SPARK Magazine Issue No. 18: Lux Eterna

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(noun) • an eternal light

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rodrigo colunga pastrana editor-in-chief managing editor xandria hernandez co-design director adriana torres co-design director jennifer jimenez layout director juleanna culilap assistant design director grace davila assistant design director jaycee jamison digital director diana perez creative director caleb zhang assistant creative director mikaela medina director of hair and makeup jane lee assistant director of hair and makeup yeonsoo jung modeling director presley simmons assistant modeling director maliabo diamba assistant modeling director laurence nguyen-thai photography director alyssa olvera assistant photography director leah blom co-styling director alex cao co-styling director zaha khawaja co-styling director noelle campos senior print editor kelly wei associate print editor amber weir associate print editor amelia kushner assistant print editor kunika trehan senior web editor camille bao associate web editor kyra burke associate web editor leni steinhardt assistant web editor sonali menon social media director elain yao assistant social media director ashley guzman business director melanie che director of events nereida jimenez assistant director of events tanvi gupta marketing director deisy velazquez assistant marketing director jackie fowler


staff aaron boehmer, abby burgy, adrian weiss, adriana villalvazo, ale de la fuente, alec martinez, alexander santistevan, alexandra evans, alexia zurovec, amanda garza, amber bray, anastasia mccants, angel quinn, anh vu, antonio gabriel, ashley lee, audrey dahlkemper, ava darvish, ayden correa, blaire young, brandon akinseye, brandon moore, brenda chapa, bryce harris, cameron kelly, camille layen, carolynn solorio, catherine hermansen, catherina chowdhury, charlotte rovelli, claire tsui, claire philpot, dalena le, danielle nicely, david garcia, derrick lam, elianna panakis, ella rous, ella claret, ellen daly, ellie stephan, ellis brown, emely romo, emily wager, emma weeden, emma brey, erin toliver, estelle omotayo, eunjae kim, ezzah rafique, faye raad, fernanda guerra, gabriel schulze, génesis pieri, grace harter, hayle chen, henry gutch, jacqueline magno, jane liu, jayashree ganesan, jessie curneal, jillian le, john alvarado, jordan busarello, jordan teliha, julia garrett, kaden green, karen xie, karla lozano, katarina tyll, katelynn mansberger, katherine tang, katherine ospina, kathleen segovia, katlynn fox, lane rice, laura tenorio, lauren logan, lauren caldwell, layla penrice, leila williams, leilani cabello, lily rosenstein, lily cartagena, lily jacaruso, olivia marbury, liz garcia, lorianne willett, lucy hwang, maddie abdalla, maleni arredondo, marissa kapp, marta broseta castelos, mary nguyen, maryam said, mateo ontiveros, matthew le, melanie huynh, meryl jiang, mia macallister, michelle arriaga urbina, michelle adebisi, miguel anderson, mmeso onuoha, moises zanabria, morgan cheng, moyosola akinsipe, neha kondaveeti, nicole rudakova, nikki shah, njoki gitau, noura abdi, olivia abercrombie, olivia du, olivia marbury, ophelia brown, payson kelley, peyton sims, rachel karls, rachel lazatin aquino, ren breach, renata salazar, richard ahn, ryan velasquez, sarai lazo, saturn tejada, serena rodriguez, seth endsley, sheridan smith, shreya ayelasomayajula, stacey campbell, stephanie ho, stevie harvel, summer sweeris, susannah joffe, tamara rodriguez, theresa nguyen, tiffany sun, tylan dangerfield, valeria jimenez, varsha vasu, vi cao, via ceaser, vivienne leow, walter naranjo, wenting du, yousuf khan, zayana uddin, zimei chen, zuena karim


from the editor

Goodbyes are hard. And they are sad. And I do not like them. When I first heard of SPARK, I thought it would serve as a great way to launch my career into the modeling stardom I was destined for (note the sarcasm). Thankfully, that did not happen. Rather, something completely unexpected occurred — I found my place. Coming into college, I had a difficult time finding where I belonged. I kept trying to change into different versions of myself that I thought other people would like. But then, in 2019, I attended my first ever general meeting and discovered that I could be completely myself in SPARK. Everyone there was unapologetically themselves, which I had never experienced before. It was intimidating, but also incredible and admirable. Looking back, I’ve realized that this is what makes SPARK so special. SPARK not only values

the unique essence of our members, but celebrates it through a creative lens unlike any other. SPARK has become a safe space for so many people who, at times, have felt like they do not belong. We have such a diverse group of talented students who want to give so much to an organization because it serves them a purpose. A purpose to escape. A purpose to explore their identity. And most importantly, a purpose to value their individuality and creativity. I am constantly amazed by our insanely talented and hardworking staff, and feel beyond grateful to have had the opportunity to lead them these past two semesters. I want to thank all of you for allowing me to step into this role and trusting me with an organization that means so much to so many people. I also want to thank you for enduring my not-so-funny jokes during general meetings. I hope all of you found your place in this special community and will continue to cherish it for a long time. I know I will. Saying goodbye is not merely difficult because I will no longer be a part of the incredible content we create — although I will miss that — but because it feels like I’m saying goodbye to so many people who have become my closest friends. They have shaped my perspectives and pushed me to become a better person. They have stood by my side when things were difficult, as well as when we had our greatest successes. For that, I will always be thankful. With all that being said, I will always have so much love and admiration for this organization. The future of SPARK is bright and I know it will continue to kick-ass for many years to come.

With love,

Rod Editor-In-Chief

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feature p1nkstar

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luminescence: light as an illuminator of the past melting moon beam to wish and bewitch everything beautiful in the world generational savagery pattern & decoration a rose by any other name housefire normal, illinois crying in country clubs


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fluorescence: light as a window to the present jennifer beals is super not gay the tragedy of gossip o’ sweet fever friend of dolly if these walls could talk gallery people hotel for saints assimilation proxima the hand of the artist

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spark magazine issue no. 18 lux eterna



118 126 134 140 156 172 186 190 206 212

incandescence: light as a path into the future world on fire god made light fool’s gold would my wildest dreams feel like home? lands touched by the sun gentrification of the soul moksha can you be profound if you are not lonely? disconnected bugs, robots, and the childhood promise of tomorrow


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Last night, the moon gave me a gift. She drug her nail against the blackboard of the night and showed me

A way out. She illuminated the secret path with her warm, blue rays. She kissed me, gently, and sweetly whispered the instructions for escape in my ear. As she turned her back to me, I flinched. I threw my arm out — grabbed her.

Stay, I begged. Instead, she smiled, and I saw stars in her mouth. I reached in, grabbing one for my journey. Something to guide you, she giggled, your map toward

A way out. It wasn’t written in any language I understood, the map. Instead, it was warm and seemed to melt into me. I placed it over my heart, so that the she could show me where I needed to go — exactly where she wanted to send me. The path unfolded before me politely, almost as if she were inviting me to escape … not quite demanding it. So – I ran! I put the fire of the star, the fire she had forged for me, inside. And I ran! My feet understood what my mind didn’t, following the path she had carved out for me. So close. So. Close. Freedom seems so clear beneath the soft, feminine glow of the moon. Gleaming



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instruction, guidance for

A way out. She gave me life last night. She grabbed it right out of the sky and put it back inside of me. It had been there before, of course. But I’d lost it somehow. Her kiss reminded me. So did the way that her light excited my skin — woke it up. I ran back to freedom, back to life. My chest was lit, the star was burning through me. I am her supernova. What a gift! What a life to be assigned! How much more beautiful life seems when presented in the hands of the moon, of a woman. So — her gift to me is this. The fire in my chest. The softly lit earth beneath my knowing feet, the chase for life. My own beating, cosmically curated heart.

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A way out? No. A way back. A way back to my own existence, back to myself. Last night, the moon gave me a gift. She brought me back to life!



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To W ish &Bewitch by ZUENA KARIM

Hide your happiness, or else the spirits will find you layout STEVIE ZYA HARVEL photographer ALYSSA OLVERA stylists MALENI ARREDNDO & NIKKI SHAH hmua LILY ROSENSTEIN & VARSHA VASU models GENESIS PIERI & MOYOSOLA AKINSIPE videographer MADDIE ABDALLA



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After 19 summers of visiting her house in England, I still jolted past the ominous stairwell leading to the basement, holding my breath as I made it to her room tucked at the end of the hallway. In every crevice of that Victorian-era townhouse, I felt looming gazes emanating from the shadows. My relatives would chatter about evil spirits lurking around, making it seem like the home was alive in the darkness, and the eyes in the family portraits were following me with every step. The only safe place was my grandmother’s bedroom. I knew evil spirits would scurry away from the prayers inscribed on her wall, the burning incense, and the warmth of her aura.

Though I felt protected in her space, I was timid about conversing with my grandmother. My Bengali skills were limited, and I struggled even more to understand her strong dialect. I intently listened to her speak, grasping at every nonverbal cue, knowing I would have to ask my mother to be my translator. My subpar language abilities left me longing to hear my grandmother recount the stories of her past—her immigration experience to England, her days working at a sewing factory, and how she raised my mother and her five other siblings on her own. Instead, I picked up the fragments of her stories from my relatives, piecing together the messages she passed on. My grandmother’s tales were often abundant with warnings. Don’t tell others your plans, don’t cut your nails during the day, and don’t go down to the basement. While I listened to my mom translate these stories, I learned how my grandmother was highly opposed to anyone going out at night because it was an invitation to welcome jinns, supernatural spirits that roamed the world hidden from sight. During this exchange, I felt my surroundings grow eerie, and my palms began to sweat as I checked to make sure nothing was lurking


over my shoulder. My mom told me that I was not safe during the day either, for others could bestow nazar, a curse sprouting from a glimmer of jealousy that could harm the good things in my life. I began to worry about the misfortune outside my door, waiting for me to step out. Already afraid of what I could not see, I was now becoming fearful of what others would notice in me. *** Over the summers, my grandmother’s dementia progressively worsened, and her stage-four cancer diagnosis shrouded the house in gloom. It was unnervingly quiet when everyone left for work. The silence amplified the screeching of her wheelchair against the mosaic tile as I transported her down the narrow corridor to the dining room. I warmed a plate of soft foods and served her lunch, as she no longer had the strength to do so herself. We often had one-way conversations, where she muttered sentences that I could not comprehend, except for the terms jinns and nazar. I wasn’t sure if she thought I was a complete stranger. After I tucked my grandmother back into bed, I closely monitored her sleep. To see her in pain and not know if I was fulfilling her needs was devastating. I laid down on the sofa across from her, going through a mental checklist to make sure I cared for her in every way without understanding what she truly wanted. The emotional exhaustion made it difficult to rest. Scared that she would go while I slumbered, I kept my eyes peeled as I awaited my mother’s return from work to tell me how my grandmother felt. But, as the heat of the fireplace encapsulated the room, my body succumbed to tiredness, and I drifted off into a midday nap. Later that afternoon, my mother nudged me awake. She kept a cheerful smile on her face, despite knowing my grandmother’s health was rapidly deteriorating. My mother brewed warm cups of tea for herself, my


“Don’t tell others your plans, don’t cut your nails during the day, and don’t go down to the basement.”


veryone always said my grandmother’s house was haunted.

GREEN DRESS | Revival Vintage WHITE BLOUSE | Revival Vintage

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HAIR CLIPS | Austin Pets Alive CHAIN BELT | Austin Pets Alive



“The only way to live contentedly seemed to be alienating myself in the shadows, away from the looming evil forces waiting to devour any joy they come across.” grandmother, and me, which was her post-work ritual. As we sat together on the couch, I asked her what my grandmother was trying to tell me all day. “Always protect yourself from nazar, and you will live a happy life,” my mother translated. And so, I heeded my grandmother’s advice, but I lived my life in paranoia. *** My grandmother passed away two months after I left England. The news came via a Whatsapp message from my cousin during a meeting in college, where the words of my peers became inaudible. I refused to process what I had read, pretending as if those words were never sent to me. I bit my tongue and kept a poker face until I stepped on the bus to commute back home, staring out at the starless, deep blue sky that soon blurred with copious tears overflowing my eyes. I clung to her superstitions, as they were the only thing I could remember her by. However, when my mother returned from England, she handed me a small red box left for me by my grandmother before she passed away. My heart wrenched as I opened the present, realizing she remembered me despite her condition. Inside was a gold amulet, intricately engraved with an Arabic prayer that radiated her warmth and was meant to protect me from nazar as I navigated the boundless perils of the

world. But as I clasped the amulet around my neck every day, I began to think that if others were to see my proudest moments, I should expect them to be fleeting, snatched by the envy of those around me. If I refrained from sharing my accomplishments with my peers or posting any pictures from my day, then surely, I would never be jinxed by their jealousy. The only way to live contentedly seemed to be alienating myself in the shadows, away from the looming evil forces waiting to devour any joy they came across. Living a secluded life by concealing my every thought and action only led me to become the bewitcher myself. Jealousy sprouted within me towards the friends who confidently shared pictures of their days and their achievements. They had control over their fates—joy would not vanish from their fingertips because of supernatural forces. I, who incessantly checked over my shoulder, scrutinized every action and based my happiness on whether the amulet protected me throughout college, longed to be like them. As I traced my finger over the indentations of the pendant, I couldn’t hold it in the palm of my hand without hearing echoes of her premonitions — protect yourself, for others will curse you. The memory of my grandmother’s warnings cautioned me not to share my joyous moments, but I wanted to rebel. So, I locked the amulet away and silenced

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the buzzing in my head, simultaneously feeling a sense of peace and guilt for keeping her gift out of sight. Later that night, I peered out at the stars veiling the sky outside my bedroom window, thinking back to the summers I spent with my grandmother. Although I didn’t hear about her experiences over her lifetime, I felt connected to her world when I listened to her superstitious stories. The more I reminisced, the more I recognized that the amulet was the only remnant of comfort from my grandmother that I possessed. Though we could not understand each other because of our language barriers, I knew she sought to look after me in ways beyond words. I remembered when she would sneak me candy, rub my irritated stomach while singing a prayer, and gently kiss my forehead. Perhaps, the messages she conveyed to me were distorted in translation. All along, she wanted to protect me from the evil roaming the Earth, not make me live in fear of misfortune. I will never attain a true grasp of my grandmother’s lessons, but I realized her amulet was not whispering ill-fated prophecies. It was infused with her blessings—a reminder that she was gazing over my shoulder as I navigated my life. So, there I held the amulet back in my palm, feeling like I was back in my grandmother’s room. It was my safe place. ■






This body of mine is a market. This soul of mine is a demographic statistic. This mind of mine is a list of Google searches. This love of mine is a business opportunity for someone else. Queer is cool now. Gay is fresh! Lesbian is hip! Amazon promotes pride flags made in a country that classifies homosexuality as a mental illness. Inspired by your shopping trends. $6.95. I am on the come-up. Gay marriage is legal! Tinder never runs out of women in my area to show me! I’ve had all the conversations with my parents, my sister, my cousins, one particular grandparent. I have cut wispy bangs and gone to Goodwill. I have all the prerequisites for being a liberated gay woman in a society that finally accepts me. It all feels very hollow. *** Queer cinema arose out of necessity. In the late 20th century, 20-30-40 years away from marriage rights, when gay marriage was so radical an idea

that whichever Guy In Suit got more electoral votes mattered not to the community as it so urgently does now, to be gay was to be countercultural. Gayness was very hush-hush in the mainstream. If you were a celebrity and you were also gay, no you were not. You were one or the other. Choose. In cinema, gayness was a shock value tactic or a joke, and then the Real Story quickly moved along. So the creators and consumers of queer media were queer. They made this media by and for themselves, to see themselves on screen, to tell their stories. These movies were made independently, on shoestring budgets for slightly-widershoestring profits or none at all. In the late 90s and early 2000s when the politico-cultural apathy that had defined the HIV/AIDS crisis relented to a wary tolerance of the gay existence, some queer pieces found niche success at the edge of the mainstream (see: Bound [1996], the Wachowskis’ [The Matrix] directing debut; D.E.B.S. [2005], starring Jordana Brewster and Devon Aoki of Fast and Furious fame; and, of course, The L Word [2004-2009]). The difference, however — the biggest, starkest difference — between these turn-of-the-century minor hits and the insular queer cinema of the decades prior was that the actors weren’t gay. The creators were queer, and all their queer love

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and passion went into the writing and directing and all the work behind the scenes. But the casting no longer came from within the queer community. The actors didn’t need to be friends of friends working for a sandwich and a good time anymore. With real backing, these queer creators turned outwards, and conducted formal casting processes. And so the first queer faces that reached outside of these insular gay communities weren’t queer at all. At its inception, queer celebrity was straight. In 2003, lesbian screenwriter and producer Ilene Chaiken sold an ensemble drama about the internal affairs of a group of lesbian women to Showtime with herself as the showrunner. The concept was based on her experiences as a lesbian in LA. She called it The L Word.

inspiration.​​Our titular character, one Jennifer Beals, the lead and the soul of the show, was my favorite. Her character was successful. She was cool and slick and beautiful. She commanded a room. She was unapologetic. I wanted to be just like her. And I wanted her to be just like me — I wanted a lesbian to look up to in real life, so that I could live my real life under her tutelage. I wanted to know that someone like me could be someone like her one day. I pored over interviews, looking for her to say something about her sexuality. I finally found it, buried in a Vulture article. She’s straight. So super-straight. Those were the words she used.

I was pissed! I was pissed off. I was angry in that hot-faced way that’s trying to cover up shame. I The L Word was a primetime phenomenon. was ashamed to be so hopeful and be so wrong. I was ashamed of how upset I was. How dare she! It was catty, it was smart, it was messy, it was hon- I fumed as I was really thinking, how dare I? How est, it was stylish, it was fun. It defined a genera- dare I demand that she be gay? After all, what is tion of gay women. It defined them to be them- an actor but a pretender? selves — access to positive gay narratives (gay narratives at all!) from the comfort of the couch What is a celebrity but a reflection of that which (AKA, without having to research a movie and go society esteems? to the theatre) allowed young gay girls to make sense of how they were feeling, and empowered I desperately looked up the rest of the cast. Two them in their identities. A generation of women of the eight-plus (more in the later seasons, and came out, looking to the cast of The L Word as more actors as characters came and went) regu-



merch cash grab every company launches June 1st and unceremoniously kills June 30th. Up until this point, queer media was still being made by queer writers and directors. Up until this point, it wasn’t a sound business decision to make big-budget queer projects intended for a mainstream audience. But now it was! For money and for woke points, which turned into even more money. And so just as the introduction of money kicked queer actors out of the queer movie business, the introduction of even more money kicked queer creatives out of the queer movie business. Queer media was no longer a fringe side hustle studios passively siphoned a bit of profit from. No, no! Now it was for real creatives, for big wigs. For Oscar bait (see: Carol [2015]).

lars were queer. Two. I looked them all up on Instagram that night. I thought about how I wanted to see two famous women walk the red carpet together and post for each other’s birthdays and for Valentine’s Day. I watched them all with their husbands and kids and felt happy for them. But I also felt very alone, and very small.

Queer people became a market to which shells of themselves were sold back to. Queer characters were never truly integral to the story, and were often killed off when straight writers got bored or frustrated or they had a big enough audience hooked with the gay plotline that they could scrap it and move on because their numbers were up. The chemistry was usually bad. Every character looked the same (femme, white, skinny — the prevailing Hollywood look). Most portray-

*** A relatively short time ago, Hollywood stopped being deathly afraid of conservative opinion (or the people at the top stopped having conservative opinions. Or those conservative opinions stopped being financially viable in an industry heavily dependent on public opinion. Yes, it’s that one). Widespread homo-acceptance began to peek through in news polls around the beginning of the 2010s. These polls indicated that a little over half of law-abiding, movie-ticket-buying US citizens were okay with gays. The reigning oligarchy of studios could begin to tap the gay market — cautiously! Very cautiously — without incurring an amount of backlash that would hurt their profit margins. Reward had finally eclipsed risk. Essentially, these studios initiated a longhaul, multi-million-dollar version of the pride lux eterna




als were either entirely sexless or basically porn.

together like they’re scared they’ll catch something and remind myself that beggars can’t be choosers.

That’s still the dominant current state of the industry. There are a couple of bright spots on the horizon, media for and about young people (a fa- I am being strung along by an industry that vorite of mine is The Wilds [2020-], in which both doesn’t give a shit about me. I look for celebrities queer characters are played by queer actors). But like me and find enthusiastic allyship. But I don’t the overall trend is alarming. Often as I’m watch- want an ally. I don’t want respectful emulation. I ing an obvious cash-grab left-field gay plotline I want the real deal. think to myself, Why the fuck am I watching this? *** What else am I going to watch? Life is good. I order an iced coffee with oat milk I need to see myself, no matter how broken, because that’s what the gays do, haha (laugh!). I how commodified, how incorrect the por- fit myself into the homogenized expectation that trayal is. I need to feel like I’m not alone. People we shriveled up into when the studios brought yearn for community, and so they will commune our media into the light. over anything remotely unifying. I watch two painfully straight women press their mouths Is this what liberation feels like? ■

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efore Chaos there was nothing.

The ancient Greeks believed that Chaos preceded even the creation of the universe. From Chaos, three primordial gods, Eros, Tartarus, and Gaea, were born. My parents did not exist before the universe, and I came to be under a starry night in Singapore instead. But like the universe, I was nothing until my mother. And through her, I experienced Love (Eros), Loss (Tartarus), and Everything Beautiful in the World (Gaea).

She and I are alike to the bone: In the structure of our faces—sharp chin, wide forehead, round nose, eyes like clear windows to the soul—and in the way our brain is wired—our trademark impatience, incessant need to worry, and, in the same vein, a love for others that consumes us whole. What my mother loves fiercely and in abundance, I do too. From sweet fermented rice wine, and growing up with the same Jay Chou CDs on repeat, to fervently laying down line upon line of writing for her eyes to read. Even the way she found the love of her life at 19 feels like an unspoken prophecy that I, too, will fulfill. I’ve learned what love means to me, and quite simply, it is a reflection of my mother. She is also the first touch of loss I have ever encountered. I was nine when I opened the bathroom door to find her crying silently in the dark. While we had always shed tears together to sad, soapy dramas and heart-twisting stories from a land far away, I had never seen my mother so saturated with sorrow. I was too young then to understand the full weight of my great-grandmother’s passing, and for the first time, I felt removed from our intertwined identities. 10 years later, after my own shares of heartbreak, I will


never forget her raw, deep-rooted pain. Now, as the world expands much further past the doors of my childhood home, the unifying thread between my mother and I’s identities has slowly begun to fray. Almost 50, her once-restless soul has now settled down into an easy lull, while mine only continues to grow more and more capricious. We were in the kitchen a couple of weeks ago, a rare occurrence now that I’m in college. I sat on a stool watching her peel garlic and carefully remove the scales of a yellow ribbonfish. I was in the midst of another slump, fighting a stinging loneliness and lack of purpose that now reared its ugly head more frequently. I watched her work, admiring her steadiness in hand and in heart. I wondered if she ever felt as out of place within her own body as I did. Are you happy? The question bubbled out of me. I was almost too afraid to know the answer. She stopped dicing the garlic and peered at me under her red-rimmed glasses, the way she always does when she’s trying to read the thoughts hidden in the deepest catalogs of my mind. After a moment, she replied, I have learned to be. What else can I do if I know now how my life will be until I die? I panicked. There was so much beauty left in the world for her to see, so many more places to be, and people to meet. How could she be content? While the sense of order I gained from being her replication had provided me comfort for so long, I deeply feared living a life in which I already knew the end.


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Perhaps the divergence of my mother and I’s paths actually began 10 years ago, the moment I realized I would never feel that same sorrow of hers. The same realization that I couldn’t rely on someone else to tell me who I was. My superficial hold on order—my identification with my mother—began to slip, and chaos of the self What are my 20s, I fret, if not the most influential decade of my life? To those I love now—will I still love you a thousand moons later? The choices I make now, of career, of love, of self—will they change who I am, where I will be, how and when I will leave this earth?

One warm evening, we were taking our usual walk under the brush of tree leaves and amidst the faint buzz of mosquitoes. She whispered in my ear, so that my father wouldn’t hear a few paces back, that she was once lost too. She told me that, in fact, there was nothing more beautiful than being young and foolish. She didn’t know that helping draw sketches for the confused classmate in her college design class would start a romance that’s spanned three decades. She didn’t know that she would return to school at 44 after raising two daughters, or how to cope with grief until it arrived to greet her through the phone.

The continuous search for happiness is worthy, but my beThese days, I stare at my reflection for so long that my fea- lief that I will always be happy is foolish. I cannot control tures morph into something ugly and strange, my pillow wet everything nor can I understand everyone. And it’s a good with the tears I find myself crying, and my fear of what lies thing to feel such dizzying emotion, to stray from what I find in the dark unknown returns once again. I no longer see my comfortable, to break my need for order. That is true growth. face as a likened image of my mother’s, but something blank, That is what it feels like to stand at the precipice of this next unruly, and indescribable. I scratch page after page of writing decade and have the uncertainty of my future wrench a fistfeverishly, this time not for her, but to pave my one-way road ful of my hair and tear me apart piece by piece. It hurts, and it’s jarring and laden with uncertainty. to escape. I seek refuge in self-help books and theories in hopes of find- When I pull myself back together, stitch new memories into ing a pattern or some sort of universal explanation that will the fabric of my skin, and bathe freely in the waxing light of tell me what to do. For a while, my to-do lists and color-coded discovery, I will feel new. I will be stronger. calendars, my relationships where I find security in knowing what they think of me, my daily journal filled with sunsets To embrace myself, to feel my turbulent sides war against one and surprise bouquets in an attempt to document every another, to stare in the mirror and trace the lines of my body small thing I don’t want to forget, are enough solace. Almost as they begin to blur into smoke and take on a new shape, is enough to fill the security I thought my mother once gave me. to feel real. But why does sadness continue to seep through the pages? Why am I just a broken record of loneliness and heartbreak? Can I never escape?

To feel Loss, to feel Love. To feel Everything Beautiful in the World. ■

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imagine the people who talk about me in a dream. Everyone who has ever not smiled back at me or outright told me that they do not like me are all gathered at a round table. Under the dim lights of a seedy basement that evokes poker and cigars, they compare notes. One guy jokes about my thinning hairline and the rest laugh. Another points out my very obvious daddy issues and the crowd nods thoughtfully in agreement. Together, they discuss all the worst possible things about me and confirm all my worst thoughts about myself.

Read into that what you will. The spring of my sophomore year of high school, I found myself caught in the throes of a bad rumor — the kind that convinces you to wash down a medicine cabinet with a bottle of apple juice and hope for the worst. The rumor was true. It was about the objectively (not subjectively) worst thing that ever happened to me, and the only person that I had told up to that point was my then best friend. She told other people, who told other people, who (I can’t prove it but highly suspect) told other people. Even at the time, I remember thinking about how comically high-school it all was: the drama, the heartbreak. Unfortunately, being self-aware of the silliness did not make the hurt any less real. I felt all the obvious things: naked, vulnerable, betrayed, but more than anything, I was confused. I spent most of the next summer laying on the mattress of my (now childhood) bedroom, staring at the ceiling and asking myself how my friends could be so mean. Why would she tell people? Why would those people tell people? I would never do that, I thought, unrealistically. From then on, I vowed to be the nice girl. I would never have anything bad to say about anyone, and I would certainly never voice those thoughts if I did. I tried so hard for so long to live by those rules. Gossip, however, is inevitable. Last week, my friend FaceTimed me on her way to campus to tell me that our

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♥ mutual friend is back together with her boyfriend and she only gives the relationship until the end of the year, max. I got coffee with another friend I hadn’t seen in months, and together, we pooled our superior Freudian sensibilities and decided that his mom is a closeted lesbian. “She’s obsessed with finger guns.” His words, not mine. While my roommates were cooking dinner, I told them every detail of the hurt that my last situationship left me with, and they agreed that I was prettier than him anyway. I don’t set aside time in my day to gossip, it just happens. At 21 years old, I have completely betrayed the rules that 16-year-old me made for myself. I do what ruined me: I gossip. Often. As much as I live in fear of what other people are saying about me behind my back, I spend most of my conversational bandwidth talking about other people, and I know that I’m not the only one. I don’t think I speak from a place of malignant evil when I gossip. In fact, a majority of what I say leans positive or neutral, but I still find myself searching for a justification that absolves me of all guilt. I tell myself that at its very core, gossip is just talking about other people while they’re not in the same room. I say that even thousands of years ago, early humans used gossip to warn others of their neighbor’s misfortune. (Don’t eat those berries, Sam ate those berries and died.) I remind myself that the word gossip stems from “godparent” in Old English, and it wasn’t even considered wrong at all until it was associated with women in the 16th century. I tell myself that it’s only seen as negative because of its link to women, and that gossiping without guilt is a feminist reclamation of its innocence. Still, none of my self-assurances solve my problem. I don’t feel guilty for gossiping because society decided it was







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IS A NICE PERSON, AND EVERYONE I KNOW GOSSIPS.“ wrong, I feel guilty for gossiping because I decided it was wrong. Regardless of whether I gossip as a feminist or as a Freudian, my words have the power to unintentionally hurt someone, and that terrifies me. Gossip lacks the malice that I’d imagined the people from my high school acted with. It lacks the cut-and-dry simplicity of teen movies and Disney Channel shows, too. There were supposed to be nice people who don’t gossip and mean people who do, and it was supposed to be easy to tell them apart, but that isn’t true. Gossip isn’t the niche occupation of mean girls with burn books and designated Wednesday wardrobes, it’s an integral human behavior. Everyone I know is a nice person, and everyone I know gossips. Someone is bound to hurt someone else with their words, and no justice will come of it. I could spend forever hating gossip and blaming everyone who participated in that stupid rumor for the years I spent feeling insecure in my friendships and at school, and maybe I’d be correct to, but it doesn’t matter. As badly as I want to believe that I am nothing like the people that hurt me, that’s not entirely true, either. I would have spread it too. It was hot gossip, I get it. The tragedy of gossip is that it always feels bigger when it’s about us. I’ve created a new and more realistic set of rules for my gossip. I don’t say the really mean things, I guard my friends’ secrets, my intention is never to humiliate, and anything I tell my mom doesn’t count. I’ve never been one for religion, but I’ve crafted my own commandments. I know it’s not foolproof, and I know that I’ll still fail someone else’s litmus test. I know that I have and will continue to hurt people unintentionally. The most I can hope for is that I’ll have the courage to apologize. Maybe that’s the most we can all hope to do. ■

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SWEET FEVER! let us stay in this weird place forev’r by AARON BOEHMER




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Ent r into our mind s


EY E ! spark

Thee th’re! We beseech thee, O’ Royal Dullness, That your somber ways once cast’d upon The great and sacred earth Be gone from the breadth of our view!

Be gone from the breath of our mouth! We thank the heavens! For the vibrancy that hath been born onto us. Stretching into our own selves, In this new & brilliant night, Let us show forth what we mean,

Ent’r into our mind’s eye! Nev’r before hath we witness’d a moment like this! A moment uncheck’d, O’ loving bliss, A moment of no surveillance, O’ let it be limitless!

Why do you ignore us? We sing it to you, dear one, For it is finished! We henceforth commit ourselves to An eternity of absurdity!

A most wondrous, ongoing returning. Do you see us glisten? No? Thy eyes must be shut, Open them! We beg o’ thee to see us! Beest like the moon, Tantalize us with the promise of turning tides! Waft us like blades of ev’rgreen, O’ joyous spring! Dead plants spoil’d By the lips of winter Bloom once again. O’ but we too bloom, And bloom, we do it better! For we are gone from the commands of the earth, Hath ent’r’d a different place, The unrul’d hereafter.

Hello? You see how we reach beyond the genus of dianthus? hydrangea? lantana? And whatever else the ground lux eterna


Hast got in its loins!

Doth thee not believe us? Doth thee bethink us to be liars? Come forth and see for yourself, coward!

Sickness becomes us when we look on thee, Let us div’rce now! Foes, we declare once m’re, And behold, ungood fellow, A new life endueth after the dirt once again!

We extend our limbs to you, Dear and faithful friend.

One that is beyond your breadth And breathes beyond your lungs!

Can you hear us? Are you even a friend to us?

For some time, we stay below the ground Trying to catch our air. Sweet dreamscapes fill our souls With a freeing humour.

Sickness becomes us when we look on thee,

Be our beloved, O’ please, take us by the bunch, Like a bouquet of flow’rs.

Will you marry us? Not now, you fool! Too eager, with haste you hath become! Fie, can’t thee seeth we art yet to beest ready? Do you not listen? You mustn’t have! Attendeth thy ears to us, We has’t toldeth thee bef ’re, But it seems we must sayeth again! Let us enjoy the sweetness Of here, Before you take us back to The soil, Before the dirt we become

Once more. Maybe in three years time? Just before the fever of it all ends, Bef ’re we wake from this midsummer night Dream of whatev’r our mind doth conjure up. For we know that you will throw us back To the will of the winds, Who offer blows of refreshing love, But do fill our mouth with hot, suffocating air.

You are the winds. Friends to foes to lov’rs, Alas, we do wed, And dirt soon we become. We do decree, We already yearn to end this marriage! For you oft’n stink of rotten eggs, sulfur, you must to be!


A humour for which we take with us, As we emerge, And emerge from the dirt we do Far better than bef ’re, too, For it be without you!

O’ you poor toad, hath you become lost Now that we left thee? Did you flee to the sun And melt on your way up? Ha, that be rich! Valourous thing that we went when we did, Bef ’re you became an icarus! Without thy grips, We begin to feel our dead hearts, Beating once m’re, Transporting through the veins of the sweet earth, Water through a riv’r, We run past the hues of the sky, O’ but they begin to shine so absurdly, Punches of hot pink, Throws of lime green dance with us Neon orange doth kiss our cheeks

A welcome home. We lengthen like branches, We spread our limbs and rejoice! Our hair blows at the desire of Our new dear, fever!

And the fever be far bett’r than you! We bend reality! Drink from the sun, Befriend the lovely birds, If we so please to do that!


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For it be our turn to indulge!

You hath done it yourself, Has’t englutt’d many a promiscuous desire, So let us do it now. We continue to grow, Our limbs, Our eyes, Our mind, Like vines that nev’r not twist up oak trees, We are like the ivy, Flying, flexible, and fluid, Ever-climbing up abandoned buildings And street lanterns, Through holes in the wall, Cracks in the sidewalk, Down rusted bridges, And rolling hills, Becoming m’re and m’re our own selves in this hour, In this fever dream! It is a best of night,

‘Til it be morrow, When you rip us From this utopia This sweet fever!




FEVER! lux eterna



We are three generations of strong women — one Chen, one Wang, and one Du — each with a story that’s profoundly unique, yet deeply intertwined.




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t birth, we are all the same — innocent in a way that only those unmarked by the world’s evils can be, joyous in a way that our future selves envy. When are those carefree smiles wiped off our faces? 1932 For my grandma, it was the day she turned seven years old. For six years and 364 days, she enjoyed a comfortable childhood in the rolling hills of Gou Chen Jia in China’s countryside. She would spend her afternoons exploring acres of vibrant greenery and concocting medicinal “potions” using the foliage, brandishing the bug bites she accumulated as battle scars. She treated every day as a new quest to discover the beauties nature had to offer, and every night she returned home to a warm meal, eager to share her stories.

cloth strips, used to tightly bind her feet until only the big toe faced forward, the other four bent oddly underneath. She screamed and cried like a newborn baby, begging to be released from her bounds until her voice was hoarse and she could only occasionally whimper in pain. She had never been a religious girl, but that day she prayed to all the gods who would listen. Apparently, none of them did. Gone were the days of adventures in the woods, of running, of freedom, of childhood innocence. For years, her bound feet kept her home-ridden, but it didn’t matter, since her duties as a housewife-intraining didn’t require her to go outdoors.

She was taught to tame her wild side and shape herself into something a little more palatable, a little more subservient, for her future husband. While it was surprisingly easy to fake this persona for her parents and peers, my grandma struggled to reconcile One of her favorite games to play was “Ribbon her arranged future with her thirst for independence. Search,” a game in which she tried to find a hair rib- She felt powerless and disheartened, forced to stand bon that her father had sneakily tied around a tree by as her identity was stripped from her and replaced branch. She enjoyed the mystery of it all, but what with a more docile stranger. she loved most was the way the wind would whip and bite her arms as she tore through the trees, arms For 11 years, my grandma dealt with endless misogyny, all the while feeling emotionally and mentally outstretched like she was a bird ready to take flight. drained. She was never roped into the housewife It was a birthday tradition for her parents to gift narrative that was preached to her, but she had lost her a beautiful new ribbon to later use in a game of the tenacious spark that defined her childhood. “Ribbon Search.” It was something she had come to look forward to, but as the sun rose on her seventh That was until her 18th birthday, when she was gifted birthday, that tradition was exchanged for a more a ribbon after an 11-year hiatus. With that ribbon in barbaric, painful one. Ribbons turned into rope and hand, my grandma felt again the careless spontane-

“She prayed to all the gods who would listen. Apparently, none of them did.”

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ity of her youth, the unadulterated happiness that filled her up when she would play “Ribbon Search.” She remembered why she loved the outdoors so much and why she longed to leave Gou Chen Jia in search of bigger, better things.

prepared to give her blood, sweat, and tears to this country, to work and earn her spot amongst the middle-class citizens. Hard work was no stranger to her, but in return she expected to be rewarded for her due diligence.

She realized that without the legal shackles binding her to home, all of that was possible, as long as she had the courage to leave familiarity behind and venture forward into the unknown. After having spent her whole life shackled to societal expectations, my grandma decided to defy the odds and pursue a higher education, becoming the first woman in my family to go to college while juggling multiple jobs.

After all, that’s what the American dream was about, right?

Then, at 25, she chased the allure of adventure all the way to Shanghai, partly afraid that she was making a terrible mistake. But she needn’t have worried, because there, in the heart of a city teeming with life and lust, my grandma found paradise. 1965 For my mom, it was a regular old Tuesday at the American post office. She was simply speaking to a desk worker when an old man stepped out of line and began harassing her, calling her a slur and demanding she “go back to her own country.” He spat and cursed at her with words she hadn’t even added to her English vocabulary yet, and my mom could do nothing but stare, hands shaking and heart pounding. This “Land of Opportunity” was nothing like what she imagined it would be. When my mom was 25, she left Shanghai and set sail for America, fueled by the prospect of building a better home and future for her family. She was


Wrong. She soon realized that as an immigrant and woman of color, the American dream didn’t apply to her. She could pay taxes and contribute to society, yet still be treated with the utmost disrespect. As much as my mom hated to admit it, that day at the post office took a heavy emotional toll on her. America was supposed to be her home, a place of comfort and freedom that she could proudly call her own. But even after several years, she still felt like a foreigner and an alien, accused of being an intruder in her own home. It was a truly traumatic experience, and a sort of resigned hopelessness soon overtook her, forcing her to look inwards and question why she was staying somewhere she was clearly unwanted. Everyone and everything she knew, including her mom, were thousands of miles away. She was utterly alone. She recalled all the times in her youth when being alone was something she yearned for. Growing up in Shanghai with two older brothers, there was rarely a moment of peace in her household, so she grabbed any opportunity she could to escape and explore the bustling streets. She would run or bike, forging a path through the city on her own, completely content to observe the world around her. She made some of her worst memories during these expeditions, but she also came alive with passion and excitement. Once, she saved a stray dog from oncoming traffic, another time, a generous saleswoman gave her fresh flowers for free, and another time, she saw the most beautiful sunset from the rooftop of her apartment complex.


“There was so much good in the world she had seen, and so much more she had yet to see.” lux eterna


She couldn’t let the bad overshadow the good, not when there was so much good in the world she had seen, and so much more she had yet to see. For that reason, my mom chose to stay in America.

potter to the next. Whether we know it or not, everyone we meet leaves a mark on us. Some leave just light scratches on the surface, while others leave much deeper impressions, strong enough for us to feel their lasting impact throughout time.

Sure, the streets were a little too dirty, the food was a little too oily, and the people were a little too mean. But America was also magnificently beautiful, brimWhen I’m surrounded by open fields, I feel it — that ming with culture, innovation, and love. impulse to run, to abandon my worries, to let my Even when the racism continued with the white PTA lungs fill with wind and my heart with euphoria. moms at my elementary school and the comments When I see a particularly stunning sunrise or butterabout the smell of my mom’s food, she never let their fly, I feel it - that reminder that beauty exists in every harsh words pierce her skin. Instead, she took those corner of the universe. words and smothered them underneath the mountain of wondrous experiences she’d made, ultimately In everything I do, I feel it — that gentle tugging of grateful that those moments of hatred made her ap- my grandma and quiet whisper of my mom, both urging me to defy expectations and take charge of my life. preciate life that much more. We are three generations of strong women — one Chen, one Wang, and one Du — linked by blood 2002 because the patriarchy deemed it unsavory that we At birth, we are all the same — naked, vulnerable, pure, keep our own last names. Each of our stories are proand blissfully unaware of the challenges we are soon foundly unique, yet so deeply intertwined that they to face. Our values and spirit have yet to be shaped; resemble one big tapestry — one that speaks of inwe are like clay being molded in the hands of one tense pain and even more of intense happiness. ■

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You can be a lot at once, I promise. by ALEXANDRA EVANS

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grew up hick, hopelessly dirty. There are very few childhood pictures of me without the sticky residue of Bug Juice or an ant bite amalgamation that one could almost mistake for leprosy. Many of my high school memories involve Wild Turkey out of the bottle and waking up in a pasture. My family didn’t worry if I came home— there was not too much trouble to get into. The boys I dated would one day be men like their fathers. They drove well-kept old trucks, one callused hand on the wheel, the other navigating a stick shift and my thigh. I genuinely enjoyed their company, and oftentimes truly felt that I could love them for the rest of my life and forgo any romantic or sexual satisfaction. I would wither more and more and more, but at least I would not feel guilty for taking up too much space. Queerness is more than sexual orientation, after all. When acted upon, it is an expression at odds with the norm, a marquee board or neon lights. In a city, the brightness of a building or a person blends with competing luminescence on busy streets. My hometown was an amalgamation of pastures and one story houses, nothing to distract, and I have never been someone comfortable being so seen. A boyfriend left me dull and anonymous. Sure, it took booze, weed, or masterful dissociation to let them touch me, none of the many were too interesting, and several were not safe. Everytime I talked about a college, one assured me he would work enough that I could stay home with the kids. Another drove too fast if he was angry or raised his voice to echo the roar of his daddy. There were many boys that I

pretended I could love, and I tried, but eventually, the impression of security would fade, and my disdain crept in with every touch, kiss, and scream. The other 16-year-old girls around me seemed so overwhelmed with affection to give their boyfriends that I constantly felt like a failure. How could I feel worthy to accept love from good men, knowing I would never reciprocate? Each night spent sobbing in my room because I had wasted months of my youth forcing puzzle pieces that would not fit, reducing love to obligation, myself to husk, I vowed to leave. When you exist in a binary, dichotomy is inevitable: I was gay, without question, but if I married a man, my parents would sit in the front row. I came out for the first time when I was 11. My mother, normally a yeller, remained silent for days. My father comforted me amidst her ice, assuring that if I tried hard enough, if I cannibalized this strange part of me, it could eventually be forgiven and forgotten. For years, I did the best I could. Anything that raised my mother’s brow was thrown aside — no short hair, no softball, less eyeliner, more blush. She blamed my father for working too much, herself for not being a shining example of femininity. I know now that the shame she gave me was hers, repackaged. To some, a child is just another limb. Before the word “lesbian” invaded my parent’s home, a betrayal from my mouth, I was pieces of my family, a mirror of my mama. A reflection was the safest thing to be. However, there are parts of me that are too odd to

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serve this purpose. Each day, I forgive the child I was for seeking connection over authenticity. I did not know then I was maiming with each contortion, a surgeon far too eager to cut; I just thought I would be easier to love that way — straighter, prettier, sweeter. This conditional love left me simultaneously empty and too busy to seek anything truly fulfilling, but you cannot mold yourself palatable and be loved as you seek to be. However, any honesty felt like cutting the cord. I was so bound to my family. Where did I exist without them? Was it sacrificing an arm to a bear trap or self-mutilation?

Animal rescue has always been common ground between my mother and me. We are allies in arguing to my father that some random creature needs refuge in the house. What I have learned from desperate animals is this: Every creature wants to be loved. No critter has a chance without affection. The only way to put life back into a dying thing is with nourishment —by water, by food, by kind, gentle hands. If an animal becomes too tame, they are almost sure to die when released, but they will still be too wild to thrive in captivity. This is what compromising identity does to the soul. A wild animal that accepts love but refuses domestication is a miracle in itself, but a heartbreak to the person who took a chance on it. For many years, I was willing to sacrifice the

wild if it meant no one was upset. Docility seemed a small price for safety, until the bird. He was featherless and far too little when I found him. I thought I would hold him for a couple hours as he went stiff. The next morning, he used tiny lungs to scream in hunger. As he gulped down applesauce, I empathized with his pathetic fight. How hopeless it was, I thought, delaying the inevitable. I was wrong. Tweet grew quickly and within two months, he was about ready to fly away, but hesitant to leave. My mother and I were closer than

ever nursing him. I returned home one day to her screaming, my father pacing, bright red. Tweet had found his way underfoot. It was an accident. They did not see or hear him and because of that, he died. It did not matter if I was loved. I would eventually find myself mangled if I remained invisible. I thought 200 miles of distance would fix me, but I have never felt more queer (deragatory) than in Austin, and not because I’m gay. My accent is thick, even when I consciously mask it. My stories were not translating with my peers. No one liked my music or my jeans. I missed my family. I resented my family. I was far too scared to accept both as true. As I began to stitch together everything once stifled,

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I thought I had to slice away more and more. I had spent a lifetime calculating how little room I deserved to occupy. It made sense to me that when I left, I had the same amount of space to take up. Cull the Dolly and the boots. If it looks white trash, it is. If it reminds you of where you have been, aren’t you terrified you will go running back? This strategy worked until, once again, no one knew me. The same trailer in a different park. One drunken night, I relentlessly demanded my new friends play The Chicks’ “Wide Open Spaces.” That was a baby step. (Who doesn’t like The Chicks?) As we danced and sang, “She needs wide open spaces, room to make her big mistakes,” in unison, it hit me that I was safe enough to live in my fullest truth, if only I had the bravery to accompany it. I neither need to be understood to be seen, nor small to be loved. At this moment, I could not tell you the exact mechanisms of the ocean tide nor the anatomy of a butterfly. I am clueless to how so many beautiful things work and find them with wonder all the same. So if I am loud, obnoxious, bright, and contradicting, I must assume that these elements work in unison, not competition. For so long, I had strangled myself into stillness when all that was needed was harmony. In the same way that a lie is a creation, so is living in one’s own truth. I am overwhelmed by the city — I am overwhelmed with myself and my expansion, but what a privilege it is to live without hesitation. I am in my Renaissance, far too busy creating and becoming to worry about walls that are no longer closing in. I carry the pieces of home with me, each part of myself on my sleeve. The comforts I need are never far nor under the peril. Healing is not as black and white as cutting off the rot (or throwing away your cowgirl boots). For so long, I have held my upbringing and all it encompassed in opposition to my queerness, to who I thought I actually was. No more. Open the Natty Lite. Cue the country music. As singer Kacey Musgraves says, “Kiss lots of girls, if that’s something you’re into.” Be here, right now, exactly as you are. ■






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he walk of shame into Kesha’s Salon with my knotted, flaky hair gelled back into a ponytail was just as routine as walking out the salon feeling like a new woman.

could be seemed endless.

Exchanges of laughter, discussions of politics and current events, and voices humming “girlll” in agreement filled the salon with sound. Conversation with clients often began with compliments and would quickly snowball into ridiculous encounters, life stories, and wisdom-filled advice. Because I was surrounded by women who looked like me, the possibilities of who I

Just as I’d thought I was forgotten, I’d finally make it to The Chair. The Chair, in all its glory, was placed in the center of the salon and where the style I requested was executed perfectly. It was the final destination. Section by section, the hot comb touched my roots and the flat iron flipped my ends to create the perfect bounce of my hair.

Hair day was a full day. The experience was a privilege my parents graciously allocated into the budget and a day my mom set up as an expectation from a young age — an expectation, I was welcomed with a flood of combined I’m sure, my mother now regrets. She’s always smells of products, smoke from hot dryers, questioning how I came to be so high maintenoise from the T.V., and pre-existing conversa- nance, as if I wasn’t conditioned to be so. tions. I could always count on a hug, or “Quick The salon was a place of anticipation. Four fluosqueeze!” as the magic hands of Ms. Kesha put rescent purple walls housed mystical tools and it, to complete the warm embrace. This consis- products ready for work. The musical chairs tent greeting was something I looked forward of the half-done heads on which Ms. Kesha to every other Saturday at noon as I prepared worked her magic on had a flowing rhythm. for the oh-so-taxing duty of sitting in the salon Following the direction of conductor Kesha, I’d to get my hair done. switch to the dryer, sink, or any open seat, carrying my folders of schoolwork to where I was My hair and I have always had a complicated instructed. relationship— toxic, even. I’ve never had something gaslight me like my hair has. My press The sink was where the worries disappeared. would be perfect one moment, but as soon as a The head massage and tingling tea tree shamdrop of sweat came into contact with a follicle, poo combo dissolved any remnant of a thought. my hair would fight back in retaliation and curl The reclined chair and salon cape that acted as up at the roots. How could something that pro- a blanket made it hard for me to keep my eyes vided so much confidence also have so much from rolling back and my mind from entering power to drain it? a trance. Just as I dove deep into the hypnotic powers of the wash, the moment would be Though I could thank my nappy hair for build- quickly interrupted as the dryer awaited. ing my muscles during the necessary detangling process — the late nights, broken combs, I would sit patiently under the hot dome unand tears rolling down my cheeks while I tried til my ears turned red, waiting my turn as each to figure out how to care for my delicate curls client who came before made their way to The were nothing short of a curse in my book. Chair. I was one step closer to ridding the humbling experience of my pin-straight, flowing Uniqueness is something I’ve always admired hair transforming right in front of my class… on others. Oh, the resentment I held for the mates’ eyes into a stiff James Brown do. To dis“untamed” mane I saw in my reflection. “But it’s tract myself from the stinging heat, I’d keep my not done,” I whined all too often at home after head down, focused on my book or my algebra the DIY press and curl. By the fifth grade, it was homework attempting to hold in the excitetime for the real deal: A day at the salon. ment of my hair finally being done.

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Every appointment, I’d walk into the salon with the intention to only observe, to be a bystander in the experience. I had the impossible goal of somehow learning how to act, how to speak, and how to operate as I grew into myself as a Black woman. The ritual of hair day doubled as Black girl therapy. The salon became my sanctuary and confessional, Ms. Kesha the priest with an open ear. I went from sharing the many stressors that fifth grade brought, to updating Ms. Kesha on college acceptances and plans for the future. The salon was where I’d open up and often rant about the amount of uncertainty I held in the head on which Kesha was meticulously parting and styling. The Chair was where I’d vent about my petty drama and the countless dilemmas that my future held — and where I’d hear many other women do the same. Hair became more than just strands that grew from my head; it was a source of untouchable confidence. Each style introduced a new version of me to myself. My press and curl made me move differently. I gave myself whiplash from dramatic hair flips when my hair was straightened. My box braids were one of my favorite protective styles I had done routinely by Kesha. What relief braids provided. As a protective style, I’d wake up with my hair done needing to do nothing but take off my bonnet and go. With the perfect, clean parts and flawless blend of colors, the few hours the style took to get done was nothing compared to the time it saved day by day. Each look welcomed a new alter ego.

swer more and more questions by simply existing. I’d get genuine compliments here and there, sure, but I loved my natural hair not because it brought about any type of real positive attention, but rather, because it took guts to wear out in an environment where it was rarely seen. The hair styles changed with the times, as did the conversation, but the importance of the setting never did. The Appointment was something all of the women in my life secured and an experience that was made sure to be passed down. The salon is where I saw my late grandmother relinquish control. I’d sit and watch as she got the rolled, pin-up style she’d gotten my whole life done. A calmness swept across her face while the stylist massaged her head at the sink. She’d follow the motions of the salon, making her rounds to each pit stop of the dryers and chairs. Finally, The Chair would turn, displaying the familiar style. Her long, red nails patted the updo in approval. The look of expected admiration revealed with a grin.

The hair appointment my mother made with Kesha for her cut, colWWWWor, and press was a special occasion. When my sister and I would question why she didn’t partake in our biweekly girls’ day, her response was always: “It’s what moms are supposed to do.” The Chair was where I’d hear my mom talk about herself for once. Maybe it was because Ms. Kesha had the decency to ask how she was — something that slipped my mind all too often. But, no, that couldn’t be the only reason ... I’d like to think It was when I finally learned to love my hair in it was the energy, the essence of the salon. its natural state, that I truly felt like myself. The afro I once wanted so badly to shrink and make Something about the salon brings about shamedisappear became a style I aimed to be seen. I less selfishness. It’s a place where it’s okay to be no longer felt the need to conform and have my vain and a place where the women who often hair hang, making sure it was similar to a major- put themselves last were put first. ity of my peers’. For the first time, “unique” was The roots that were taken care of, braided, and boldly intentional — and it looked and felt good greased up in Kesha’s Salon are the roots of my on me… community. Within those four fluorescent purple walls is where I grew up, learned how to care Different styles didn’t only make me feel differ- for myself, and received the best advice from ent, but affected the way I was treated. When a plethora of Black women of all backgrounds. my hair added to my height, was picked in the The place that served as Black girl therapy was air and surrounded my head instead of falling the epitome of love, and I can’t help but wonder down my back, I got more stares, more hands what those walls would say if they could talk. ■ launched towards me to be pet, and had to an-



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Pattern &

Decoration by ANH VU




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ore is more.

The rebellion was not cloaked in slick black leather or draped in stark ivory silk.

It was crafted. Meticulously, repetitively; wrought with bubblegum pinks and periwinkle blues into a “fuck you” bouquet of untidy textiles and abstractions de fleur. The message was clear. Damned if we do, damned if we don’t.

We will be seen. __________________ In the collective pop-culture imagination of the West, the influence of the 1970s settles on a peculiarly robust pedestal. The decade birthed entire genres, subcultures, and artistic legacies whose influences are embedded in our modern-day musical pathos. Radio broadcasts documented political oscillations in the wild, wild west, where progressive agendas faced off against generational chasms, stagflation’s debut, and a war. As the Internet age’s predecessor, this era also witnessed the development of the world’s first general microprocessor, e-mail, pocket calculators, and, out of a garage in California, a little company named Apple. Attempting to distill the entirety of the 1970s into a neat literary schematic is an impossible task, but from that chaotic period of helterskelter happenings, a particular thread can be pulled out. The ’70s, with its punk rock, defiant protests, and moxie charm appeared to be an age of definition. Tethers to convention were severed. The status quo no longer proved satisfactory. The communitarianism of the previous ten years were cast aside in favor of atomization —that is, a desire to stand alone, apart, and outside of subservient power dynamics.



"The rebellion was not cloa ked in slick black leather or draped in st

ark ivory silk."

BLUE JEANS | Sophia Santos TYE DYE GLOVES | Noelle Campos

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"As Leo Tolstoy stated, “Real art, like the wife of an affectionate husband, needs no ornaments, but counterfeit art, like a prostitute, must always be decked out.”"

More accurately, the ’70s was an age of redefinition. The art world did not prove itself immune to this phenomenon. As more artists flirted with the avant-garde, traditional creative processes were challenged. This scene was the foundation of Postmodern art. Within Postmodernism, several movements arose, but one group’s anti-establishment mentality struck a particularly dissonant chord. Enter Pattern & Decoration. A wily, mutinous gang of artists who refused to revere the (very male, very white) omnipresent voice that dictated the socio-cultural hierarchies of the art world, P&D specifically stood in opposition to Minimalism and Conceptualism — two movements whose central philosophies placed a high price point on austerity and paid dust to ornamentation and craft. These sentiments were nothing new, and likely a holdover from centuries of Eurocentrism and the patriarchy. P&D refers to the decorative traditions throughout the world, including textiles, wallpaper, manuscript illustrations, mosaics, glassware, and embroideries. These forms of artistic production have long beenoverlooked by historians, theorists, and artists who subscribe to ideals of the rational and morally “pure." Any art that was not created with those such intents at the forefront was deemed frivolous. As Leo Tolstoy stated, “Real art, like the wife of an affectionate husband, needs no ornaments, but counterfeit art, like a prostitute,

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YELLOW DRESS | Flamingos

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I spend my Sunday afternoons playing both DOCENT


and wondering all the time if my job isn’t a bit ridiculous.


n Sundays, we open at noon and the day is slow. Visitors trickle in from surrounding restaurants, motivated by a post-cocktail curiosity to see what’s inside the big gray building with the green door. The answer is art: paintings, drawings, collages, sculptures, and prints. And me, waiting to greet and guide them. But it’s Sunday and curiosity wanes; most stroll once through once and leave with few words. For them, a gallery is just another kind of museum, meant for looking and leaving. For others, those with the interest and, more importantly, the means, it’s a store – and the merchandise is art. Sometimes the lethargy breaks and such people come to grace me with a sale. As a result, I spend my Sunday afternoons playing both docent and saleswoman, — and wondering all the time if my job isn’t a bit ridiculous. I’ll relay something one of my bosses, Kathryn, told me a few months ago: “With the nature of our inventory, people don’t really try to rob us.” How strange that is. Take one stroll through our space and you’ll confirm what is so infamously known in common culture: fine art is stupid expensive. Why, then, can our gallery and others store millions of dollars of merchandise on-site with hardly any fear of robbery? The answer, as Kathryn said, lies in the “nature” of our inventory, or, as the man who delivers and installs work for us more frankly put it: “Our product has no inherent value.” It’s difficult for me to acquiesce to this position; as an art history student and artist myself, my first and strongest instinct is to shout from the hills that art in all its forms is the most valuable thing humans have

to offer. But responding in this way would be willfully missing the point. He was talking about the monetary value of art, and he’s right. Ignoring aesthetics, putting aside philosophy, and focusing solely on economics, a work of art has no real worth until someone says it does. Look at it this way: we have pieces worth thousands of dollars in every window, but the only thing I have to hide away at closing is the owner’s laptop. What would a thief do with a four thousand dollar painting if the only people who say it costs that much are the artists and us? Why we — or I should say, my bosses, as I am not involved in the process — decide to price it that high is the next logical question, but it’s a difficult one to answer. To some extent, it boils down to the fact that this is a business, and these works of art are our product. Revenue must be high enough to sustain the running of the gallery and the salaries of those who manage it. And one mustn’t forget the artists; nearly everyone we represent is an artist full-time, and the money made from selling their work is what they live on. The price of the art must reflect that. Yet it’s still puzzling to most people, including, to some extent, myself. Every time friends come to visit me at the gallery, they repeat some form of the same line: “So much for this?” I’ve progressed from sheepishly nodding to actually attempting an explanation like the one above, but it’s a hard pill to swallow, especially for fellow college students who can’t imagine shelling out five months of rent for one painting. But our clients can. And not only do they have the means, but, as I’ve learned, it’s actually a sound financial decision. Buying a work of art is among the most

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secure purchases one can make because it doesn’t depreciate, even though, or perhaps because, it has “no inherent value.” Its assigned worth will never be diluted by age or the arrival of a new model, as in other industries. Even works that we’ve had for years don’t decline in price as time passes. I sold a charcoal drawing last month that was made in 1990; it went for the inflation-adjusted price it was originally given over thirty years ago. Perhaps you wonder how we could justify having a piece on display for that long. The answer is we didn’t; it was in storage at the artist’s studio. Many works that haven’t or don’t seem likely to sell are sent back to the artists, but still more are here at the gallery. Did you notice my choice of words a few paragraphs ago? “Millions of dollars of merchandise on site?” That’s no exaggeration. We have about 80 to 90 works on the walls at all times, at least one for each artist we represent, but what you see is only a fraction of what we have available. Tucked away in the closets and built-in shelves of our rickety basement are thousands more pieces waiting to be seen and sold. One of my first tasks when I was still an intern was checking that every piece in storage was where our catalog said it should be. I spent hours combing through the inventory, carefully flipping through tightly packed works protected by layers of plastic wrap and cardboard. It was unsettling in a way; I came across some truly exquisite works of art which, after their location was noted, went straight back on the shelf where no one could see them. Isn’t art meant to be looked at? Maybe I’m an overly sentimental art student, but it broke my heart to see these lovely things hidden away. If a piece isn’t being exhibited, it remains indefinitely in these crawlspaces unless a prospective buyer sees it on our website and asks for a viewing. Its fate as a work of art is not dependent on its beauty or its truth, but on its likeliness to sell.

to admire art, but it is still a business — one that requires a large collection of high-priced works to operate successfully.. Some may argue that money and art shouldn’t mix; that assigning price to a painting degrades it to a mere product. The only viable response here is that art is sometimes a product, but that this doesn’t have to be a degradation. If money is — for better or worse — how we assign value in our society, perhaps a gallery asking thousands for a work, and a client agreeing to pay, is a sign that art is valued very highly indeed. Whether art’s relationship to money is toxic, fruitful, or just absurd, I’m still undecided. But I do know this: a divorce is impossible. If art is to be viewed, you need money to rent a gallery space. If that space is to be managed and its shows curated, you need money to employ gallerists. And most importantly, if art is to be created at all, you need money to furnish the livelihood of its creators. Our artists would be the first to tell you that they’ll gladly saddle their work with a price if it means they can do this for a living. Yet I still feel some discomfort when talking about art in terms of “inventory” and “depreciation.” And a part of me still mourns for the paintings that are consigned to the oblivion of the basement simply because no one’s thought to buy them. ■

“Everytime friends come to visit me at the gallery, they repeat some form of the same line: “So much for

The storage conundrum is only one facet of a greater paradox at the heart of the industry. A gallery is a lovely place




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A Rose by Any Other Name by ADRIAN WEISS



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tions it came with, his shoulders and jaw broadening under the weight of his name. But I stayed a slender, transient thing, standing on the edge of myself, waiting for an echo that would never come. There’s a certain power that comes with knowing a name. Through our words, we comprehend and grant meaning to the world around us. Germanic mythology knew this well – a thing named is a thing tamed. It’s an old story that gets told over and over, the details shifting with each retelling, yet the basic theme remains. A mother, a child, and a name: in the miller’s daughter sparing her firstborn by discovering the true name of the titular Rumpelstiltskin, in the grieving Norse goddess Frigg invoking the true names of every creature, tree, rock, and plant to make all of creation weep in a vain attempt to resurrect Balder, her slain son. Growing up, I would beg my mother to tell me the story of my naming, trying to fit myself into it with each telling. “Your father and I would argue about it,” she’d say, “but I knew my baby’s name from the instant you were born.” The way she told it, my name was a gift, her first act of love for the child she’d brought into the world. Not just a word, but a promise, on which she pinned all the secret dreams she harbored for her newborn son.


When I was a child, my mother taught me the names of the world. I learned to listen for the echoes of words in the summer’s sounds – the wind’s whispering breath, the whip-poor-will’s eponymous three note wail in the warm southern nights. Names of trees and beasts and flowers, of rivers and stars. In those days my brother and I changed our names like clothes, slipping into and out of our skins. Twisting in the current of our youth, I was him and he was me, two of summer’s children splashing across the secret streams that carved through the limestone cliffs behind our home. In the evenings the setting sun would spin the dried grass into gold, and in the dying light we’d race to the cliff’s edge and shout our names into the open sky, claiming it as our own. Two years older, my brother’s voice would crack like lightning and we’d listen for the echo of his name’s thunder, reverberating across the canyon. But I was young and uncertain, and my lungs betrayed me, the feeble whisper of my own swallowed by the lengthening shadows. By the sunset of our childhood, my brother embodied Zachary, slipping into the name and all the expecta92


Eight days after I was taken from my mother’s womb, I was introduced to the world with the stroke of a knife and a flash of red. Brought to a synagogue for my brit milah, I was ceremonially given the Hebrew name, ‫לאומש‬, meaning God Has Heard. Anglicized as Samuel, I entered an ancient covenant, joining a tradition thousands of years old. I was named after two different men: a revolutionary and a seer. My mother wanted a strong American name and chanced upon Samuel Adams: founding father, agitator, writer and propagandist. From my father’s Jewish heritage, Samuel the Prophet, said to have spoken directly with the Lord. But I was an uneasy child, ever-shifting, uncomfortable in my skin. Slipping into different personae with the seasons, I looked for identification through reinvention, trying to find something that fit – the manic extrovert ricocheting into a sullen silence, the music posters around my bedroom replaced by scotch-taped poems, only to be torn down in a rage a month later, leaving the walls cold and barren. Reluctantly, I came of age and into my name, a thin and pale-faced boy at once thrilled and terrified at the prospect of being seen and thus, judged. A name, especially one that comes with a legacy like mine, can be suffocating. Drowning in the expectations that came with it, I grew increasingly convinced of my own inadequacies.

“ A thing names a thing tamed.”

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“ With each name, I grew further from my past and closer to my future.”



How can you summarize your entire life in a single word? The older I got, the more uncomfortable my name became. I’d cringe when I heard it and fantasize about who I could have been if only my name were different. Perhaps it’s that classic human condition of wanting to be anything other than what we are, but by 10 years old, I was absolutely certain of two things: I would change my name, and my life would change with it. First it was just s mall variations – Samuel at school, but Sam at home. Weiss from my friends and Shmu from my father (his diminutive of Shmuel, the Hebrew form of my name). As I took on new names, I crafted personalities with them, orchestrating an elaborate masquerade between potential identities. With each name, I grew further from my past and closer to my future. And for a while, I was happy. Maybe it was just the freedom of slipping on a mask and becoming someone new, hiding in plain sight. But still, the change wasn’t enough, especially after all I’d become. When someone called me Sam, all I heard was a string of failures. Broken friendships and disappointed teachers, screaming matches that faded into resentment. It was Sam who nearly missed the bus and got stranded at a convention center in Tennessee. Sam who derailed the entire marching band show. The sum total of my name was hundreds of lost possessions, hollow promises, hurt feelings. These weren’t the actions of a prophet or a revolutionary – just a deeply flawed boy with an irreconcilable name. By the time I graduated high school, I hated myself, and, by extension, my name.

gible divine. The Kabbalists of legend were well aware of this magic, chanting secret names to breathe life into their golems. Carved from lifeless earth and dust, the legendary giant could only be animated when a scrap of parchment bearing a divine name was placed in its open mouth. Through these rituals an identity is granted: to name a lump of clay is to set it apart from its source, to give it the spark of life. Our names become who we are. We charge them with our nature, our hopes and hates and loves. They become our masks and our faces, a reflection of our culture and a mirror to our self-identification. But to bear a name is a heavy burden. There are reasons I chose the name Adrian when I renamed myself. Some I share, some I don’t. Three syllables, 6 letters. Symmetrical, rising and falling like the bird calls of my childhood. It comes from the Adria river, a name meaning “rich water.” An artist’s name, borne by musicians, actors and writers. For me, it’s a symbol of agency, carving my own identity from the clay of my past. In choosing a name, I’ve chosen a future for myself. Sometimes I’ll hear my name, any one of them, drifting across a crowded room. There’s a moment of panic as I turn my head towards the sound, trying to find where it came from, if it was addressed to me. Which version of me were they calling for? Which would they find? More often than not it’s just a trick of the ear, acoustics transforming the white noise of conversation into a familiar shape. So why that name, among so many?

So I killed it. Something had to go, and it was either me or the name. I could spend my life trying to become something I wasn’t, or I could let go and start again, a new name for a new self. If you don’t want the name to kill you, then kill it first. I think it was Ralph Ellison who called it “the magic involved in naming,” although the concept has been around much longer. The Hebrew spelling for the word for soul, ‫( המשנ‬neshamah), contains the letters ‫( םש‬shem), spelling name. In this, a name transcends the flesh, tying a collection of syllables to the intan-

Sometimes when I’m lost in the hypnosis of driving down familiar roads, I find myself turning towards the cliffs behind my old house, killing the engine and stepping out of the car. There’s a familiarity to these woods, although the grass has since turned to frost in the brittle morning air. The streams I splashed through are sluggish and muffled by ice, and the sky is choked with clouds. Dead leaves crunching below my feet, I make my way to the edge of the cliff and look down, a blanket of trees stretching into the gray horizon. Dangling my feet over the ledge, I lean my head back until my vision is swallowed by the sky. Opening my lungs to the cold air, I shatter the silence of the world with the call of my name. And in the frozen morning, I listen for the echo. ■

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Weary from her travels and in desperate need of good fortune, a young woman checks into her hotel for saints and patiently awaits her Great Awakening.

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’d never anticipated spending the Two Summers Ago majority of my summer vacation in a confessional. And yet here I was, try- “He’s going to be fine, Jackie,” my boyfriend ing to scrub my soul clean before a told me for the tenth time that night, studyman I’d never met. ing my troubled expression over the video call. “I’ll even ask my family to pray for you.” “A variety of emotions can lead us to sin,” the priest warned me, his stare poignant “Please, you don’t have to do that,” I reassured through a pair of thick glasses. “Anger, bore- him. While I appreciated the sentiment, the dom. Even extreme happiness. It is our re- idea of my boyfriend’s family phoning God sponsibility to act on our emotions in a way about my father’s illness felt invasive. “Can’t that best aligns with God’s commandments. we just watch a movie instead?” Remember that.” It had been two days since my father’s hosAs I sank my weight into the church’s heavy pitalization, and in the few hours I’d atdoors and stepped out into the July sun, I tempted to sleep, I feared waking up to a lifted my face towards the sky and waited for world in which he wasn’t alive anymore. I the relief to kick in. I had been to almost ev- kept my phone two inches away from my ery Catholic Church in the Austin area that face in constant anticipation of bad news. I summer, disclosing embarrassing parts of tried to sit with the agonizing pressure that my life to different priests who didn’t know had taken permanent residence inside my a thing about me. Hoping their pardons chest. Eventually, I resorted to cleaning the would be enough to turn me back into the house — scrubbing disinfectant into my faconfident Catholic I once was. I took their ther’s empty couch and wiping the pill bottles instructions seriously — recite these prayers strewn across our dining room table. Ibuprodaily. Sit at the foot of the cross. (Whatever fen for fevers, an antiemetic for nausea… that means.) Know the emotions that lead you to sin and do your best not to act on them. He’s going to be fine, Jackie. I bent down on the pavement and buried my face between my knees, trying to feign the peace that so many other Catholics had assured me I’d feel after being forgiven of my sins. Feel better, I ordered myself between breaths, pushing down the pressure beginning to rise behind my ribs. Feel better already. Some people grow addicted to the way a glass of spirits or a poorly-rolled joint takes the edge off their most neglected of wounds. I grew addicted to the clean slate I was promised every time I confessed my sins. And the obsession was pulling me under.


I heard some iteration of those words all the time now — from family friends who were kind enough to drop off groceries at our doorstep, from the deacons who prayed rosaries with me over the phone. But whenever I made eye contact with the figurines of Santo Niño and the Blessed Virgin Mary on our mantle top, I found not comfort in their porcelain faces, but more instructions. Keep praying. Have faith. Allow God to use your suffering for good. I didn’t want to do any of those things. All I wanted was to sit in the passenger seat of


GRAY SUIT | Flamingos

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WHITE DRESS | Katherine Tang



my dad’s old Nissan and listen to Carole King sing to us over the summer heat, back when Judgment Day was but a point in the distant future that would never, ever draw near to us.

My father had lived, and I was grateful. Though I was fairly certain a part of me died in that house.

“I don’t know if I like being Catholic anymore,” I admitted to my boyfriend later that year, after my father had made a slow and shaky recovery. We were sitting beneath a blanket of stars, the campus street lights illuminating the anguish on my face. “I don’t want to believe in a God that uses my dad’s suffering for some kind of greater plan.”

I slouched further into my pew, twitching nervously as the lips of unmasked faces sang the words to a hymn I’d never heard before. The organ’s dissonant notes clamored in my brain like spare change in a pocket, and a phlegm-filled cough escaped the lips of a man sitting directly behind me.

I didn’t know what I was expecting of him — a nod of understanding, a hug perhaps. Instead, he drew back from me with a cautious expression in his eyes. “What?” I asked. “Why are you looking at me like that?” “Sorry, I just…didn’t know you felt that way.” He proceeded to offer me advice, all of which I tried using against the religious resentment that had infected me over the past year. But his proverbial words only frustrated me to the point of tears. My first boyfriend — who had stayed by my side throughout the entire summer — had grown determined to cure me of my emotions when all I wanted was to be held among them. I don’t blame him. If anything, I’m still silently apologizing for my depressive phone calls, frequent outbursts, and complete inability to communicate to him what I needed.

One Summer Ago

Thirty more minutes, I promised myself, pleading for the clock to revolve faster. Just get through these next thirty minutes. That’s two sets of fifteen minutes, three sets of ten… Four months single and plagued by the guilt of having hated my religion, I was determined to reclaim my Catholic faith and live it boldly. I did everything my campus ministry suggested I do — I registered for weekend retreats; I attended Bible study on Tuesdays. I spent my evenings reading the blogs of Catholic mothers trying to perfect their Natural Family Planning calendar while raising six kids. I had convinced myself that the only way to heal from my hellish summer was to drown my sorrows in Catholicism and never look back. But the more I enmeshed myself into Catholic culture, the more my brain seemed to reject it. I was still wholly incapable of attending mass without the blinding anger of my father’s illness. What more, I spent the entire hour not praying, but extinguishing the

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questions that ran rampant through my mind. Why aren’t women allowed to be altar servers at this church? Who do I listen to — my priest or my professor? Are biblical translations even accurate? I craved space for doubt — for my growing anxiety towards the mass and the ideological tug-of-war it initiated in my head. I craved conversations with people who didn’t believe that sex, swearing, or skipping church on Sundays would stain my soul until I went to confession. The fact that I craved these things in the first place made the angel on my shoulder weep. Heretic, she chided me over the organ’s ear-splitting cries. You can’t just cherry-pick what you want to believe. Stupid, naive girl. Perhaps it was the man coughing up a storm over my shoulder or the young mother two rows ahead of me, wrestling her army of noisy kids into a neat little line. But I stood up from my seat 25 minutes early, the rotting pressure in my chest now spreading to my hands as I searched for the nearest exit. Present Day There’s a phrase in Catholic writing that goes, “The Church is not a hotel for saints, but a hospital for sinners.”


As much as I would like to proclaim that these words have changed my life for the better, I can’t help but admit I have difficulty believing in them. From my compulsive confessions to the all-nighters I’ve spent trying to appease my spiritual anxieties, I’ve grown tired striking the match of my Catholic religion against my heart, hoping that it will catch flame. Still, I like to believe I’m intuitive enough to recognize God in the people around me. My childhood best friend, who reassured me that my feelings were valid over bowls of pho and bright pink tarot cards. My college roommate, who gave thoughtful answers to my existential questions over the kitchen counter at four in the morning. A stranger in the middle of a San Francisco hotel lobby, whose crude sense of humor made me belly-laugh for the first time in months. I’m still not completely comfortable going to church or participating in other religious activities, but I’ve taken gentle steps towards managing my scrupulousness. I talk to a therapist every other week; I take dance classes in my free time. I resist the temptation to believe that God only exists in traditionally religious spaces — and I am learning to seek Him in healthier ways. I may have checked out of my hotel for saints, but I’ve embarked on a journey far greater. Where I’m headed, only time will tell. ■


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e r fi e s u o H by KELLY WEI layout JULEANNA CULILAP

e vignettes for the re th or o tw kes ta ly It on tting itself together. pu gin be to ure ct pi bigger

The crude parties, the finite money, the men.

Always the men.




ather was an artist before his father set fire to the paintings. Much of this history eludes me, but the way he speaks of the event — brusque and aversive, between spoonfuls of soup at the kitchen table — is enough to suggest some part of him still grieves the loss. Actually, I am not even sure it was him who told me this story. Maybe I heard it first from his younger sister, a wry and peculiar woman who came to visit us five summers ago.

She could have said more, but it felt like a moot point. Better to lose some paintings by your family’s hand than your life by gossiping neighbors. That’s how it was “back then.” And my father, a talented and industrious man, turned out fine in the end, albeit nothing close to an artist. “So Dad was popular?”

“He was adored,” my aunt said, and flashed me that glancing smile of hers, gone as quickly as it’d come She gave me $500 — the most amount of money I out on her pale, fluttery face. “Always the pride of had ever held in my hands — and a suitcase full of the family.” her old designer stuff, all these delicate pieces in XS and XXS that resembled dolls’ clothing, all of it or- For a moment, I saw their resemblance: both highnate in a girlish, old worldly way. cheeked, with serious eyes and a cool, absent affect that never entirely disintegrated, even when they She herself was reminiscent of some waifish, mid- were trying to appear kind. century city girl, and though she was well into her forties by the time I met her, there was a liveliness I never saw her again after that summer. My father to the way my aunt moved and talked that made himself had been exiled to the fringes of my life by her seem much younger. I could see the girl in her, any family member with half a say in the matter, and a nervy and long-limbed librarian type who smiled even less grace was afford to “the likes of his sister.” quickly and ducked her head. She wasn’t beautiful, Those were someone else’s words, not mine. She but I liked the jaunty sway of her body when she seemed to everyone in my family like a black hole: went for morning walks, her china white skin, the sucking the air and life out of happy homes, upswath of long dark hair tucked behind a pair of read- turning the furniture and threatening people with ing glasses she kept atop her head like sunnies. kitchen knives, leaking her thick, pitchy woman juice all over the place like a pissing dog. But to me, We were awkward with each other, and that summer she seemed more like a cold, pure, and distant star. in general was memorably miserable — harsh sun, exhausting New England road trips, my coldish at- I don’t even know her name. It never came up all titude a source of tremendous unspoken tension be- summer. tween my father and I the entire time — but I recall sitting with her one evening to salt edamame at the *** kitchen table. My aunt crawls out the second-story window of her “He was really quite good,” she said. “I mean, our New York studio and lands badly on her ankle. It’s grandmother called him prodigious,” I noticed some- 1993, early spring, miserable and wet. Her brother — thing rueful to her tone here, an old echo of sibling my father — doesn’t see her slip out the back this way rivalry. “Only 10 years old and they were hanging his because he’s too busy pounding on the front door. oils in the town hall.” He’s young, brilliant, irascible, working through a PhD he hates. He’s also jet-lagged and starving. “My dad doesn’t seem like the painting type.” “You’re kidding me,” he mutters. But my aunt doesn’t “Not anymore. Our father made sure of that.” kid. She’s not kidding now, and she wasn’t kidding

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two weeks ago on the phone when she first warned him: “If you’re thinking of flying up, don’t. I will not grant you passage into my home.”

that surely burns. She is, as is often the case, the only woman here. “I am the trouble,” my aunt says.

“I pay your rent,” he’d retorted. The man laughs. “Then America loves you! New York loves you, too! Welcome home! But if you ever get tired of, call me, OK? I take you better places than so-called land of freedom. Not so free, you and I both “You have no one else in this country,” my father said, know. I show you ocean instead, beauty, God Himself.” “but me.” “And how do you plan to do that? A ticket to paradise is expensive.” She hung up. “I can pay.” Now she’s leaned over on long legs, careful not strain the bruised ankle, and using the sleeve of her NYU She smiles politely and looks away, looks for another sweatshirt to wipe ice flakes off her windshield in the man. parking lot. Her breath makes puffy clouds in the air. Her bangs fall into her face as she jostles about, so she “I can pay,” he says again, in a tone that gets her to pushes her glasses atop her head to pin them back. glance back over. He wets his lips again. The smoky When she’s satisfied with her work, my aunt climbs light sets his skin aflame, slides down the white wool into the car, starts it, and smokes a cigarette waiting of his turban like liquid gold. He’s handsome. for the engine to warm up. Then she goes to a party. Men, men, men. My aunt grew up in a house full of Four hours later, she’ll call her brother from inside a them. To the dismay of her grandmother, she had Port-a-Potty, apologizing for having mixed the dates emerged, like a pale and slim crack, from an otherwise up. Why she bothers lying to mend this fence, I don’t unruptured line of snub-nosed boys. In her youth, she know. But she stares passively into the tight darkness could have passed for one herself: flat-chested, hardwhile he goes on and on, raging and raving, calling her jawed, tall, good at school. things he learned first from their grandmother. She’ll wait for the line to go quiet before putting the phone I would like to think there were at least some good back up to her ear and confirming an account number days at the beginning of it all, when her gender had for him to wire the rent. Then, calmly, she’ll wipe her not yet erased every other aspect of her identity. ass and go back to her party. The summer we spent together, I followed her out of “Family give you trouble again?” art exhibitions and into gift shops, touching all the little trinkets after she touched them, these sparkly My aunt waves her hand back and forth a few times in coasters and puzzles, magnets and tote bags. I learned a silent no. Out comes that quicksilver smile. later that she made a living designing gift shop souvenirs for Chinese museums. “Trouble follow you to America, too?” The man wets his lips. They are crouched together by the edge of “She was not abused,” my father insists. This is the a bonfire, away from the others, who hoot and sing preface he gives me to any further explanation of my chummy foreign songs between swigs of something aunt. “My grandma loved us all. And that girl was con“Which reminds me, the bill is due next week,” she said. “Why do you always send money so last minute?”



r "I don’t even know he name. It never came up all summer."

"Men, men, men. My aunt gre w up in a house full of them."

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ested "I am no longer inter ther in asking women whe they are good or bad." stantly making things worse for herself.” I’ll bet. I don’t know that girl and yet I do. It only takes two or three vignettes for the bigger picture to begin putting itself together. The crude parties, the finite money, the men. Always the men. *** After his PhD, my father marries unhappily and settles down. He’s not heard from my aunt in five years when one night, his pregnant wife picks up the landline, hears a man howling a name over and over on the other end, and shouts down the hall for him. My father pokes his head out the door of his office, and, seeing the look on my mother’s face, reluctantly shuffles out. It’s 12:28 a.m. “Didn’t hear it, sorry.” She only gives him the phone and brushes past him to go back upstairs, leaving my father to put a hand over the receiver and call after her. “Who is it?” Sound of overhead footsteps. Slam of door. That translates roughly to, Who else? Deal with her! But it’s not her. It’s a man, and he lays at my father’s feet a list of grievances that seemed and sounded a mile long, but could really be boiled down to just three things in the end: He’d gone and fallen in love with a long-time mistress, eloped at last with her to Venezuela three months ago, then came to on New Year’s Day alone and hungover. She, along with 13 million bolivares—about $30,000—had disappeared overnight. And she’d left nothing behind but some cheap jewelry and our home number on the nightstand.



I am no longer interested in asking women whether they are good or bad. Nobody levels that question on my father, booking a one-way ticket out of Texas with his tail between his legs after the divorce papers are finalized, nor about my father’s father, dumping gasoline over a child’s oil paintings and setting fire to what little softness we bring into the world. We assume it was complicated. We trustfall into cultural and sociological excuses. We blame recession, revolution, a darkness from which the secret pain of men emerges, one that women may never access or understand — as if we did not bear it first when we pushed them out of us. As if our bodies were not the original fallow wetness from which darkness first sprang. My aunt, constantly making things worse for herself. My aunt, aquiline nose pressed to the airplane glass, her suitcase and a future wadded up in the overhead bin. My aunt, bookish and boyish and not that pretty, a charmer and a thief, hoisting herself through grimy windows to start the engine in dead of night. My aunt, knowing exactly what she’s doing. You simply cannot find an open door into a woman like that. ■

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Normal, Illinois by ELLIE STEPHAN



✴ The silos were where the starry-eyed adolescents

of Normal Community High School came to dream. They were our gathering place.


grew up in a town called Normal, Illinois.

Normal is the mural uptown — a mosaic of bricks, each painted with love from local artists. Normal is everyone’s parents working at State Farm Insurance and half your high school going to Illinois State University. Normal is Eastland Mall, with its haunted, empty storefronts, gray, dingy carpet, and a food court of one restaurant. Normal is walking into Coffee Hound and always seeing someone from your church. Normal is riding your bike across town, ordering out of the colorful ice cream window, and sitting on a sun-filled patch of grass to listen to live music. And it’s surrounded by cornfields. In every direction. For hours. Hills aren’t in its vocabulary – there’s a flat, endless horizon of fields. For what Normal lacks in breathtaking mountains and sparkling skyscrapers, it makes up for with the art in its sky. Its sunsets fill the infinite horizon with swaths of orange, yellow, purple, and pink that descend with the Sun, leaving as fast as they came. The sunsets paint the corn golden and give Normal its glow. So, if my friends and I had nothing else to do, we’d drive into the country to watch gold unfold in the sky. Specifically, we’d go to the silos. My friends Vidya and Mantra would swing into my driveway blasting Alec Benjamin, I’d throw empty boba cups out of my seat, and we’d drive until we hit trespassing territory. Leaving the gravel stretch well-worn by car tires, we’d walk up the narrow metal staircase clinging

to the silo until we reached the roof. On the roof, we watched the sky. The silos weren’t on Google Maps; they weren’t a Chip and Joanna Gaines attraction. But the students of Normal Community High School could get there by heart. Bright headlights cut through the darkness of the humid August night. Bare feet with chipped white nail polish, callused by a long summer, slid into falling-apart Birkenstocks and tip-toed up the winding staircase to the silo roof for the first time. Nervous about trespassing, the three of us kept our voices to a hush. Blue light lit up my face as I texted our groupchat, telling Elizabeth to come next time. Hannah spread out old blankets as we slowly inched away from the ladder, backs glued to the cool metal roof. We let our shoes fall all the way to the grass below. After a fairly uneventful summer, stargazing on the silos emulated the quintessential teenage experience we craved. Unable to figure out the speaker Amanda had brought, I played soft indie music from my phone out of a stargazing playlist. Hannah and I compared work schedules, sharing excitement for our first jobs at the new restaurant by the airport. Amanda told me she was in my lunch hour the coming semester — good, we needed each other to split the cafeteria fries. Overhead, meteors went by. Eventually, our murmurings about first boyfriends or recent summer vacations came to a delicate silence, and we watched the stars. For the first time, I gathered at the silos and lived out my rendition of the coming of age movies

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I grew up on.

A year older, I returned from camping in the muggy Missouri swamp to a borderless July evening. As soon as I had cell reception, Vidya lit up my phone, relieved that the texts were blue again. That night was like many others — no plans, just a Midwestern sunset on the horizon and a vague time when she would pick me up. Rolling down the windows to feel the breeze and bickering over her choice to play a TikTok diss track, we drove by the elementary school to check out which of our friends were playing volleyball. The crowd that night wasn’t persuasive, so we kept

driving until we reached the road next to our high school. Deliciously nosy, we pulled into the parking lot. Who was there? And what were they doing? Nothing of importance. Vidya didn’t feel like getting ice cream, so we had one last option left.

It was January, and the sky was a cloud. On the 15-minute drive to the silos, I dwelled with Mantra and Vidya in comfortable silence, the early morning muffled by the foggy horizon. When we pulled into the space between the two silos, our sneakers made imprints in the fresh winter snow. As we carefully climbed up the icecoated stairs to the silo roof, we gazed into the void of white. For weeks, we had planned to get up early and watch the sunrise before Mantra and Vidya left for college. COVID had taken away their first semester, but they were finally leaving home. And leaving me, too. In the coming days, Vidya and I

Accelerating way past the arbitrary speed limit, we were there in minutes, scaling the metal staircase beneath a painting of blue, orange, and pink. Cicadas drowned out the pop music blaring, but our Instagram followers heard only


the carefully-chosen clip played over the third takes of us ever-so-casually looking at the camera. Balanced on the metal roof, warmed by the summer sun, she complained about my work schedule impeding our plans to watch the Kissing Booth, and I theorized about why one friend might have texted me. And that’s what the silos were. There, we sat, we talked, we took pictures, and we gathered until the sun set on our youth.

would s k e t c h options for how to arrange the painstakingly-curated collage on her dorm room wall, and the countdown on her private Snapchat story would come


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“The fog smothered the sunrise, and ✴ all we could see was white. But behind the winter haze, we knew the sun was rising.” ✴ lux eterna


✴ to a finale. Mantra would bake pistachio baklava when his flight was delayed, and we’d continue to send life updates to the groupchat. I’d watch the sunrise again — at the lake instead, with the friend group that made my senior year one of the best times of my life. That morning at the silos, though, January was opaque. Fog smothered the sunrise, and all I could see was white. But behind the winter haze, I knew the sun was rising.

by nights with no plans. Convening in a place of idyllic possibility, no matter how humble that place is, enables us to form relationships, experience teenage rebellion, and share what’s buried in our hearts. In those places, we construct our sense of self and devise plans that follow us for the rest of our lives. The silos were where the starryeyed adolescents of Normal Community High School came to dream. They were our gathering place.

My family and I were moving to Dallas in two weeks, and so I drove to the silos one last time. This time, I was the one leaving, and I had to make my peace with saying goodbye. The last grad party invites had been sent out. Towers of moving boxes suffocated my childhood home. Leaving my grandma, my friends, and my childhood home cleaved my heart in two, but, at the same time, I felt that Dallas was a deliverance from God.

Teenage gathering places are unassuming. They’re the church parking lot across the street from your high school or the top floor of the parking garage downtown, the one with the pretty view of the skyline. For some of you new Texan friends, maybe they’re a Whataburger after a football game. But these gathering places foster our dreams in a manner that transcends the humble location — they’re anything but Normal. They contain the beginnings of our youth, where we cultivate our coming of age and dream of what our lives will become. Under the star-pricked sky of the silos, Vidya kissed a boy for the first time, verging on curfew’s loom. We bid our youth goodbye at our gathering places. For Elizabeth to take pictures for my college decision post, where else would I go than the silos? For my 18th birthday, what more could I want than listening to my favorite album at the silos?

Sitting in one place is comfortable. That is, until you feel yourself going numb. Standing up brings thorny electricity, pins and needles. Leaving the silos brought pins and needles, but I needed to walk to a blank page. One last time, I looked to the orange-tinted fields under the setting sun, knowing that Dallas would have parking lots, late-night diners, and roofs where you could see the stars. But to me, those were no silos. Such places must be tinged with sweet nostalgia and the bitterness that comes with leaving them. The silos of Normal, Illinois contain my high school experience. Who we are is shaped

Gathering places are the sunrise and sunset of our adolescence. And in the meantime, we have no plans. So we stargaze. ■

✴ 116


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Beneath the satiny skies of my youth, I fall asleep to the lullaby of an empty Earth.

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"Something about the clarity following the chaos feels right to me, and it’s as if I’ve been chasing after this moment my entire life, manifesting its arrival."


return, gradually, and I hear the radio first, followed by the hum of my mother’s voice on the I’m stumbling through the rubble of phone, then the industrial drone of Houston a crumbling city, dying flames licking streets. There’s a familiar bitter taste in my at my heels like creatures hungry for mouth. a last chance at life. Before me lies a planet swallowed by great infernos, clawed apart by storm I suddenly remember the exam I have tomorrow, and havoc and mayhem. There’s a sickening air and my mind stings. Everything comes back too of decay all around me, as if the very fabric of bitter, too knife-like. My obligations cut like a the universe is rotting. As I trudge through veils cool blade — the deadlines are daggers, the soof smog and ash, the clouds above me gather to cial commitments are spears — and they anchor quell the last gasps of the modern world. This themselves in the bed of my skin. Instinctively, I Earth, my Earth, is dying, and alongside its grave scratch at my arms, and I am reminded of this feeling throughout my childhood: an overlies everything I’ve ever known in this life. whelming numbness merged with the desire to bury myself into the closet corner and cup my And yet, when I close my eyes, I feel at peace. hands over my ears to block out the noise. In the midst of disorder and destruction, I realize nothing matters anymore. Freed from the vitriol I lean my head against the car window, quietly of humankind, what remains after the storm feels imagining the moon growing big enough to swalpure by nature, resurrected. Something about the low the Earth and myself along with it. clarity following the chaos feels right to me, and it’s as if I’ve been chasing after this moment my These dreams of doomsday are rooted in childentire life, manifesting its arrival. Through obliv- like fantasy. But as macabre as it sounds, even as ion, I’ve found my answer to everlasting sanctu- an adult, I still long for the clarity that follows a ary. I feel safe on this broken Earth without judg- disaster. I long for renewal, for rebirth, for recklessness to give way to eventual peace. As somement, chores, or expectations. I feel reborn. one who feels tormented by this life, I ache for a chance at restoration, even if it treads hot on Then I wake up. the heels of tragedy. My worries have always felt I’m 15, and my mom is driving me home from permanent like tattoos on my skin; the thoughts school. My head rattles against the carseat. My are sewn into the fabric of my persona, melting eyes adjust to sharp ruby headlights. The sounds and distorting with age.


he end of the world is now.


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"My regrets have teeth, and they bite back in the interlude of the night."



No one truly prepares you for the fact that your As I look towards the end of the world, I catch fears only compound as you get older. And rue- myself living life like I’m following the dial of a fully, my fears consume me more than most. time bomb. I’ve been crawling through each day as if I’m waiting for just one second, any singuIn every cornerstone of my existence, I’ve feared lar second of erasure, to kill my fears and birth being worthy of this life. I’ve second-guessed my me whole again. I’ve become passive, vulnerway through every step, donning myriad per- able, grasping onto the belief that this will all be sonas in order to fit my own definition of self- over soon. worth. My purpose staggered between manufactured performances of daughter, student, and But now, as I approach the end of my colcompanion, and with every commitment, I only lege years, I’m finally at a place where I can redove deeper into the abyss of my baneful expec- flect with a clear conscience. I’ve come to realtations. I became poisoned by my own thoughts, ize the truth: this world doesn’t stop spinning agonizing over strained conversations, broken when I close my eyes. This world never cared routines, and rotten friendships. about how badly I desired liberation from my thoughts or how much I dreamt of escape; I often feel predated by my loose strings, re- that’s a notion light years beyond my reach. My lapsed habits, and impulsive choices. At 20 years life-shattering anxieties are merely dust in the old, they’re vicious. They hunt me down in the sprawling expanse of planet Earth. I’ve spent silence of my walks to class and the vacant hall- so much of my life sacrificing tears to a selfish ways of my apartment. They find opportunity planet made of paper-mache, dreaming of the rein the slivers of my evening hours, waging self- set that would never come. And now, it’s finally criticisms like wars. time for me to uncup my hands from my ears and open my eyes. Intoxicated by my pursuit of excellence, I could never fully slaughter my social missteps, aca- This is my reality: I am alone with my stress. We demic burnout, and a persistent eating disorder. all suffer from this curse of humanity: the fatal In return, they thrive on my bleeding conscience. flaw of being mere puppets to our emotions. We My regrets have teeth, and they bite back in the are human; we are soft and breakable in sleeves interlude of the night. I am a feeding ground for of skin and bone. We share tears in the sanctuthe cannibal of my thoughts, picking and chew- ary of our beds, collectively nursing our open ing away at the porcelain girl suffering from wounds before the daybreak. We are painfully, her own actions. They’ve come for blood. They audaciously human in the rawest, most biologialways do. cal sense of the word. lux eterna




" I am so infinitely small in this universe." There is something unspeakably beautiful about our mortal ability to worry, about the solidarity of the mind, how thoughts are uniquely poignant in every individual, how something so intangible as an idea can manifest itself into creation. My fears are proof of being alive and dealing with all the chaos and instability that comes with it. How I deal with the chaos, however, is something I must choose for myself. My worthiness is not embedded in my pitfalls; it’s anchored in how I decide to define my life. Now that I’m older, I find solace in the blur of the night, the fogginess of the atmosphere cradling my thoughts amidst the chaos. My head feels leaden, but the moonlight offers me a celestial comfort found nowhere else. I am so infinitely small in this universe. My frenzied thoughts drone on inside my mind, and I listen, and I listen, until they soften into song, like a lullaby, and I drift away into dreamless slumber. ■

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God made light and we made shadow that first moment we turned our heads away.


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It mattered not that it was a push. Spite is light that got its teeth knocked out. Still bright and holy, iron in mouth. Wrath is a Godly trait, don’t you know? I am getting angrier at each seed you’ve sown. I am in awe of beings that have both spine and sword. If the meek want the Earth, let them have it. Lord knows it would neither be a fair fight nor a fun one. As for me, I am less lamb and more bug. Wide-eyed, eager to sting, ready to run. When you cast me aside, I thought of Icarus, falling from the sun. If that star exploded, it would take eight seconds to reach us. Even something eternal is not something instant. Who knows how much ache can occur with just eight seconds? All this



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to say, I’m coming back to (for) you. People think forgiveness and mercy flow from the same vein. God may absolve you, but that’s God’s domain. I learned how to navigate your depraved, constant night. Imagine what I can do in all this dazzling light. Revenge and righteousness, only distinguishable by how hard one bites. What is faith anyway, but two hands in the peril of paradox pulling out praise and wine?

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The way of life is wonderful; it is by abandonment.


came into adolescence with restless feet.

my cousin at the moment, but I stopped to listen when I heard my name.

It was this perpetual inability to stand fully still, exacerbated by anxiety and bouts of troubled thoughts. I’d point my toes and sweep my feet through rond de jambes and dégagés with my hands clasped behind my back, eyes distant and fixed on something a thousand miles away. Constantly shifting, trying to stifle the pervasive need to be elsewhere.

If I had to capture the feeling more acutely, I’d describe it as a restlessness arising from disaffection — a sort of wretched estrangement I felt towards the life around me. Though it only manifested externally as I came of age, it was a coldness that defined my childhood years. I grew up with the guilt of knowing that my family loved me in a way that I couldn’t seem to reciprocate correctly: stiff hugs, mumbles of of course I love you, the long silences that would follow. How do you tell your family, the people you love, that you feel like a stranger in your own home? That your restlessness comes from a place of shame and regret, that you feel no choice but to turn and run away? Once, when I was 10, my uncle got drunk at a family reunion and started talking, candidly. I was running about in the adjacent room with

Claire is a strange child. I didn’t see her cry at all during her mother’s funeral. She doesn’t have affection for anyone — for any of us. I could feel my cousin staring at me, eyes widening as she realized we’d overheard something we shouldn’t have. But in that moment, all I could do was stare numbly at the wall and think, They know. To say that I do not love my family would be wrong. It wasn’t so much a lack of love for my family as it was an inexplicable disconnect from them. We can play armchair-psychologist and diagnose it as a case of unresolved childhood angst — that my mother’s death so early in my life made me afraid of investing my heart in other people, woefully traumatized as I was by the painfully transient nature of our existence. Regardless, a quiet part of me has always been privately relieved to have a backstory, to have a sympathizable justification. But an even quieter part of me doubts its veracity. I wasn’t truly certain whether my disaffection was a by product of my childhood, or if it was an innate predilection.

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“ “

I’d lived with it for so long that I no longer knew where the coldness ended and I began.

the pillows on the bed were stacked on top of the folded blanket.

Nonetheless, I was always sorry for it — sorry that something inside me was laid crooked, sorry that I could not be a better daughter, sorry that I could not hide it any better.

It was dusk by the time I got back, and there wasn’t enough light to spill over the entire space. I sat on my bed in the dimly-lit room and stared at the pale carpet and the pale walls, trying to reconcile the idea that this tidy, untouched place was the same as the one I spent nearly half of my life growing up in. The cloudy mirror on the other side of the room showed me my reflection; a wan face wreathed by dark hair, faint and ghostly like a spectre.

College eventually came, and I left home, bound for a city 200 miles away; it wasn’t as far as I really desired, but it was far enough. I’m not quite sure how to capture it, the relief of finally leaving everything behind. It felt like breaking the surface of the pool after having held my breath the entire swim across. The arch of my throat as my head breaches the surface, water sloshing and slewing off me as I gasp. It felt like a first breath; it felt like clarity. I didn’t realize the immensity of it until the time arrived to return home again. Months had passed since I’d left. The first thing that struck me was how clean I’d left my room. The side table and dresser were cleared of all the sketchbooks, pens, loose-leaf papers, and random sheets of music that were once scattered over them. Books, glass bottles, and photo frames were lined neatly on their shelves, and


At one point in my life, I had wanted to paint these walls mint green, coral, and black — all three colors, together. My younger self had questionable taste for sure, but at that moment, I would have preferred coming back to a mess of color — something that affirmed, There was a girl who lived here in these walls and made this space her own. There were no signs of a lived life in these pale, impassive walls — no sign that I had really existed at all. The room stared back at me, barren and unfamiliar. It occurred to me then how home felt like a stranger. The tidiness suddenly became suffocating; it was the sort of tidiness that meant whoever


"The selfish promise of casting aside this life and starting anew beckoned like a sirens call — a longing that burned so bright and raw that it made my heart hurt." lux eterna


cleaned this place had shut the door behind them without intending to return. Had I? I suppose I already knew the answer. I didn’t realize how desperately I’d wanted to leave until that moment, sitting on the bed of a blank room and staring at the dirty mirror across from me — how deep that yearning ran. The first week that I was back passed fine, but by the end of the second, I had overstayed my welcome. What was supposed to be a brief, last two weeks of break stretched on endlessly in delirium. Waking up in the afternoon, heavy-headed, dry-mouthed. Shuffling downstairs for meals and other inane things, not spending nearly as much time as I should with my parents. Feeling restless and hopelessly out of place. A complete regression to the avoidant patterns of my past self, but worse; I had known the surface for so long that I no longer knew how to hold my breath back under it. When it was finally over, as I lay hunched against the window of my friend’s car on the drive back to Austin, I knew that this wasn’t just a matter of leaving, but of surviving.

If home hadn’t felt like home for a long time now, would it even be running away? Throughout adolescence, the clearest fantasy I always had was the one in which I abandoned everything and disappeared to somewhere as far away as possible. The selfish promise of casting aside this life and starting anew beckoned like a siren’s call — a longing that burned so bright and raw that it made my heart hurt. What is home, after all, if not the first place we learn to run away from? To start life anew in a place where nobody knew who I was, to chase the tiny nameless towns that would fly past outside the window during road trips that my mind’s eye could never let go. To go anywhere, so long as it allowed me to escape the slow poisoning that would creep through my veins whenever I lingered for too long. The novelty of Austin’s lush hills and gentrified streets has yet to wear off, so I enjoy the brief respite it gives while I can. I have no illusions that this peace will last. Maybe I am happiest not belonging to anyone or anything. With my penchants for distance and estrangement, maybe the only way I know how to love is from afar.

"What is home, after all, if not the first place we learn to run away from?" 144


I don’t know what it says about me, to be capable of throwing everything away so readily. I don’t know how to solve the paradox that is my heart, to be capable of loving, but not of staying. Sometimes, I wonder whether this endless lusting will be my destruction. The sirens promise catharsis, that there is absolution to be found in abandonment, but at what cost? Perhaps it’d be like the poetic justice of the Greek tragedies, to risk and to lose it all in a rush of egoism, to be left with nothing in the end but a tiny, desolate raft, drifting forever out in a dark sea. And yet. For all the guilt, all the doubt, none of it is enough to overcome the yearning. An unquenchable desire that has been one of the only permanent fixtures in my life, through all these years. I suppose it just isn’t in the nature of fire to be contained. Sometimes I wonder where this open flame in my head comes from — did I get it from you, Mom? Or is it from Dad? One day, I want to step on a train without having to think of going back, and find peace in knowing I can simply disappear, with no obligations to anyone or anything. How utterly selfish that would be of me — how utterly at peace. ■

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layout CALEB ZHANG photographer ALYSSA OLVERA stylists ELLA CLARET & Y2K hmua YEONSOO JUNG videographer MOISES ZANABRIA















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e’re shooting late pop star. So, what happens if I named myself afternoon at Neon that? What happens if I celebrate all these Grotto — the hottest things that were forbidden? gay club in downtown Austin. p1nk- It has shifted over the years, especially bestar sashayed into the scene with her part- ing in Austin and being way more removed ner, Y2K, and behind them trailed bags of from audiences in Mexico, but the idea is makeup, bondage tape, and swoon-worthy still there. “p1nkstar” is all about futurity and boots that lace up to your knees. what could be. With Number 1 Hits! I was collaborating with three different producColloquially crowned “Austin’s queer pop ers. In conversation, we were inspired by the princess,” p1nkstar emerged in 2016 from new boom of hyperpop. I’ve always wanted a performance art project inspired by Web to sound robotic, and hyperpop allows queer 1.0 (Think: glitter GIFs and MySpace chat artists to push the boundaries of pop music, rooms). Since then, she has released EP Num- taking the frame of making really accelerber 1 Hits!, opened for Charli XCX, and forged ated hardcore, pop music that’s on drugs in groundbreaking worlds for trans and queer my bedroom at 4 a.m., and it’s going be the artists and listeners. She also just won Best best song ever. I’m trying to push that furElectronic Artist at this year’s Austin Music ther and see what p1nkstar is as a sound muAwards (Here’s the big mic drop moment of sic project. her speech: “In the midst of everything happening, [referring to the 240+ anti-LGBTQ+ > WITH THAT, I’M SURE YOU’VE bills filed in 2022 by Texas lawmakers, the ENCOUNTERED A LOT OF NEGATIVITY. majority of which target trans people], this one is for the dolls, and Greg Abbott can suck How do you deal with those who don’t get it? I don’t care. The first gig I did as p1nkstar on my big, fat juicy tits”). went viral in my hometown, and people did I admit, it was a little strange to be at the club not understand that and did not like it. I sober, hours before the neon lights come on thought that was perfect, because it’s shiftand the gloves come off for Wednesday’s ing something in them. The negativity is karaoke night. But in this liminal space, we always going to be there. If you don’t undercontinued to celebrate electronic pop, queer stand what I’m doing, then it’s not for you. communities in Texas, and flawless hot-girl There are plenty of people who do. And it’s for them. energy. It’s interesting, too, because in Austin, I’ve been performing live music for six years. And it wasn’t until last year that people started thinking of me as a musician. Before, people > THERE’S SOMETHING EERIE AND FUTURISTIC ABOUT YOUR MUSIC. in the music world were like, “Oh, yeah, you HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT CRAFTING do drag,” or “You’re a performer.” But I’m an YOUR SOUND? artist. Why are you not including me in these conversations? You have to acknowledge The origin of “p1nkstar” came from process- that the people that are making work like I ing a lot of my experiences growing up queer do and music like I do [are also artists.] It’s in a pretty conservative environment. In not always about having a four-person band Mexico, there was never going to be a queer with guitars and white boys in T-shirts. I chatted with p1nky about the jitters and dreams of stardom.

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Now, I’m experiencing the cis world. At first, I was like, “Hold on, what’s happening? Why are all these random boys talking to me?” One of the first times I went out, there were three straight boys hitting on me at the same time. I was just shocked.

I never thought I was going to get nomi- > DO YOU THINK YOU’RE LOSING nated. No other trans person had won SOME OF THAT FLUIDITY BY BEING before, so it felt bigger than me. Now, I’m MORE CONFORMING, IN A SENSE? more empowered to say, “Actually, this is my fee. And if you can’t afford it, I’m sorry.” My gender is hot girl. [laughs] That’s what I’m giving and that’s what I’m serving. The > WAY BACK IN 2018, YOU AND people are eating it up and it works. I’ve YOUR PARTNER, Y2K, WERE THE conquered masculinity. I’ve conquered COVER FOR A PRIDE ISSUE OF THE gender fluidity. I’m conquering femininity. AUSTIN CHRONICLE. DO YOU EVER I don’t know what’s going to happen next, MISS WHO YOU WERE BACK THEN? but I feel very at home with where I’m at. That was our first article ever. We were these emerging producers in nightlife, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop feeling genderpeople were paying attention to what we queer or gender fluid. On the outside, it is were doing because it was a new wave. Sud- something I miss to a degree. It was nice to denly, we’re on the cover of The Austin be in between, riding the line, but it was also Chronicle, and we’re like, “OK, we’re going kind of stressful because people didn’t know what to do with me. Inside, I still think gento take over!” der is so dumb. Gender is not real. Gender is I don’t miss who I was. Back then, every- a performance. thing was just chaotic. We were just churn> WITH ALL THIS CHANGE, HOW DO ing and churning and churning, working reYOU KEEP YOURSELF GROUNDED? ally hard. I can direct myself way better now. I love being 27, and I’ve grown so, so much It’s definitely super helpful to have my partas a person. I started hormones soon after ner, because I know I can always count on that cover. We’ve evolved. We’re the next them. We’re extremely close. We’ve seen level of what that was. each other at our best and at our worst. We became artists together, and we have grown > HOW WAS YOUR TRANSITIONING with each other. You know, like when trees PROCESS? grow together? I would recommend anyone to become a hot girl. Best experience of my life. I’m very fortunate here in Austin to have access to hormones and support from my community because I know a lot of people don’t.


Beyond that, I don’t have a specific ritual for grounding, but I do enjoy getting ready for the day. If I look good, I feel good.


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People think it’s vanity to want to look good all the time. But it works. It helps me alleviate dysphoria, and it’s like that for a lot of trans people because we weren’t allowed to express who we were. It’s reassuring to be able to do things that were forbidden and realizing that there’s nothing wrong with them. Especially in queer nightlife, which provides a safer space to experiment and not face real life repercussions from it. People at the club will celebrate and will cheer on something that they wouldn’t cheer on in the daylight. If I was wearing a mesh shirt, mesh dress, with tape on my boobs and walking to 7/11, that’d be a very different experience. Not that nightlife is only what being queer is. I think it’s expanded beyond that, and it will continue to. > IS THERE ANYTHING THAT YOU WOULD WANT TO CHANGE IN TERMS OF THE QUEER COMMUNITY IN TEXAS?

Additional support for trans women. It can be in little ways, too. Like, when someone doesn’t charge trans people at the door, they’re saying that this is a safe space for trans people.


Yeah, I’m the first trans person to win an Austin Music Award in 2022. In 2022! That’s baffling. I appreciate it. I’m happy. And thank you. But this should have happened 30 years ago. > LOOKING TO THE FUTURE, WHAT ’S NEXT FOR P1NKSTAR?

World tours. [laughs] I feel grounded enough right now to find a way to have a sustainable art career. I’m also getting the surgeries I wanted, which was a big barrier for me before. Last year, I partied a lot to celebrate the end of quarantine. But this is the year we’re going to work. We’re going to put things out into the world. > LAST QUESTION. A LOT OF OUR READERS ARE ALSO CHARLI XCX FANS, AND I KNOW YOU OPENED FOR HER BACK IN 2019. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF HER NEW ALBUM, CRASH?

I think Charli’s genius. Here’s my p1nkstar stamp of approval.

In queer nightlife, I still think there are Oh, what I wouldn’t give for one. too many white people on every lineup, and I’m so tired of people not thinking p1nky has conquered PRIDE. The Auscritically about their booking. Like, y’all, tin Music Awards. Femininity. And reif you don’t stop booking that same cently, the Capitol, for a Transgender three fucking DJs for every party and Day of Visibility rally. start looking people outside of your little friend group that is all full of white We’re all holding our breaths for what’s people, it’s not going to be cute. next — a world tour, we hope. ■



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The light engulfed New Mexico in fire, and my heart burned with it. 156



’ve always had a soft spot for the dead or forgotten.

Maybe that’s why I found myself drawn to my trip to New Mexico. At the lively age of 21, I felt deader and more forgotten than I had ever before.

When my family and I crossed the border from Texas to New Mexico, we journeyed into lands even more barren and desolate than the ones we had just left. The overpowering stench of cow manure that had infiltrated our car vents disappeared, and for a while, all was devoid of life. There was just the endless sky, the rocks, the occasional tumbleweed, the grumbling hum of the car as we plowed through dirt roads. A few miles past the border, there was a great cloud of smoke in the distance, its source too far away to be clear. Our roads grew closer until they were running parallel to one another, and I looked once again to see a freight train engulfed in the largest fire I had ever seen. The flames towered over us, outstretched above like claws grasping for the heavens. From mere feet away, it was impossible to see how high the smoke went up. The train kept running, and I wondered if the conductor knew his train was on fire. Nevertheless, I watched passively, as I tended to do with most things in life. We drove until we reached Santa Fe, where a great stag lay dead on the median strip a mere couple feet to our right, its massive horns tangled in the wildflowers. It was kind of beautiful in a twisted way — it was the deadest thing within sight, and yet, in a sea of steel and asphalt, the most alive, too. Death shows itself in a certain stillness. Lungs that no longer inhale or exhale, a heart that no longer beats. Within me, it was an inability to move on, stuck in one place while the rest of the world marched bravely ahead, my outstretched hand forgotten behind them. Things with no tangible bodies can also die — memories, love, a young girl’s dreams. lux eterna


“That’s why things with no tangible bodies can also die – memories, love, a young girl’s dreams.” I felt as if I were stagnant, like a puddle of water that had been festering in a deep hole. I had a vision of who I wanted to be and how I wanted to live my life, but no means of getting there. I hesitated at any crossroads, unable to make a choice in fear that it would be the wrong one. My footsteps were unsure, constantly teetering on the verge of failure, and my proud arms desperately held onto childhood dreams long shattered, refusing to accept and move on.

a blushing bride trying on wedding dresses — which lifestyle would fit me best? Which one would give me the life I envisioned? Perhaps it was a survival instinct. The human urge to travel is as old as humanity itself, after all — to displace yourself time and time again when the life you live has lost all meaning and purpose, to explore the unknown like a quest to find and reclaim what you’ve lost.

Every corner of Santa Fe bursted with life and The late Georgia O’Keeffe and her paintings color. Adobes of every shade of red and brown were a perpetual presence in Santa Fe. Her odd lined the main streets and stood tall within depictions of animal bones — most frequently, mountain peaks. Specks of blue, from the tur- cow skulls — were framed and hung in Mexican quoise jewelry sold on the streets to the vast ce- restaurants, French-dining cafes, Indigenous rulean sky, lingered in the corner of my vision. jewelry and hand-woven blanket shops, right Blade signs of green, gold, crimson, and violet above the beds of all our Airbnb rooms. Wherswayed with the breeze, gently luring tourists to ever I went, the carcasses seemed to follow me enter the stores. around, as if the cow skulls in the paintings still had eyes. Amidst the color, I walked around dressed headto-toe in black. Though my eyes remained de- Maybe it was because I had coined Santa Fe the void of any spirit, I continued to scour every City of Life, but eventually, even the dead things inch of Santa Fe because I liked the feeling of didn’t seem so dead anymore. If skulls and trying on different cities and their lifestyles like bones were being rebirthed into jewelry and art,



“The burning colors of New Mexico bled into me, searing inspiration and hope into my soul.” were they still stagnant? Does anything ever stay unchanging? In this city that brimmed with life, it was hard to truly believe that anything could stay dead for eternity–including me. On the last evening of the trip, I sat on the front porch to watch the sunset. Our Airbnb was at the tip of the tallest mountain around, like we were on Mount Olympus. In the distance, the outline of mountains blended into the sunset and it was impossible to tell whether they were mountains or ocean tides. Everything sprawled out before me, and just for that one evening, I was all-seeing.

beautiful comes to you at the right time. Art, a line of poetry, a perfect sunset… Things and moments that wouldn’t have meant much at any other given point in time aside from their beauty, but touch your life because they show themselves to you when you need them the most. Are they miracles? Merely a coincidence? I don’t know, but my perfect moment, which came to me when I was lonely and lost, seemed like a gift from the heavens above.

As I stood there, on what seemed to be the top of the world, where the air was so crisp and fresh that it felt like I was the first person in all The sun set like it was the last time it ever would, of history to have breathed it, where I watched bleeding all across the sky and drenching all the the evening sun set the sky ablaze, so impossibly land that it saw as it went down in pink and or- vivid and radiant that no painting or even words ange and red, as if the sun had breathed life into could ever capture its likeness… everything. Everything came alive with its touch, overflowing with a glow from within. I could see The burning colors of New Mexico bled into me, how people used to think the sun was a god. searing inspiration and hope into my soul. Maybe it breathed some life into me, too. There are moments in life when something

And there it was once again: a steady thrumming in my heart, a whispering in my ear, urging me on. ■

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he summer of 2018, my She was right. We could feel it from mother and I drove to inside the car, which seemed to shake Garden City, Kansas. The like the leaves reeling outside. I wasn’t whole way there, a tornado brewed afraid, though. If the tornado caught from the distance, as dangerous as the up to us, we could see it up close, and wide expanse of emptiness we’d wan- how many people have done that? dered into. I could count the objects Lucky, lucky me. we passed: one lone tree, a house on the horizon, zero cows. Truthfully, I didn’t think anything bad could ever happen as long as I “Are you scared?” I remember ask- stuck close to my parents. In the fering my mother in between the bursts vor of late June, known to me as the of photos I took of the falling sky. I peak of summer tournaments, there wanted to capture it — this beauty of was something endearing about my being somewhere inescapable, flashes mother and I, side by side in a Volvo of lightning all around us. It’s for later, for 10 hours, my golf bag and a shared I told myself, but I posted it on my In- suitcase in the trunk, her wide eyes on stagram story (“Bye Texas”) to match I-83, humming along to the radio staall the other summer pictures on my tion that tuned in and out with the feed, from classmates who made those thunder. annual trips to places like Cancun or Miami. Places they mentioned so ca- She was always the happiest driving me sually in conversations that I always to these tournaments. With my father wondered what it was like to be in mostly absent, the two of us roamed their shoes. the dark winding roads of Louisiana, the narrow precipices of San Jose, and “Not one car nearby,” my mom said, the colonial streets of North Carolina. shaking her head, both hands clench- Dotted across the continental U.S. was ing the wheel. “Look, ah, the wind my graveyard of lost summers, the must be so big out there.” playground of old money and business


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deals. Some of the clubs I played at were so exclusive, you couldn’t buy your way in. Others had fouryear-long waitlists. When we arrived at the Buffalo Dunes Country Club, the sun hung above like a burning bulb, so bright the sky turned milky white. With my clubs unloaded from the trunk, I walked up the hill to join the other kids on the putting green — kids better than me, more eager, from the most distant corners of the U.S. Parents waited in the club, religiously refreshing the live dashboard for hole-byhole updates. A handful of dedicated ones, like my mom, donned their UV-protected sunglasses and visors and followed us to every hole. Tipsy from the torrid Kansas air, I traversed up and down the course slopes and didn’t notice the absurdity of it all. I had a marked-up game plan of the course — to hit my ball there, impress the Kansas college women’s golf coach off the tee, and make that uphill putt. For a week, this would’ve worked. But I missed the cut after the second tournament day and returned to our hotel room, defeated, sunburnt, and angry. I collapsed facedown on fresh linen sheets. Buried under my skin, layers of sunscreen and sweat molded into a familiar sense of stickiness that I could never shake off. I can’t pinpoint the first time I felt this way. Was it when I was 11, and someone next to me in the driving range asked if I were the next Michelle Wie, and I, with my similar China-white skin and little tennis skirt from Ross (the best lululemon knockoff), said, I hope so? I laughed it off, but I thought of it every time I saw her on TV, with her trailblazing drives and multimillion dollar Nike deal, a record-breaking one in women’s golf. Or was it when I was 15, standing on the cliff of Pebble Beach for a professional tournament as my golf ball joined all the other wayward ones lost in the ocean? I still had time, then, I think, to start over, do better on the next hole and make that summer worthwhile. Or did it all start before I could remember, when my father picked up Earl Woods’ Training a Tiger, and set up a makeshift driving range for us in our

Indiana backyard with the little money we’d saved up after paying off his law school debt? My mom wasn’t with me that afternoon in the hotel room (she was cleaning out the car for our drive home to Texas), but I could hear her voice in my head. Aiya, don’t touch the bed with your dirty clothes. Take them off! No matter her dedication, she hated seeing the mud on my golf shoes, the dark tan lines on my skin from baking under the sun, and the faint ones on hers. I was trapped. Between blaming the Midwestern wind,the dunes, God, and my mom, who I still loved dearly, I couldn’t bear to leave without seeing things to the end. If I had to clench my jaw and pull my teeth and cry a little more under glistening country club ceilings, I could almost see myself making a Division I team by the start of fall, when the leaves turned golden and magical and college applications began. On that day, I thought I would feel at peace at last (and maybe finally be able to afford lululemon). Still, it tugged at me, the way I never got to experience summer as I longed to. Idyllic, sunkissed, romanticized. I dreamed of laying in the sun, feeling the warm sand between my toes, the beam on my cheeks, losing all grasp of time and reality. Wasn’t that how childhood was supposed to feel? In those dreams, I’m free from the opulent and successcrazed world my family wormed our way into. Any second now, the fake grass mat in our Indiana backyard all those years ago would be disassembled. I ended up going to a state university, and on the first day of my first free June, I scribbled down a list — places to go, people to meet, books to read, themes to live by. How could I sit still and be, for a few months? That summer, my best friends and I found ourselves on the sands of Laguna Beach, happily eating the newest McDonalds’ BTS meal, far from what we’d put on our itinerary. The sky loomed an ugly gray, and I knew if we drove some six hours north, we would have reached that golf course on Pebble Beach where the sun always shone. But I’m finding shards of my childhood here, disillusioned as more years come in between the beautiful places that I once felt confined to. ■

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The hybridization of nature and technology creates dualities between the organic and inorganic, the human world and natural world, and mortal and eternal spaces.

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“The constant movement of her kinetic couture echoes flux and reflux, the natural rhythm of life, underneath the blazing stars.”


model stood in the center of the runway and looked like she had been cast under a spell, by her haute couture. In this breathtaking moment, she lost the silhouette of a woman and transformed into an ethereal figure of divine feminine power who radiated beauty, grace, and mystique.

Each material of the model’s dress turned effortlessly, it floated and fluttered in a delicate and controlled circular motion. But this wasn’t magic. Her dress was an optical illusion, designed to place the audience into a trance through engineering and craftsmanship — and yes, it worked. Her dress glistened and shimmered, hypnotizing the runway audience. Similar to how humans have lost all their thoughts staring into the element of love: the sea. The designer behind this Hypnotize collection is Iris Van Herpen, who merges art and technology to create kinetic (moving) couture. Now, the art world has always been able to envision the imaginary. Salvador Dalí was able to imagine new realities through surrealist paintings, which presented the world through a distorted lens where clocks could melt or a fish could attack a tiger. The major difference with Van Herpen is that she has been able to distort reality in the physical world. Van Herpen’s designs are essentially wearable artforms that embody her awe of the natural world. Symbiotic relationships and reciprocal cycles are at the core of Van Herpen’s work. The constant movement of her kinetic couture echoes flux and reflux, the natural rhythm of life, underneath the blazing stars.



Her Root of Rebirth collection was an ode to the fabric of life below our feet: fungi. The designs were layered and entangled to represent the fibers of mycelium threads under the soil, which are constantly communicating and exchanging nutrients with each other. Through using lazer cutters and 3D printing, the garments looked like they had come to life and were wrapping around the models. Van Herpen’s designs put a light on the invisible life of fungi and showcase how it acts as a tiny microcosm of the human circulatory system. Over time, mycelium strains wither and fray, just like fabric does. But fungi, even in a state in a state of decomposition, can be reborn, similar to fashion design. Van Herpen also looked up to the sky for inspiration. When Apollo 8 took off into space, for the first time in human history, people were able to see the vast expanding vacuum of space. Astronauts saw the earth as one collective entity, with no borders, just a rock held by the crust, mantle, and core. The Earthrise collection was a beautiful moment, where the women models defied gravity and floated through the sky, creating a new form of freedom and empowerment. The dresses were made from thousands of blue color gradations which would twist and turn, hypnotizing the audience. Now, the relationship between art, nature, and technology hasn’t always been so smooth. The battle between modernization and art is a longstanding battle. Perhaps even a full-blown war. Enter Casper David Fredrick. Frederick was part of the sublime seeking 18th-century Romantic movement of artists who feared that technology


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and industrialization relied too much on thinking and logic, which was the death of an individual’s spirit and soul. In their eyes, the wave of Enlightenment thought was too focused on reason, rather than human emotion. (And ironically, coinciding with this Age of Light was the Age of Violence and Bloodshed from colonialism and war). The Romantics worried that if people only take about gains (of reason), and not what has been lost (one’s soul), how could humans see that they were also nature? Frederick painted a self-portrait, Wonder above the Sea Frog [1871], where a man stands alone on a rocky mountain edge, amongst the ubiquitous fog. He hears birds singing a song in exchange for each other. Then, he witnesses each tone of blue, grey, and white in the vast landscape, and realizes he prefers the in-between shades of colors, to the most poignant colors — subtly is modest and beautiful. He slowly becomes indistinguishable from the cold sky and ragged clouds surrounding him, leaving him with fear. He knows one wrong step could end him, but the world would keep

spinning, and the mountains watching would be indifferent to his death. This moment brought him to a state of tranquil bliss, the kind you get when admiring the delicate leaves and scent of mint, basil, parsley, or lavender. But unlike herbs, this wasn’t beautiful, because beauty is comfort. This was sublime: terror mixed with hints of appreciation, because in this state humans can transcend rationality and experience the wonders of creation. In many ways, the Romantics were right about individuals losing their souls through modernization. Last Christmas, I was standing waiting for my train at London Waterloo station. Fog and mist were dashing and darting across the station and any chuckles of laughter from a distance were soon lost by the looks of anxiety radiating from people standing on the platform edge. They couldn’t hear any people around them, since they were consumed by different forms of technology. Everyone seemed disconnect and numb — but that’s how you survive in a society which feeds on stress.

“He knows one wrong step could end him, but the world would keep spinning, and the mountains watching would be indifferent to his death.”

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On days like this, London feels dark and soulless. Maybe it is the rising train prices, privitization, or just the neverending austerity policies. Maybe it is the constant pressure to be available online to communicate. The city is not a place for the sublime: even when the sun is dazzling in London, the buildings are screaming red from all the blood they took to build. In the city, we have become isolated from each other and I worry about the further isolation that comes with the virtual world. Part of me is terrified of a future, where the virtual world is more valued than our physical world. My mind conjures up ideas of a dystopian place where people have assimilated into robots: artificial intelligence replaces human emotions, algorithms replaces critical thought, and virtual spaces are more appreciated than the natural world.

before, and what will probably continue as technology progresses. Truthfully, what matters to me is connection — connection with other humans and connection with the natural world. Perhaps I resonate with the Romantics because I too idealize the past. I am a dreamer and wish to live in a world where we all can experience the wonders of creation every day. As the city grows, so does the world the Romantics dreamed about, and I have accepted that it is not necessarily a negative. Romanticism should be seen as a way of feeling, rather than a strict philosophy.

When Mary Shelly — Romantic author — wrote Frankenstein [1818], she too was scared about technology detaching individuals from the natural world. (When Victor Frankenstein creates the monster, he stopped appreciating the sublime in nature because he became consumed by technology). So, my moral panic about technology is really no different than what has come

Iris Van Herpen acts as a reminder of how technology merged with art can embody the natural world in a more immersive way than traditional art ever could. She feels naturally, just like the Romantics did. It’s truly beautiful that in a busy modern day landscape, audiences can pause and temporarily forget about their daily lives as they view Iris Van Herpen’s collections. Her shows remind us that we as humans are not separate nature. It’s mesmerizing, it’s humbling, and it’s a reminder of how art connects humans throughout time. ■

“Truthfully, what matters to me is connection — connection with other humans and connection with the natural world.”



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Home is where the heart is. Where do I go now that I don’t recognize mine anymore?





hen I think of home, I think of green.

I think of the dewy grass stuck to my sneakers after my mother and I went on our secret adventures. I think of the soft, mossy field where I watched my brother play football. I think of the slippery algae at the bottom of the creek where I told my first crush that I liked him. I think of green. Of things that are alive, things that are breathing alongside me. Now, the park where my mother and I took our walks is marked off for a shopping center development. The field where my brother played is now a parking lot. The creek where we used to swim backs a sewage plant. Nothing breathes anymore. The grass no longer holds my hand. Instead, it’s used as wallpaper in the new trendy restaurant down the street, and it’s fake. Gentrification is an invasion. It’s disorienting, and it’s unfair. Outsiders looking in decide on a place and change it completely, without the consent of those who actually live there. You begin to feel like a foreigner in your own neighborhood. Here, in Austin, it started small: road construction here and there, a new library on the west side — the “good” side — of I-35. Then, one day, I woke up and it seemed as though I’d been robbed; blindly and unapologetically. The Austin I once knew as a kid isn’t the one I live in now, the city I grew up in is morphing into something I don’t even recognize anymore. It’s almost as if these people who came in from the outside were waiting in the rafters, watching, for the perfect moment to rip out the foundations of my childhood. I began to resent the change. This fundamental opposition to my surroundings filled my heart with such angst — made it heavy and dark. I’m trying to turn that darkness inside out, to erase the pain. But they’re still here, and they’re not going anywhere. The only difference now is that I’m not a child anymore. My adulthood is hurtling towards me, like a greedy Californian, fresh from the coast, looking for an “east-Austin gem” to rip down to the studs. Sometimes I wonder if I should just give in. Let myself be gentrified along with the rest of it. Maybe it would be easier. But, if I did that, there would be no more green. Nothing would breathe as it used to. And what terrifies me most is to think that none of it ever will again. I thought that going to ut would help; that attending college in the epicenter of my youth would ground me, help me to retain a sense of familiarity among the everchanging streets of my youth. Even if it wasn’t the Austin I used to know, I would force myself to be a part of it. Force my presence onto those from the outside. Sure, the city had changed. Sure, they’d robbed me without remorse. But I wasn’t going to leave. I was going to dig my heels in and stand my ground.

lux eterna


I wanted so hard to channel the strength necessary keep up the fight. Instead, I was plagued with insecurity and the notion that no matter where I live, I would be lost. I was caught between the comfort of my childhood and the fear of losing it against my will. I tried to tell myself that I was going to be fine, that it was the same anger I’d felt when it all first started to change, and that it would eventually end. But this time was different than when I was a child. The resentment I felt wasn’t because of what was changing on the outside – the anger was coming from within. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had missed something, like everyone around me has been briefed with this secret knowledge on how to find themselves and I was left to wander all alone. So, for a long time I wandered. I floated around the coffee shops and upscale ‘thrift’ stores that stood over the green I used to know. I accepted invitations to the bland, overpriced brunches and bought my groceries at Whole Foods. I pretended to feel comfortable. But, deep down, I knew that I could only float for so long. Sometime — and sometime soon — I wouldn’t just be pretending to let them win; eventually, they actually would. I became so disappointed in myself, terrified at the thought of giving in to the invasion that I had fought for so long. This fear kept me away from my childhood home, away from my family. I felt that in order to gain the autonomy I craved from college I couldn’t ever leave. But, eventually, I decided that the only cure for my wandering was a freshly cooked meal from my mother. That’s the strange thing about returning to the house that raised you; somehow it always silences the background noise in your life, all the worry, the doubt. Once I made it out of downtown, I remember exiting the highway early and taking the scenic route back to my mother’s house. I rolled my windows down and started to feel like I wasn’t wandering anymore. I knew exactly where I was, and I knew exactly where I was going. It was the first time I had felt that way since before I left for college.

“I was caught between the comfort of my childhood and the fear of losing it against my will.”



“I don’t think I’ve ever really stopped grieving the home I once had, but I’ve had to learn how to be happy without it.”

Once I arrived, I hugged my mother hello and snuck a tortilla from the hot stove before making my way to the backyard. Back there, I sat alone for a long time. I greeted the potted plants that stood along the edge of the house, let their soil get under my fingernails. I don’t even exactly remember when the tears started to flow — I just remember tasting the liquid salt on my tortilla. My mother came out to sit with me after a while, and we were silent. She knew. I didn’t have to say anything, and she still knew. That night, I was welcomed back to the green I had forgotten — what little was still left. I It was that night that I realized I wasn’t looking for grass. I was searching for my home. I had been torn between two guttural sensations that night: grieving the green I had known as a child and wanting to grow more. I was once physically sick at the thought of accepting the fact that the green didn’t exist anymore, that my home was gone and my childhood over. Because once it’s gone, it’s gone. Because once all the grass is dried up and the high-rises are mounted, I truly won’t have a home. Because once the things that raised me stop breathing, I will, too. I don’t think I’ve ever really stopped grieving the home I once had, but I’ve had to learn how to be happy without it. I’ve come to understand that home isn’t a place, but rather, the comfort I grant myself amid the confusion. The security I must now generate from within as I figure out a new way to grow the green. I’m my own home, my own familiarity, If for no other reason than that I have no other option. There’s still green all around me. It just looks different now. It won’t ever truly be paved over, because now it grows on the inside. ■

lux eterna





lux eterna




lux eterna




lux eterna




lux eterna




lux eterna





It’s the ultimate liberation— the release,

in Hinduism, following the seemingly unending

cycle of rebirth

propelled by karma. The end of all the endings.

lux eterna



y father always told me I’d grow to be religious. I am young yet; still some years away from the age he’d imagined when he told me I’d someday outgrow my cynicism, as he once had, this ponytailed playwright turned father of two. It was hard to believe my father, who insisted we sit down for a proper prayer before each of our travels and inhaled literature on meditation and well-being of the self, could ever have thought himself an atheist. Yet, he insisted it was true.

By the age of 10, I’d established myself a nonbeliever (if one can even make such a proclamation before entering the sixth grade). I was a preternaturally moody kid, having announced myself entirely uninterested in matters of the divine to my family and those surrounding. Religion had never held much appeal to me: the grand mythologies foundational to Hinduism struck me as far more fairytale-like than something I could imagine basing my own morals upon. My indifference was never met with anger, or even disappointment. My father would only smile, eyes echoing what I’d already heard him say: with time, this would change. My mother would simply continue to pull me into her closet and begin her prayers, kneeling with her eyes closed, rhythmically producing the Sanskrit syllables I’d heard since birth. In those moments, I knelt, too, though to what end I was unsure. *** The sun rises, as it eternally must, above the

“A Hindu’s ultimate goal, then, is to achieve moksha.” holy shores of the ancient Ganges river. The morning light has just begun to fade in, seeping from the shadows with its murky luminescence, but the day’s routines are well underfoot in Varanasi, flutists chirping and prayer bells echoing as hundreds of pilgrims wade into the shallow water, the holy water, meant to absolve them of all impurity. The scene is certainly a timeless one — in the feeble light of dawn, the swaths of fabric trail behind the shivering bodies of women and men bathing in the river. The Ganges, polluted as it is now, still holds this power: bathing in its water cleanses one’s soul, freeing it from the burdening impurities that prevent it from moving to the next stage of samsara, or reincarnation. The summer before sixth grade, my family paid a visit to India’s holy capital. We spent our first day in the city trekking all through its expansive streets, stopping at rickety carts to watch

chaiwallahs pour hot, milky tea into paper cups for our already swelteringly hot hands to grasp. Wandering through market after market, we finally ended up at the weavery my father had been promised would be well worth our visit. A silk display room is exactly how you’d imagine it: sheets of feather-light fabric hang from each wall, overflow from each basket, a myriad of colors and intricate patterns, each hand-stitched to near perfection. I walked out of the store holding a single scarf, the deepest shade of black I’d ever seen a fabric be. It was embroidered with the same deep black thread, forming an intricate pattern that only truly showed when it caught the light in just the right way. It really is quite strange that I chose that scarf.

To remind you, I was ten years old. I’m pretty sure my outfit that day was some variation on plaid pink cargo shorts and a glittery graphic t-shirt from Justice. The idea of a “timeless piece” was far from my lexicon, and yet, I settled on black. It just felt right. That same evening, we took a small rowboat out onto the Ganges as sunset approached: me, my family, and our guide, who’d spent the day regaling us with the history of each corner of the city we traversed. The sunset was beautiful: wide, open skies cascading into deep shades of orange and pink above the distant horizon. What we’d come to see, however, was the ritual performed at sunset, a ritual featuring blazing funeral pyres and

prayer songs to honor the dead— the very dead whose ashes layered the river’s bottom, spread here to absorb the same forgiveness the river offered to the living. As the sun sank deeper towards the horizon and the ceremony began, our guide began to tell the story, the same story I’d heard repeated to me countless times since birth. Reincarnation, karma— it was a familiar pattern. And maybe it was the jetlag, or the pleasant haze of the smoke floating out over the water, or just the fact that preadolescent me needed something to cling to more than she realized, but this time I listened, really, really listened. It was here that I learned the idea of moksha. Hindus believe that when you die, your soul is reborn as a different corporeal form. This means the souls that we carry within ourselves are not unique to our human bodies. The physical form one is born into is dependent upon one’s previous life: our actions incur karma, which stays with our soul. A life of good karma means you move up along said hierarchy, while bad karma dooms one to repeat a miserable little life as a cockroach or rat or whatever other misfortunate creature the universe deems fit. A Hindu’s ultimate goal, then, is to achieve moksha— the release which follows the seemingly endless cycle of rebirth propelled by karma. Moksha cannot exist without karma, for good karma is what pushes one up the hierarchy of living beings until every possible life has been lived, every duty is fulfilled, and one’s time as a living, breathing being on this Earth is finally done. I listened to all our guide had to say intently, trying to call to mind some far-off memory from a life past lived. Eventually, his voice faded out, allowing us a beat of silence to absorb the weight of his words and the chants echoing around us. I tipped my head back, eyes swimming in the nighttime blacks of the water and buildings and expansive sky, each piece melting into one another to frame the ever-shifting light of the funeral pyres aflame. It seemed then as though the entirety of the world existed in the space just beyond my fingertips, shadows whispering by, telling tales of centuries past. There was such a timelessness to it all, I remember thinking: I am one of many, out on the water, as many have been before me, as many will be after me, the whole of us existing beyond any scope of time I can even begin to imagine. Those centuries-old waves lapped rhythmically against the edge of the boat as I unfocused my gaze, eyes roaming across the hazy, dark heavens, prayer chants ringing in my ears from the distant shores. When the boat returned to shore and my family stepped out, one by one, legs shaking with the unfamiliarity of solid ground beneath us, it took me a moment to orient myself. The steadiness felt foreign; I’d grown accustomed to the rhythmic back-and-forth of that tiny boat out on the water.

“Every light must someday be extinguished, every story finds its resolution” *** Nothing supremely life-changing happened to me on that trip. It certainly wasn’t the catalyst that turned me religious. I returned home, still an atheist, still a ten-yearold, still prone to my moods and my angst. The black silk scarf I’d purchased in Varanasi sat idle for a long time. Now, ten years and some change later, that scarf rests on a shelf in the closet of my bedroom. I wear it every now and then, draped across my arms at parties, tied in my hair on a night out. It might be the oldest thing I have in that closet, a strange truth since I rarely break it out for use. I like to know that it’s there, unassuming enough to resurface in my vision and my life from time to time, a reminder of the city I felt at once so large and so small in. I still can’t say I believe I’ll become religious one day. And I still have a tendency to slip into moods from time to time, stretches of despair that blur at the edges. But when I blow out a candle, extinguishing its tiny, controlled flame, and watch the smoke curl upwards and disappear into the light; when I hear my mother in the closet, kneeling before her makeshift puja, praying softly for our safety and prosperity; when I catch a glimpse of that delicate black scarf in the far corner of my closet; I feel the part of me that is still on that tiny rowboat, swaying softly in the water. The part of me that knows: everything, good or bad, has an end. Every light must someday be extinguished, every story finds its resolution. I think of it now, the way silence must sound when you truly hear it for the first time. The absence of sound. Peace beyond imagination. This is how I imagine the nothingness, the space beyond life— a weary head, laid to rest. An eternity left behind. ■

lux eterna










L O N E L Y ?



The tale of a girl turned writer, a woman on fire, a woman in love, and a writer undone.

P R E F A C E .


hree quarters of the profound things in this world were written by someone lonely. I made that up, but it feels true. “Do you like to write in the day or night?” “Night” is the resounding response.

Readers, I’ll admit — this took a while to finish. Maybe because it’s been almost a year to the day that I have tackled a page this blank, or maybe just because I’m in a pretty damn good place. Is it true then? The Bell Jar, a critically acclaimed roman à clef by a woman whose final poems “play Russian roulette with six cartridges in the cylinder,” was published one month before those cartridges finally found their mark. folklore, the 11th gramophone on a gilded shelf, was born out of isolation in the wake of our first-ever pandemic. Oh, woe. I am in no “inferno” comparable to Sylvia Plath’s nor can I pretend to draw level with Taylor Swift, but let me tie a string between us, single-knot the metaphor onto our will to create, to dream of stories and paint them in words. Can you be profound if not _______? (lonely) (miserable) (lost) (disturbed) There is the big question. Here is another: How many chapters until I realize I’ve asked the wrong one? Let’s find out.

lux eterna



1 .


2 .



I discovered writing as one might discover a long-lost friend or a missing sock.

I wrote for fun. I wrote for myself. I wrote for others. I wrote for a spell.

The first serious poem I ever wrote was “Ode to Books,” a fitting 9-year-old debut in which I likened novel spines to mountain ridges and began the emotional descent from reader to writer. Words emerged from those ridges, fell thick and heavy like blizzards. Arms of stanza whipped around my neck, and we whirled through adolescent seasons.

Instructions to Write a Good Thing: Hole up in your room, cheeks burnt by midnight lamp-light, eyes flashing with fatigue. Do not speak to anyone (mom, sister, flight attendant), and stare out the plane window as if filming an indie denouement, light-catching, violin-swelling — lest the magic be broken. To expel the fever of words, you must first grow cold.

Writing filled me with a new light. Fizzles and pink winds and golden stars taped on ceilings. I liked how diction might bend or stand slim as a breeze, feel honey-full on the tongue or slip like milk through the teeth. I liked how shifting a clause could completely change the song of a sentence, and I loved when a thought fell so perfectly it landed like a shiver. I sought out writing camps, treated seventh grade workshops with the solemnest sincerity; I scribbled and dabbled and was absolutely exhilarated, as if the world were my own secret. My notes began to fill, quickly, like thunder water before levees give way. “my own pursuit of happiness” she once wrote a love letter to dusk and angels, her hair moved like rain, and when she danced, she lived. she was a child of the moon and the stars and everything in between, and she had found herself. (august 2016) Did she? Or did she find a temporary tonic disguised as a sonnet?

I adored it. Revered the way the day darkened as I contemplated things: Can we go someplace time has forgotten? What do you wear to the end of the world? Do authors know what their heroes will do, or does it surprise them too? Writing as a muscle, Writing as a balm, Writing as a place I must sink to, somewhere deep in my chest. Down the sternum and twice to the left. Writing as a lifeline. In this moment, I feel like as long as I keep writing, I just might never die. (march 2020) Sylvia, I almost get it, what it means to write like a woman on fire. “The blood jet is poetry; There is no stopping it.” It is only me, my pen, and the heat of nothing that may turn into something. In March of 2020, at the end of the world, I wear sweatpants and wrap metaphors ’round my wrist. Double knot and pull me in. I no longer “liked to write” — for the first time, I called myself a writer.



“Can we go someplace time has forgotten? What do you wear to the end of the world?”


lux eterna





3 .



4 .


Typical. But reader, this was a world beyond my own — white cliffs of lore, wine by heather-sprayed rivers. Mornings where time was only the faintest guess, and nights where we danced to our own secrets. It was cliché as “meant to be,” natural as this simile, and I clung to every second because none of it was meant to last.

I live on the floor of the penthouse pool that spills aqua in sunshine. Lights are strung like pearls above a wicker patio set, and when all turns pink and faded, I can yell to the tops of the roofs of the city — I HAVE IT ALL. I AM SO HAPPY. My room is down the hall and twice to the left. My bed is pushed against two windows so that I wake to a wide world. Tonight, it has never felt wider.

Can you blame me? Laughing as a muscle, His voice as a balm, Moonlit whispers as a place I could sink to. Up the stairs, to the right, and once to the left. Lifeline snipped, my pen’s fire waned. I used to wax poetic about every sunrise, stolen moment. Those notes haven’t been touched in half a year. (august 2021) Spring withers in summer’s stifling reality, and when I returned, alone, to school in Austin’s ember August, I felt as though the levees had broken and blood jets run dry. One tonic, traded for another, both of them temporary.

I’m sitting on the 19th floor, and I’ve never before felt so alone. (october 2021) Across the street is where you live when you are young and stupid and want to make friends with everyone down the hall. A room glows purple and that could be me, dancing next to those I will soon realize I can only call friends for the night. But I am three years too old. At 7 a.m. I walk to pick up a spiced latte. At 7:30 a.m. I return and tend to the duties of the season: interviews, networking, 50-page reports, and 10 hours later, I ignore the chatter of roommates leaving for a football game. It is so quiet I can hear my blinks. Behind me, the A/C rattles on as if afraid of silence.

I had no urge to write. And that was fucking terrifying. One night, I break down. “God, it’s nonstop.” I pick up my guitar, the end of a forgotten, fraying string, and begin weaving the gaps in the air. Words emerge, slowly, shakily, order from entropy. The stretching of a muscle that has long atrophied. Instructions to Revive the Dying Writer: Make her lonely. And sad. Sad helps.

lux eterna



5 .


In December’s infancy, I crawled to my feet, repaired the levees, but something felt wrong. I had nothing to say. No — all I wanted to say was that I had nothing to say — lament the deadness of my words, the absence of thunder. I’d pick up my guitar and return to the same thing, spinning out on a self-fulfilling prophecy. What happened to the moon, the stars, and everything in between? Golden stars taped on ceilings? Then — epiphany, as one might discover the true nature of a friend or a hole in a sock. Someone left a mattress by the waterside Thank you Oh the first voice on the trail He wears jeans and a black tee Jeans on a trail? Sorry I took the best spot. There is just wind and a wind chime Wind in the leaves Wind as a plea Wind pushing glitter across the lake It is just me. I am writing poetry for the first time in months. There has been a drought Silence where there was word. Is he the reason for it? (december 2021) Turn winter’s page, and I’ll give you the first answer: it takes six chapters.




6 .

RECENTLY, SPRING Reader, have you ever been in love? The kind that fizzles and lands like a shiver? That sinks deep in your chest, past your heart and twice to the left? Oh. We’re getting close. Plath, Sexton, Woolf — names that fall in the white space between two entwined circles: “brilliant” and “tortured.” I was mesmerized by this cliche, seduced into fallacy — that it takes a certain darkness to dispel anything worthy; that we write at night because the day is too pale to be marred by our thoughts, inky and mad with retribution. I thought happiness was the mortar of my writer’s block, only collapsed by sadness’ sledgehammer. A good excuse. Great excuse, even. For who could fault me for being happy? Now I know better: fault me for being in love. Yes, for me, it was never a question of being lonely, happy, or miserable, but being in love. Writing was my first love! I positively beamed in songs of twinkling new years, leaf vortexes, clocks that strike 13. The great tonic was always romance, and I flourished, tumbling head-over-heels into versions of myself more piquant and profound than imaginable. Then, when a boy, real and true, swept me into new lights, I no longer turned to writing — the snowbank could be instead whispered to a patient, moonlit smile. There. Two questions down. But that was my discovery, my arc, pulled to finality. Your answer you must uncover for yourself. What I’m intimating is an exercise of self-reflection: why do you create? We must ask, or else be prey to such cliches as Russian roulette and cartridges. There may be no answer, the author not yet sure what the hero will do, but there’s the fever in writing — we can make anything come true. Tonight, winds are pink and nothing is fading, rooms glow as they please, and the stars are out, taped on my ceiling. The world is everyone’s secret, and it is so, very wide. I am sitting on the 19th floor, and I can yell or whisper to myself: I am alone. I have it all. I am so happy. ■

lux eterna






lux eterna


The attempt to see art as an extension of the artist transforms us from audience to voyeur. We lose the experience of looking inward and deny ourselves true connection with the work.


he voyeur looks up from their coffee, careful not to disturb the delicate white foam. Minimalist poetry moves lucidly across the page under the voyeur’s fingers.

It’s incredible, they might say with a little laugh. She’s been through so much, but she makes it sound so beautiful.

This is a very old story. In the golden French countryside, a spurned Vincent Van Gogh rushes through a downpour towards his best friend. Out of his mind with violent passion, he grips a knife with bleeding hands slashed with streaks of paint. Hours later, that same knife spins in the dull lamplight, silver light swimming before distant eyes. Some reports claimed he only took off the lobe. The police, holding a severed ear wrapped in sodden newspaper with their fingertips, begged to differ. The voyeur holds the discarded ear to their head with half-closed eyes, and imagines that they can hear the faint echoes of paintbrushes swishing from within it. As the blood dribbles down the side of Van Gogh’s face, his hands rise, guided by forces outside of his control. He smears the gore on a towel and begins to paint once more. The aching colors emerge as if blossoming from blood spattered against the clean canvas. The museum-goers murmur, imagining that the ochre landscapes are a window to the day Vincent Van Gogh lost it for good. See how the beauty fragments into his pain, they say to each other. The hush of their voices disappears into the white arch of the gallery.



lux eterna




Elsewhere, a pulsing red glow washes dusty floorboards. The voyeur comes to stand at the foot of a bed, ghostlike and predatory, pen and paper hovering above the threadbare sheets. Sylvia Plath lies awake with vacant eyes. The flat is freezing, the kids are crying, the money is running out, and the city couldn’t give less of a damn. The bruises left by her cheating husband are slow to heal, mottling her skin into a perfect lens through which the torment underneath is made visible. Slowly, as if compelled by the hand of God, she rises to her feet. As she moves to the kitchen, words bob and weave in her wake, coalescing into something wild with pain. When she barricades the doors and turns up the heat in the oven, the ashes of old manuscripts and half-scribbled poems, of bleak metaphors and shocking turns of phrase, leak from the room, wreathing her final seconds in beauty. After Plath’s suicide, her husband discovers her final masterpiece: a series of poems that almost seemed to come into existence as if they were fumes rising from her melting hair. Once published, Ariel hits liquor-soaked communes and Parisian salons with the unyielding force of a bombshell. Tell me how Ariel reveals Plath’s instability, the professor says to his half-asleep first-year class. Tell me how it represents the tragedy of her life. The eyes may be the window to the soul, but the artwork is the soul, he might add with a sudden surge of poetic sentiment, tapping an Expo marker against the table.

This is a very old story. This is not a story about artists and art, beauty and pain. This isn’t a story about what the light means. This is a story about you. You, the museum-goer and the professor, the audience and the adoring fan. The eternal voyeur, which becomes you also: the fear of the inexplicable and the question of how an unsteady human hand could inspire such divinity. Who enters each time as the story repeats and can’t resist the attempt to peel away brushstrokes until the tortured artist beneath looks back. The interviews and think-pieces, “Mitski reads tweets about herself” and Genius Presents’ “‘Nobody’ Lyrics & Meaning Verified” seem to float up before your eyes as you settle the headphones over your ears and enter the story one final time. Mitski lies on the floor of a hotel room in Malaysia, wracked with a violent emptiness. Uncertain light filters through floor-to-ceiling windows, illuminating the planes of her face and pooling onto the floor. When she opens her mouth, music pours from her like an open wound weeping, like tears puddling around a body, like moonlight, like, like, like… Or maybe, you think, she’s in the bathtub with all her clothes on. Maybe she’s standing motionless by the window, one hand placed delicately on the glass, watching the streets of Kuala Lumpur bubble over with people who speak a language she cannot enter.

lux eterna


The door of the hotel room opens. You take the first step into the art, towards the music pouring from the singer’s prone body. Nobody, nobody, nobody, it wails. You study the pose of the body and sink to the floor, careful to collapse with the same flare at the ankle and splay of the hands. The two heartbeats begin to pulse in harmony. Invited into the work, you see it now, more clearly than you ever have before: Mitski’s consciousness, her being and body of memory, have been pressed into each key change like flowers drying between sheets of music. See how the beauty fragments into her pain?

Somewhere in Nashville, Mitsuki Miyawaki lifts a white button-down from the laundry basket, with the early morning rays of October light passing through her. As one of her cats leaps onto the pile of laundry, kneading it with tawny paws, the date on her phone catches her eye. It’s her birthday. Her shoulders begin to shake as she sheds a few tears of relief for her 20s, finally dead behind her. Sylvia Plath sits at her desk. Her handwriting jerks uselessly, rejecting every attempt at beauty. She thinks, This pain refuses to move from the body to the page. The hand stills, the writing becomes clumsy, personal, and bare. A story about a sad woman is not so romantic when it concerns unwashed dishes, an unwashed body, and the little sobs of children. A white glow blankets her quiet fugue.

How art, unerringly, is the artist? You tilt your head to the side and are pierced with shock. The body fixes its glassy stare on you, an unyielding force within which fresh heartbreak unfurls from a single stem. The tide of sound ebbs before surging; the music bares glossy fangs and sinks into your chest. With a sudden clarity, what you see in the woman, you see in yourself. The desolation resounds through the figures as they double, dovetail, and become one. See how the art reveals?

Vincent Van Gogh moves to Arles, France to recover from smoker’s cough, alcoholism, and burgeoning insanity. He spends long days in sunlit fields under lazuli skies, the sleepy rural atmosphere soothing over his fragility. At long last, he flourishes: almost a third of nearly one thousand paintings created over his lifetime are completed in two years at Arles. Close your eyes. Are you listening now? ■

How the beauty fragments into your pain?’





lux eterna





The sun may have melted the wax on Icarus’ wings but at least he flew.

I’ve spent so long adding extra wax that I’ve forgotten how to fly. lux eterna


BLAZER | Danielle Nicely MASK | Walter Naranjo CHAIN SCARF | Walter Naranjo TIE | Walter Naranjo




ecently, I’ve realized that I don’t feel very attached to anything in my life. If I suddenly woke up on the other side of the world, surrounded by unfamiliar people and living an unfamiliar life, I’d probably just shrug, check my calendar, and continue with this new purpose as if my old one never existed. There’s not much in my life that’s ever been permanent. Before 2020, I’d never even slept in the same house for longer than 2 months. I’m an only child and the product of two messy divorces, so really, the idea of suddenly escaping my life and leaving behind all my baggage would be a dream. I could be the poster child for only children. I’m much more comfortable living inside my head and watching others interact than interacting myself. It’s safer in my head. The only threat to my sanity is myself, and by this point, I’m an expert at avoiding the dark shadows of my brain. (Or, at least, that’s what I tell myself.) I spent so much of my childhood being shuttled between parents and cities that it’s second nature to just slip into the background and escape direct interaction.

“Unlike Icarus, I’m much too pulled down by gravity to even think about getting close to the sun.” I live in the waking and the dreaming, in a space where real life seems fake and anything outside of my room is too loud and sharp. My head has always been in the clouds, living out dreams and pretending they’re my reality. Good dreams, strange dreams, daydreams, even nightmares. Anything that can sweep me away from the safe monotony of daily life. Yet, unlike Icarus, I’m much too pulled down by gravity to even think about getting close to the sun. Just the idea of actually pushing the boundaries of my existence into something new used to put me in a spiral for days. It’s got to be the product of the impermanence of my early life. One of the court-mandated child psychologists said something along those lines after the first divorce. Why would Icarus fly up to the sun when he knew that escape might be just beyond where he already was? It’s so much easier to keep trudging forward and slowly watch the landscape change than to try reckless moves that don’t have any guarantees. So while I may dream of the perfect quick escape, pretending it would solve everything, I stay mostly in place in reality, constantly looking for signs to warn me of any upcoming bumps in the road and making small shifts to try and avoid them. The first conscious move I made to try and restructure my life came about when I was applying to colleges for my undergrad. I had no clue what I actually wanted to study, just a vague idea that buildings were interesting—the older the better—and that growing up, I loved playing in the dirt and reading Percy Jackson books. So, like any other decently smart high school senior with guaranteed acceptance to The University of Texas at Austin and a clawing desire to leave everything behind, I only applied to competitive schools on the East and West Coast. But, like any decently smart high school student would also know, knowledge doesn’t mean anything to elite colleges without a drive to do something unique. This first leap for the stars outside of my backyard didn’t end up taking me very far. I got into some, was rejected from most, and ended up going to UT because it was the

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safe choice. Obviously. It sounds selfish and spoiled, but when I received my acceptance letter, I didn’t really care. There I was, at what I thought would be the precipice of a completely new chapter of my life, only to end up going back to school at the same place where I attended preschool. I was terrified that the horizon I saw so far away was actually just a mirage, and I would continue this monotonous walk for the rest of my life. Born a Texan. Died a Texan. Lived not much at all. Despite being told numerous times that going to college couldn’t just fix my apathy, I was still shocked when I didn’t immediately become a new person upon moving into a dorm. My depression packed it’s bags and came with me, following me like that high school friend who just refuses to move past senior year. Luckily, I did find archaeology, a subject that I am mostly passionate about and only occasionally makes me want to sleep for a week and skip my classes and responsibilities. I still very much exist primarily in that early-morning zone between asleep and awake. The only change is that, now, those dreams are more structured around a specific idea, rather than spastically flipping between anywhere but the real world. I’ve lost and found myself several times in archaeology. Through stories of ancient kings and kingdoms, 210

“Within the stories of long forgotten women and their constant strive for not only survival and change, I find pieces of myself, ones that fit into what I often feel is an empty shell of what a person should be.”


I lose sight of the perfect person everyone expected me to be. Within the stories of long forgotten women and their constant strive for not only survival and change, I find pieces of myself, ones that fit into what I often feel is an empty shell of what a person should be. One February day, I woke up and found that my dreams had been picked up and examined by someone else—someone important enough to make those dreams my reality. I received the real-world version of a Hogwarts letter in the form of an email saying that I have been accepted to the University of Cambridge for my Masters in Archaeology. For the first week, I thought that I’d finally cracked and stopped trying to live in reality at all. Yet I haven’t, and now I wander through daydreams of a future that is real and tangible. All I need to do is finish my present reality. A feat much more daunting than it seems, but much more possible than I once believed it to be.

“Maybe one day soon, I’ll follow Icarus and leap to the skies.”

Can I tell you a secret? Some days, it’s easiest to pretend to be better. It’s easier to pretend that I’m constantly present and I wouldn’t rather be at home, where I’m comforted by the quiet, rather than standing out in public and shamelessly working towards a future that actually excites me as much as my dreams. It’s when my faults are reflected back to me and I stop wanting to push forward that I know the meds aren’t working. Too much. Too little. Wrong combo. It happens in the early morning, while I’m attempting to convince myself to work. It happens late at night, when I’m woken up by my roommate and stay awake because of the dreams. There’s no real telling what could fix me. But growing out of my back are small wings shaped by my determination to keep believing that my dreams could be reality. Maybe one day soon, I’ll follow Icarus and leap to the skies. ■

BLOUSE SHIRT | Flamingo’s HAT | Flamingo’s

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ut life witho le a s u w o h ib s that s apitalism is poss c Kids’ movie BOEHMER by AARON



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hildren wipe their chalk-cov- food supply set aside for the grasshoppers. ered hands on their scraped- Because of this, Hopper (the grasshopper up knees. The swing set cries overlord) threatens to annihilate the ants for oil. Parents watch their kids on a blan- unless they collect twice the amount of ket nearby as Goldfish crackers go stale food (so rude). Exiled by his colony, Flik in their wicker basket. It’s nice outside. It goes on a mission to take down the grasssmells like fresh grass. The children run to hoppers and save his community (OMG, the big yellow slide, kicking woodchips up yay, go Flik). to the clouds as they go. Robots is set in a world of sentient androids. We observe them as we watch A Bug’s Life The main character, Rodney Copperboton a projector in the park. It’s autumn, or tom, hopes to work for his idol, Bigweld, maybe it’s spring. No matter the season, one day. Bigweld is known as the head of nostalgia ripens the air. As we bear witness, Bigweld Industries, a company that makes we imagine a new world, one that will be spare parts for the robots of “Robot City” (a vibrant and filled with the bliss of a colorful city for robots, I presume). playground. But Bigweld was recently ousted from his If it’s winter and too cold to be outside, we own company by Phineas T. Ratchet, a Jeff take our projector indoors. We watch Ro- Bezos-ian scoundrel who plans to force all bots on the couch instead. Like a kid in a robots to pay for expensive upgrades and candy store, we throw M&M’s, pretzels, and outmodes anyone that doesn’t have the loads of butter into our popcorn. Licking means to cover the cost (like, not cool). our fingers clean, we fantasize about to- With the help of friends he meets along the morrow. way, Rodney makes plans to defeat Ratchet (OMG, yay, go Rodney, too). How sweet does this sound? It’s a shame that that sweetness is not reality. Oh, but Aside from the obvious creative genius it could be! of naming a movie about a bug’s life, A Bug’s Life, and a movie about robots, A Bug’s Life and Robots are two of my fa- Robots, there are concepts within both of vorite kids’ movies. Not because they are these films that shouldn’t be ignored. sweet. Quite the opposite, actually. What they could lead to is sweet: a promising to- Past the colorful animation, they aren’t morrow. happy-go-lucky fairy tales. They are Gothic (yes, with a big “G”), displaying the gory and A Bug’s Life is about an ant named Flik. He’s vicious underbelly of societies built on exan inventor, but always messes things up ploitation and money. for his “Ant Island” colony. Every summer, the ants are forced to give a portion of the When I hear the ring of Gothic bells, names food they collect to a group of grasshoppers. like Franz Kafka and Mary Shelley come to mind. I invite you to see how MetamorphoWith his latest invention, Flik ruins the sis and its dark limbs wrap A Bug’s Life in lux eterna


a playful embrace. Let me show you how Robots dances under a Romantic moon named Frankenstein.

He wanted to come up with new ways to harvest food, but socio-economic pressure crushed the great wonders of his imagination. He was a Kafkaesque creature.

My dearest comrades, let us recognize that in these childhood tales, and in our own Every summer, Flik and his community world, capital is the horseman of the bour- were forced to give food to the grasshopgeoisie. Its brutish steed stomps the prole- pers, which meant the ants had no time or resources to change their ways. They were tariat into a nasty vat of oil: poverty. like robots, programmed for production Rest assured, the fate of the bourgeois and blocked from expressing themselves. grasshoppers and robots is no different than that of Victor Frankenstein himself. The food that the ants produced wasn’t Capitalism, in all its hubris, incubates the theirs, nor the labor they put into it. It was the property of the bourgeoisie. very means to its own destruction.

STUPID & spINELESS In Kafka’s Metamorphosis, a traveling salesman named Gregor Samsa woke up one day to find himself transformed into a humansized bug. It was a physical manifestation of what he had always felt. Gregor was his boss’s pitiful creature. He was stupid and spineless. As a literal ant, Flik was similar to Gregor — anatomically and metaphorically. Flik had dreamed of innovation and creativity.

Oh, how Gregor’s boss and the animated grasshoppers oinked like the capitalist pigs of our world! Labor and industry isolate real-life workers from their human nature, making them feel foreign to the very products they create (Karl Marx’s theory of alienation). Capitalism conditions workers to feel like bugs (ants to be exact). But something about ants is that when there’s one, there’s an army.

“ “ A Bug’s Life explained the importance of grasshoppers 100 to one. working-class mobilization in a single scene. Hopper, the grasshopper dictator, Bosses and capitalists see workers as bugs espoused to his minions that forcing ants ––– smashable, spineless, and stupid. But to harvest their food was never about the that very spinelessness and stupidity is a food, but about control. guise for greater proletariat power. Because the truth is, puny ants are only puny when Inadvertently, the grasshopper revealed the they are left unaware of their abilities and great power of the working class. their strength in numbers. So long as the ants were kept in line, the By the movie’s end, the ants became congrasshoppers could sit in their penthouses scious of their strength, seized the means and drink champagne (or whatever bour- of production, toppled the reign of dictator geois insects do). But if the grasshoppers Hopper, and reclaimed their sovereignty. let just one ant stand up against them, then they all might rise. They’d outnumber the A Bug’s Life teaches us to be like the worker 216


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ants, not in the sense of adhering to capital- nipulative conquest. ism, but to emulate their prowess to glitch and malfunction in their protocols. Like Similar to the ending of A Bug’s Life, Robots the ants, we should all have the nerve to left us with scenes of celebration. Rodney challenge the wretched machine that plays and his band of comrades took control of God. Ratchet’s regime and made spare parts free to all. (OMG, yay, communism!) ACCURSED CREATORS Victor Frankenstein thought he was God — if God was a rabid wolf cloaked in the mangled wool of a sheep. Victor had the largest of egos, so grand and drenched in arrogance that Elon Musk begins to look humble. Not really, no one could make Elon Musk look humble. Self-centeredness and a hunger for power, power, and more power ran the gears in Victor’s mind. Hopper was just like Victor, as was Phineas T. Ratchet in Robots. In Frankenstein, Victor dug up dead bodies. He snatched people’s hands, limbs, feet, and faces, piecing them together to manufacture his wet dream: a creation that he could control and would pray to him.

The movie shows us that workers deserve to control the means of production, for they don’t bathe in Victor’s putrid stench. They don’t foam at the mouth for material gain like a wild dog. When the working class seizes power, a fresh foundation is poured. Once the cement settles and solidifies, the strong bones of a new society are built: one where every robot has access to new parts and no bug is above another. A nostalgic future

As the credits roll, we finish our popcorn. When we take out the DVD, we see that the fictional worlds of human-like bugs and sentient robots aren’t all that different from our own.

What an accursed creator! A Bug’s Life and Robots show us that we can In Robots, Ratchet took control of Big- imagine a world that isn’t hinged together weld Industries and used the corporation by capital. We can think up a new way of to dismember working-class bodies. He doing things that doesn’t call us spineless exploited their parts to produce upgrades and stupid for wanting better and doesn’t for the rich. Like Victor, he looked to create allow for accursed creators. idealized beings born from corpses, all for his own glory. We can begin a new life without capitalism and its many pollutants. In this era, the air Fear not, though! We know that, like how will be fresh. It will smell like autumn or the Monster destroyed Victor, the working- spring. And we will stop fantasizing about class robots — led by a charismatic Rodney tomorrow because tomorrow will be today. Copperbottom — tore down Ratchet’s ma- Oh, and how sweet it would be! ■

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Articles inside

Bugs, Robots, and The Childhood Promise of Tomorrow

pages 212-219


pages 206-211

The Hand Of The Artist

pages 198-205

Can You Be Profound If You Are Not Lonely?

pages 190-197


pages 176-185


pages 164-171

p1nkstar: My Gender is Hot Girl

pages 147-155

Fool's Gold

pages 134-139

God Made Light

pages 126-133

World On Fire

pages 119-125

Normal Illinois

pages 110-117

To Wish & Bewitch

pages 16-23

Hotel For Saints

pages 96-103

The Tragedy of Gossip

pages 39-45

Everything Beautiful In The World

pages 30-35

A Rose by Any Other Name

pages 90-95

Gallery People

pages 85-89

If These Walls Could Talk

pages 71-75

Generational Savagery

pages 55-61

Friend of Dolly

pages 62-69

O' Sweet Fever

pages 46-53

Melting Moon Beam

pages 8-15
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