Stuck in the Middle
Stuck in the Middle, January 2020 Vol. 1 Issue 1: Home ÂŠ 2020Jennifer Walter and Ryan Gonzalez ,
Cover photo, house doodle on prompt page and additional photos by J.W. Additional images and photo spreads by R.G. Cover font is Foxtails, book font is Tox Typewriter, house icon is Webdings, recycling icon on back cover by Oliver Kittler from the Noun Project; all are used under Creative Commons.
What does the idea of home mean to you? What does it look like, sound like, smell like, taste like? Who or what represents home? How has your idea of it changed over time? Think of the place where you felt furthest from home. Think about your childhood home, your safe haven, or a place you traveled that felt too familiar to be new. Do you consider the place(s) you grew up to be home, and do you consider where you live now to be home? Have you felt at home in any unusual places, or felt absent in places that should have felt like home? We asked our contributors to tell us or show us what home is through writing, photography and visual art. Here's what they sent us.
Letters from the editors
J.W. & R.G.
November 28th, 2018 - Three Weeks and Two Days Post Chemo Treatment #1
13 Where I'm From
16 Lost in Provincetown
18 Bites of Home
19 Best Friend
22 Letter to Ann Arbor
23 Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, 2007, age 11
25 The Midwestern Hero's Quest
28 Interstate 43 North
SITM Vol. 1, issue 1
10songs that remind us of home 1. Fix'er Upper - Rosie Tucker 2. Running - Nicotine 3. Cityscapes - Vern Matz 4. Light Speed - Grieves 5. Lost in My Mind - The Head and the Heart
6. Almond Milk Paradise - Milo 7. Home - Alexi Murdoch 8. Dazzling Blue - Paul Simon 9. Crow Song - Haley Heynderickx & Max GarcĂa Conover 10. Nothing's That Great - Julia Nunes
There's a photo of me at about two or three years old, tugging at the laces on my dad's size 13 leather dress shoes as I tried to get them to stay on my feet. I had this expression on my face like I wasn't expecting anyone to watch me, but cameraphilic parents tend to be there at the most opportune moments, especially when that little girl is their first. There were still times I found myself trying to fit into my parent's shoes as I grew up, either physically (like stealing my mom's crocs to do house chores) or metaphorically. But as I got older, I shed some of the habits and beliefs that I picked up during my first 17 years of life, which I reckon happens to most of us as we grow up, move out and start our adult lives. I left Michigan for Wisconsin in 2015 with a template of what a home should be. I tried to build my own version of the comforting, safe, permanent place I experienced as a child - at times, experiencing nothing but bottomless feelings of loneliness. But at others, I felt like I was finally developing a place that could be my own. One of the people that makes Wisconsin feel like home is my partner, Ryan. I never thought I'd meet anyone who could believe in a DIY project as much as me and actually deliver on it. But here we are, several months after jokingly toying with the idea of starting a zine, and we've made something that we're both immensely proud of. We've collected writing and art from a swath of talented friends - people who call themselves writers and artists, and others who create, but are a bit shy with titles. We've felt the pangs of change and the whirlwinds of nostalgia through your voices and visions. Thank you for letting us give your work a home here. And thank you, dear reader, for drifting along with us through the uncertainties of young adulthood.
Like many projects, the creation of this zine orignally started as a joke. Jenn and I were goofing off on a mid-August Sunday when the topic came up. Instead of laughing and forgetting about the whole thing, we lit up into conversation with all the possiblities. Before we knew it, we had more than just the half-baked idea we started with. Painfully familiar with how lonely young adulthood can be, I knew my mission with this zine was to provide a space for all us young'uns to share our thoughts and feelings. Sure, we'd still be Stuck in the Middle, but at least we'd all be stuck together and a little less alone. With our name and mission picked all we needed now was a theme and, like all good beginnings, we couldn't think of a more perfect one than home. Every day, regardless of whatever changes happen, you always come back to the same bed after all. Flash forward to the past week before publication and a lot has happened since then: Jenn and I have talked about moving in together and creating a new, better home, I lost my job that I hated, and I'm looking to start a career in journalism. While a lot has changed I'm proud to say the zine is still out the proof in the fact that you're reading this right now. And, while I've got you reading this, I want you to know that this zine goes out to all the young adults struggling. To the drifters who still haven't gotten their life figured out, the movers and shakers who still have their demons, and anyone in between. Even if you don't know where you're going next, just know you can find a home here.
-Ryan Gonzalez 2
Photographs by Nic Umbs
Audrianna Wichman Home is not always a feeling or a person As I grew up believing because I learned to fear anything other than permanence and Sometimes home is plush carpet and pink paint and cement Someday a wrecking ball will demolish The room in which I felt so much The room that held me so much Or rust and decay and smoke will take over Charred bits echoing my smiles and tears And it will be apocalypse Minimized to my bedroom Once again the wild will claim this plot of land Red centipedes will crawl over the dirt and ashes And foxes will birth their pups in this space Pines and oaks and maples will grow Reminiscent of the plants I kept in pots by the window A fawn will dream under the stars Like I dreamt so many years in these four walls Air will flow freely 5
And flowers will bloom And things will live and die I will be a memory vaporized The only ones to remember me generations of The spiders on the ceiling I didn't kill And the stars that blinked down on me each night Knowing I wouldn't last
November 28th, 2018 - Three Weeks and Two Days Post Chemo Treatment #1 Rae Williams
The familiar weight of your mom's hand feels overwhelming as Prince's Greatest Hits blare through the kitchen stereo. You can barely hear the sound of the clippers littering tumbleweeds of grey and brown curls onto the sapphire tarp your stepdad laid across the worn oak kitchen floorboards. He kisses your mom's fuzzy scalp and continues, row by row - a machinist's eye fixates until She's perfectly even - Her eyes remain shut, lips shifting to the words of Raspberry Beret but Her head remains stationary. You pluck a curl suspended from Her right ear - a remnant of the locks She once cherished - the ones that everyone said you got from Her, the ones that probably won't grow back. You let go of Her hand Her eyes open the same gentle blue they've always been.
James Lieven the sound the wind makes outside my bedroom at my parents house on Sunday mornings window white closet queen bed holy bible harry potter brisingr lamp lamp table table Van Gohe wood armoire mirror wood armoire Van Gohe lamp lamp table table holy bible harry potter brisingr queen bed white closet window The sound the wind makes outside my bedroom at my parents house on Sunday evenings
Memory Sajda Omar
Home is where [I remembered you today, wow you were afraid, your eyes glass, reflecting arcade lights, hands like rain shaking. On the way] Home is where [you and I forget the rest not the bones of old barns in open fields, or gravel roads unloyal to direction - just that all we wanted was to get out of that blinking prison, something about the lights and noise made us feel so alone. Mom and Dad just wanted to get us out of the house, but] Home is where [I reached inside myself and 9
found you there, in the arcade. I'm sorry I never called, but you make me so sad. Now here you are, with your legs sprawled in a purple W on my living room floor; you ask if this is] Home is where I put my things, and still it's empty.
Photographs by Nic Umbs
Where I'm From Rachel Kubik
In this small town you sit down to get your hair cut and one of the first things they ask you is "where are you from?" Same thing when you get an oil change, or when you get your teeth cleaned. And most times, I'd rather kick myself in the shins than answer that question. Where I'm from, that's not something you ask someone you just met. I want to blend in with them so much that they don't even have to question it. Is my Chicago accent really that strong, or do I still have those I'm-new-in-town wide eyes? I want them to ask me what makes me happy and what book influenced me the most. Ask me about what songs I sing in the shower and if I prefer sunrises 13
or sunsets. I'd tell them what ambitions I've achieved and what tasks I'm really bad at. Maybe they won't ask me those questions, because maybe I'm just dreaming too hard
Untitled Mer Lowry
When I was eighteen, I lived on top of the world - the twelfth floor my window looked out over the good land I-94 stretching into the sunset you could ride it all the way to Minnesota and beyond The liquor store across the sixteenth street bridge - almost one mile long was the place to go, and we'd head down there every Friday afternoon hauling our backpacks full of clinking cans back across the bridge the longest damn bridge in the whole world I don't live on top of the world anymore and I don't even feel on top of the world like I used to but that's okay - we aren't meant to stay on top of the world forever I'm at ground level now and I know this world I'm twenty-two now, and I know how long it feels to ride I-94 all the way to Minnesota without my mom in the driver's seat I know that the best view of the city is really from the reservoir park on North Avenue and there are a million and one things I don't know yet the sixteenth street bridge is still pretty damn long, though 15
Lost in Provincetown Audrianna Wichman
My flip-flops smacked against my heels; my feet tingled with threats of blisters. I trekked along shrub-studded sidewalks as the hazy ocean peeked at me from behind seaside houses. I was lost again in Provincetown, even though it was a stretch of road I had been up, down, and up again more times than I could count that week. At first, I was extremely self-conscious of how lost I was, and how lost I seemed. Google Maps was no match for my sense of direction: when I stepped off the bus from my eight-hour ride from the Boston Logan Airport and onto the crunchy clamshell-gravel parking lots of Provincetown, the app had promised me a seven-minute walk that took me almost thirty minutes to complete. I was sure that everyone could tell I was lost - I held my phone in front of me, dragged my suitcase behind me, and stopped to turn around at every other block. For a town that seemed so isolated from the rest of the world, Provincetown was overwhelmingly busy. The sheer quantity of people reminded me of Times Square, and the only way in was via an eight hour bus trip, a voyage on the ferry, or, if you're brave enough, a ride on a tiny airplane that boasted the most beautiful view of the dunes one could ever see (or so Linda from my writing class told me.) Provincetown was its own VIP event: the only way in was to pass the test of endurance. Now, as I explored the streets among the art galleries, Pride flags, and seafood restaurants that I had come to recognize, the initial nervousness (or terror) of taking a solo trip from a cozy Minnesota summer to the tip of Massachusetts for a week was gone. My confidence grew as I started to recognize where I had started and where I had been 16
before. The Wired Puppy coffee shop was two blocks from my bed and breakfast, but if I passed Cock and Ball Leather shop, I had gone too far and needed to turn around. I proudly wandered up and down the sidewalks with no real purpose, not caring if anyone noticed me. I entered and exited shops at my own whim, I waded in the ocean, examining seashells and hermit crabs like an excited child, and I took myself out for dinner, challenging myself not to hide in a book or my phone, but rather to take in everything around me. I embraced the awkwardness that I was sure I was exuding. I was alone, but comfortable. When I talked to myself, it felt like someone was listening. Someone who was everyone and everything in Provincetown. When I talked to myself, I talked to the historic library, and the drag queens who winked at me as I walked by, and the breeze drifting through the windows of my bed and breakfast, and the street performers donning boom boxes and smudged eyeliner. Provincetown embraced me in a hug the moment I got lost. It whispered in my ear to explore, to play. Though I travelled alone, Provincetown put an arm around my shoulder and walked beside me. Provincetown clapped me on the back and told me I am a writer in the land of writers, a rightful member of the crowd. When I arrived home in Minnesota, things returned to normal, as things tend to do. I fell back into routine and familiarity, but in my dreams I'm still roaming the streets of Provincetown, lost and happy. ď &#x2C6; 17
The Bites of Home Clare McCullough
Home tastes like peanut butter cookies It tastes like chlorine and lake Settling in on your tongue and skin Like when you lift the popsicle from the back of your neck A patch of cold damp in dry heat. Metallic tastes like the red welts of bee sting. Home tastes like under salted food. The feeling of drops of condensation Falling onto your bare thigh The savory drop of your stomach after a tall dive Sharp flavors of Frank Lloyd Wright shaping the hills Sweetness of maple syrup Dusty pages of grandpa's collection of Charles Dickens The flavor of the oil from your fingertips on their antique sun-stained green binding Bitter blades of grass and dirt Rubbed against your mouth by a spiteful sibling Wanting to get even. It tastes like metal guitar strings between the gaps of your teeth Like the grand piano difference between a 1st and a 6th Tastes like- Tastes like- Tastes like-
Best Friend Jennifer Walter
When we grow up we will write books. She will draw the pictures and I will write the words. We will write for people who are small when we are big. When we grow up, we will each have five dogs. We will live in big houses. We will visit each other and our dogs will play together. She will be a veterinarian because she loves animals. When I grow up I will be a writer because I love to write. I will write books and she will draw the pictures. When we get old we will live in the same old folks home. we will make trouble and bother the nurses. We will roll around in our wheelchairs in the hallways and make so much noise that the neighbors peek out of their doors and yell at us. when we are old we will still be best friends. When I grow up and come back home, I see the handprints we made in the wet cement in summertime. I walk past her house today. I wonder if her beagle is still alive the only barking I hear comes from the house next door. The swing set is still in her backyard - that faded stained plastic shrinking to a shade of pale white, rope swing fraying. I don't remember the last time I saw the garage door open, or the cars in the driveway. Her dad owned an orange mustang back when I was still learning the names of cars. Still, the lawn is always trimmed, the front porch swept, the windows cut clean glass that is easier to see out than in. Today there will be a sign on the porch written in chalk with the i's and l's curved at the tails like her handwriting in the notes we passed in elementary school. The sign will read "if it is not your door, do not open it." and as I have done for the past decade, I keep walking. ď &#x2C6; 19
Photographs by Ryan Gonzalez
A Letter to Ann Arbor Jennifer Walter
Dear Mom, I'm shipping my heart back to Ann Arbor. Everything is much too fragile here. I've been told not to make homes out of people, So I've decided to quit trying. I'll send you the tracking number once it's been shipped. It's much too fragile here, but it will be stronger there. Divide my heart into pieces, then follow these instructions: Place one in the diag, because it took me forever to figure out it was just a nickname for the meeting place marked with a big "M". Place one in the back of the record store by the discounted CDs. Place one at the dingy 7/11 on the way into town for the sake of strawberry iced tea and Chris's car with the bass up too high. Place one at each of Phil's houses for the homes that used to be one. Place one by Huron Street for the long road sloping to Elena's place. Place one by the freeway entrance for the time I almost crashed because responsible people don't drive a stick and talk on the phone. Place one by the train station for sleepy trips to Chicago that I barely recall. Place one outside of my tin can high school for all of the times I wanted to get away. I'd tell you to take a piece for yourself but I want my heart splayed out in this city that took four years of my life and has become the air I breathe. I can't make homes out of people but I can make homes out of cities even though people become their cities when everyone is fumbling for footing in a place so vacantly new. 22
Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, 2007, age 11 Carolyn Lewis
Growing up, my best friend and I would bike into the woods on the weekends for something to do when the suburbs got stuffy and the Sims on the family computer got old. The parkway woods had bike trails, dirt hills, and a part of the path that was more glass than dirt, made up of bottles of whites, browns, greens and blues, ages of suburban teenage excursions that we pounded further into the ground with our bike tires. We raced over them without a thought. All of this ran parallel with the Menomonee River. And where there are rivers and kids, there is a rope swing. It was a secret swing, away from the main trails, waving to us over a stream that had broken off from the main river, a dirty, worn rope that acted like it had been there forever. Then, there was a brief moment in the woods, a day or two after my best friend and I had just seen the movie Bridge to Terabithia at the local AMC theater (we all remember the end of that story). The two of us found ourselves staring at our beloved rope swing, our balance teetering, half on and half off our bikes, the wind in the trees around us the only noise. The rope swing lifted with the breeze but, to us, the frayed ends were no longer waving, they were reaching. Without speaking, we fit our feet back onto the pedals and left it behind for good, the chilled, February breeze letting the rope drop. I figured many kids, like the two of us racing through the woods, no longer saw the innocent wave of the rope. Nevertheless, the swing still waves. ď &#x2C6; 23
The Midwestern Hero's Quest Eli King
My father Rob is a novelist and storyteller. As such, my brothers and I had a front-row seat to a perennial propaganda of heroism, one that thoroughly delighted us. The horizon teased us with imagined dragons and daydreams that gave remarkable definition to the homey mundanity of Burlington, Wisconsin. Amidst the books, movies, videogames and D&D campaigns, a subliminal pattern registered deep in my subconscious: adventures happen away from home. I do not remember a time when it was not my intention to leave the Midwest. In my mind, it was the Shire, Pallet Town, Outset Island; a beautiful place that seemed stubbornly incompatible with excitement. Despite my sincerest wishes, adventure never was thrust upon me as it was for my lawful-good Nintendo role models; I never escaped the supporting cast of villagers. For that to happen, I felt I would need to relocate. When I finished high school, I imagined going to college somewhere near an ocean, thousands of miles away from the sweet, sleepy town that I called home. Perhaps adventure would find me there. Despite my overly ambitious goody-two-shoes credentials, studying in those far off coastal cities remained a fiscal infeasibility. And so, I made an intermediate step to Milwaukee, the most coastal big city I could get in-state tuition at. To land less than fifty miles from my chocolate-scented hometown certainly had utilitarian perks; I was still a financially-dependent adolescent, but it was quite a blow to my ego and a nail in the coffin of my potential adventures. Even though it was not the exact place where I grew up, Milwaukee was still part of the Midwest. It was still my home. And for a time, I remember deliberately avoiding that word. Home. As if it were a single-syllable eulogy for the hero's quest that I never set out 25
on. Our house on Kane Street was just that: Mom and Dad's house. Not home. My imagination twisted the word into a toxin, a resignation toward provincialism. The root problem here is one of perspective and proportion. My gaze was aspirational, fixed upward on symbols of grandiosity. I coveted a life larger than itself and found the world wholly unremarkable in all of my firsthand experiences. And of course, I did. With a view that was set so high and wide, I missed a trillion intricacies right underfoot. It took me a long time to realize that my experiences do not need to compete with vanquishing dragons and saving kingdoms to be worth marveling at. The sad irony is that I have had many adventures. I have been steeped in quests and charges of many varieties since the day I was born. They were adventures of a humbler sort, ones that failed to register on my personal Richter scale. While they were not as grandiose as Arthurian Legends or Greek Myths, they were no less worthy of wonder. And I missed them because I was too concerned with chasing the heavens. Ultimately, my vitriol toward my home was as useless as it was unwarranted. Today I have no qualms with using the word home. With enough time and perspective, this juvenile existential crisis resolved itself. Home is stability. Home is consistency. Home is familiarity. It is not a contract with boredom or dullness. It is not cheating me out of anything. Perhaps most importantly, home and adventure are not mutually exclusive. There is another pattern that my childhood stories told, one which I used to overlook: While on their own adventures, Odysseus, Dorothy, and Frodo could barely wait to return home. ď &#x2C6;
Ryan Gonzalez Life quantified in boxes filled with memories like that blanket-filled coffee table scuffed from tough love; that table you still put coasters on even if it's scratched because it came from your parents I hear empty rooms that echo with the sound of talking waiting for the next guest to fill its halls I won't miss you with your neighbors that smoke weed or the neighbor that always seems to parkway too close and definitely not the neighbor who plays that loud thumping music But I will miss the nights spent with friends loves loving friends and friendly love the daytime walks spent in the city I grew up in heavily doused in the spice of variety that taught me my charm to accept all shades of life and I'm forever grateful 27
Interstate 43 North James Lieven
I ride into that Great Big Dark a solitary sentence of open skies another gaping midwestern maw dirge of a foreign soldier city lights scrape my aching back slip through highway's penumbra past misty phantom forms of watertowers silos pink motelbillboards streetlights shrink, digested by darkness a practiced hand carves wind deafening to balanced touch hair wilding like cold smells of damp grass and leaves just breathe steering wheel, take me home to the arms of desklamp warmth where silence is as alive as lush grassy air leaving my brimming lungs drowning the roaring duet between country roads and that Great Big Dark 28
Contributors Eli King was brought into this world by a novelist, and it only makes sense that a love of words was passed along in the process. As a storyteller his usual tool-ofchoice is music, but prose and poetry have always been some of his favorite means of self-expression. A recent graduate from UW-Milwaukee, he is the director of choirs at Greenfield High School by day. By night he is a songwriter, poet, casual essayist, armchair philosopher, and a lover of theatre. He is thrilled and gratefulto be contributing to this publication, even if the prospect of putting his thoughts down in a medium more permanent than sound is intimidating. Rachel Kubik works as a reporter in Minnesota, but has lived in Illinois and Wisconsin for chunks of her life. She can't quite pick a favorite place and enjoys traveling and exploring new areas. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and writing-intensive English from Marquette University. Besides writing, she loves art and music and tries staying active. Sometimes, she still has no clue what the heck she's doing. Carolyn Lewis was born and raised on a dead end street in the Wisconsin suburbs. Her contained and safe upbringing shows, she is intensely romantic, imaginative and prefers passion over the mundane. This leads to poems, short stories, and many novel ideas that have yet to be written. Carolyn is comfortable and happy around those who are drawn to the language of art and values any time in their presence. Now living in downtown Milwaukee, Carolyn hopes to find a career in digital media or publishing - her overarching goal to be the author of a fantasy sci-fi novel. For now, she doodles, plays D&D and reads too many books at once. James Lieven is an aspiring architect and designer who has always had a great appreciation for the arts. When he is not laboring on a drawing for a design at work in Kohler or reading Goodwill's finest literature finds, he relaxes by plucking a stringed instrument or honing his collection of poems that he has fostered for a number of years. Originally from Milwaukee, he never strayed far from home when he studied architecture at Iowa State and returned to work in Wisconsin upon graduation. Whether it be writing, music, or design, James understands himself and the world around him by bounding into new challenges and loving every step of the way.
Meredith Lowry, or Mer as she is known to most people, was born and raised in the cookie-cutter Minneapolis suburb of Minnetonka, Minnesota and followed in her grandparents' paths by attending Marquette University in Milwaukee. How's that for alliteration? After graduation, she decided to stay in Milwaukee and reluctantly take an office job as a recruiter since taking an office job is what one does after graduation. Two weeks later, completely miserable, she quit and went back to the grocery store she'd worked at in college as a full time manager due to some miracle of timing and is much happier. For the past few years, she has kept a Word document on her laptop entitled "poetryyyy??" filled with musings on life in and after college, some of which are being shared here for the very first time. Clare McCullough grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and recently graduated from Marquette University with her bachelor's in political science. Her hobbies include watching movies, playing guitar, reading, and hanging out with friends. She is currently working as a CASE Debates Outreach and Sustainability VISTA for CASE for Kids, in Houston, Texas. She will talk your ear off about cooking, political economy, and international politics. Sajda Omar has been absent-mindedly writing things down since she was ten years old - probably. Originally from Winona, Minnesota, Sajda currently works as a technical writer in Iowa City, where she copy and pastes boilerplates about educational software. Nic Umbs is a photographer raised and based near Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He received his B.S. in Biological Sciences in 2018 from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and has returned to UW-Milwaukee as a current M.F.A. candidate in Studio Arts. His work uses digital, film, alternative processes, and applied scientific/mathematical techniques to solve image-making problems. Through his art practice, his research focuses on interpersonal relationships and the idea of family. His work has been exhibited nationally and internationally.
Audrianna Wichman knew she was a writer ever since her third-grade teacher told her she used too much voice in her book report. After cultivating an appreciation for language throughout school, Audrianna attended Winona State University, where she annually contributed to Satori, WSU's literary and arts journal, and won two creative writing prizes in 2019. While taking a class at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts, Audrianna truly began to embrace her identity as a writer and has been chasing that feeling ever since. She enjoys creating in all forms, from writing, to makeup artistry, to tea-making from her own garden. Rae Williams is a native of New Berlin, WI. In May of 2018, she graduated from Winona State University with a B.A. in English Writing and Literature/Language. Rae draws her inspiration from uncomfortable encounters, haunting memories, and peculiar overheard conversations. She's currently working in the Greater Milwaukee Area as a Marketing Specialist, waiting for the day Lorne Michaels discovers her childhood variety show home videos and recruits her to write for SNL. Some of her favorite writers include Amy Sherman-Palladino, Anne Sexton, Lucille Clifton, Olivia Gatwood, Saeed Jones, Susan Browne, and Tina Fey.
Want to contribute to Stuck in the Middle? Submissions are open for issue 2: Love and Loss.
If you: - Grew up, live or lived in the Midwest United States - Are currently between the ages of 18-35 - Write, draw, take photos or express yourself through other visual art We invite YOU to submit your work for the next issue of SITM! Poets, authors, photographers and illustrators of all skill levels are welcome to submit, and we especially encourage unpublished writers and artists to join our community. We don't bite, and are always willing to offer constructive feedback, even if your work is not selected for publication. Check out our website for full prompts and submission requirements.
Website: sitmzine.home.blog Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @sitmzine The Earth is on fire. The least you can do is recycle this zine.