practices— from pornography to bawdy jokes— that now seem more Mad Men than anything else. “I can’t tell you how grateful I am and how lucky and happy I was that the men and officers in my firehouse never treated me differently or negatively,” she recalls. “ W hat a great feeling it was, especially for me, a black woman, to ride through the neighborhood on my firetruck. The double takes! The proud look that the neighbors would have as they ’d wave! Especially from people of color. I’d wave back and the guys would think I knew all those people but I never did. They just


identified with me because I looked like them. They looked at me and they saw themselves or their granddaughter or their sister, and the look of surprise and pride was such that when someone would walk by or talk about the firehouse, the guys would say, ‘Hey, we have a girl working with us!’”

when I studied each of the 33 starring female characters from the Nielsen ratings’ ten most-watched television shows of the 2014-2015 season (excluding NFL programming), I found that a considerable number of working women characters held nontraditional jobs, from The Big Bang Theory’s Amy Farrah Fowler, a neurobiologist, to The Walking Dead ’s Maggie Greene, a farmhand, and How to Get Away Beyond the FDNY, women outliers have not only with Murder’s Annalise Keating, a law professor— persisted but succeeded in male-dominated inNot to mention every leading lady of the action/ dustries from mining to tech. We live in a world crime arena, from NCIS and NCIS: New Orleans’ six that has female world leaders, Nobel prize winfemale leads (special agents all) to Scorpion’s Happy ners, and Olympic gold medalists; where even our Quinn (a mechanical engineer) and The Blacklist’s military’s longstanding restriction on women in Liz Keen, Meera Malik and Samar Navabi (an FBI combat roles has been reversed. Why, then, would special agent, CIA field agent and Mossad agent, the public at large seem so uncomfortable with the respectively). However, while the silver screen does idea of a woman firefighter? And are they truly? indeed offer plenty of examples of women characOf the dozens of people I recounted this story ters employed in male-dominated industries, they to, I hadn’t heard any unreceptive feedback about remain a fraction of the leading characters amongst women in the fire service all ten shows, a factor not until that fall, when I reinsignificant considering layed the story to a date that lack of visible rep(whose father happens resentation appears to be to be an FDNY retirone of the strongest deteree) over dinner and was rents in encouraging both WE LIVE IN A WORLD THAT HAS stopped mid-sentence. the recruiting and public “Yeah, but c’mon, would FEMALE WORLD LEADERS, NOBEL PRIZE acceptance of women fireWINNERS, AND OLYMPIC GOLD you really want a womfighters. MEDALISTS. WHY WOULD THE PUBLIC an to pull you out of a fire?” he asked. “I mean, AT LARGE SEEM SO UNCOMFORTABLE It’s a sentiment echoed WITH THE IDEA OF A a 200- pound man or a by nearly every woman WOMAN FIREFIGHTER? 130 -pound woman: Who interviewed for this stowould you rather have ry: If you can’t see them for dragging someone my yourself, so the thinking size down a fire escape?” goes, how would you begin to imagine being a woman “The one who’s best at in the f ire service is even a their job,” I told him, possibility? It’s the reason but looking back, I realwhy most of the women ize, that was not the correct response. The correct understand the significance of recruitment, even if answer comes down to a matter of practicality: it means waking up early on Saturday mornings to Even if you could make that selection, given the drive to Randall’s Island or set up tables in a loamount of protective gear firefighters wear, you cal park: It isn’t the preliminary written exam that would likely not even be able to identify a firemakes the first round of cuts in firefighting, I soon fighter’s gender or build if they were to save you realize. It’s these deeply ingrained societal beliefs from a fire, nor would you care. The correct answer of what women should or should not be doing prois: It doesn’t matter. That and: We’ll take the check fessionally. right away, please. While it’s indeed possible that my date’s skepticism was smudged with sexism, “I don’t understand how women can say that this perhaps it also stemmed from having grown up is something they can’t do if they’ve never tried,” amongst solely firemen. Admittedly, the chances of Lieutenant Tracy Lewis later tells me, her navy blue encountering the .04% in any given neighborhood uniform framed by the red brick doorway of a picrun slim, even if you’re surrounded by firefighters. turesque firehouse in Brooklyn, where an American flag mounted between two sets of second- floor At the same time, there exists a more diverse array windows presides over a mural of a second Amerof non traditionally employed women in our meican flag adorning the garage door. “No one is just dia landscape than some might think. For instance, picking people off the street. You’re conditioned!”



I think back to the recurring narrative I continue to hear, in some form or another, from every woman firefighter I speak with. In fact, it’s an anecdote that comes up so often in my notes that I begin referring to it the “Ballerina Anecdote”: A little girl announces her intention to become a firefighter when she grows up, faces opposition or disbelief from adults, and, when word gets back to any of the women firefighters, is invited to tour their firehouse. It makes perfect sense, of course. Little girls are so commonly steered towards the Barbie aisle at Toys ‘R Us that they might have no idea that they’re even “allowed” to play with G.I. Joe’s, much less consider male-dominated professions like firefighting later on as adults. Sure enough, but ten minutes into my visit at Lewis’s firehouse, a woman walks by clutching the hand of her young daughter, and Lewis offers them a tour. “A lot of people just don’t understand what we do and have a lot of misconceptions of what firefighters do,” she admits, after the girl and her mother leave. “Like what?” I ask. “I don’t run to anything!” she answers immediately. “We don’t run into burning buildings. Now think about that for a second: Does that make sense to you? People say, ‘Oh, I’m afraid of fire.’ ...Hello! I’m afraid of fire! And I don’t want to get burned by it, either. So I know what I need to do to not get burned.” While Lewis notes how the public is frequently unaware of the range of a firefighter’s duties— which span from responding to emergency calls to conducting building inspections for code violation of the NYC building laws— she remains equally aware of the importance of the original 1982 class. “You have to understand the history of women and minorities in this department,” she insists, and in fact, it was a 1986 newspaper article she read about the journey of retired officer Ella McNair that would ultimately move her to join the FDNY. She still has the scrap of paper to this day, and Ella McNair would later go on to become the FDNY’s first black woman promoted to lieutenant. Tracy Lewis later became its second, and remains adamant about the advice she gives women probationary officers: “You have to understand what a fight it was to get you here! You may be the first in your city or district, but there’s a first everywhere. If this is what you want to do and this is where your heart is, you can’t let these people run you out. You will be tested and you will be tried, but he women who came on the job before you, things weren’t always great. But we didn’t always have the right to vote. We didn’t always have the right to go to school. All those things had to be fought for.”




COMBUSTION I wanted to go out in a holy, crackling grease f ire. But the only way out of the adolescent psychiatric ward was to renounce my suicidal daydreams. BY VICTORIA WINTER




hen we come back: Can a banana prevent spontaneous human combustion?”

The experts at the Discovery Channel speculated that a potassium-deficient body in proximity to a BIC lighter could ignite into a columnar blaze, a cascade of cellular fission that crackles like hot lard. For the remainder of the week after I saw that special, on the only English language network available in my family’s hotel room in Mexico, I preemptively searched for a pool or shower wherever I went. At night, I practiced stringing together phrases from our Spanish guidebook: ‘Help.’ ‘I am burning from the inside.’ Two years later, when I was fifteen years old, I emerged from the hospital a hunter-gatherer, camouflaged as a healthy woman beneath Bobbi Brown Creamy Concealer. In the age before agriculture, the demand for food was perpetual and little energy remained to develop skilled crafts like metallurgy. Refugees write best-selling memoirs after, not during, their flight from drug cartels. In my exodus from the adolescent ward, I could not carry my culture, for I had to stay light— just in case my psychologist or social worker or mother or father changed their mind about my emotional fitness. I shed the knowledge of writing, painting and baking three-tiered birthday cakes. In the privacy of my assigned room, whose door did not lock, I dried my suicidal daydreams by the wintry light of the window that did not open, and ground their dried husks into the carpet. In the month precipitating my confinement, I began to imagine a righteous and glorious exit, my vision of death no less grandiose than my childhood designs on becoming the next Britney Spears. Neither came to pass. Even so, it is impossible to resist adding an assurance to the reader that it was never that bad, never half as morbid as it sounds. I can convince you not to send me back to the hospital. I entertained running away, but according to the internet, that dead-ends in prostitution, and I didn’t have birth control. Moreover, as an underaged homeless girl, I’d be at the mercy of strangers— not a significant departure from the present situation. Seven pages into the Google query ‘escape via Amtrak,’ I remembered the guinea pig I had long ago found stiff in his crate, a chunk of his leg riddled with bite marks. I had neglected to feed him. In his final days, poor dead Chip had displayed the kind of tenacity that my father loves


to read about. For that, his little rodent soul now perches on the shoulders of pioneers who died with stumps wrapped in dirty shirts and stomachs full of their own urine. I was made of doughier stuff, though. A train ticket could have sustained me, but I cleared my browser history and put it out of mind. The endless number of remaining school days and the dinner table conversations with my disappointed parents that awaited after each only seemed bearable when I thought of dying. Like all the greats— the Evel Knievels and men on wires— I planned brushes with death in consideration of the following factors: 1. That time I sat in on my father’s knot tying class for the Boy Scouts. (I was a poor study, so a noose would probably give out right at the mark of brain damage.) 2. Overdosing on painkillers is easy to initiate, but if I went too low or got caught, my stomach would be pumped and I’d be left with liver damage. Thirty years later, when all this had blown over and I had a husband and college-aged kids, I’d die in my sleep at the awkward age of nearly 50 when the Tylenol I take for my toothache finally clogs my hard, discolored liver. 3. My parents didn’t own a firearm, and even if I befriended a Republican (not trivial— I was inept at socializing and lived in a blue state), it seemed like poor manners to off myself with someone else’s gun. If they turned out be sensitive or superstitious, I’d have spoiled their trips to the shooting range. The number one problem, though, was that the body goes limp when hung or poisoned or shot. It lies slack, and my parents would shake their heads, not asking, “How great was her pain?” but, “Why was our daughter so weak?” Only one vision gave me dignity again. It was everything I wanted in a death: an act that authenticates and hardens the will. I have never told anyone. It became unspeakable after my conversation with the social worker in triage. My clothes were in a plastic bag printed with the hospital logo and I wore two blue gowns. “Hypothetically,” she asked me, “If you were to kill yourself, how would you do it?” I recited my thoughts on the vulnerabilities of the


various fashionable strategies, and then concluded, “I guess if I had to suggest a best method, I’d say a gun, probably a light pistol, maybe 9mm caliber, so the recall doesn’t cause me to miss and blow my cheek out.” It was a purely scientific answer, but I knew I had failed her assessment, and from then on I never discussed the subject of suicide with anyone outside of a “would you rather?” game. Now I can finally name the death I once dreamt of, because I can explain it as more than a homemade melodrama. Because I am too old for my parents to intervene. Once a year, when I’m back in town, I play a game with my father. It always happens over a meal. “What if you had Lou Gehrig’s disease?” I start. “Nope. That means I have a few years left. I’m going to make the most of them.” “Alright. It progresses. Your eyeballs are lolling around, you can’t talk and you definitely can’t go to the bathroom by yourself.” “There’s always something worth living for.” “Okay, fine. You take your whole family on one last trip to Disney World and Space Mountain malfunctions, decapitating everyone but you.” “Can we stop this?” my mother will say. “This conversation upsets me— there’s always a reason to keep living. More butter, please.” Suicide didn’t appeal to me for the sake of defiance, nor was I seeking rebirth. I just needed to act, to choose that what I needed wasn’t the fat hand of the justice system, or to have my class schedule switched so I wouldn’t encounter his girlfriend in the halls, the girlfriend who still wore his wedding band. I would have endured an agony of biblical proportions to shake the word “victim.” I had so often been told I was incapacitated, that my depression and shock at my violation warped my faculties like a Tupperware lid left in the sun. Likewise, my proposals to spend a few weeks in the countryside or in Florida with my grandmother or to transfer to another school district forty minutes away, all represented a personal failure to cope with my situation. But if I took the red can on the side of my house, if I doused myself with its gasoline and took the kitchen lighter reserved for the broken burner, and if I clicked that lighter, who could say I didn’t know what I wanted?

To leave the hospital I had to be stable and uncreative about death. I vowed to every nurse in sight that I was so grateful to exist, and intended to keep breathing until I was a dried up corn husk. It took two weeks to prove beyond a doubt my wholesome zest for life. But even when I was released back to my parents, the “edge taken off ” by medication, the hospital was only a mile from home and felt much closer. My mother bought me new bedsheets to celebrate. I was feral in the aisles of the Bed, Bath and Beyond, newly released into a world of polyester sheets that demanded my enthusiasm. I quit planning my self-immolation and renounced the possibility of being carried away in a chariot of fire like the prophet Elijah. Poetry was frivolous and I had practical concerns. For example, how to acquire a sufficiently large social network to indicate adjustment. I also had to prove I was “processing” which was, to my calculation, equal parts “feeling my pain” and “not being defined by the past.” To understand what these Oprah-isms looked like, I watched foreign art house movies and studied the expressions of characters overcoming sexual abuse. I learned to wear clothes that fit like I cared about my appearance, but not so well I seemed to be courting sex. I renounced obsession, lust, hands at the top button of my jeans in the dark of a school play. I tucked in all the edges that might not have been sufficiently “taken off.” I dwelled for years after in the pale and middling deserts of extreme moderation, pocked with the occasional cairn— the end of high school, college graduation, the demise of a serious relationship, cutting away the professor whose affections impinged on me like the progression of a tumor over an eye. As my path wended temporally and geographically from the hospital, I felt increasingly comfortable cracking my window an inch or two, open to the rare confluence of breeze and spark that could kindle that fiery, fatal, salvaging dream I had disowned. So I never investigated the fuel leak in my car and I sprayed PAM cooking spray close to hot surfaces. I wore pajamas made of materials an issue of Parenting classified as “highly flammable.” I stopped eating bananas. Eight years since the police arrested that boy in band class and seven and three-quarter years since I sold out my fever dreams under the psychiat-



ric ward’s fluorescent lights, I don’t want to die anymore. One unremarkable day, possibly while microwaving a bowl of soup or parking my car (a new one that didn’t leak fuel), I thought of catching fire for the last time. I heard my mother saying, “See, everything happened for a reason.” And then it all becomes A Very Good Thing. My mother thinks the fire already happened, and she hears a Yosemite National Park Ranger recite, “We shouldn’t try to prevent wildfires. Without their heat, pinecones can’t release their seeds.” In my parent’s mythology, those conifer seeds could only have been found in my hospital bed, in the detective’s office, in the wooden room where I testified to three old men and the boy himself.

But in the lands that only I tend, I know the trees are thin for their age, having endured drought but not wildfire. I never touched that old red gasoline jug on the side of my house. Later in college, when I met a girl with leathery burns on her face and arms, the poetry of self-immolation seemed so transparent, and behind it I saw a material reaction, the oxidation of small hairs and the epidermis and the pain receptors embedded there. Even now, as an uncontrolled wildfire ravages the orchards of Eastern Washington, pummeling the dry earth with apples cooked black, I am certain that the farmer with naked trees thinks of insurance, not metaphors.


MIND MAPS The relationship between location and memory (both real and imagined), as told through a mashup of every city I’ve ever visited. BY TIFFANY MALLERY



@Feminista Jones /// Author, Push the Button /// Social Worker /// Community Activist /// Love and Sex Editor,

1. I stand firm in what I believe and say. If I’m wrong I admit it and apologize. If I’m not offensive or factually wrong I stick to my guns. 2. We have to divest of the socialization that has convinced us we’re inferior. Instead of “playing the game,” come up with your own rules. 3. I may “clap back” or I may ignore. I often ignore because I’m busy, but sometimes I respond to show people the kinds of things I deal with. 4. Make decisions for you and you alone. No one else lives your life so they shouldn’t factor too heavily in the choices you make for yourself. AMANDA MARCOTTE

@AmandaMarcotte /// Author, Get Opinionated /// Politics Writer, Salon

1. Don’t talk down to yourself ! Tell yourself, ‘I DO have something to say, and I’ll trust that by putting in the work it will come into form.’ 2. I look and see what people I follow are saying but I get abused so much by people on Twitter that I don’t even check my mentions anymore. 3. Learn to be a little unafraid of judgement and just think, ‘Well, I’ll try.’ 4. I started blogging in no small part because I was sick of a culture that tells women they don’t have anything valuable to add or to say. LUX ALPTRAUM

@LuxAlptraum /// Sex Writer and Educator /// Co-Director, Out of the Binders, Inc. & BinderCon /// Former CEO & Publisher, Fleshbot

1. You might only have dumb things to say now, but if you never say them, how are you going to learn that and get better things to say? 2. Having people disagree with you is frustrating but ultimately it’s no big

1 How would you encourage women to go about finding their own voices, both online and off ?

2 What are the best strategies you’ve found for learning to take the heat if you come under fire on social media?

URL, IRL Twitter-length wisdom from five of the platform’s most prolific.

deal. Just realizing that gives you the confidence to keep speaking up. 3. Winston Churchill said, ‘Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.’ Don’t be afraid to fail. Everyone does. 4. Every few years I unintentionally change paths. The confidence to do that isn’t about freedom from self-doubt, but learning to move past it. ALIDA NUGENT

@The_Frenemy /// Author, Don’t Worry, It Gets Worse & You Don’t Have to Like Me

1. There’s no perfect voice that speaks for everyone. Come to terms with the fact that people won’t respect all your opinions and speak anyway. 2. Embody the things you believe in but don’t be afraid to evolve from them. Keep learning and don’t let anyone silence you in the process. 3. Oh man, don’t rack up debt! Always pay your credit card bills on time. 4. After college I took any little job to stay afloat but I comforted myself with the knowledge that it’s always a climb to get what you want. JILL FILIPOVICH


@JillFilipovic /// Lawyer /// Journalist /// Former Senior Political Writer,

What’s the one essential piece of advice you wish you’d learned sooner?

1. Put yourself out there. You could fail or you could succeed wildly, but at least take a shot so you never miss that chance for wild success.


2. If a person is arguing in good faith I’ll engage to a degree but if someone just says, ‘You’re a bitch’ on Twitter, I mean, that’s useless.

How did you reconcile a time in your life when you weren’t as self-confident as you are now?

3. ‘Feel entitled to be here!’ If you have good ideas and work hard, you deserve to reap the benefits of that just like everyone else. 4. In law school I often felt like, ‘Who’d I trick to let me in here?’ But I was lucky to find an encouraging community, both online and off.







FIRE A love story in which a pyrophobe (me) falls for a fire breather (my husband). BY JAMIE L. ROTANTE AS TOLD TO ENCHANTRESS




was eleven going on seventy-one.

While everyone my age, it seemed, was having breathless adventures in the great outdoors, I was cautioning against venturing those extra few feet into the woods; the one emphatically suggesting we not jump off the swing sets and rallying against Ouija board séances in the grass in favor of a nice, quiet game of Monopoly. And although none of my phobias of note— heights, dogs, cats, fires and car wrecks among them— were grounded in personal experience, they nonetheless lingered into my adolescence: While my friends were hopping fences to smoke cigarettes in our local park, curiously unconcerned with breaking a limb or developing emphysema, I was the one holding their purses, the one who’d stay awake later that night in their living rooms while everyone else was asleep in fear of abduction or a silent gas leak.

felt at home anywhere— even when I was, physically, in my own home. The concept of being “normal” was completely unfamiliar to me, as was the idea of “being comfortable in your own skin,” an art I never quite mastered. Meanwhile, as I was repressing my unease at the sight of hands positioned too closely over votive candles, the man who would one day become my husband was learning fire breathing, the classic carnival sideshow trick of ingesting a flammable (but not highly combustible) fuel to create a literal stream of fire from the mouth when exhaled over a flame. Although we grew up in parallel towns ten minutes apart, John and I lived perpendicular adolescent lives: While I was clocking long hours in front of my computer screen crafting the perfect AIM profile, John was sneaking out of his childhood home to catch punk shows at CBGB’s. When we began


VOICES OF VARANASI Varanasi, India, home to over 2,000 Hindu temples, is considered the country’s spiritual capital—

© Nicole Kenney Rogers & KS Rives Revivo

“I am the King of the burning Ghat. From generation to generation my family’s job is to give fire to the dead.”

© Nicole Kenney Rogers & KS Rives Revivo

“I am Dome Raja Jandin Chaudhri. My work is to burn the bodies. This is my family business for generations.”

But strangely enough, of all the things I feared, it was my pyrophobia that most hampered my social life. A summer trip to Six Flags ended in vanquish when I ducked behind a table with my hands clamped over my ears in an attempt to hide from both the sight and sound of fireworks. (A vacation to Disney World in the eighth grade was similarly marred.) As an adult, I’d feign interest in seeing Fourth of July fireworks, but always devised clever excuses not to go. What I didn’t realize until much later was that my fears were misplaced. I wasn’t afraid of heights, I was afraid of falling; I wasn’t afraid of fire, I was afraid of getting burnt. Yet for years I couldn’t decipher why I felt so nervous and shaky throughout my day-to-day life, why I never truly

© Nicole Kenney Rogers & KS Rives Revivo

“It is my heartfelt wish to die in Varanasi because Swarga [heaven] is here.”

dating during my junior year of college, John made only passing mentions of his interest in fire breathing— how he took a few lessons from a Coney Island sideshow performer, how he secretly dreamed of following in the footsteps of his childhood idol, Gene Simmons. It was an anecdote I liked to work into a sardonic bragging point at parties— “Your boyfriend just got a job in finance? That’s great, but can he breathe fire?”— and I felt more normal and less insecure by proxy. To be clear, it’s not that John is or was a pyromaniac. He’s simply never feared fire, and it was his graceful ease with my greatest phobia that ultimately inspired me to learn to use a lighter and strike a match. (Although his ability to extinguish a candle flame



with his bare fingers remains nothing less than sorcery to me.) John wasn’t merely a person who had a vastly different relationship to open flames, of course. He offered me something in our relationship that I’d struggled to find my entire life: comfort. With John, I didn’t have to pretend to be in control and aloof all the time— I was allowed to be a mess when anxiety would gnaw away at me like a rabid dog using my intestines as a chew toy. Over the past few years, John has taken to practicing fire breathing on his own (an act certainly not recommended by professionals), and I couldn’t be more supportive (an act probably not recommended by most wise adults). I even let him practice in the kitchen sometimes— as long as I’m not home for it— using a lighter and corn syrup. I wouldn’t necessarily say that I’m 100% fine with this endeavor, nor would I ever attempt it myself, but I’ve learned not to let my fears get the best of me, and it was a feat that required

calm and collected when I’m hitting a mental rough patch. He knows when to stay quiet, but present, during a rare public panic attack. He allows me to exhaust him with my talk of fears and catastrophic predictions until I’m ready to come back down to reality and assess the situation rationally. He remains grounded while I’m in the air, floating amongst the stars, trying to escape my mental anguish. He lets me in on his own neuroses without making it a competition over who is more mentally fucked. He breathes fire for me because he knows it will make me smile. By twenty-five, I finally stopped fixating on car wrecks and got my driver’s license. At twenty-seven, I abandoned my fear of plane crashes and hopped on a flight for the first time in my life to get married to John over 3,000 miles away in Dublin, Ireland. (Admittedly, I had a major case of nerve-induced gas for the entirety of the plane ride


VOICES OF VARANASI —and the most auspicious place to cremate the dead. Nicole Kenney Rogers and KS Rives Revivo set out to capture some of the locals on Polaroid film.

© Nicole Kenney Rogers & KS Rives Revivo

“I’ve lived here a long time and I want to die here in Varanasi and get salvation.”

© Nicole Kenney Rogers & KS Rives Revivo

“Death is the biggest truth of the world.”

so much more than having faith that not every lit match would end in my house burning down. It meant understanding why my fears consumed me: they, combined together, have a name. And even if I can never “conquer” every fear, I can learn to live with something that is, surprisingly, kind of common. Normal, even. And you know what? I may never be “normal” in any other respect, but why would I want to be? I’d much rather accept every part of myself— and, for that, be loved— than magically transform into the kind of woman who plays with matches. John never forced me to conquer my fear of fire— but, as with most of my anxieties and neuroses, my husband created a stable base to balance out my quirks. He remains


© Nicole Kenney Rogers & KS Rives Revivo

“I’m not going to die!”

and still tremble when entering or exiting a parkway, but these are not insurmountable obstacles— just annoying by-products that come with managing my anxieties.) I can even handle fire with more ease than ever before. I light candles while I’m in the bath, successfully extinguish small kitchen fires (which happen far more often than I’d care to admit) and even seek out Fourth of July fireworks. Do I still tremble when fireworks seem to hit a little too close for comfort or if someone I don’t know well enough thinks it’s funny to drunkenly mess with sparklers? Of course— but that’s because, I don’t know, maybe some things just aren’t good ideas. Like playing with matches.


LYNN YAEGER’S ‘FUNNY LITTLE WORLD’ With her signature fire engine red hair and dark lips painted like two symmetrical pyramids, Lynn Yaeger’s personal style is as distinctive as her writing. Our Editor-in-Chief, Chloe Kent, asks the style icon all the big questions. LYNN YAEGER /// CONTRIBUTING WRITER & EDITOR, VOGUE

CK: I grew up in the Midwest knowing exactly who you were from your Village Voice columns and Vogue, and when I moved to New York, I saw you once at a party when I was eighteen, and I thought, ‘I’ve arrived!’ You’ve always been so cutting edge. W hat sort of advice can you give to young women about taking your own path? LY: Well, I would say just not to be afraid to sort of push the limits. This sounds ver y cliché, but don’t let the media define how you look, or how you feel about things. I feel like there’s a tendency for little girls to not be interested in science or politics because they think boys won’t like them. So my advice would be to really define yourself in a sort of 21st-centur y way and not give into any of these assumptions about women, you know? Like whenever you go on a date and you know more than the date, you kind of feel like, ‘If I really give my opinion and show that I really know the subject matter and this jerk doesn’t, then he won’t like me anymore.’ You know? There’s all that. So I just feel like good advice is to not give into those sort of assumptions and to not really worr y about how women should look. ...Oh, I know what advice I should give! Wait, I have really good advice: Really good advice is to watch a beach party movie from the 1960s and see how fat all the girls are in their bathing suits. Those girls are all, like, fifty pounds fatter then they ’re allowed to be now and ever yone thought those girls were beautiful! Or watch Marilyn Monroe in The Misf its when she comes out of the ocean. My best friend called me up and said, ‘Lynn! Put on the television! You won’t believe this scene!’ So that ’s my advice: Watch an old movie. Do not give into this insanity right now. Can you tell us about a time when you weren’t as confident in yourself as you are now and how you were personally able to sort of reconcile that? All I know is, when I was young and I would get on the subway, I would always see some girl who I thought looked better than me, or her clothes were better, or I liked her better, and it would bother me all day. Now I never seen that

girl anymore. I haven’t seen her for decades. I don’t know how that transformation happens and how you get more confident, but I think one of the benefits of getting older is having a better sense of humor about things and kind of accepting yourself more, but I don’t know how you develop it. Watch the beach party movie! Ok, I have sort of a tough question for you... Those two were tough! Yeah, they ’re big questions! They ’re big! They ’re important, I think, though. W hat do you see as the essential problem facing young people today and how to we begin solving it? That ’s too big. Okay, let ’s take it piece by piece: Okay, so the first part of it was, the biggest problem facing you? Well, I think it ’s really hard to get an interesting job. I mean, I don’t know for sure, but my suspicion is that it ’s ver y hard. Ever ybody wants to work in a creative field and I think it ’s ver y difficult to get the kind of work that you find satisfying. That would be my guess. I mean, I know in New York it ’s impossible to find any place to live, and when I was in my twenties it was not impossible to find a place to live. It was pretty easy to find a place to live. Apartments weren’t nice, but you could find one you like. I don’t know how bad it is in other cities, but I feel like New York has now really become just for people of means. I think I remember a column of yours in The Village Voice once where you wrote that your first apartment was so small, someone made a joke— —Oh yes! That really happened. A close friend of mine came over to my first place and said, ‘I love this apartment because if you want to kill yourself you can put your head in the oven without getting out of bed.’ It was on East 9th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues, which is now a ver y desirable address, I think. Yes, that is true. I was there for a long time, in that little apartment. I loved it, but it was ver y small.



And what was your life like then compared to now? W hat are the biggest differences? I think the biggest difference for me when I was in my twenties versus now is that I wasn’t making a living as a writer at the time. First I worked at The New School in the librar y, and then I worked at The Village Voice in the advertising department before I started writing there. I think the biggest difference now is that I’ve been able to earn a living doing something I love so much, which is kind of amazing because I didn’t anticipate that this would happen. First I had all of these jobs when I was in college at department stores, but I always got fired. Because I was terrible. I just wasn’t any good at those sort of jobs. So I think the biggest change is being able to be a writer. And for women who aren’t able to be writers, or aren’t able to enter creative fields, or are just now feeling the challenge of getting those jobs, what advice would you give to those women? Well, that ’s a tough question… I don’t know! I don’t know what most people do! I don’t know anything about what most people do! Is that a terrible answer? Not at all! I don’t either. I have no idea. I’m ver y much in my own funny little world. I’ve always been in this sort of bohemian fringe culture of the world and my friends are sort of crazy and I don’t have any idea what normal people do. I can’t hold one of those jobs! Me neither! I mean, normal people can do those jobs. I inter viewed this designer a couple days ago— she’s pretty young, at least compared to me— and she told me she met her husband at a store she worked at for a couple years, and it ’s like, ‘I get fired after a week!’ So the only advice I can give is this: Don’t think of yourself as a girl. Think of yourself as some sort of adult who’s interested in all types of things. You know, who’s really a smart, serious person. Not a girl who’s always looking in the mirror and disparaging herself because she doesn’t look like Kendall Jenner, or whoever. Like, don’t be that person. Be a grown-up, serious person. It ’s so funny that you mention Kendall Jenner because I was thinking of putting that in my editor’s letter. It ’s really true: Too many young women scrolling through Instagram


end up feeling terribly about themselves because they don’t resemble, I don’t know, Cara Delevingne. But if you look at the inter view with Cara Delevingne in Vogue, she sounds ver y pained, dealing with her sexuality, a ver y disturbed mother. All of these people are ver y nice, but I mean, no, this is not what we want to be. We want to be grown-up, serious forces in the world; we want to be interested in politics, we want to change the world fighting for things that are important, like women’s health and women’s rights. We don’t want to be some dumb girl worried about her eyebrows or something. That ’s not what we want to be. We want to be, like, I don’t know…. Like you! Like me! No, I don’t know. I don’t think people want to be like me. I think people want to have a more normal life than me, you know? I mean, I don’t... Speaking of which, how did you cultivate your signature style? Were you, like, five years old and just started dyeing your hair red? That ’s how I picture it happening. I didn’t dye my hair red then. But I did decide I didn’t want to wear pants anymore. As I got older, I got bolder about it, and it evolved. I mean, I always loved clothes. I wore 1920s clothes for years. Then they kind of got really old and deteriorated, but I was head-to-toe 1920s for a long time. I got more confident in it, and people seemed to like it. It was easier for me and more fun to go in this other direction than to be a slave to what was on the runway. I couldn’t wear high heels and I was never attracted to sexy clothes. I was attracted to, like, doll clothes. It ’s just a ver y different frame of reference. I think if you live in downtown Manhattan, it ’s a little bit easier. Or if you live in, say, London. We’re tolerant of freaks and weirdos in this part of the countr y. I grew up in Michigan, so I was obviously ver y enmeshed in middle America. I can’t speak for the whole region, but my experience was that it was definitely not an Ellis Island for unique people. It was more like an Abercrombie & F itch outpost. I think it ’s changing a little bit because of the internet. But I’ve always been ver y much in my own sort of funny little world. I just hate to see what happens to women. I hate to see that terrifying insecurity. It ’s nightmarish, don’t you think?




: Was there ever a time in your life when you weren’t as conf ident in yourself as you are now?

to a new apartment in Brooklyn, which was great for me, and, in addition to SAT tutoring, I started writing book reviews, which I loved. After another year, two years from the first, I finally started my second novel. And this time I knew a lot more about novel writing : “When I was 29, I was writing a column for because I’d done it once. I went slower and I revised The Wall Street Journal online about twentymore and I wound up spending four years on it. It something personal finance, and I wrote my became The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., which then last column about how I was going to quit my job, had a very, very different outcome: I got a great agent sublet my apartment in Manhattan and move in with who I love, and I got a deal within a couple days for my parents in Baltimore for six months to try and something called a preempt, to preempt an auction on write a novel. I’d always a manuscript from a pubwanted to do it, l but I’d lisher. So it was great but it never written one with a came after getting through beginning, a middle and this very, very rough time an end. I was nervous of being demoralized by about it, but sort of felt the first novel and then like I had to take the leap spending another four I CAME BACK TO NEW YORK and do it. years really, really working THINKING THAT FAME AND FORTUNE on Nathaniel P. while being WERE JUST AROUND THE CORNER, I moved back to New York an SAT tutor. THAT I’D BE INTERVIEWED BY six months later still deTERRY GROSS AND I’D NEVER HAVE lighted with the novel and If I had to give myself one TO HAVE A REGULAR JOB AGAIN. kind of confusing some piece of advice in that moI WAS DEVASTATED. of the ecstasy of finishing ment, it would probably be it with whether the work to get better at surviving was actually good. I came rejection. It feels so cataback to New York thinkstrophic and awful, and it’s ing that fame and fortune not that you shouldn’t alwere just around the corlow yourself to be sad, but ner, that I’d be interviewed I think the real test in life by Terry Gross and I’d is to be able to learn from never have to have a regular job again, all that kind rejection and to persevere through it. of stuff. When I look back, what I feel very, very grateful for is It took about a year for me to realize that my novel that ultimately, having that first novel not get published was never going to be published. I was devastated. taught me two really important things: One, that I could actually write a novel, and two, that I liked doing it. I turned 30 and the novel had been rejected and I Knowing those things made it easier to start The Love started working what I thought would be a tempoAffairs of Nathaniel P. On the other hand, I think the lesrary job as an SAT tutor, thinking, ‘Oh, this is just son I could have taken from it was, ‘Oh, just because you until my novel sells and I become this famous author.’ write a novel doesn’t mean it’ll get published.’ It could But I wound up being a full-time SAT tutor. And have been demoralizing and made me not do it again, but then I just got really depressed. It felt like a setback. looking back I feel so lucky that I didn’t accept that. That I took the more positive lesson. Try not to see rejection as It took me probably another year to sort of put myself something that’s demoralizing and embittering. See what back together and say, ‘Alright, that sucks, but I have you can learn from it, and know that if you survive it, it’ll to try to do things to make myself happier.’ I moved suck for a while, but you’ll ultimately come out ahead.”


Enchantress Magazine Issue No. i: FIRE  
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