SPARK Magazine Issue No. 21: Cicada

Page 1


Welcome to the point of no return. Place your hands and feet against the grain of the concrete, feel the weight of everything above — all that might bury you, all that might birth you — and break through. Hear the symphony call to you — glimmers of shine and sound pulling you to the surface. You are sunlight against shattered glass. You are flowers breaking through stone. You are born from old skin — a new flesh, a new you. This issue is about change — change as the only constant, change as comfort and confrontation, change as nothing then everything. It’s transformative, tender then tough then tender again. It’s perpetual motion driving forward, ready to round the corner and find another turning point, another moment to take hold of, a second chance. Set within three stages — e a Match, Shed Your Skin, Start Again — this issue chronicles our staff ’s most monumental and mundane moments: secrets spilling over into telling truths, first steps growing into vast movements, flickers gaining weight into flames. When faced with these moments, this moment, the only lasting question is simple. As staff writer Kaamilah Ali puts it, “Who am I? Who will I become?”(pg. 205). In your quest for the answer, might you, too, transform.

editor in chief maliabo diamba managing director mateo ontiveros design director jaycee jamison layout director melanie huynh assistant layout director ava jiang assistant layout director colin cantwell graphic design director caroline clark assistant graphic design director lucy leydon web development director ava jiang editorial director aaron boehmer senior print editor ella rous associate print editor paige hoffer associate print editor andreana faucette assistant print editor anjali krishna senior web editor katlynn fox associate web editor sonali menon assistant web editor renata salazar assistant web editor gracie warhurst creative director laurence nguyễn-thái assistant creative director yousuf khan assistant creative director sonia siddiqui co-director of hmu meryl jiang co-director of hmu lily cartagena assistant hmu director averie wang co-director of modeling jillian le co-director of modeling brandon akinseye assistant modeling director vani shah co-director of photography tyson humbert co-director of photography amy lee director of videography maddie abdalla assistant videography director belton gaar director of styling vi cao assistant styling director saturn eclair assistant styling director emily wager med director ian saejun smith business director jackie fowler assistant business director divya konkimalla director of events anh tran assistant events director kevin tavan assistant events director abby bagepally director of marketing emely romo director of marketing sophia amstadel assistant marketing director ana catalina márquez co-director of social media lea boal co-director of social media eric martinez assistant social media director ruth par



staff noura abdi, mariana aguirre, amani ahmad, sora ahmad, kaamilah ali, sofia alvarez, caro arredondo, michelle arriaga, shreya ayelasomayajula, binny bae, josephine bandora, ariel barley, alex basillio, sydney bellman, calla bentsen, iman bheda, lili bien, jean-claude bissou, sadie bowlin, leilani cabello, malaya cabello, cristina canepa, aaron castellanos, andrea castellanos, srikha chaganti, srisha chakraborty, megan chau, emmy chen, morgan cheng, ammu christ, anastacia chu, fiona condron, aidan crowl, thomas cruz, esmeralda cruz, reyna dews, laila dieye, reese ertel, annahita escher, frida espinosa, dakota evans, fiona yuko forbes, gabriela fuentes, shreya goel, myranda gonzalez, mimo gorman, anikha guda, neerul gupta, dylan haefner, safiyya haider, adeline hale, ava hale, victoria hales, jereamy hall, genevieve hendrie, jazmin hernandez arceo, stephanie ho, audrey hoff, floriana hool, alexandra howard-tijerna, melissa huang, phung huynh, gabrielle izu, jordyn jackson, ava jackson, rhionna jackson, rupak kadiri, sriya katanguru, annie kim, joanne (jo) kim, grace kimball, jane krauss, michelle li, deniz limon, cynthia lira, angelina liu, fernanda lopez, sophia lowe, sophia ma, kani manickavasakam, olivia marbury, liv martinez, emily martinez, lauren mccord, keena medina, mariela mendoza, isabelle milford, noa miller, vivian montoya, pebbles moomau, nizza morales, azucena mosqueda, vivian moyers, lauren muñoz, arliz muñoz, bella muñoz, natán murillo, colin nations, ashley nguyen, christine nguyen, dylan nguyen, criss novikoff, emily nunez, tasmuna omar, emilie opoku, katherine page, bryn palmer, audrey park, madison payne, nick peasley, river perrill, joy delight pesebre, genesis pieri, brandon porras, victoria porter, kyle porter, nithya raghavan, jayden ramirez, anagha rao, olivia ring, angelynn rivera, lily rosenstein, audrey rovillain, joshua rush, shezan samanani, nikki shah, anoushka sharma, adalae simpao, chase smyth, sachi sooda, jaden spurlock, sydney stellato, avani sunkireddy, summer sweeris, matthew taylor, reyana tran, tyler tran, tomas trevino, vy truong, cara ung, josemanuel vazquez, tanya velázquez, olivia wallace, joy wang, samuel weiss, logan whitmire, rhys wilkinson, melat woldu, jonathan xu, evangelina yang, jayne yi, elsa zhang

from the editor Well here we go, it’s officially #OVER. To say that SPARK altered my brain chemistry would be a TikTok reference, but true nonetheless. Walking into my first general meeting (severely underdressed) I found myself not even paying attention to what was being presented in front of me, and instead spent the whole hour scanning peoples fits around me: “Oh that’s Mr. Put It On”, “Okay here’s Miss Put It On”, “there go another one, and another one” and so forth. What I first realized and appreciated most about SPARK was its initial diversity of people, and some lack thereof. Making my way from photoshoot to photoshoot, I’ve been exposed to some of the most interesting cross-sections of students’ passions. From Informatics student layout designers, to Mechanical Engineering stylists, to even a Quantitative Finance and Computational Biology model (LMAO shout out Seth), these combinations of interests never ceased to amaze me and continue to encourage me to this day as I pursue any and everything I want to do! Within SPARK, I learned of the power creativity and collaborations have in matters of international relations — which is my passion. One thing I always stressed at info sessions and general meetings was how witnessing the collaborations produced outside of SPARK was MY favorite part of SPARK, true diplomacy at work! The process from meeting with a chaotic shoot team, to catching a vibe with someone, to an invitation to get together outside of SPARK is truly unmatched. Not even just photoshoots, but girls’ dinners, fashion shows, bromances, and nights out at TuezGayz (should I go on question mark, question mark). What I’m most proud of with SPARK is being the change that extended the magic to reach even more communities. What started out as my mission to make the modeling department more reflective of society’s diverse identities grew to be a yearlong recruitment to show each person that there’s something for everyone inside of SPARK, and room to use it to transform into your best version of self. This is what CICADA means to me. Joining SPARK allowed me to tap into my #itgirl era because I allowed it to! And I can only wish and encourage the same for everyone else. Much love to everyone within SPARK and a part of our growing community. <3 It’s been SO real; and to my models: I know y’all see these triangles yea? With that, I welcome you to Issue No. 21: CICADA.



Maliabo Diamba Editor In Chief 2


STRIKE A MATCH 07 moon_and_stars 15 a world in an egg 23 my brother’s keeper 31 a glimpse into the black mirror 39 dropping a left bomb 45 keystroke 55 love & death in california 63 love in the time of hunger 73 all that is possible is written on the subway


SHED YOUR SKIN 81 liminality 89 who are you wearing? 99 psychogeography 107 fantasies. fantasies, voyeur 115 the firebrand 123 the star hotel 133 in transit 141 grotesque 149 the vermin and me


spark magazine issue no. 21 cicada

FEATURE 157 richard samuel: till death give us art

START AGAIN 167 happy birthday 173 summer of magical thinking 179 death is life 185 something about that name 191 your name is my creation 201 the way they write about august 207 i’ve never been stung by a bee 215 anthem for cicadidae










MATCH There is

is no change the beginning.

without Prepare


a for

catalyst. This transformation.


moon_and_ stars by ANAGHA RAO

*** Reality is a launchpad to your dreams ***








OnlineHost: *** You are in “La La Land” *** OnlineHost: See what’s hot in the playscapes of your mind! dreamergirl45 has joined the room dreamergirl45: even on the ground, my head is in the clouds. dreamergirl45: i gaze at the skyscrapers towering over me, and i feel myself floating towards them. dreamergirl45: my idols have broken the chains that bound them to adorn their necks. dreamergirl45: what’s stopping me from doing the same? dreamergirl45: the sky’s not the limit – it’s just what we stand on. dreamergirl45: the world is mine for the taking! OnlineHost: *** You are in “The Real World” *** OnlineHost: Feel the crushing weight of limitation! OnlineHost: As the dreamer grows up, she finds that dreaming is a lot more work than she thought. OnlineHost: Work depends on approval. She wasn’t used to pining after others. It didn’t always work. OnlineHost: She develops a gauge for rejection in her mind. She figures that it would save her time, but it has started to get louder. dreamergirl45: has joined the room dreamergirl45: another day with my feet on the ground dreamergirl45: why don’t people doesn’t anyone want to help me fly? dreamergirl45: i’m bound to find someone – right? r3alitych3ck has joined the room r3alitych3ck: And what makes you think that? r3alitych3ck: Are you so good for this Earth that you only see yourself on the moon? Wake up! Humans can’t live there for a reason. dreamergirl45: maybe you’re right. r3alitych3ck: Come down, my child. The grass is so comfortable. Sink back into the real world. dreamergirl45: but maybe you’re wrong. it’s too comfortable! am i supposed to sink into hell? you’re suffocating me! you make me feel like stagnation is my only option! and i know it’s not. i used to be able to see myself in the stars, and now i don’t even know if they exist. r3alitych3ck: My child, I am trying to protect you. In your path to the moon, you may fall so hard that you are unable to fly again. Take my hand. dreamergirl45: i will, but only at an arm’s distance. i will not let you consume me. i would rather fall and have lived than regret not getting up at all.







OnlineHost: *** You are on “The Launchpad” *** OnlineHost: Dreams don’t matter unless they change your world. We must be acquainted with both. OnlineHost: There is a space between dreams and reality that we dread – too far from the stars to go, too far from Earth to stop. OnlineHost: But why should we? This moment is but a blip. We will soon forget our struggle when we reap its rewards. OnlineHost: The dreamer no longer needs to document her highs and lows; she doesn’t take them personally. She course-corrects and flys on. OnlineHost: Do the same. Blast off, and enjoy the process. ■





can be anythi egg n g . An I t co u ld


h tc ha

AW r nothing at o , l u all. wf a ng i h t e m


n i a d nE l r o

ing bea meth u t if so u l, s o







t age fourteen, every morning was awful in its own exceptional way.

I remember waking up to the slow murmur of sunrising-Paris, feeling sticky and out of time – like summer was flipping pages without reading the words. I would start the day by looking out the window and onto the street, just like I did at home. There was always a sliver of a reflection: a distorted face with braces for teeth. There were always people sauntering down the street with their hair caught in whorls of sunlight. The outside was too bright; I was a reptile in an aquarium. Being in a body was like wearing itchy wool stockings in the heat.

At fourteen, I had my first love at The Louvre. It was humid that day and the air was thick with the stench of sweat. Masterpieces gilded in gold filled up rooms from the floor to tops of marble pillars. In those swirling rooms of pristine, polished jewels — portraits of nobles and beggars, pearly silks, beastly dolphins, orange blossoms and picnics, the Pieta in oil and wood and granite — I only traveled around the peripheries.

I had seen art before, vacantly, in the way a goldfish boggles at an elaborate castle decoration taking up space in its tank. But on that day, everything felt different. My brain had finally outgrown my body. My ears had bloomed, my eyes had been penetrated. Trembling and strange, I stilled in front of a Renaissance angel’s tender disposition. His halo of gold-leaf shimmered under white museum lights; his fingers wrapped gingerly around long-stemmed lilies. Without a sound escaping either of our lips, the angel’s song brought me to tears. I was reborn into a pure love without the pollution of thought. I realized it then: this is what truly, intrinsically beautiful art is. The colors are immediately pleasing to the eye, every shade a bell that rings clearly and piercingly in my heart. The artist is captured in the center of it all. It explodes with passion and grief and sensations too complicated to explain in conversation. A whole world on display, held together by frames and staples. It’s more than the paint or the technique or even the painting itself. Art awakens a rush of erotic pleasure, and in the afterglow, an egg is born – a raw artistic potential encased in a fragile sense of self-worth. The shell shudders at the throbbing heartbeat of the yolk, dreading the day it will hatch. The yolk dreams in the nighttime of fantastical creatures and primordial imagination, quivering under the eyes of the shell. An egg is conceived in the mind, in the heart – it’s the ache of a fledgling artist to create art that reveals, in brilliant clarity, who they are as an existence. But looking from the outside, an egg can be anything. It could hatch something beautiful, something awful, or nothing at all.





T h e s e a s o n s turned, and it was spring and autumn. Beauty was the deepest infatuation of my life. I drew a little and I wrote a little — insignificantly, on margins of notebook paper and backs of receipts. There were angels everywhere. I saw them in my curtains, in the weeping purple sky and in everything the sunlight touched. They struck the crown of my head and I was compelled to bring them to life. The egg shook in small tremors. The shell was pale, flawless, unblemished. A crack on its surface would be a footstep in fresh snow. Inside me, there was a deep sadness I had no right to, identities that led to no one, animals that were fighting each other to the death. Only when I was moved to create, there was a moment of stillness. Nothing mattered — nothing but the formation of shapes and colors, led by a thoughtless hand. It was cathartic. It was necessary. At the end of the process, I was always overcome by shame and fear. Art reflects the artist, even in the simplest of subjects. The connection seemed evident, yet to see the blotchy, awkward reflection of my adolescence on the papers I tried to make beautiful felt too awful. The art I created unreservedly, the art I created painstakingly — they all betrayed an ugly intensity and disorderedness. My heart thrummed for masterpieces and merely quivered at the things I created: the worst thing an artist can be is unexceptional. I had to destroy everything I created before it could

breathe, b e f o r e anyone could perceive it and make it all real. Dozens of papers, spotted with spring foliage and amateur attempts, were folded and crumpled into my pockets. This is why eggs are afraid to crack: the risk of becoming an unmemorable artist overwhelms the experience of creation. Dread — both childish and toeing adulthood — that there was no great artist in me, that I could never create art that was worth being hung up in golden frames for the outside world to applaud. Then, there’s more than just vanity. A quieter, more sensitive fear that follows the first as a shadow. Art was the key for my deepest, unexplainable intimacies to be unveiled. It was my entire world on display like an exposed nerve. I needed the rest of the universe to see me at my core that I was lost in, and to tell me that even the strange, unfathomable parts were real and important. The seasons were turning, the sun was setting, and the pages continued to flutter by, dirtied and then torn. The world dimmed into nighttime. In my bedroom, nurtured by the darkness, I let my thoughts conform to the natural forces: bending to the will of the wind, wild and stubborn under the moon. Every part of me that was frustratingly nonsensical in daylight fell right into place in the nighttime. When no one could see me, I reached inside myself and pulled out everything. My insecurities, my secrets, my fantasies, my dreams: they all came out like guts splattering on the pavement.




“Beaut yw as th e

fatuation of m n i st yl e ife p e .” e



They formed the yolk of the egg, spinning slowly in the shadows of my bedroom as if it was suspended in a music box. They smelled like a distant summer. They tasted like shame and confusion. They were my everything, my world — warm and runny and alive. The yolk was dripping, melting onto the bedroom floor. I took pieces of paper that had shriveled in hidden crevices, unfolding and laying them out like laundry. Old notebooks, sketchbooks, origami, poems, and letters scattered under a moonlit window, smeared with the dripping excess of the yolk. It was messy. There was no frame. But it was breathing, desperate, and real.

“In the end, every egg has to hatch.”

The egg shook and shook. It was afraid of being found; it was terrified of being insignificant. It was going to live or die. The seasons were turning again; the sun was rising again. I needed to create: for my world to make a mark in the air and exist. Art with no viewers could never be beautiful. I wanted to be beautiful, but more than that, I needed to take the chance of being a real artist. I let everything go. I held the crumpled wad of papers that glistened under the daylight up to the air, breathing in its colors, and pinned it to a blank wall. The shell cracked open, falling to the ground in relief. In the end, every egg has to hatch. ■











The redi whitei and blue does not serve me the way it does ii you o




et’s take it back for a second to the raise their fists high in the air. days where my people were stuck in shackles: to the days when The two athletes are stuck at a standstill, beBlack people were worth the voy- tween glory and liberation. They stand humble, ages across the Middle Passage but beloved by their country, yet prepared to lose it unworthy of becoming something all — their awards, their accolades, their flowers more than a commodity. The minds and bodies — for the sake of humanity. of my people were weaponized to service their oppressors for capital gain. The African slaves You ain’t about to play on our time, we are nosuffered through the intensified labor, blood- body’s commodity. shed, and criminalization of their people. Their flowers lay buried somewhere in the vast ocean Our Black bodies are not for anyone’s profit or with the Lost Ones who could not withstand the entertainment. African Americans change the journey. As my people prayed, salvation from trajectory of how America views them through this mortal hell would reach them soon. protest. The entertainment we produce and our Blackness are not synonymous with each other. The red, white, and blue does not serve me the With their “Black Power Salute” at the 1968 way it does you. Olympics, Smith and Carlos rejected the idea that Black athletes were merely cash cows for the Brother Martin has fallen from grace in the fight U.S. These brothers’ “public misconduct,” was an for human equality. We stand at a time where act of courage and righteousness at the expense freedom is only available for those willing to of taking home the gold and bronze. They could break the chains of ignorance and oppression. not ignore the reality of my people suffering racThere’s so much buzz in the air as Muhammad ism and oppression back home while standing in Ali puts his gloves up on a shelf in protest of front of millions — it’d be a disservice. the Vietnam War. The America Ali comes from, Black America, has no beef with Vietnam. So We finna start a riot in here, they ain’t seen our why should he put his life on the line? Black attitude for real. Ali refuses to keep his mouth shut to entertain the masses. He breaks the cycle by refusing to enlist in a war that serves no purpose to his people, my people. Ali puts his successful career in jeopardy to show Black people that nobody should have the power to dictate their actions but themselves. The heavyweight champ invokes his right to challenge a cause he does not believe in, and uplifts the voice of our people. It’s ironic — America loves its citizens until we point out the fact that life, liberty, and happiness were never equally established for everyone. The New York State Athletic Commission stripped the champ of his title and convicted him for refusing to be drafted. His actions were a direct attack on the country’s character. These radical acts were a sledgehammer, tearing down the pillars of so-called freedom this country has worked so hard to build.

We not gonna let this American hypocrisy hold us down though. Reality sets in. Two fellow brothers stand on the podium, at the highest point in their careers, waiting to receive their flowers. This is their moment, and everyone’s watching — from London, to China, to Barcelona. Without a man of the people, we recognize time is of the essence. The brothers must act with a quickness. The world is watching as Tommie Smith and John Carlos

The stage is set with the infamous rap group N.W.A in the early 90s.

Fuck the police. Five young brothers sit around the studio, ready to spit bars on the mic. The illest group in the game preaches their Ghetto Gospel. They rap about what it means to be a Black man in Compton, where hate and violence pollute the air like wildfire. The attitude they possess is killer as they ignite the emergence of West Coast Hip Hop. The America we reside in has chained fences surrounding it, meant to contain the pandemonium within our community — but these boys don’t give a damn. Instead of bowing down to respectability politics, N.W.A kicks it to the curb. The brothers are dressed in uniform: black jackets, black pants, solid T-shirts, gold chains, fitted caps, and the classic striped Adidas on their feet. They march forward with pride, despite being hated across the country for use of profanity. Ice Cube, Easy E, Dr. Dre, and MC Ren stomp loudly on the wilted flowers near the fence. Rap music is these brothers’ form of resistance to the ongoing Black struggle against murder, violence, racial profiling, drugs, and temptations that are targeted at our community.



The outward disdain Black people have for the corruption of police, who incessantly harass our community instead of protecting it, is woven into the lyrical essence of Hip Hop music. N.W.A’s approach to Hip Hop largely relied on reappropriating negative stereotypes forced onto the Black community to make it profitable, allowing N.W.A. to have a better grasp of their narrative. The rappers reclaim a word of hate and spin it into a term of cultural endearment. They talk about selling dope with pride, glorify the violence surrounding them, and bask in a heavy musk of unapologetic Blackness. Our brothers turn to gang violence and drugs to perhaps compensate for being treated as second-class citizens in America. These antics cannot truly be explained unless you’re immersed in our world, and that’s where the discontent sets in. Y’all don’t wanna hear about our problems, you just wanna dance. The emergence of John Singleton’s film, Boyz n the Hood, is an act of civil disobedience in the most subtle form possible. Furious Styles sits his boy down, and explains the respectability politics that are necessary to survive in the hood. He teaches Trey how to become a young man, how to interact with the police, and how to love thy neighbor rather than hate. The temptations of the hood — sex, money, murder — is what Trey tries his best not to succumb to. Trey Styles’ flowers were stolen from him before they even had a chance to grow. Trey’s temper brews out of frustration with the oppressive systems he’s engulfed in. Women and children hear the gunshots and sirens popping off every other night in South Central. Everyday feels like a never-ending struggle to stay alive, to keep on breathing, and to stay out of the fire. Trey is petrified of falling into these cycles: he fears being another statistic, another dispensable Black body. In the end, his best friend, DoughBoy, is conscious of the fact that people either “don’t know, don’t show, or don’t care” about what’s going on in the hood.

The love we have for our brothers triumphs everything. There’s something so subliminal about the multifaceted Black experience — the existence of Black culture is resistance in and of itself. Our people — Martin, Ali, N.W.A., Singleton — fight the power FOR US. The ways in which we see demonstrations across a span of time isn’t for anyone’s betterment but Black people as a whole. The love Black people have for each other is what continues to preserve the African American identity. America lives in a glass sanctuary, one in which people choose blissful ignorance where it benefits them the most. They cannot fathom the idea of shattering this sanctuary — doing so would mean that they would have to take responsibility for disparities faced across the country. If such an ideal society truly exists — one in which the stars and stripes serve equal for all — then our brothers would not sacrifice their comfort. Black people would’ve earned their flowers centuries ago if they learned to be complacent in the systems that work against them. Our brothers would not abandon their flowers if not to oversee the welfare of one another. We all we got. We all we need. ■

Singleton’s documentation of social relationships, like the father-son connection that Furious and Trey Styles have, humanizes Black people who are more often than not characterized as savage beings. He negates the ideas that Black men aren’t worthy of love, aren’t worthy of respect, aren’t worthy of a fair chance in life just like everyone else.









A Glimpse Black Mirror into into tthhee by BRYN PALMER




pi sca But e


rde ns...

I, like so many others, peek through the looking glass to avoid problems in my real life.

com es with

n w o its





look through the Black Mirror.

Liam and his wife Ffion are at the reunion party when an unexpected guest arrives: Jonas, Ffion’s ex-lover. Sensing unresolved feelings and sexual tension between the two, Liam tries to uncover Ffion’s past relationship. “Am I the father of our child?” “Yes, of course,” Ffion answers, flabbergasted. “Well then, what’s this?” He projects footage using a memory implant — the Grain — onto the TV so his wife can sulk in the havoc he incited just hours prior. Liam directs Jonas to wipe all footage of his past rendezvous with Ffion. Holding glass to his neck, Liam prepares himself to pierce his enemy’s skin should he not abide. As Jonas deletes his connection to Ffion, Liam catches a glimpse of Jonas’s memory– a portrait of his wife’s affair. He pauses the video. “Show me your memories,” Liam demands of his wife. Ffion scrambles to delete her recollection of her affair with Jonas, but it’s too late. Her infidelity ends her relationship with Liam, but their love lives on via treasured moments, from nurturing their son, chatty breakfasts together, and intimate times captured via the Grain. Liam considers destroying every remainder of his and Ffion’s time together, causing them to question whether it existed at all. When I peer into the Black Mirror, I feel the weight of my own memories. I remember the morning I was informed my grandmother left Earth’s realm and joined her Heavenly Father. Like Liam, I want to kill the dark memories without facing the real-life repercussions of repressing trauma. The widely-consumed TV show Black Mirror presents modern parables, warning of the dangers of a future inextricably embedded in technology. When viewers gaze through the looking glass, they see an alternate reality that very closely aligns with that of the modern world, differing only in its extremities. These reflections enhance the euphoria of suspended disbelief. Though the viewer knows the mirrored illusions are near impossible, they immerse themselves in the plot as a means of escaping the real world problems presented by technology. Real life is daunting: it coexists


“...when the the Black Black “...when Mirror asks asks ifif I’m I’m still still Mirror watching, II must must admit admit watching, am. II shamelessly shamelessly II am. choose to to escape.” escape.” choose spark



with unease and its history repeats itself. We seek refuge in the Mirror as it holds the elixir of these problems. Experiencing grief as a result of a recent death? Is augmented reality not palpable enough for you? Want to escape extreme physical or mental pain? Reach through the glass and behold technologies that solve virtually any anguish that life could present. Like a siren song, the Mirror compels us to explore its world even further. The appeal of escapism has been relevant throughout history. There are written accounts of mythological worlds that emerged in sub-Saharan Africa in the 1800s after centuries of oral tradition, and more fictional realms were established at the onset of the film industry. Fiction exists and prevails because people want to melt into lives they believe are more interesting than their own. Utopian settings remedy situations that remain unsolved in reality. Dystopian plots serve the opposite effect; they show that our situations could be worse, wrapping us in comparative relief. So when the Black Mirror asks if I’m still watching, I must admit I am. I shamelessly choose to escape. This time, I witness a redhead named Lacie maneuver through a world where social ratings dictate her material wealth. Success no longer comes from climbing the corporate ladder. Instead, her fate is left in the hands of her judgemental peers. High reverence will score her the finer things in life: luxurious apartments adorned with state-of-the-art amenities,

lavish cars and, of course, fame. A poor rating, brought about by one too many unpleasant interactions, plummets the girl into poverty, and it’s nearly impossible to recover from a tainted image. Seeking the former, she channels her inner Elle Woods, plastering a permanent smile on her face as she desperately strives to win the favor of her peers. In Lacie’s world, money doesn’t make the world go round; social perception is the main currency. In the real world, where money is hard to come by but easy to spend, the idea of elevating your social status based on someone’s perception of you sounds appealing. While my characteristics of being sociable, funny and a supportive companion reward me with strong friendships and high esteem, in real life they don’t directly equate to power — a well-paying job, a strong network, a legacy. I escape through the mirror, where these qualities would make the world my oyster. The glass shatters, however, where its reflection aligns with the modern world. Lacie’s world places social capital over financial capital. Instead of exerting effort in the workplace for material gain, you would now make yourself favorable to others. In our world, thanks to the internet, we have access to an infinite account of many people’s personal preferences. All we’d have to do to achieve our materialistic goals is act accordingly. We already see these types of public relations gimmicks take shape in the form of influencers, whose fame can be just as

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expedited as their demise. A social media mogul can blow up for a certain type of content, capitalize on it through continued production and eventually move to Los Angeles on a six-figure salary. On the other hand, if people do not resonate with their content, or if their past is revealed and unveils deep character flaws, their follow count can descend and the money and fame that were once in abundance turn into a fleeting memory. Only those who are highly favored can rebound from this blunder with an army of stans who can excuse their terrible actions. Similar to the premise of Black Mirror, nepotism guides class status in our own world. The rich keep their wealth, passing down funds throughout their families’ generations and reserving jobs for others in their social circles. Opportunities come much farther and fewer for lower classes. They have to work twice as hard just to get their foot in the door and even then, nothing is guaranteed. Even still, the dystopia excites the introverts, pessimists and abominations of the world. They can relish in the comparative relief of knowing their current social status ranks above that of the ranking displayed in the alternate world. Hypnotized by its splendor, I take my last few glances through the mirror. Yorkie and Kelly evade the anguish their elderly years burden them with by reliving their youth in San Junipero. Danny and Karl corporeally experience a video game instead of simply imagining themselves as digital avatars. Amy and Frank relinquish their autonomy to choose a lover by letting a device – Coach – pick their “perfect match.” I lean forward with the intention of joining their worlds, but as I get a deeper view into the glass, its cracks start to show. What if I want to leave San Junipero? What if the gaming console glitches, trapping me inside for all eternity? What happens if I catch the ick, but the device forces me to endure another six agonizing months in the relationship? Now when I look into the mirror, the grandeur dissipates. No longer do I see an enhanced version of society where, at my discretion, the bliss of utopia can overshadow the doom of dystopia. Instead, my sweet escape is gone. The reflection looking back is me in my current, unaltered state. With a faulty mirror, where can I run to? ■







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Robert Oppenheimer was a living, breathing unity of opposites. He brought expression to science, painting his research papers with overly abstract explanations. He built to destroy, whether it was the atomic bomb or his marriages. He was a Communist squashing Communism. *** By the time Karl Marx was 30, he was hated by four countries. Every publication of his, down to the word, was an abomination. Marx was never the popular kid, and he didn’t care to be. Educated by his father’s most leftist friend, he held radical beliefs in comparison to the conservative Prussian city he grew up in. This produced a particularly insufferable child: one that questioned the role of religion before he could multiply. And like every insufferable child, he grew up to attend a liberal arts college and never took another math class. Instead, he only spent time with his two vices: alcohol and socialism. Marx believed that philosophy on its own simply interpreted the world. He wanted to transform it, and that required transforming everything. Marx scratched his plans to become a lawyer and spent his twenties writing. He bounced from paper to paper and wrote for three at once, determined to help the common man see the truth of their circumstances. And in 1848, his magnum opus was born: “The Communist Manifesto”. In 23 pages, he urged for progressive income taxes, free education for all, and more dauntingly radical policies. Marx took a systematic approach to writing, so it was easy for the average academic to understand him. In the months after publication, revolution erupted throughout France, Italy, and Austria. The Prussian government quickly took notice of the spread of these ideas and sought to halt it immediately. At 27, Marx was exiled for the first time, but that didn’t stop him. At 27, he already knew what was at stake if it did. To be hated by the government was no easy task to maintain, of course. Coming from a middle class upbringing, he initially found the working class crude. But it soon clicked how irrelevant idealism was. The revolutions that happened because of Marx were fiery but short-lived. The problem was that only academics could understand

his work and think about what he proposed. They weren’t the most affected by the plights of capitalism; the working class was. Thinking is a privilege that the working class doesn’t have time for. They needed to be enraged at their realities, and Marx needed to break down why in simpler terms. Unlike his idealist peers, Marx found nothing too abstract to dissect, to critique, but this left him with little tools to concretize his theory. Everything must be cemented in reality. Everything is dynamic. Everything is related. He turned to an unlikely ally: physics. The working class can’t win against bourgeois resources on a whim – revolution needs to be scientific. Physics was on the come up. We can see it in action; it’s understandable. The law of inertia states that once an object is in motion, it stays in motion. Everything is constantly moving: the earth around its axis, around the sun. Even atoms in the most solid objects are vibrating, itching to transform. The mechanisms of physics and revolution appeared very similar. Marx believed that movement is contradictory – we can’t be both in one place and another at nearly the same instance. We live in a unity of opposites, and it’s the connection between them that drives change. In discovering subatomic particles, we found that the like charges of two protons should repel each other, but they don’t. They are bound by nuclear force. And it’s this discovery that founded nuclear energy. Even if it was just an alignment of the time, physicists and social theorists were thinking alike. Marx used physics to describe the working man’s reality. The bourgeois binds the proletariat to their exploitative institutions, and their fight soon creates revolution. These connections were motivation. The proletariat were not powerless over their circumstances. At the crux of his influence, Marx died broke and nationless. Only 11 people attended his funeral. His ideas might’ve faded into obscurity had they not inspired a certain Russian revolutionary who would go on to lead a certain communist state during World War II.

By the time J. Robert Oppenheimer was 30, he still hadn’t won a Nobel Prize. He was nominated three times, but his morality was always a concern. To be fair, Oppenheimer was never a poster child for anything. A klutz in the lab, he was rejected from Cambridge’s experimental physics program. Most students would just talk shit about their bad professors. Oppenheimer tried poisoning his. He had an affinity for destruction from the start. He believed food was a distraction, consuming nothing but cigarettes to concentrate. He once became so insane from food deprivation that he strangled his friend. Physics was more of a need than a companion, and they consumed each other. He was the kid that took over Socratic seminars and corrected his professors. But this only applied to physics. He didn’t care about anything else, so much so that he knowingly ignored the consequences of supporting communism during World War II. Oppenheimer’s relationship with communism is a sore subject. To him, communism had personal ties. As a Jewish-American, Oppenheimer saw communism as a defense to the Nazi fascism that had taken hold of Germany, of his people. To him, it made sense. Why would he hide his involvement? But the purity of intellectual pursuit became tainted during World War II. In a whirlwind, his security clearance was delayed, and his life would forever be surveilled by the FBI for a few meetings and conversations.

Oppenheimer was tethered between his socialist and scientific interests. But he didn’t grasp the political turmoil of it all. Oppenheimer was notorious for his superiority complex. To him, the contradictions didn’t apply. He begged to lead the Manhattan Project despite the fact that its success would weaken his beliefs. He welcomed hypocrisy as he aided the US in taking down any attempt at communism. Even Oppenheimer’s intelligence couldn’t foresee the impact his interests would have on each other and the destruction they would cause. It poses a question: would the atomic bomb have been necessary if communism had not made the Soviet Union into the powerhouse it was? Marx would have hated what his ideology has transformed into. The very notion of a “communist state” was not the unity of opposites that he was looking for. But that doesn’t mean communism is fated to destroy. There is no fate at all: Marx believed that transformation stops with us. Our lives are in a constant cycle of change, good and bad. Marxism is a philosophy of cyclical action and reaction; ideas arise from our realities which cannot transform without initiative. Our first, most primal societies were communist. In a way, Marx believed that we’ll end right where we started but better. But who’s to say the last stop is communism? That’s just one belief. Of course, it’ll take more than beliefs to transform. After all, theory only takes you so far. ■







(key-stroke) by RHYS WILKINSON






DESIRE // 2018


t’s my night’s quietest hour, and I’m loud inside, loud and in love. I think it’s love, anyway; it’s hard to tell when you’ve only been in one genuine relationship and a couple fake ones with grown men online. But real sex cuts through the noise, and it’s a nice change of pace to have company from someone tangible, someone with a face, someone warm. Someone else who’s sixteen.

There’s something about sex that unsettles me, though, a distressing sensory disconnect: it feels nice but looks better. Or rather, I look better than I feel, which means the pedophiles are at least partially right about me: my expressive efforts merit an audience. Hormonal and young, I return often to drink from their well of wisdom. I’ve got little to lose, because it’s 2018 and I think I might die soon or be a girl. Ashamed, I set to work loving life less and my man — and manhood — more. Despite the ease with which I’m viewed and touched, I set aside one privacy: my journal. I appropriate a lemon-hued composition book which smells subtly of zest and sweat and start spending hours alone with it in my bedroom, pencil grip gentle but firm — as instructed. An orchard grows from a single fruit, and I begin taking frequent refuge in the notebook’s shade, sheltered and unseen by all but the occasional insect. The pages swell with philosophies, escape plans, poetry, puke. Laborious, libidinous, I experiment nightly with expression, relaxing into the process. Nothing keeps a teenager from their diary for long. I envy the moldy lemons for decaying, having never been food. I write them into existence and take pleasure in watching them wither, unwanted. Words, like boys, can be hungered for and tasted. Soon enough, my eye for beauty grows predatory and transactional, and I cede my oncepeaceful orchard. I begin treating my diary like a manuscript; I start sentences with “you might imagine” and daydream about leaving it in a bookstore for some lucky lover to find. Wouldn’t that be charming? Lord knows I’ve done worse than a bibliophile. I conjure aphids into my last creative sanctuary and imagine them consuming the lemons I’ve grown. Unwittingly, I graft an ethos of sex as consumptive onto art.

Maybe it could’ve been avoided if I’d written and fucked in different bedrooms, but it’s too late — the scents of citrus and sex become indistinguishable. Who came first, the voyeur or the reader? Not that that distinction is even clear, either: the border will remain blurred long after I seek asylum beyond my room. Flawed approach aside, I keep writing for the same reason anyone does: because it feels good.





“you” PLEASURE // 2020 By the time I trade my lemon grove for forty acres, any ephemeral delusion of being an artist that may have once blossomed within me has rotten or been eaten by crows. So goes exposure. Besides, I’ve been more into input than output lately: listening, slouching into conversations and companionship. I pluck the journal from the wooden bookshelf less and less frequently now, content to feel only the sun on my skin. My ever-rarer entries remain epistolary more out of stylistic habit than flirtation; the image of the voyeur fades. I’m too legal to be groomed now, anyways. Not that my life lacks romance, of course. Although I’m writing less, the courted “you” only becomes more vivid; it starts growing heads. That is, I fall in love with everyone I talk to, or more aptly, everyone who talks to me adds their voice to the internal cacophony of wanting. You sit too close and I catch notes of sugar on your breath; I imagine how you might make my tongue smell that way, too. Mine still smells like citrus. When I write now, it’s love letters I carve on bone then scratch out, disgusted. Perversions. When I return to my dorm after longing evenings spent cross-legged on floors and chairs and couches and beds, I reflect on how speech mirrors writing: exhibition of the mind, vulnerabilities packaged for and gifted to an audience. I feed off your every syllable like a plant converting sunlight to glucose. Input, input, input, until the distant days of feeding on endosperm lie buried beneath the earth. I’ve discovered I’m not a girl and I’m pretty sure I won’t die soon, so I’m juggling loving you and me both more. I’m struggling because I’m not used to receiving; taking has only ever been snatching. I can only hope you feel it too: that intense, procreative power which resides in expressed thought. Because brains are corals which prefer budding to fragmentation, art bursting from bodies like babies. Like bombs. Or perhaps the many-optioned coral decides, instead, to proliferate sexually, intent upon sharing itself with another, and that you’ll ask me to stay the night, that you’ll trust the way my eyes and ears perceive but don’t pervert you. Your words — theophanies of some primordial fertility god— ferment within me. I approach the altar and buy a new, clean notebook. Devote myself to spending less time writing to hungry eyes and more time on craft, on my own pleasure. But if you’d like a glimpse, friendly Brahma, get in touch sometime: I’m learning to trust you that way, too.






SHAME // 2022 I’ve spent the last two years sweating over growth and generation, tasting tepidly the fruits of labor. I’ve yet to find a single worm. The ballpoint sings sensually over the steady rumble within, jotting field notes about those same fecund acres. College, self-discovery, the whole bit. The love letters emerge from the skull into ivory-white documents, which I send to someone I love. Though the manifold “you” has shrunk to a single, clear face, the ink dripping from my pen remains multi-sourced. I present final drafts to my partner as craft: an outlet for emotion, thoughtfully exorcized but untethered from expectation. They like it. They make art too, which I love, but we know and kiss each other already, so I take the mutual admiration lightly and continue to hone techniques in private. Once I begin publishing and posting, though, the observer effect strikes, and everything I write becomes vulgar again. Writing as cultivation again shakes me like a violent wind through branches. I concede to Berkeley that trees falling in forests are witnessed by God alone, but I question his optimism given that my every tree falls in the city now, swollen lemons tumbling from the boughs, plucked from the sidewalks, and squeezed over candlelit date night dinners. Squirming bookworms, real or imagined, crowd the streets, eating the stray fruits before they can rot in the gutters. No nook in my notebook offers safety. Probably few people have read what I’ve written; anyways, it’s a bad habit of mine to only read people I adore. But the possibility that I may be discovered, stripped, devoured anywhere — or anytime, since art survives in perpetuity — forces me to recognize a sinister Protestant slant: all along, I’ve imagined the author’s right hand and the reader’s right eye joined together in lust, amputation and enucleation the only options for holiness. But this revelation prompts a new crisis: do we really sin like that?

Somehow, I doubt it. Keep talking and writing, and I’ll pledge to do the same, and we can lay on the grass chatting until Gaia metes out firm, atavistic justice. We’ll know she’s favored us when art and spit both go down more sweet than sour.

REVELRY // 2024 Far from the bedroom where I first tasted citrus and the caustic white bubbles therein, I scrub the dirt and the skin from my skin. My body is nearing an age where Theseus’ ship raises new questions about selfhood and identity, where the locks rust off long-locked cells. I commune and hold Communion with my loved ones. I continue to write and reveal. Sex and art grow in their mercy. It all helps. Every lemon I offer to taste is submitted by my own volition; I even keep a few just for myself. It’s my night’s quietest hour and my pen runs dry, so I lick the nib only to find that I can’t taste the acid, can’t feel the burn. I’m still loud inside— the internal din eternally begging to be orchestrated, to be converted from discord to dance. I dig down into myself for a deep answer and conclude that surely it’s love now. I pant through another poem and purchase another notebook. At least, I think it’s love; but couldn’t it be enough, Rilke, for the songs to feel soft in your throat, in my hands? ■






& D e e v at o IN


California by RENATA SALAZAR


To look back at the 1960s in California is to look back at love and its dangers — things one could only dream of feeling but proved impossible to maintain. Understanding the purpose of this era is an attempt to understand love as a constant fire — the purest and most sincere interest to live. cicada





o some, he was a con artist. To some, he was a father. A god to all of the lost, confused children. To others, he was the leader of one of Los Angeles’ renowned cults, The Source Family.

Father Yod — James Baker — was many things for the people of California in the 1960s. He made people feel like heaven; he had the voice of God. He shot airplanes out of the sky and killed with his bare hands. He lived as if sex, drugs, and rock and roll were tattooed on his chest as he led his children to live in the moment and to keep changing. Heaven was here and now, found in a framed picture of himself hung at the center of the Source Restaurant. Baker called the lost children of the 1960s fallen angels — the souls that painted California when it was still drenched in spirit. When counterculture emerged, the peak of the cult movement became shiny to those who challenged authority. A beautiful and chaotic divergence emerged, where part of California breathed in an atmosphere that teased them and aroused their need to ask themselves — what did they want most in life?

Was it love? In and out, they breathed a haunting temptation. Meanwhile, everyone else stood still. They drove down Sunset Blvd. and nodded their heads to Blondie. They ignored the unsettling presence in the air and held hands without purpose or question. To love, in California, was to be on the brink of danger. It was to walk thin lines of temptation and devotion — but it was also the beginning of life. The beginning of California — what it was known for then and whatever it should choose to be now. The skewed energy that lingered in the sky seduced everyone. Not a soul excluded… In breathed the wide-eyed, innocent hippies before they knew the world was ugly. They were the young kids with no discipline who never thought they would cut their hair. They were the stars of Hollywood — the young, hopeful ones, the soon-to-be icons, the icons, and then the washed-up ones who remained as leftovers with open desires and broken hearts. Sharon Tate was one of the young and hopeful. She faced Hollywood for several years in hopes of her big break, but was always cast for the same roles: the blonde ditz, the klutz. Her role in “Valley of the Dolls” was her most memorable, the helpless blonde. She was 23 when she met Roman Polanski — her 33-year-old co-star and director for her upcoming film, Fearless Vampire Killer. While filming, Polanski grew mesmerized by Tate, and their on-screen romance led to a house, a child, a future. During this era, Roman Polanski was also young and hopeful, but, unlike Sharon, he was embraced by Hollywood, veiled rather than mocked by its charm. Once he became big-time with “Rosemary’s Baby,” he decided that the world was his — and so was every other woman in Hollywood. His lack of tall-dark-andhandsome meant nothing to the women of the 1960s. His nominations, his upcoming films, and his inner circle, did. Love, in California, was understanding the role you played and accepting it. It was the idea of a modern woman turning her shoulder. It was playboys, sex parties, and orgies because if you can, you must. It was finding a home tape of your husband, the father of your child, and another woman in your bed. It was questioning your role quietly, asking yourself if this is what you’ve always wanted. Sharon Tate, once young and hopeful, now faded in youth and defeat in the eyes of Hollywood, did the only thing left to do when you’re an aging woman in California: play your role. She began her new life with Polanski at her house on 10050 Cielo Dr., swallowed whole by the air of the 1960s, poisoned with the sins of temptation.

“To love, in California, was to be on the brink of danger. It was to walk over thin lines of temptation and devotion — but it was also the beginning of life.”

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The house on Cielo Dr. became a symbol of possibilities Hollywood once had for many, its allure starting with Beach Boys member Dennis Wilson, its owner before Tate and Polanski began their lives together, one of the many connections Charles Manson thought would be the catalyst for his dreams coming true. Back then, Manson was understood simply as a musician with a deep and unusual grasp on life, when his fantasies only involved making it in California and longing for record deals — until Hollywood rejected him, and his life rearranged as a collection of failed attempts and tattered connections with the only people who held his key into Hollywood. His delusions led him astray and within his mirages, an impending apocalyptic race approached. His ideals became the only things that were real and true.

community drove the spirit of California. When parking existed in plain sight, and people only called through telephone booths. When California was nothing but a headline, only starting to count its final days. Love in the 1960s became the creature that fed on the final zest of California and devoured its swelling insides. With James Baker’s loss of faith and confession to his children that he was no God, his love that he preached and flaunted that made his fallen angels feel like they could fly, diminished to ashes. The love that Sharon Tate longed for and Roman Polanski deprived her of by binging and feasting on the fruits of Hollywood was lost. The fallen angels cut their hair and realized the world was ugly.

His appetite grew, and the sky danced in poison. His followers inhale patchouli and incense. Whatever had felt like love in California was contaminated with a wicked thirst for something more. Manson’s dream was no longer music, but now cultivating his personal Hollywood, his own stardom, as he seeks glimmers in hopeless eyes, a glimmer that used to be his own. He raised his followers at Spahn Ranch, where his ideals were distorted and disguised as “love.” When they began to long for a new social order, he kissed them with deviant eyes and promised that they could eventually live on their own terms by committing acts of devotion — safe from the impending society surrounding them. They smelled of marijuana and sex until the smell started to shift to something else — a hint of blood, a hint of the fame that Manson craved. But it was never love — his “love” became merely as good as revenge. Meanwhile, in the heart of Beverly Hills, Roman Polanski continued to thrive and flourish in his own world, leaving Sharon Tate at home, pregnant with his child and walking barefoot around her house with her closest friends and ex-lover. Day to day, she lived through vignettes of Hollywood, longing for big breaks and looking forward to the next morning. They lived in Cielo Dr. as the physical reminders of Charles Manson’s failures rebirthed — into the living, breathing manifestations he could only dream of. To look back at the 1960s is to ask if there is such a thing as too much love — in the 1960s — when IHOP was still House of Pancakes, and you drove down Sunset past billboards of Cher and Judy Collins, and a sense of belonging still burned. A love for passion, and the desire for love and

The air filled with fumes of longing and desire, and what they had before was no longer enough. Love was no longer enough. Ready to implode… the final headline of the 60s rewrote the meaning of California on August 8th, 1969, just after midnight. In Sharon Tate’s blood, members of the Manson Family spelled “Pig” on the walls of Cielo Dr. in hopes of revenge and revolution — stripping the 1960s of everything it had to give, taking the life of Sharon Tate, her closest friends, and her baby with it, taking the love James Baker once preached and birthed into hopeless hearts and souls. Today, Roman Polanski lives on through a name that remains full of life, while Sharon Tate’s legacy was left halted in its place as a relic and a gruesome spectacle left to our imaginations. Today, James Baker is seen as a scam, a fraud, empty love. The smell in the air finally went away. The sky cleared, burst into air reborn, and a spirit murdered. The people of California, stood one step back — trust in humanity impaled, never the same. To look back at the 1960s is to look back at love and its dangers — things one could only dream of feeling but proved impossible to maintain. Understanding the purpose of this era is an attempt to understand love as a constant fire — the purest and most sincere interest to live. California in the 1960s needed a leader; they needed hope, they needed love. They had nothing else in mind — This was how they ate. There was something in the air in the 1960s.■











Looking RED BLOUSE | Flamingo’s RED SHORTS | Flamingo’s





Eating cicada









You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it

— Dr. Angela Davis 73







verything is possible right here, right now, at this moment. Move quickly while the cops are distracted. This moment is fleeting. The girl in the railyard, the boy on the subway — they have a vision of the city in their heads and a can of spray paint in their hands. They’re ready to tear down and rebuild. They’re making the city in their own image. They’re the Graffiti writers drafting a new living document, and it reads: Democracy is written in spray paint poetry. We can’t do anything alone that’s worth it. Everything that is worthwhile is done with other people. — Mariame Kaba Since Graffiti’s birth in the 1970s, New Yorkers have been tagged with surveillance. Under the public’s sun, the New York Mayor says he’s in love — with this city, with its people, with you. Closed, dimlit doors whisper the opposite. Slip a hand inside, unlock the latch, and you will see him kissing the lips of tyranny like the cop that he is — sloppy mouthed and dressed in navy blue. Rudy Giuliani formed the Anti-Graffiti Task Force in 1995. His goal: finally eradicate Graffiti from New York. His predecessors — Dinkins, Koch, Beame, Lindsay — tried to do this, and his successors — Bloomberg, de Blasio, Adams — are still trying again and again. Ban spray paint and large markers for minors. Line the subway yards with razor-wire and dog patrols. Infiltrate the scene with undercover cops. Conjure false narratives. Propagandize. Crack down. Declare war.

“This story, like most, is about

This story, like most, is about power. When do people and systems justify wielding it, and when is the use of power labeled criminal? Who uses power to control, and who, instead, uses it to reimagine, rebuild, and then gives it away freely? Since John Lindsay declared war in 1972, the Graffiti writer has been delegitimized with new names — vandal, thug, criminal. This is not a coincidence. The pioneering Graffiti writers were mostly Black and brown teenagers. As Dr. Angela Davis points out, the United States’ collective imagination fantasizes about labeling Black and brown people as “evildoers” and “criminals.” The war on Graffiti was another measure to surveil these communities — to police their creativity, to expand the prison industrial complex, and to never once ask why the Graffiti writer wanted to reimagine — to reclaim — the city in the first place. What could possibly be wrong with this perfect, beautiful city? And so, the Graffiti writer has but this moment. Before long, this moment will die between the teeth and tongue of a sloppy mouth. With the cops distracted, the Graffiti writer takes this moment by the hands and runs. We need rebellion in our society. We need someone to question the status quo. — Lady Pink It’s 1979. The coming decades belong to the Graffiti writer. 15-year-old Lady Pink enters the scene this year. She’s a feminist and she doesn’t know it yet. She’s not yet going by the name Lady Pink when she meets Seen TC5, a classmate close in age. He’s the leader of TC5, or The Cool 5, a crew at the forefront of New York’s blossoming Graffiti scene. She wants in.



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It takes months of convincing; the Graffiti scene, like the world, is not clean of misogyny. She gives TC5 an opportunity to redefine the scene — to open it up, to be the only Graffiti crew with a girl. Eventually, finally, they budge: she’s in. All that’s left is her tag. Seen wants everyone to know that TC5 has a girl in the group. “This is your name now,” he tells her: Pink. No guy would dare write “Pink” as their tag — “too girly.” It was more or less understood that if she used “Pink,” everyone would know she is the girl — the First Lady of Graffiti. And so, the sun finds a break in the clouds and Pink dubs herself Lady Pink. With her title, Pink makes certain she’s not the last lady in Graffiti, establishing an all-women crew called Ladies of the Arts in 1980. As she makes her way back home to Queens, she spots her work decorating the subway trains; she spots the marks she’s made on a city that now belongs to her. It’s not just a boys’ club. We have a sisterhood thing going. — Lady Pink Throughout the 1980s and ‘90s, she paints with the best of the best. She runs in the same circles as legends — Fab 5 Freddy, CRASH, DAZE, DONDI, Basquiat, Rammellzee — because she is one. As the new century takes hold, Pink continues to collaborate with other legendary women artists, take part in solo exhibitions and mural projects, and visit schools to teach students about the power of art and community. Yet, despite some level of mainstream acceptance, authorities crack down. In the 1990s, a former Neptune Meter factory becomes world-renowned for the art on its walls. By the early 2000s, the building owner, Jerry Wolkoff, hires Graffiti writer Meres One as curator, who transforms the structure into a Graffiti mecca called 5 Pointz — named after the five boroughs of New York City. In 2007, Pink creates a mural for the space, and in 2013, her art — along with over two decades’ worth of work by other Graffiti legends — is whitewashed and wiped clean overnight. By 2014, 5 Pointz is completely demolished. In its place, thanks to a moneyhungry landlord like Wolkoff, stands a high-rise residential building. He’s eventually ordered to pay $6.7 million in damages after facing a lawsuit by 21 artists whose work had been destroyed — one of those artists being Lady Pink. It’s the Graffiti writer vs. an entire system. Their success is smothered by sloppy mouths, driven out by gentrification, and broken down by surveillance as the war on Graffiti bludgeons on. But Rammellzee often thinks about war and weapons that can be used against it. You think war is always shooting and beating everybody, but no, we had the letters fight for us. — RAMM:∑LL:Z∑∑ A few years before 1979, Rammellzee enters the scene. He is many things: a philosopher, a performance artist, a Hip Hop musician, a Gothic Futuristic Graffiti writer. To reclaim the alphabet, to arm letters, to place Graffiti and Hip Hop into a racialized, workingclass movement against capitalism, white supremacy, and the West is Rammellzee’s aim.

new world. He tells everyone about this war — that Graffiti writers’ reactions will turn more and more iconoclastic, so long as the writers are ready. Everyone including another big name in the art world: Jean-Michel Basquiat. Introduced to Basquiat by Fab 5 Freddy, a founding architect of Graffiti and a Hip Hop pioneer, the two soon become friends, collaborators, and rivals. Despite what Rammellzee and Basquiat’s relationship leads to — iconic paintings like Hollywood Africans (1983) and music records like “Beat Box” — it’s complicated. One of Rammellzee’s main issues is that he believes the art industry and its conspiring markets have turned Basquiat into a product. According to Rammellzee, the market labels Basquiat’s abstract paintings as “Graffiti,” undermining the actual writers who take to the trains to create true Graffiti — from tags and throw-ups to burners and wildstyle, covering whole cars from back-to-back, end-to-end, top-to-bottom. Rammellzee calls Basquiat a liar, a know-it-all, just short of a sellout, and less than a friend. Whether Rammellzee meant this to be a personal attack on Basquiat or not isn’t relevant. His issue reflects the nature of New York’s war on Graffiti. It’s about how the establishment — the market, the police, the New York Mayor, the white public — does whatever it wants to Black and brown artists. It commodifies and condemns. It whitewashes and erases. It creates foes of former collaborators. It conjures into existence things that were never there to begin with. The market turned Basquiat into a Graffiti product, a poster child pre-and post-death. But, despite his undeniable influence within and contributions to the scene, Basquiat never claimed to be a Graffiti writer. I wanted to be a star, not a gallery mascot. — Jean-Michel Basquiat This story, like most, is about power. The New York Mayor spits on the face of Graffiti in the same breath that he asks: What could possibly be wrong with this perfect, beautiful city? He knows what’s wrong, which is why he asks the wrong question rhetorically. Having the truth written on the walls is too revealing for him, for the establishment, for the police, for the white public. It is too real, too democratic. If the communities that were born in this city, grew up in this city, built this city, imbued this city with magic and culture were allowed to paint this city in their own image, what might happen next? Might they take the city that rightfully belonged to them back? Might they expand their power and unseat the Mayor? Might they hope and dream? Might they rebuild their neighborhoods? Might they imagine beyond the colonial project of the United States? It’s 1979, it’s 2013, it’s 2023, and the coming decades belong to the Graffiti writer. Tagged with surveillance, the writer has but this moment. On the way to the subway, they ask the right question: What could be made possible, what could be made beautiful in this imperfect city?

I’m going to finish the war. I’m going to assassinate the infinity sign. — RAMM:∑LL:Z∑∑

Write it in a new living document — across train cars and brick walls, inside tunnels and under bridges — so the whole city, the whole world can see it, read it, and feel it.

Graffiti is symbolic, interdimensional warfare; Rammellzee sees himself a 20th century monk illuminating the manuscripts of a

Anything and everything you can imagine — right here, right now, in this moment. ■









SKIN You begin to molt, revealing new layers of yourself that you have never seen, but have always been there.






death and self reawak� This is metaphorical death and self-reawak-

This is metaphorical death and self-reawakening. This is metaphorical death and self-reawakening. This isThis metaphorical death and self-reawakening. is metaphorical death and Thisself-reawakening. is metaphorical This is metaphorical death and self-reawakening. death and self-reawakening. This is metaphorical death and self-reawakening.

ening. Are you ready to

This is metaphorical death and self-reawakening.


Are youening. readyAre to initiate Areready you the ready passage toof initiate change? the passage of change? you to initiate the passage of change?


Limin Limina a lity Limina Limin ality by AMMU CHRIST



that the theemb em bur bur of yo that thatisisbe be

you’ll never u of ofyour yourb

you’ll you’llnever neverunder unde while stars

so so w while whilestars starsand and

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1 — the stream of smoke / wrapping paper 1 — the of smoke henstream you light up / wrapping paper and the stream forms a puff ithenfillsyouyoulight withupjoy — a warm embrace and the stream forms a puff of embers and smoke it fills you with a warmof your soul. intoxicated intojoy the—nostrils embrace of embers smoke releaseand it, exhale, intoxicated into the nostrils yourdown soul. puff out a waterfall thatoffloats in the crevice of chapped lips and oily skin release it, exhale, melting away at the old you puff soothing, out a waterfall thatto floats down fierce anguish. calming; extinguish in the crevice of chapped lips and oily skin melting old you the away streamatofthesmoke soothing, calming; to extinguish caressing the sebaceous saliva,fierce anguish. forming stringy slime that protects you: a barrier to shield the stream from theof smoke impurities invading inside. caressing the sebaceous saliva, forming slime the clouds Whenstringy you notice that it protects you: a barrier to shield won’t be a date, fromor the impurities a time, invading inside. it will be a place Whena you the clouds brandnotice new space it won’t be a date, that transforms you into or a time, it will — be a place


a brand new space that transforms you into

— 83


the embers of the flame the embers of the flame burn away the wrap burn away the wrap that is becoming the skin that is becoming the skin

e embers of the flame burn away the wrap is becoming the skin mbers bers of ofthe theflame flame rn rnaway awaythe thewrap wrap our brand new body. ecoming ecomingthe theskin skin

of your brand new body. of your brand new body. the embers of the flame burn away the wrap you’ll never understand what you you’ll never understand you the skin that is what becoming don’t have don’t have ‘til it’s gone. ‘til it’s gone. of your brand new body. so hold on tightly so hold on tightly while stars and lightning dance while stars lightning dancewhat you you’lland never understand and ashes falter and ashes falter don’t have while volcanoes fling while volcanoes fling ‘til it’s gone. and shine through, and shine so through, hold on tightly burst free! burst free! dance while stars and lightning and ashes falter while volcanoes fling and shine through burst free!

understand what you brand brandnew newbody. body. don’t have ‘til it’s gone. erstand rstand what whatyou you so hold on tightly don’t don’thave have and lightning dance ‘til ‘tilit’s it’sgone. gone. and ashes falter oohold holdon ontightly tightly while volcanoes fling ddlightning lightningdance dance and shine through, and andashes ashesfalter falter burst free! le e volcanoes volcanoesfling fling nd ndshine shinethrough, through, burst burstfree! free!

showcase brand body. showcase youryour brand newnew body.

showcase your brand new body.

showcase your brand new body.




matsutake mushrooms, thanks to Anna Tsing

Wematsutake are all connected like mushrooms. TheTsing fun2— mushrooms, thanks to Anna gal webs keep us tethered; they are the harbinger to the fronthe siege of the world at itsThe end. Whenwebs the keep world Wetier areand all connected like mushrooms. fungal usexplodes, tethered; mushrooms pop up, theand exodus, the statue, and the beginning. they are the harbinger to marking the frontier the siege of the world at its end. When the

world explodes, mushrooms pop up, marking the exodus, the statue, and the beginning. Precarious little bulbs shine away, flashing a beam that reveals us. All at once, the watches on our wrists stop clicking, everything to halt the mushrooms’ symphony begins. Precarious little bulbs shineand away, flashingcomes a beam that as reveals us. All at once, the watches

on our wrists stop clicking, and everything comes to halt as the mushrooms’ symphony begins. Mushrooms embalm an elusive scent — an indescribable, undetermined resolve, yet elicits jubilance and glee. WhenanI elusive look at scent a mushroom, I’m reminded of us. Theseresolve, things yet are elicits not plants Mushrooms embalm — an indescribable, undetermined jubi- — they are closer to us. They eat, feel, and connect with others to make space in a world of uncertainty. lance and glee. When I look at a mushroom, I’m reminded of us. These things are not plants — they

are closer to us. They eat, feel, and connect with others to make space in a world of uncertainty. I’ll let you in on a little secret: look closely and carefully. They listen when you’re sad, when you’re in love, and when make sense the world. They’ll They be there youyou’re whensad, everyone else isinsilenced. I’ll let you you in oncan’t a little secret: lookofclosely and carefully. listenfor when when you’re

love, and when you can’t make sense of the world. They’ll be there for you when everyone else is silenced. What if the words we write mean much more than the strokes of the keyboard and the paintbrush? What if all our essays are mushrooms, sprouting upmean in various places tellof a unique story interwoven by the environments What if the words we write muchrandom more than the that strokes the keyboard and the paintbrush? we’re surrounded in?essays are mushrooms, sprouting up in various random places that tell a unique story What if all our friends in interwoven by the environments we’re surrounded in?the midst Maybe, grow of the I’ll woodlands. up someday. Before arrives, Thethat day mushrooms, I’lllike pick golden these mushdourooms, by one, bloons,one are the and build myself an treasure, and the army of friends “X” marks my heart. in the midst



of The the



mushrooms, like golden doubloons, are treasure, and the “X” marks my heart.

3 — roaches i remember a story of the graveyard, where roaches live. a collection of friends waiting for me i’d pick one up and look at it rotate it maybe flick at it to check if it’s still worth something. i’d see dark corners, where roaches live. a boundless void that bound to shape discolored beauties with honor to armor i’d laugh because there’s no more roaches left in my graveyard. i’m in a concrete jungle, where roaches live. the metropolitan holding a tomb of riches, opening inside tearing bandages of old wounds, it hurts that all i could remember was running away. i don’t ever step on roaches. i pick them up and treat them with care otherwise they’ll get under my skin.

5 — rescue mission maybe

5 — rescue mission

we try each


could to other

find in





maybe we could try if i shrieked to find loud enough, each other your in name this chaos,would confusion, psychosis, paranoia, you come to rescue me? if i shrieked your enough, would you come to to rescue me? would youname loud come rescue me? would you come to rescue me? 6 — liminality defined would you come to rescue me?





liminality noun. Anthropology. [lim-uh-nal-i-tee] a physical, metaphorical, and psycho-emotional convergence of difference. “She lit up when she was wrapped in liminality!” a transitional space that indicates the passage of change.” “She picked up matsutake mushrooms when she was undergoing liminality.” a creative and destructive process that exchanges current and future societal standing. “Her perception of roaches changed after liminality.” a transformative experience that produce a new form of reality “She felt her liminality give and take the world in the palm of her hands.” a metaphorical death and reawakening, often marking the instance of change. “She heard her name when she yearned for help in liminality.” a defined moment that perceptually changes future outlook. “Her liminality defined who she was, who she is, and who she became.” ■

6 — liminality defined liminality noun. Anthropology. [lim-uh-nal-i-tee]


liminality noun. Anthropology. [lim-uh-nal-i-tee] a physical, metaphorical, and psycho-emotional convergence ofphysical, difference. psycho-emotional con“She lit aup when shemetaphorical, was wrappedand in liminality!” vergence of difference. a transitional space that indicates the passage of lit up when she was wrapped in liminality!” change.“She a transitional space that indicates the passage of “She picked up matsutake mushrooms when she was change. undergoing liminality.” “She picked up matsutake mushrooms when she was a creative and destructive process that exchanges curliminality.” rent andaundergoing future standing.process that exchanges curcreativesocietal and destructive “Her perception roaches changed after liminality.” rent and of future societal a transformative experience thatstanding. produce a new “Her perception of roaches changed afterform liminality.” of realitya transformative experience that produce “She feltofherreality liminality give and take the world in athenew form palm of“She her hands.” felt her liminality give and take the world in the a metaphorical and reawakening, often marking palm of death her hands.” the instance of change. a metaphorical death and reawakening, often marking “She heard nameofwhen she yearned for help in the her instance change. liminality. “She heard her name when she yearned for help in a defined moment that perceptually changes future outlook.aliminality. defined moment that perceptually changes future “Her liminality defined who she was, who she is, and outlook. who she“Her became.” liminality defined who she was, who she is, and who she became.”


WHO who y are ou WeaRiNG? by ARIEL BARLEY

“My clothes have people inside them. Each new day brings a question:

who am I wearing today?”




? cicada


e r e “Tah in m


re people

closet” 91


GREEN FUZZY HAT | Emily Martinez BROWN LEG WARMERS | Emily Martinez Y2K PINK TOP | RagzRevenge JORTS | RagzRevenge


here are people in my closet. They’re kicking their feet on hangers. They curl up in drawers, plastic bins, and a mirror-slash-jewelry box.

A sticky note presses at the inside of my forehead. It reads:

1) a coffee at nine (quick, just catching up) 2) midday thrifting 3) a cute-casual dinner (seven-ish, dress for the cold). The closet pulls me in, ever-willing to solve my dire outfit-puzzle. I start with the bottom rack, running mismatched nails (pink, yellow, blue) over mismatched hangers (felt, white plastic, black plastic). I pause occasionally to check underneath jackets and long sleeves for little silk tops. These tops carry the burden of a handful of nights out, stained with the most potent tastes of my freshman year: blue raspberry Svedka and drunken tears. They sob into my fingers as I prod at them. I figure I don’t need that excess emotion today. I rise onto tiptoes. Long sleeves peer down from the top rack. I skim halfway through before I stop on a sweater with smiling Gengar plastered across it; they jump around in their 8-bit fashion, beeping. Theysound like my brother and his tooloud computer. I grab the sweater, tug it on, and wrinkle my nose. Sweater-time-travel (a not-yetstudied-phenomenon) takes me back to the last time I donned my brother like this: I smile at my mom as she takes a picture with flash (she doesn’t mean to); my brother and I squirm with discomfort. I want to nap, and he wants to game. I smile, but I realize long sleeves are not the answer for today. A coffee at nine requires a social kindness I cannot muster with my brother’s whiny protests in my ear. A more feminine charm (the vibe

for a cute-casual dinner — a starting point) hangs in bulk further down the rack. I move to dresses. I linger on my slips, but they dissolve into my hands, too tinged with humid summers for a fall day. I stroke down sleeves and heavy skirts. They sound like my prim grandmother, a woman who I only wear in such large doses when I need confidence (midday thrifting and a cutecasual dinner come hand-and-hand with my friends. Confidence is free with them). I’m rushing now, frustrated. I think about pulling out my easy T-shirts — and then my knuckles bump against a simple dress: blue-and-gray plaid, sleeveless. My aunt’s tinny voice chuckles. Hot chocolate tickles my nose, a wonderful complement for a brisk coffee at nine. I pull out the hanger, and just like that, I’ve found my base. I throw it on, spinning. It kisses my mid-calf and hangs loose at my waist as I begin the hunt for an outer-layer. To contrast my aunt, I need to wear someone bolder, someone who can still level with her sweeter side. I fuzz up my vision, search for color, and land on Behr. Behr lives so ardently in blue that he’s started to envelop me in the color. I eye my denims, frilly mermaid skirts, and funky turquoise button-ups — and I find him in the whole of them. I cycle through my denim vest lineup — one with flower embroidery, another with cats, and a third with rips up the sides. I try each Behr next to my aunt, but none are quite right; she doesn’t get his humor, and he can’t deal with her manic habits.

I switch my tune.

I grab my once-white Converse.

My red pieces have tasted autumn. They’re friends to yellow, orange, and brown. Also — perhaps synonymously — they have tasted Cecily. I just gave her one of my autumn dresses. She borrowed it more often than I wore it, and that’s the most precious thing: to give away memories freely, with love, because they suit someone else better. She looks good in my trips to South Congress, my senior Halloween party, and a July birthday picnic.

They fling me into my dad’s unsure form. He has a collector’s bug like me; he bought his first pair of Converse in the last century and has gotten a pair a year ever since. Each step in Converse echoes electric guitars, mandolins, and banjos in my mind.

Cecily hums about overripe peaches and scrubs at our dishes. She comforts me, and she has the happiest highs of anyone I know. She says “sigh” out loud, and I smile when I slip any version of her on. Today, it’s a red turtleneck and three orangered-yellowish tops. None of them convince me or my aunt. I like warm colors most, though I’m funniest in blue. Cecily would suit a coffee at nine, and Behr would suit midday thrifting. A cute casual dinner… Oh, right. Excitement bubbles behind my teeth. I step away from the closet, pulling a bin from under my bed. Right at the top: a winter cardigan. It’s risky, picking from the winter sidelines like this. I lay it out on my bed. It boasts orange pumpkins, checkers, and whorls of sunflowers. Big, puffing sleeves welcome me, a way to dress for the cold. Blue lines the ends of the fabric. My plaid-patterned aunt agrees. She does always wear cardigans. Back in the closet, above the upper rack: a shelf lined with curveballs. Shoes answer a question:

what do I need a little extra of today?

I reach for my Buffalo Londons — my going-out shoes, my everyday shoes, and the shoes that earn me compliments. Strangers burrow under their laces. They could help with my coffee at nine, but I need something closer to the ground.

I take minutes to lace them up, leaning against the closet doorframe. A sneaker seems an odd choice for this outfit, but my aunt and my friends disagree. They like the sound of the music — and so my shoes are settled. I walk to the other side of my room, dodging the clothes on the floor. I meet my own eyes in my old red mirror. A noise — ba-dum, ba-dum — emanates soft from it. I pull the hidden latch on the mirror to reveal my jewelry box. A thousand silver-plated lifelines tinkle at me from necklace hooks. I have more than I know how to wrangle some days, but I find myself picking the same necklace ninety percent of the time, and with what few minutes I have, that choice is easy. Well, that — but also, my aunt-dress neckline is far too high for baubles. She’s loud enough on her own. I want steady. I pull a necklace from a hook in the middle — silver chain, mother-of-pearl, and carved flowers on the surface of a heart. I call it my almosteveryday necklace. I can’t say for sure why so many girls I know opt for a heart-shaped companion. There’s something poignant there — a heart to settle a heart.

CROPPED BUTTON UP | RagzRevenge BLUE PLAID SHORTS | Flamingo’s PINK LACE HAT | Emily Martinez



“that’s the most







away memories freely,

Love, with

because they suit




better ” 96

A necklace can be a statement, but more often than not, it soothes. It anchors, and mine today feels like my mom’s gardening hands. She says Happy Graduation, and she hands me a square-shaped box, my heart inside. Another plus to my almost-everyday necklace: it matches my truly everyday rings. A ring at its core is a gift. Right now, I wear 15 daily. They sit in a row, above my necklaces, ready for a dear morning ritual as I slide them on. One comes from myself. Two come from a girl I don’t see anymore. Five come from my mom. She wore them while finding God, and I want to find God, like, loosely. Behr gave me one on my birthday. It’s blue. My last ring — my left pinky finger — doses me with my grandmother. She supports me, in harmony with my entire hand-army. I should start a ring-web — a roster of where they come from and who they go to. When I die, I can only hope that it’ll be with bare fingers.

Now, I check the mirror. Violins hum as I step back. Good. The outfit is good — flirty enough for a cute-casual dinner, humble enough for coffee at nine, and cool enough for midday thrifting. And yet, my daily crossroads still approaches: do I wear my Hat for the People? It’s red (maroon or brown — we can never really settle), and knit, and cost maybe $3 on an impromptu Savers trip forever ago. It’s unassuming, you’d think, but…

“You have to try on this hat I have. I swear, it’s so weird — but it looks good on everyone.” It has opinions. It likes cold rain and dewy sun. It likes rosycheeked laughter in Libra season. It remembers my many Chuy’s birthday parties. It remembers friends that have stayed and those that have gone; they’ve all tried it on. Do I need it today — do I need them today? The outfit, as it often does, agrees with my verdict. I garnish myself with my cherry-on-top, and let it cover the tips of my ears. I let guitars play. I have a coffee at nine to attend. ■



BROWN LACE TOP | Prototype GREY SLACKS | Flamingo’s LACE COLLAR | Prototype











E W “


Walking through my hometown, Austin, is like swimming in my own arteries. Like any other communist, I wanted to join the ocean of communal feeling, so I moved out to Delaware for a summer internship. Being car-less and careless in America means long walks in places built for automobiles. Sometimes I would wander without using Google Maps and wind up in places brimming with psychic energy— vortexes or haunted sites? NEWARK, DELAWARE. I’m at Christiana Mall because that’s where the bus dumped me and it’s raining. I can’t think. I buy a 99-cent dress from Urban Outfitters I’ll never wear nor think of its origins— how could such a shiny scrap of fabric be borne of a child’s hands across the Pacific? I can’t even pray in that. The night I wear it, I’ll be like a skyscraper, synthetic, sylph-like, tragically beautiful. Guy Debord’s “The Society of the Spectacle,” published in 1967, describes how image-driven consumer culture creates alienation. Debord argues that global capitalism erodes the individuality of places. We are spaceless and timeless, expanding nowhere. Urban Outfitters refers to nowhere and is everywhere, even illuminating my body. These are no immutable facts. Capitalism is not real; we can shatter its glass. The Situationist International (SI) movement, led by Debord, rejected “The Spectacle” in favor of anti-state communism. They used avant-garde aesthetics to transform mass culture into a tool for subverting, rather than sustaining capitalism. The SI spawned the rise of counter-cultures, such as punk. These movements emphasized DIY aesthetics and local community building, rather than consumption of global commodities. Lifestyle became a praxis, a way of resistance against the mythos of capitalism. The children of the Spectacle are in ecstasy, running from their noses against the supernatural glow of vending machines. All cloaked in Disney merchandise: our folk art. One of them ambles up to me babbling words too pure for me to understand. I feel part of something greater than myself: commodity fetishism. There was a mass shooting there two months ago.





PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA. The Situationists created “psychogeography,” the idea that emotions map onto urban environments, to revitalize city living. They encouraged dérive: urban wandering guided by intuition rather than habit or destination. So on Juneteenth weekend, I backpack to Philadelphia because the Amtrak tickets from Delaware were cheap. No one wants to travel with me for I have no itinerary, only a refusal to pay for museums. The American Revolution happened here, on the blocks surrounding my hostel. It was kind of like the “Hamilton” musical, but in real life. The museums are charging people money to witness capitalist propaganda and they’re lining up in droves. I soak up the atmosphere of hungover finance dudes and bug-eyed children. Only when I walk to the wharf with the trade ships whistling do I understand what they came here for: to assure ourselves that our parents crossed the Atlantic for good reasons. I, too, want civic monuments to impress me, to distract me from civic decay and bloody history. I turn back to the land. I must go to City Hall. The corporate entities put on airs of apocalypse: a Primark and a Macy’s inhabit grand Victorian buildings, and City Hall looms before the swelling crowds. “Tourism, human circulation considered as consumption,” kills the souls of cities, Guy Debord proclaims. Global capitalism has led to chain stores replacing local culture, burying it in museums and mass-produced souvenirs. Tourism is the televised funeral of local culture. Tourists pose with Starbucks drinks in front of City Hall, shuffling past the courtyard full of artists trying to make it and those who haven’t sleeping on the benches. Philadelphia is the poorest big city in the country. It is too much. I duck into a subway, cheating the ghost of Guy Debord. I put on a mask to evade the smell of puke and piss, i.e., human suffering. Who decides which stations are beautiful skincarved stone and which are cold steel, forlorn as an asteroid-struck spaceship? I think, watching glimpses of light, watching people nodding off in the blood-rush of subway tracks, which are no womb fluid. We emerge to a neoclassical, desolate library, my film camera shuttering. A man rises from a bus stop and offers me a stuffed rainbow unicorn, “I swear there’s nothing inside it!” “No, that’s okay,” I tell him. “You should give it to a kid.” Really, I have a deep mistrust of strangers who approach solo-traveling young femmes. Am I denying the city’s revolutionary magic? My second day in Philly, I wake up on a bunk bed to the stench of wet socks and a dying phone. My ditzy self forgot to bring a phone charger. I donate toothpaste to a Brazilian girl, then have an epiphany: what hostels lack in amenities, they compensate for in strangers you can mooch off. “What’s your name?” I ask a Scandinavian girl in the common room, then “Can I borrow your charger for a little bit?”



With my phone charged to 25%, a free paper map, and a disposable camera, I flit away. A crucial part of dérive is being receptive to chance encounters with people. Thus wanderers reinvent their surroundings, rather than merely observing them. They see the world as a buzzing hive, rather than a necropolis. We need each other, for phone chargers, directions, and taking pictures. City walls are solid, but we are surreal. I become a pair of outstretched hands, not just a strange set of eyes. WASHINGTON, D.C. My long work-weeks are starting to feel too concrete. It’s time for a Greyhound ride. I walk National Mall looking for trees to climb, but there are none — only a litany of food trucks. They blast Bad Bunny and offer the same placeless food: pizza, hot dogs, funnel cakes. America is a carnival. They’re stamped with “Halal” stickers, but one has “Bismillah” and the Shahadah on it, which I send a picture of to my family group chat. My walks are an elaborate search for Allah, or a metanarrative. I reinvent the Capitol with every step. I need to pay more attention to strangers with that wild, prophetic look in their eyes. They are oracles sprouted from cracks in the concrete. One of them chirps, “I love your outfit!” instead of catcalling me. I am dizzy. The Capital is dense with empty ideas. Dérive relies on the wanderer losing their orientation. They thread disparate regions, segregated by class, race, industry — subverting spatial hierarchies. DC is the only place I haven’t been catcalled in. It’s the only place I haven’t seen people sleeping on the streets, only in hidden alleyways. Philadelphia was the poorest big city in America. Now I’m in its Capital. The diplomats will only see this grown-up Disneyland, like YouTubers in Pyongyang, North Korea. Painters spend their weekends whitewashing the neoclassical civil offices. I walk, looking for graffiti, and finding it in Chinatown.

NEW YORK CITY “Capitalism can and must now remake the totality of space into its own setting,” Guy Debord says of urban landscapes. Cities are a reckoning of ecology, the network between peoples, animals, angels, and corporate entities. My friend and I work at the same farm in Delaware. We spend our weekend in New York City, hiding from skyscrapers at the Governors Island Poetry Festival and a rave in Queens. Grass clings to our Doc Martens wet with morning dew, sullied with cigarette ashes. After walking my friend to their bus on Sunday, I wade through Times Square tourists while listening to Ginsberg. Everything stings of heartbreak. Everything tastes sweet, unspeakable, in the afterglow of a full-moon trip. I smile equally at the doomsayers, Satanists, tourists, and rats. There’s a sense of humor threading all living things together. I look to the birds to tell me what is true. “If nature is Allah’s symbol system, then the city is ours,” I shot into the Internet. I love being cryptic on Instagram. I am changing the billboards. I am smiling at the tourists. People only come here to feel like specks, and so did I. But together we are not specks; we are a hivemind, an urban ecosystem.

AUSTIN, TEXAS Everyone else on the airplane is asleep. I am star-gazing, cross-eyed. Even Elon Musk has not built on stars, yet. I wish I could wake everyone up just to see. Stargazing is no “spectacular separation,” as Debord describes society; we are as vast and ignorant as the night. I have been lost in so many cities that I identify with my surroundings. I find Allah in synchronicity, chance encounters with beautiful strangers. Psychogeography lets us feel the city, not just gaze at it. We are not voyeurs; the city is our collective consciousness. “If the history of the city is the history of freedom, it is also the history of tyranny, of state administration that controls the countryside and the city itself,” Guy Debord interjects. To reclaim the city, our creative power, as our own, is a political act. I am flying over my hometown whose skyline is made of scaffolds. Its spinal cord is I-35 and we are a million nerves. Austin represents a new, car-centric urbanism, which “destroys cities and reestablishes a pseudo-countryside,” according to Debord. Urban wandering, dérive, is important to connect us to our material conditions. “The only interesting project is the liberation of everyday life,” Debord argues. The Situationists criticize vacation as contributing to capitalism’s binary between work and play. I want to live in an eternal nomadic summer. I will become a traveler in my own hometown, which has become alien to me. I need to walk, not fly, if I want to talk to all the souls of this city. And its sweating bodies. ■









“Pretending you’re unseen, pretending you have a life of your own, that you can wash your feet and comb your hair unconscious of the ever-present watcher peering through the keyhole, peering through the keyhole in your own head, if nowhere else. You are a woman with a man inside watching a woman. You are your own voyeur.”


— Margaret Atwood, The Robber Bride birthed You in the first words I wrote in my childhood diary. In between lines of scribbled expletives and tear stains that never dried quite right, I told my story before anyone else could.

Throughout the years to come, I wove narratives of quotidian happenings into looping sagas that panned out over tens of pages, forming months-long epics about break-ups and makeups, about falling in love and breaking hearts. I wrote my own story with the reverence that I offered only to gods, mythology, and lovers before I’d gotten the chance to know them. I ignore the remnants of last night — whispers of kisses from bodies without faces — around my eyes and at the corner of my lips as I sit myself up, propped against the pillows on the headboard of my bed. I want to close my eyes and fall back asleep, but I know You are waiting for me to rise, and have been waiting with bated breath and all night as I tossed and turned in my bed. So I rise.

I imagine myself to be a 1950s housewife, ever-so-ready to please You. I wake up an extra hour earlier in the morning to meticulously prod at my face, to curl my hair, to cover my blemishes, all so that I can wake up next to You with a smile and a steaming cup of coffee, and a “Good morning, my love.” Instead, I rub my eyes, trying to get them to focus, but all I get are smudges of two-day-old mascara on my fingertips. I reach for my journal, feeling the ridges of gold embellishments embossed atop a web of multicolored whorls. It feels sacred — holy. I offer You penance for my sins in blood-red ink on the lines of these blank pages. I’m writing the next best holy book — my magnum opus — and it will be from Your point of view. I’m Your main character, the stunning star in this story that has spanned two decades. So I offer a kind smile and a hypercurated morning routine to the audience inside of me. When You look at me, do You see the whiteness of my teeth? It’s courtesy of Crest-brand whitening strips, purchased for $4.99



at CVS — twice a week, worn all night. I have to keep myself in tip-top shape for You. The home screen of my phone is empty — who is there to call? To text? So I watch myself there, in the mirror. Sat on the floor, I cross my hands over my legs. Eyes first, then eyebrows — a thorough examination for each. They’re plucked, tweezed, then shaped. I swipe moisturizer, then sunscreen, over the plump mounds of my cheeks.

There’s an open closet before me — mostly empty. The clothes overflow from the hamper in the corner of my room instead — foreboding, tall, staring at me like a volcano eager to erupt. I back away. There’s no need to feel right now.

In between furious strokes of my toothbrush, I wonder if the love You have for me is unconditional.

Do You see me now? Is this the right thing to do? Am I Your twenty-something teenage dream?

My bottom left molars receive the brunt of my pondering force — over and over again. Baking-soda-and-charcoal toothpaste seep into the wounds I’m creating and reopening in my gums. I spit out my toothpaste, and it’s pink with blood.

I’m down again.

I’ve never been one to shirk away from blood and guts, from gore, but I avert my eyes from my own reflection. The irony tang in my mouth tastes distinctly of shame. When was the last time I’d flossed? I feel the castles of crafted confidence I’ve constructed within myself crumble. I’m disgusting. I wrap my arms around Your neck and throw myself into the space just above Your collarbones. Your form is hazy, a mirage at best and a hallucination at worst, but You’re all I have right now, and I’m terrified of You leaving. So I lean over, whisper into Your ear without ever opening my mouth. Am I still sexy, fuckable, the-one-who-got-away?

My therapist once told me that I struggled with being alone. Experience has told me I prefer sleeping in the arms of another — I’ll choose it over my own well-being. There’s no incentive for me to spend time with myself. I already know everything I’m thinking. So she told me to make myself my best friend, and so I did, and then more. Whatever purpose You serve has morphed into something much more sinister. I’d always assumed I was free from the male gaze. I started kicking guys in the balls when I was five, and never kissed or fucked or pretended to be interested in one. But You are beyond gender, beyond self, beyond sex. I suppose, then, that I am not the man inside of myself: I am an altar awaiting an offering. I am a candle burning indefinitely, waiting for this version of me to throw her flowers. I would fuck me. As I face myself in the mirror, Your reflection behind me is hazy. Your hands rest on my throat like a possessive lover, attempting to persuade me to stay home with You.

I have to be sure. Will You judge me once the water bottles in my bedroom form a backdrop of rolling hills? It’s a reality I have no desire to immerse myself within. It drags me down, down, down, and threatens to throw me to the bottom of a six-foot-deep well that I have no chances of climbing up and out of. But I’ve got to keep myself up, up, up! So I shift my attention away from You. I contemplate something meaningless: clothes. I want to wear as little as possible, to show off the swells of my


chest and make sure I have to tell every passerby that my eyes are up here. I’m shackled by laws of decency and norms of modesty that bear no importance to me.


I can’t stand being alone. When there’s no one to entertain me, I entertain myself. You do. I just wish You didn’t have to be so fucking possessive about it. My hands are shaky as they draw brown lines atop my eyelids in the mirror. I know You protest, You take my hands in Yours and beg me to stay, stay, stay, to never leave because You wouldn’t ever leave me. You know the love I have for You is conditional – You’re only here when I need You. It’s a double standard.

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So I take another shot and wince at the taste as the burning slides down my throat, but feeds the pit at the bottom of my stomach that stays dormant until nights like this. I smile at myself — I’m back. I’m ready to get going. The voyeur protests, but I do it, I do it, I do it. I am the one who got away, the one who people can’t stop thinking about. Turn around, I’m changing. I watch You turn around to save my decency but I pretend I don’t see You turn back. I catch Your eyes looking over the small of my back — the brown of Your irises the same hue as my own. I slip on the most revealing thing I own, all to appease the voyeur inside of me. My selfworth rests on it. The night passes by quickly. The alcohol dulls my senses and I don’t need You for the confidence this time. It’s all me. I dance and know everyone’s watching me. They would fuck me because I would fuck me. I don’t smoke normally but I’m chainsmoking now, not even tasting the tang of the tobacco but using the buzz it gives me as white noise to tune out my laughs and screams and yells. A $12 vodka-cran — and the “could you make that with light ice please?” I shout over the music to the bartender — give me an excuse to grind my hips into that nameless face behind me. I find the acceptance I crave in the feelings of strangers’ hands on my body,



taking what will never be theirs. We part ways and things go black. It’s the end of the night — my words are no longer slurred but my mascara is smudged. I kiss myself in the mirror. I’m kissing You. I don’t have the luxury of an altered state of consciousness this time. There’s no orgasm to chase, no conquest to make, no girl to fall in love with the well-timed swivels of my hips. It’s just me, and You, and the silence. But I am present, and I have to dance for You. I put You to rest, writing to please You, and this time there’s no journal and pen. It’s just my thumbs typing slurred sentences into my notes app. It’s raw and free of the niceties, the winding paragraphs of penitent prose that You praise me for. I know I’ll look back in the morning and wonder what the hell I’m talking about, but for now it makes sense. The next entry in my book of life — the final step in this endless waltz we’ve been dancing. It’s over, for now. So I offer You a ballerina’s reverence, curtsying from side to side before closing the curtain. It’s just You and I, and in the darkness I remember how I hate to sleep alone. I reach out my hand to You — an offer and a plea all at once. It’s then — and only then — that I meet my own voyeur, embrace her in my arms, and see that she looks just like Me. ■











anuary 1, 1938: L. Ron Hubbard reacts badly to anesthetic gas and nearly dies during a standard dental procedure. Dangling at the precipice of his life, he sees them: angels in the operating room – angels everywhere.

Brushing his teeth, angels. Standing in the living room, watching the coffee drip into the cup, angels. White, glowing things, coalescing, becoming – his Guardian Angel — his Empress — the winged lady of scarlet braids and white gowns and on each foot, a golden slipper. A higher power, a seductive force of intelligence, a hand on the shoulder. In his “Affirmations,” Hubbard writes (almost as though trying to convince himself): “The most thrilling thing in your life is your love and consciousness of your Guardian.” L. Ron was troubled before his brush with death, which happened to him at a mere 27 years old. He’d been put through the Navy wringer, made his career launching sci-fi novels that seemed like thinly-veiled plots of his own to overthrow countries, and once mishandled organizing a school trip to the Caribbean so badly that his classmates burned him in effigy. But feeling death’s hot hands on his neck, by his own report, invigorates him and breathes new life into his embattled soul. “I have high hopes of smashing my name into history so violently that it will take a legendary form even if all books are destroyed,” he writes to his first wife. (But first, magic sex rituals.) The document called “Affirmations” is dated from the years that L. Ron lives in a millionaire occultist friend’s mansion and starts developing magic sex rituals. Hub-









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bard intended to record and play back his Affirmations while deep in the throes of hypnotic stupor, believing that this could be the quick fix for his many, many wounds, emotional and physical. They range from desperate arguments for the sinlessness of masturbation to the intention to live for 200 years. Some salience — with difficulty — arises from the text. He claims that “This desire to be loved does not amount to a psychosis,” and that “Snakes are not dangerous to you. There are no snakes in the bottom of your bed,” and that “No one there is now ‘out to get you.” Persuasive, no? In the text of the “Affirmations,” a brittle, fraying psyche emerges. His obsession and shame surrounding sex, women, and masturbation, his predilection towards fictitious Navy stories, and his fears about his importance in the face of an uncaring universe come to the fore. Deep inside his mid-30s body, he is a frightened teenager with disturbingly few inhibitions. It is this frightened teenager that would go on to write “Dianetics,” found the infamous cult of Scientology, and eventually die in hiding in a luxury motorhome on a ranch in California.



*** Cults are extremophiles: if not foregrounded in the extreme, the cult flails, whimpers, and dies. They must promise spectacular, dizzying heights of purpose-finding of the kind that going to Easter Mass, posting to Instagram, and traveling to Europe cannot compete with. Similar to the evolution of beasts and bacteria that inhabit environments of heat, acid, and ice, so, too, are the earnest and insane inoculated against the heat, acid, and ice of their psychological ecosystems. There are many strains of cult: doomsday, sexual repression kneels before God, belief in the eventual relocation to godly alien planets. They can be set in Utah or New York City, the New Zealand countryside or Waco, Texas. Any place that writhes with soul-deep starvation is ripe with opportunity — and every place writhes with soul-deep starvation, the kind that leads one to seek more and more meaning from the world, like an addict whose tolerance continues to build. Though the breed of person that constitutes the cult-leader archetype is as varied as it gets — faithful to their own insanity, delusional egomaniacs, sharp-eyed grifters — many people labor under the impression that cult leaders are uniquely brilliant, charismatic, and manipulative. If L. Ron’s story tells us anything, it’s that any pulp fiction writer turned Navy veteran can capture the hearts, minds, and bodies of 40,000 people with a single pamphlet that essentially repackages Freud’s psychoanalytic theory wholesale.





In L. Ron’s “Dianetics,” he lays out the mission: dive into your own subconscious, root out the hidden traumas (“engrams”) that accumulate like so many flakes in a snowbank, and address them head on. Once a person had successfully undergone the process, they would become a Clear. A Clear is unblemished, completed, final. Sated and satiated, they are finally rid of the clinging dust and grit of being with a body, being with a heart, and being with a soul. (L. Ron also once said that it paid better to create a religion than to write science fiction.) The psychology of the cult leader is hotly debated, among experts and true crime fanatics alike. What causes them to be… well, like that? Mental illness — insanity — lead among various interpretations. But what of the effects of shame, toxic masculinity, thirst for power, or masturbatory glee? What of the subtleties of our lives: the anger in traffic, the emptiness in the dead of winter? Was Scientology the work of an insane, troubled genius? Or was it the work of a scared, guilty man, like anyone’s father, like anyone’s husband, who just wanted to be done? The dark underbelly of human nature is that we have a remarkable power and capacity for self-invention. Any person a few inhibitions short of a good Samaritan can burn the world to the ground and rise from the ashes a prophet (and a widely-ridiculed bastard — but a prophet, nonetheless). L. Ron Hubbard looked at the shambles of his life, scattered across the sex-ritual-stained rug in the pale glowing light of his Empress, and thought, I would like to be God now. His Empress said, And God you will become. ■












ara’s right hand is on top of the wheel, the left resting on the nook.

She’s wearing the silver ring with turquoise fill I gave her on our first anniversary, and I take it as a sign this may just work out. To 1984 and forever, the interior inscription says. She’s accompanying me while I finish my research on the Basque community in Elko, Nevada. I’m drawn to them because they’re a lot like us; Sara and I, I mean. Her eyes are cast forward, looking at the road. If she sees me looking at her, she gives me no indication. I look back at my journal. In neat handwriting, I copy (Gallop, 1970), followed by:

The mystery surrounding the origins and history of the Basque people, the difficulty of their tongue, and the great reserve which they display in all their contacts with the outside world, a reserve to which is due, in all probability their survival as a race, has invested them with an air of remoteness, and woven around them is an atmosphere of romance. It makes me uncomfortable. This man, Gallop, is clearly an outsider writing in. His attempt at making the Basques familiar to a new audience makes them feel other. They are not the agents of the sentences he writes; to Gallop it appears some unknowable, otherworldly force has invested them in remoteness and woven them in romance like a warm blanket for which they should be grateful. He casts the Basques as a group who is acted upon, which in his mind, grants him the ability to do so, too. When I read it, I think of Sarah and I. At McDonald’s, for example, I wrap my hand around hers, and feel the stare of an older man. When I catch him looking, rather than being embarrassed, he stares back and licks his lips because he knows he can. I fear Gallop gets something right. In small towns like Elko, Sara has made it clear to me that we are roommates, just like her family


believes. We speak a secret language made of glances and codewords, which is both integral to our survival and to maintaining the centripetal force of our private life. Because she is the only person allowed to know I am a lesbian, she is the only person it feels natural to confide in about anything, really. We eat it in silence in the car. Sara doesn’t think the man was a big deal; I do. At this point, I wish she would turn on some goddamn music. We’re tired of fighting, of this god-awful summer. Sara picked the Star Hotel for us to stay this weekend; she thought it would help with my research. After a blow-out fight last week, I’d thought she was going to end it, but instead, she threw a pamphlet at my head. Elko, Nevada: Where You Come to Remember, it said on the front cover. Now I hold the same pamphlet, worn from her obsessive reading and rereading, up to the actual hotel. *** Pete (sometimes Pedro) Jauregui was a holetero who opened the Star with his wife Mathilde in 1910. They were part of the first generation of Basque immigrants to Nevada, most of whom became sheepherders. Though the hotel was named in English and painted red, white, and blue, visitors exclusively spoke Basque, ate traditional food, and afterward cleared the tables so they could dance and drink into the night before they returned to herding on new, foreign American terrain. *** As we’re walking past the entry desk toward the bar, Sara steps on a cricket with the sole of her boot and doesn’t notice. She tells me to go upstairs while she drinks Jack at the bar because she knows I like to settle into a place as soon as I get there. The ritual of hotel check-ins is second nature for us. In the room, I think of her at the bar with the Elko cowboy we saw sitting downstairs. She’s


SET STYLING | Revival Vintage

“...instead, she threw a pamphlet at my head.

Elko, Nevada:

Where You Come to Remember, it said on the front cover.”

probably struck up a conversation about their nephew’s baseball game. This is magic about her; strangers feel comfortable enough to talk to her like family, unloading the mundane on her and never worrying if she’ll be bored.

dinner while she asks about the crickets.

something, but I’m too angry to listen.

I can’t sit still and decide to go downstairs to check on Sara. I find her in a tense, hushed conversation with a woman at the desk.

Do you realize what you just did, Sara? Why the hell did you just push me off like that?

I strip down and get in the shower, rinsing the dried sweat and dust from my skin. I scrub hard, and look down to see all of the dirt that’s washed off. I scream.

Mormon crickets, and summer, they say. What the hell is a Mormon cricket? I walk up to Sara and grab her hand, but she pulls it away.

I’m not kidding, Sara. Not one, not five, fifteen crickets in the drain. I can’t stay here.

I don’t care if it’s seasonal, take care of it. Take care of it. I didn’t pay for the suite to have to pick crickets out of the drain. Send someone up there.

She tells me I’m being dramatic, but picks each one out and tosses them into the trash bin, adding I should get ready for

She pulls me aside, says if I wanted to fight, we could go back upstairs, but actually that’s the last-fucking-thing-I’d-actuallylike-to-do, so we sit a foot apart at the bar next to a woman with big hair in a tacky, cheetah print dress instead. She tells us about the crickets.

When we walk away, she’s muttering

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This was a recurring fight. We love in hotel rooms and behind closed doors like I’m her dirty fucking secret.


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Apparently, it’s rare. Crickets lay their eggs in the spring, but they can lie dormant for years until there’s a long, summer drought followed by rain. Elko has had a few infestations: 1857-65, 1932-48, 1951-55, and apparently, now. There’s nothing you can do; you wait through the season until they’ve died out. So, it’s going to get worse? The woman nods her head and takes a long, slow drag of a cigarette.

It makes me remember when I told her I loved her. As the fights have gotten meaner, I often find myself calling on the memory. She was washing her face; I sat on my bed, watching from an angle. The water was still running when she took her hands off her face and braced herself over the sink. She probably thought I didn’t realize she was choking back tears. I stood up, and without words, I wrapped my arms around her. I felt her whole body release, and she sobbed into my shoulder for a while.

That night, I can’t sleep, so I research. *** After forty-three years of hotel keeping, Pete and Mathilde retired from the Star after a series of troubles: cricket invasions, rising prices, declining Basque presence in Nevada. They sold the Star Hotel to Fred and Bibaina Bengoa in 1944, another Basque couple. They were the only Basque hoteleros who “turned to American hotel keeping.” They operated the no-Basqueallowed Townhouse nightclub followed by other local motels for a while. ***

I thought after that conversation we were going to live together, and I mourn that time constantly. That was three years ago. I am still awake, and she is still having nightmares. If it’s so far gone, I wonder why it still hurts so much.

It feels like a cop out to give up an investment that meant something to people. I couldn’t possibly know the circumstances, but I can’t help but feel that no matter how bad it hurt, they had an obligation to maintain the legacy of this safespace. When I can’t read anymore, I walk to the window and see the crickets. They sound like rain, and there must be thousands. They move in a humming, red mass; each buzz amplifies in a frustrated, cyclical motion that swells every time a car drives down the road. The road itself is covered with what looks like a slick of black oil, so thick I can’t see the yellow lines. I’ve never seen anything like it. And the stench — it’s subtle, but already it’s started to stink through the wall. I get back into bed, look over at Sara, and feel like crying. I consider waking her up. Her breath, too, swells, jagged and broken at intermittent points. She has nightmares when she’s anxious about something, but she rarely tells me about them.


I told her right then about how I knew– clearer than anything else — the truth that I loved her so fiercely that I was willing to withstand every sideways stare, lost friendship, and lonely Thanksgiving dinner if it meant I could be a whole thing every night when I watched her wash her face.


She jolts awake. Have you been crying? I’d moved into the bathroom, sitting on the floor in my big Boy George t-shirt. I nod. I think she’s moving to me, but she walks toward the door, grabs the handle, pauses, and looks at me. Those goddamn crickets. Myra, I’ll fix this. I’m sorry, I’ll fix this. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. She walks out the door, and I lie on the floor. The crickets hit the hotel window, which is slightly ajar, and push it open. I watch with a dead stare, get up, and make a shallow effort to close it, but there’s no use; it’s too late. At least a hundred crickets have already made it into the room. I’m good at waiting. I sit down and let the buzz fill my ears until I know it’s over. ■







in transit

in transit by GABRIELLE IZU



You choose silence and accept the self-destruction that


comes with it, inviting it because you fear the






he silence on the bus was all that mattered. For two precious hours somewhere between Houston and Austin, all there was to enjoy was silence. Of course, there were the windows and the views that they held, trees flitting past in the dark blur of a January night. Yet that moment in a crowded Megabus only felt significant to you because of the silence.


Once you step on a bus, you enter a holy social performance upheld since the inception of public transportation: refusing to acknowledge the other passengers. The social contract understood by all is that you will be nothing to each other — you will all leave and ignore the explosion of coincidence that brought us to travel to the same place in the same vehicle at the same time. You will be silent. Sure, you can talk to each other, but none of the words you say will have meaning; they would only add to the ever-persistent silence of two people addressing each other without caring to truly see the other. You will reduce each other to the here and now, confining the “other’s” existence to that one place and moment in time: the bus. Somewhere between Houston and Austin, there was a Megabus. You were all going to Austin, and looked close enough in age. Everyone had left their family members in the Marriott Inn parking lot to board the bus after hugging them (awkwardly) goodbye. You all sat within inches of each other and would never exchange a word. But for those two and a half brief hours between Houston and Austin, you were united in the same purpose: to go from one home to another. Home in college means you return every night to a bed that doesn’t quite feel like yours, or someone else’s. You go to party after party, class after class, listlessly pushing through the same hordes of people while cycling through each week. There are always things to unpack and paintings to hang up, yet it feels futile when you think about when you’ll have to pack them up next. No matter what you do, the infamous “college experience” never feels like a home. It feels more like an agent of forceful change, one that seeps into every aspect of your life and makes it unrecognizable. You live there, eat there, and sleep there, all while feeling out of place. When you do return home, you find that everything changed while you were away. You are no longer privileged the safety you took for granted with your family. Things happen no one tells you about that: the house becomes an alien environment you can no longer seek refuge in, and you don’t lay on your mom’s bed for hours to pour your heart out to her anymore. Each successive time you go to visit your family, you become more unsure of whether you are returning home or leaving your new one. You are alone. All is silent. College is this focus on the “YOU.” It is YOUR life now, and you are the sole proprietor in charge of its successes or failures. Your dissatisfactions are entirely of your own doing. You become obsessed with regulating and controlling the “YOU,” trying to keep up when every aspect of yourself warps into something unmanageable. More people become passersby on a bus to you as your life sprawls out in incoherent directions. Somewhere between Austin and Houston, there was a Megabus. In it, you wondered about your relationship with the passengers. You cannot see their faces; the bus is too dark now to really notice any definitive features. You can, however, see



you return every night to a bed that doesn’t quite feel like yours, or someone else’s.

their silhouettes shift uncomfortably in their seats as they try to distract themselves with their phones or do their homework. The darkness doesn’t really matter, since you can still remember their faces from when you all boarded the bus in that parking lot somewhere in North Houston. You knew one of them, a stranger who you did a group project with. He was a stranger you had no interest in getting to know further. You wondered if he felt the same way, if he was waiting until you could both pretend it never happened. Should you ignore him? Should you make him invisible? He’s sitting right there, and all it takes is a sentence. “Hey, aren’t you in my Statistics class?” But it is too late, and you’re uncomfortable with the idea of talking to him. He means nothing to you, and can’t do anything for you. You have no mutual friends, and nothing in common. You’ve grown too accustomed to the silence, complacent in ignoring people that cannot serve you. Selfishness rules your life now, and with it you’ve contracted, become dull, and accepted silence. Sitting on the bus, you resign yourself. You think: “What’s the point?” You refused to see him. He became invisible. The silence won. The “YOU” makes relationships tricky in college. It becomes easier to push strangers aside, devalue them until they become superficial, and use them for entirely selfish reasons. Once people become the things they can do for you, your life can finally be fully focused on the “YOU.” You wonder if this is what adulthood is: a persistent silence. If adulthood is silence, then it is a two-sided dagger you simultaneously drive into yourself and others. In your childhood, other people were automatically intriguing to you, and you would jump at the opportunity to talk to a stranger on a bus. Now you can barely make eye contact with another passenger.

But the upheaval of young adulthood will pass. With its passing, the meetings, classes, and events you drown yourself in now will become forgettable. The self-serving justifications for your refusal to acknowledge the daily passerby in your life will sour upon the realization that you sacrificed the people in your life for no real purpose. Once the dust settles on your twenties, you will emerge on the other side with only yourself, and the people who you were lucky to connect with in the few moments you had together. There can be no higher calling in a life devoid of stability than to find people to hold dear and appreciate while you still can. Somewhere in Austin, months after that Megabus ride, a man approached me in the middle of a dining hall. I was so caught up in trying to eat and leave as fast as possible that I almost blew him off — he looked surprised by how startled my reaction was. The conversation lasted maybe 30 seconds, generously a minute. He asked me if I was on a Megabus a couple months back. I said yes. He told me he recognized me, and that he wanted to say hi. We laughed awkwardly about the coincidence, and then he left. I still wonder where he is now. He was able to do what I couldn’t. He had no obligation to acknowledge me, but he did. When you begin to think of life as fleeting moments, having something as grounding as a stranger acknowledging that you are not just a passerby on a bus stays with you. It’s refreshing to realize you no longer must assume you mean nothing to everyone else, and that everyone else means nothing to you. He approached with no intention other than to acknowledge; there was no ulterior motive besides wanting to have a conversation in passing with someone he shared a unique experience with. At that moment, we were two children, acknowledging each other for that brief moment that we shared on a bus. We were both in transit with no clear direction of where we were going, but finding comfort in the fact that we could see each other. ■

Young adulthood in college is about learning how to hurt in new ways. It feels like your life — who you are — is slowly fading into something unrecognizable. As with every phase of your life, you resist it, engaging in a futile struggle until you finally let it overwhelm you. The change is painful, but if you allow your pain and fear of change to dictate your choices, you lose the people you should have worked to keep in your life.





“If adulthood is silence, then it is a two-sided dagger you simultaneously drive into yourself and others”



Grotesque by ANGELINA LIU




As the creamy yellow magnolia blossom fades to brown, the house withers away with it. It was all an illusion.






omewhere in the American South, a manor sits, illuminated by golden sunlight. The house exists on a stunning 1,000 acres, with pristinely manicured gardens and fragrant white blooming magnolia trees. Enormous white pillars support a wraparound porch and a gabled roof. Windchimes tinkle in the soft, warm breeze as the yeasty smell of fresh bread wafts from an open window. The sharp rattles of iron chains cut through the placidity: enslaved people tend to the fields behind the mansion. Some have rusted shackles latched around their ankles, others branded with hot irons. Lattice scars run across their backs, their faces hollow and grim. Only under these conditions are the gardens manicured, the pillars white, the bread warm. And so, the house starts to crumble. The trees wither and sag. Formerly white pillars are strangled by ivy and years of drought. The wooden porch has splintered; the roof is missing shingles. A sickly sweet stench surrounds the manor. Low hums of cicadas cut the silence; stagnant pools of water breed pesky mayflies.

"It is a romanticization; it is a rose-colored rewriting. It is a violence personified in pretty words on yellowed pages."

The house and its stories are the basis of author Toni Morrison’s work. She refuses the idea of a beautiful Southern plantation homestead: those do not exist. In her work, Morrison focuses on destroying the pre-established tranquil image of the South, both before and after the Antebellum. Replacing arching castles and manufactured romances, Morrison confronts real and violent structures ingrained in the United States — enslavement and its ongoing afterlives, Black generational trauma, and misogynoir, to name a few. In creating her literature, she provides critically important meaning and nuance to the Southern Gothic canon. Morrison writes about the house for what it is and has always been. This towering and magnificent manor that other (mainly white) Southern writers place on a pedestal, in all of its allure and charm, never truly existed. It is a romanticization; it is a rose-colored rewriting. It is a violence personified in pretty words on yellowed pages. In truth, this house is an ugly, rotting, bloodthirsty body that has fed off enslaved people for generations.

The granddaughter of an enslaved person, Morrison understands the nuanced, intersectional reality of being a Black woman in the United States, experiencing simultaneous systemic and interpersonal violence on the basis of her Blackness and her womanhood. By the publishing of her second novel, Sula, critics believed Morrison was limiting herself by only writing Black narratives. The novelist refuted these claims, refusing to adapt her rhetoric for a white audience. Revealing dead flies by drafty window sills and discolored wood paneling, she remained steadfast in deconstructing the willful ignorance surrounding the enduring tribulations of those once enslaved, their descendants, and their ongoing struggle. And yet, the desire to maintain the image of a South outfitted with gingham and lace continues. Time and time again, white society slaps varnish onto the peeling exterior to build back the facade stronger, one sloppy coat at a time. In Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, petticoats and parasols embellish the white protagonist, Scarlett O’Hara. Painted as loving and harmonious, her relationship with an enslaved woman named Ruth is in reality a continuation of the “Mammy” caricature first introduced as Aunt Chloe in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and continued in revered books like Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Giving Ruth the nickname “Mammy,” Mitchell constructs her character as simplistic and one-dimensional, content with her role in homemaking as she’s forced to raise children that are not hers. Using eye dialect, Mitchell forces words into Ruth’s mouth that paint her as intellectually inferior to the white people in the novel. In an attempt to criticize the South and its horrors, William Faulkner contributes to the canon with Absalom, Absalom! He tells the story of enslaver Thomas Sutpen through multiple characters, a narrative that winds up slightly different every time. Faulkner mirrors the changing story of Sutpen with that of the South during Reconstruction. Southern enslavers attempt to reclaim their pride and righteousness after their plantation empire was destroyed by manipulating their narrative of slavery.

"Allowing the rusty water to rampantly pour from the faucet, she calls attention to the stained white porcelain tub."

GUNNE SAX FLORAL DRESS | Prototype Vintage GUNNE SAX DRESS | Prototype Vintage BROWN LEATHER BELT | Prototype Vintage

"The house remains untouched, caving within itself slowly, returning to the ground from where it was erected." 147


Attempting to hint at the buzz of horse flies and the musty scent of water stained walls, Faulkner’s allegory alludes to the decay of the house, however, his perspective as a white writer is limiting. The novel lacks a Black perspective despite its focus on slavery and differing narratives. Instead of developing how the South’s horrors and failures are intrinsically tied to slavery, Faulkner focuses on the struggles of white people after the Civil War. He never directly criticizes the South for its blatant racism. Faulkner’s narrow regard of the Antebellum South does no justice to the enslaved people who were forcefully torn from Africa and transported to the South to serve as stepping stools for white people. The author manages to depict a shattered window pane or a crooked front porch, but ultimately fails to encapsulate the rot in the foundation. Where Faulkner fails to cultivate a multidimensional African American character without forwarding stereotypes, Morrison centers her story, Beloved, on a young enslaved Black woman named Sethe and her journey to freedom. Refusing to allow the white gaze to permeate her writing, she slices through any residual uncertainty of the brutal horror endured by slavery. Sethe was born to an African American mother she never knew. Sold to the Sweet Home plantation at 13, she is subject to unrelenting physical, sexual, and emotional terrorization. Pregnant Sethe decides to escape with her three children. The enslaver’s nephews discover her plans, capture Sethe, and steal milk from her breasts intended for her unborn child. Despite being wounded and terrified, Sethe maintains her determination to run. She spends 28 days away from Sweet Home before she is found and forced to return. Refusing to submit her children to the evils of slavery, she decides to murder them. Only her third daughter dies, who she calls Beloved. Her daughter returns to her in the form of a ghost, haunting her with the horrors of the past as a symbol of all that slavery stripped from Sethe and her family. Morrison grips the lifting wallpaper and forcefully strips it from the walls. Pointing at the black mold quietly festering in the ceilings, she forces her audience to stare at the ugly realities

of slavery. Tearing up shoddy floorboards, the novelist reveals maggots and cockroaches. She shows the shackles used to chain and the gags shoved into mouths. Allowing the rusty water to rampantly pour from the faucet, she calls attention to the stained white porcelain tub. She throws oil paintings that conceal water stains on the broken floor and hurls aside furniture that attempt to hide the decay. Morrison and Faulkner’s work is often compared, with critics claiming her writing emulates his – a dangerous and incorrect belief. Where Faulkner might depict broken porcelain handle faucets or stained kitchen countertops, Morrison’s work delves deep into the foundation, revealing termites and a disintegrating core. Every year, the University of Mississippi holds the Yoknapatawpha Conference in honor of Faulkner. As the keynote speaker in 1985, Morrison addressed his shortcomings and problematic legacy. Giving the world a taste of her then-unfinished novel, she read the first few pages of Beloved. By refusing to write watered-down versions of reality for a white audience, Morrison freed space for authors like Jesmym Ward, Natasha Tretheway, Amanda Gorman, and many others to continue to take sledgehammers to marble mantels and knives to intricate plaster designs. By addressing the region’s true, abominable history and challenging oversimplified portrayals, they ensure the accurate representation of Black individuals’ stories and the infinite preservation of a people’s past often erased. Somewhere in the American South sits a manor overtaken by thistles and crabgrass. The house exists on stolen land. A relic of abhorrence, the roof is disintegrating. The windows are boarded shut, and the front porch sinks into the ground. The white paint cracks, revealing rotting oak. An eerie silence consumes the manor. The house remains untouched, caving within itself slowly, returning to the ground from where it was erected. ■

“I cannot make you understand. I cannot make anyone understand what is happening inside me. I cannot even explain it to myself.” - Franz Kafka







It will DESTROY ME.”



nd when I wake, I know it’s here again. Staring. Waiting. Craving. Its eyes curve as I unravel my heaving body. I rub the blister at my feet, and I can feel its breath swiping across my cheek. It crawls with me to the bathroom, the pitterpatter of its antenna reverberating through my skull. In the mirror, I inspect everything wrong with me — a ritual I’ve developed over the years to ward it off. OCD is a tedious, needy, starving thing; even in my periphery now, the vermin vies pathetically for me to glance its way, hunting to break its fast. I keep my gaze away, still hoping in vain that it will tire of me. But as usual, the metallic stench of its rot never fades. When I reach the last round, it clutches me suddenly. Its impatient heat weighs into my skin, and I know I’ve ignored it for too long. You’re forgetting something, it insists as I peel the ghost of its sickly green slime off my shoulders. I grit my teeth and search my thighs for blemishes once more. As I start my exit checks, it stops me, tugging and twisting at my ear: Behind you. Layers upon layers of vermin slush flood my apartment, leaving my walls and floors dripping in translucent fluids. An ocean of horror rushes through me: if I do not fight it, it will destroy me. I wipe the windows until my fingertips bruise, and I scrub the cabinets until my knees tremble. Nothing quenches its hunger. Again, it shrieks. When I finally tear myself away, I try locking it this time behind my gunk-glazed door. My attempt is, of course, futile: the vermin simply strides forth, its footsteps falling back in time with mine. Where I run, it runs; where I go, it goes. I whirl in an all-consuming anger — this illness will never offer me any reprieve. We stay in a tense mutual silence the entire walk to campus. I can hear it huffing loudly as I make my way up to my classroom. The professor’s already midway through the lecture. I pull out my laptop, and the vermin slithers into the chair beside me. Your hair, it whispers. I startle — there’s a few strands of its leftover phlegm oozing from my scalp like an open wound. I attempt to scratch myself raw, the lecture all but forgotten. When people start shifting out of their seats, I pause to peek down at my hands. My nails beds are engulfed in blood, and vermin dregs cling onto my cuticles. And still, I can feel it leaking out of me. At lunch, I can hardly comprehend what my friends are saying. The slime coats the fine lining of my ears, and each word sinks in like a gelatinous rainstorm. Speak, it roars into me. I shudder, swallow, and cover my mouth again and again until my voice is no longer mine alone. A thick, syrupy green trickles down my throat. My friends watch me worriedly, and I throw the rest of my meal away. It swells within me all day, creeping into my tendons and swarming my lungs. In my next class, it pools from the corners of my eyes, its tendrils dribbling down my face like plasmic tears. I’m right here, it thunders every minute, eternally insatiable. Taking tests or participating in meetings have become impossible; I’ve begun hitting myself systematically to ward it off, to cope. Despair overcomes me when my hands return swathed in the sinewy strands of its sprawl.



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By sunset, its liquids have become one with mine. The walk home is treacherous. I trudge back bleary-eyed through a ghastly quicksand, hardened muck encasing my legs. The vermin sits proudly as deadweight on my back, and its repetitive warnings reach a boiling volume in my veins. I’ve grown weary of fending it off, all my strength and energy finally licked clean. We act in tandem. When it breathes, I breathe; when it moves, I move. I open the door to my apartment — only half of me left — and I fall into a fetal position, my face against the ground. The slime follows suit, wrapping and sucking around the length of my body. I hold the loose fabric of my abdomen, and I can feel it surging within my bones. “What more can I do so that you will no longer want for me?” I cry out, my organs sloshing between my forearms. A terrible, throaty laugh emerges from the vermin, and its resonance strums at the strings of my stomach. Look at yourself. Again and again. I crawl to my bedroom, grabbing fistfuls of the floor to thrust myself forward. A waterfall of gooey, foul-smelling slop pours rapidly from the ceiling. Each cabinet and window reeks of that awful, glowing green. I’ve given up swatting it away, accepting at last the pellets of slime-slurry hailing onto me. A fierce anxiety pricks at me as I drag myself up to the bathroom. The vermin’s nonstop stream of commands right at my ear finally reaches a horrible halt. In the mirror, a vermin looks back at me. I stare at my spindled hands, my domed belly, my armored back, and a great, monstrous, inescapable panic erupts out of me. I let out a pathetic, hopeless wail and claw at myself viciously. Tears slip down my tentacled mouth. I rip off the plates of my flesh, dig through slime coatings and vermin-filling until my chest cavity — now a messy, filthy swarm of guts and colons — breaks open. In the utter wasteland of my body, I can see it at last: my heart. Its atriums and ventricular chambers emit a faint green glare, but ribbons of stubborn human red peek through. This heart is mine, mine, mine. I gasp, a boundless pain shaking down to even my marrow. Here, the vermin cannot penetrate. Here, deep in the hollows of my metamorphosed body, I exist once more. Gently, delicately, tenderly: I pluck out my quivering, fearing heart and set it against the religiously-bleached white of my sink. I cup my hands into the stream of tap water and knead away the bulbous vestiges of the slime. The sludge, muck, slop, and gunk peel off the walls in slow, visceral agony until all that remains in this world is me and my red, red heart. I cradle it to me now, sprinkling water over its valves like myrrh over a catachumen’s head. How good it feels to live once more. When my heart is clean and pure and whole again, I lay onto my bed carefully and I plop it right back into my chest. In the unwavering darkness of my room, I take my first breath, and I know at once that I am no longer vermin. I close my eyes. Tomorrow will wash over me soon, and I will greet it anew. An anticipatory calm like no other settles firmly within me. Sleep falls at last. And when I wake, I know it’s here again. ■






MINE.” cicada



Richard Samuel: “RichesArt is community and culture... a product of change.” layout JAYCEE JAMISON photographer TYSON HUMBERT stylist VI CAO hmua MERYL JIANG videographer BELTON GAAR




lipping a building bought off Craigslist into a fully functioning gallery is hard work. Richard Samuel bought it in hopes of filling the space with community. So, naturally, he and the community around him built it.

“It was a beautiful building already,” Samuel said. “I got lucky: I grew up in a construction background, so I got 10 of my friends and we painted [and flipped it]. My mom has a vintage shop, so she helped me find all the furniture. I already had an art following because I had been vending for so long, so I built up a good repertoire of artists that I could easily fill the gallery with.” It took about a month to fully renovate the E 6th St. building. After walls were painted and decorated, art promoted, opening reception planned, RichesArt Gallery and Studio opened to the public on June 12, 2021. Two months into the process of achieving this dream and opening the brick and mortar, Samuel found out his business was the only Black-owned art gallery in Austin, and one of two in all of Texas. Knowing this, Samuel said he focused his artistic aspirations on what he could do for the community, creating an intentional place for selfexpression for Black and brown people in East Austin. You name it, RichesArt Gallery and Studio has it — jazz, comedy, and poetry nights, art history lectures, figure drawing and watercolor classes, star-studded block parties and opening receptions. “RichesArt is as far away from a traditional gallery as possible,” he said. “We have couches, a different type of lighting, and artwork is hung in a non-traditional manner. It’s meant for you to be able to come in, relax, enjoy the art, and not feel so tied up with white walls and white wine. It can feel stuffy sometimes in traditional galleries.” Originally from Wimberley, Texas, Samuel grew up going to the East side of Austin, where he said he experienced a wealth of Black culture — culture that continues to be gentrified out of the area as the city and affluent transplants drive out Black and brown communities. “I couldn’t get my hair braided in Wimberley and all the MLK







“RichesArt is as far away from a traditional gallery as possible.”

parades and Juneteenth festivals were [in Austin],” he said. “When you see culture leaving cities, it’s always a detriment, not only to the people that represent that culture, but to the city in general. It was a pretty easy choice to be like, ‘I’ll step up and help provide space for that self expression.’”

As Samuel hopes to inspire others, he is equally inspired by others: the likes of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Banksy, as well as Lian Quan Zhen, a renowned watercolor artist who he studied under when he was younger. Taking Zhen’s class set in motion the ways that Samuel wanted to express himself through art.

Owning the property that RichesArt is built on, Samuel said he hopes he can play a part in preserving East Austin amid gentrification. He said he aims to provide people, those just moving in and those that have lived in Austin for generations, with a welcoming and inclusive spot to gather. “The East side is known to be eclectic and cool, which made the property values high because it was so diverse,” Samuel said. “Some people have moved here and want to live on the East side because it’s so cool, but everything that made it cool is getting replaced. To have ownership and have a place where that cool part of the city doesn’t disappear is extremely important.” In order to foster community outwardly, Samuel said it is just as important that that feeling of community is shared between him and his staff.

“I was still focused on football at that point, but it was one of those moments like: ‘This is how I want to paint. This is how I want to express myself,’” he said. “[This led me] to a whole other world. [I dove] into a whole other work ethic, medium, and adventure on how to express myself: finding ways to fall in love with [my] own mistakes and create [my] own brand. That was the stepping stone.” With another location opened up on E Cesar Chavez St., Samuel’s goal is to open more RichesArt locations throughout Austin and then to take his philosophy of business — community, culture, and being a product of change — beyond city limits. “We’re going to have multiple locations here in Austin to make sure that underrepresented art forms always have a place in the city,” he said. “And then it’s [about] taking that business plan and model of equity to other cities that are getting gentrified, finding the people doing the right things in the city, and being able to provide a brick and mortar for them to do the same thing.”

“RichesArt is community and culture…a product of change,” he said. “That com munity, that culture, that feeling when you come into this brick and mortar is set from the top down. It’s how I treat my staff, how my staff treats other people — everything that we do to be a safe space. If you’re pouring into the gallery’s cup, it has to be pouring back into yours.” Before art became his passion, Samuel was focused on football, growing up playing the sport and later competing professionally in Europe. After retiring, Samuel translated his leadership skills into his art endeavors twofold: opening and running a successful gallery and also creating art that brings light to other people’s lives. “I love to inspire people and provide motivation,” Samuel said. “That’s usually where my art takes me, to some type of nostalgia or aspect of life that can be motivated, make you smile and want to reach for your dreams, and to continue your self expression. That’s what I always want my art to do.”

Richard Samuel has always been an artist. From growing up with football as his passion and art as his peace, he’s now retired from football with art as his full-time job. A watercolor artist, muralist, fashion and graphic designer, and galleryowner. Samuel is filled with creativity and, as he puts it, blessed with the only thing artists truly have of their own: the desire to create. He plans to hold onto this desire for the rest of his life, illuminated by his motto: Till Death Give Us Art. One can only hope that his motto — and ideology of preserving culture and fostering community — will soon reach their city. Richard Samuel isn’t hoping, though — he’s making it happen. ■












START AGAIN You are reborn, becoming the person you were always meant to be. It was only a matter of finding the light. Now, step into it.

GREEN MESH JACKET | Leopard Lounge NAILS | Azucena Mosqueda

00:00 167



08:15: ravenous I imagine I was born with this hunger — this curiosity, this quest for understanding. It is like a God to me – with neither face nor age. Omnipotent, omnipresent. I worship it on bare knees, over rocks and roots. I am nude as the day I was born. My mind is empty save for faceless memories of a place I may once have called home. I pulled myself from the ashes of empty womb and shed skin knowing there was a story to be heard, lessons to be learned, waltzes to be danced, faces to memorize, people to love. cicada




12:50: learning to walk Then, I stumble through fields of dandelions, knees buckling, ligaments and tendons and muscles weak with atrophy. I ache for the tissue and blood to oxidize, to make me old. Like you. I slip in the puddles of discarded sinew, and hear a cacophony of sounds as I remember how to put left before right. My teeth form a straight line. Smile. Wince. Towards you all, I smile. “What are you?” It’s an accusation, not a question. I crawl back into myself then, back into the earth, ready to bloom again.






start again

There’s a letter written in scarlet pinned to my beating heart. It is crimson in color and tells a story of where I came from in words I cannot read.

My bones are malleable, delicate, bending and breaking at will. A small price to pay, for Satiety.

I stare at it in the mirror — poke, pull, prod. It does not budge. There’s nothing else to cover my decency.

I hold it all — everything I have taken, nothing I have earned — in the palms of my hands.

Around the corner, a few blocks away, sits a gas station. Behind the counter there is a man with a flag on his hat. I do not know what that means. I ask him for a map and tell him that I am hungry. He points — not at me. Through me.

There are remnants of memories that I can find if I stretch my thumbs back, then up through my temporal lobes. It brings a dull ache to the back of my eye sockets. I remember pursed lips above golden flames — small as if a nymph had created them herself.

Pokes a hole straight through the left of my chest, but I am invincible. Still new.

But I hold none of this. Nothing other than this primordial angst.

“What are you?”

So I trade stick and leaf for paper and pen, my only weapons as I set out to enact my holy conquest.

His fingers are now stained scarlet. I leave with a map and an apple. I take a bite, but my teeth are too weak. When I pull away, they remain lodged in the fruit’s rigid flesh. Fangs pierce my gums in their wake. I toss the apple to the floor, and run.

The sun sets. I start again. ■

I run. I pass by houses and streets, mountains then streams, taking and taking with an open heart and hands. Before long, I am air.

No, I am wings and fangs and teeth, and faster than the very wind itself.



CROCHET BONNET | Emily Martinez


24:00 172



Summer of magical thinking Grief is not everything. The sun is. by ANJALI KRISHNA layout FIONA YUKO FORBES & AVA JIANG




fter my father died, I prayed for rain.

They say that rain cleanses — that water washes away the worst of sins. For the past year, I’d been hoping for a flood or tsunami, for a torrential downfall to wipe me clean of memories, of sorrows, of everything I’d done wrong and all I’d lost. I needed the rain to help me forget. So I went in search of it and spent a wet summer in England reading Wuthering Heights, the story of hardened souls forged in the precarious Yorkshire Moors. When I climbed the Moors myself, an impending storm in the distance, my father was on my mind. I had become religious in the last few years, only in the moments I would grasp my father’s hands and find them thinner, almost wispy, within mine. I pressed my hands together with violence at the altar of the gods, thinking that just a little harder might do something. I wasn’t sure that I loved God, or even trusted him. Still, I prayed: there was no one else to ask. Even after he was gone, I was still hoping for magic – some evidence that this was all one horrible mistake. Every eyelash on my face, every candle I blew out, every coin I threw in a fountain was dedicated to him. The rolling hills on the Moors, everything colored a green so vibrant it seemed unnatural, was one more altar, shocking enough to assume the presence of something great.

There were said to be fairy caves in these Moors, which the Brontë sisters had supposedly once traversed. Wishes, here, too, were said to be granted. In the moments before we began the steep climb to the caves, a storm rolled over us. The storm began as a drizzle and turned almost immediately into a deluge. We were lucky we hadn’t tried to ascend, the guide told us. That pathway could have been fatal if it were slippery. With the wind and icy rain whipping my thin plastic poncho, chilling me to the bone in my flimsy tennis skirt, I found myself overwhelmed with grief. I’d come for a baptism and forgotten I was Hindu. My father was a simple man — he loved his kids, watching tennis, a n d eating

spicy food. He hated the cold. He believed in God and never drank or smoked in his life. The only time I saw him cry was when his mother died. Someone, at his funeral, called him a saint. My father wasn’t a saint, I’m sure. I mirror him in too many ways for that to be true, the way all daughters resemble their dads: thieves of their hot tempers and their love for my mother’s coffee. Perhaps his constant stability was why I didn’t believe he would die until the moment he did. Perhaps it’s how I kept believing, through the summer, that some magic being, godly figure, or trade would bring him back. I remembered, as we walked as a small line of umbrellas, my father and I sitting in our yard in wicker lawn chairs. We’d pull at the weather-worn pieces of plastic and talk about nothing, heads turned up to catch the last of the sunlight after he’d come home from work and I from school. I remembered, as the group grew silent against the howling wind, a dream I had in the month after my father died. For some reason, my family home’s primary bedroom was shrouded in hazy light as I sat beside my father on his bed. When I touched his leg to comfort him, he flinched. Then, the air began to shimmer. Glistening and golden, the dream fell apart — I woke up and sobbed, the same way I had begun to cry on the Moors. The rainfall disguised the tears rolling down my face. After beating down on us for about 20 minutes, the torrent disappeared as quickly as it had come, gusts of wind becoming less violent as we reached a small brook. When I stood atop the hills, still shaking from the sudden onset storm just turned off like God had flipped a switch, the sun came out. Once again, we trekked upwards, fearful and knowing now of the weather’s volatility with a tentative adoration for the new warmth on our backs. I lifted my head up and felt heat touch my skin. I had prayed for rain, because they say that it cleanses, but it doesn’t. It didn’t. I lived on after the rain, unchanged, with painful memories and grief. The cold rain wouldn’t help me forget or move on. It only brought back the tragedy in vivid blues and greens. In the way some women felt connected to Diana, or Luna, or Phoebe in the moon, Apollo or Surya was a protector of mine — my triumphant sun, killer of fear, beauteous and warm. I lifted my head up and felt heat touch my skin. It wasn’t the water I had wished for. Water would cleanse but also strip, leaving you cold and shivering. Only the sun, so sparse here, would heal. The warmth would bake away impurities and set the wounds it created with a golden glow. The sun would adorn and bless.

“I’d come for a baptism and forgotten I was Hindu.”





These Moors were not meant for me, I thought. The wind and rain beat so ceaselessly, no wonder people must harden their hearts to simply stand. It was the sun that saved me on those hills, Surya or Apollo who revitalized me, who didn’t wash me clean or make me forget but danced light over regrets, turned sorrow into reminiscence. I picked a small handful of berries and sat, allowing the sunlight to kiss me. I would get off these hills, and return to the warm world of grassland, where grass grows brown yet people grow strong. They bask — we bask — and live with joy in our blood. I didn’t want to be hardened or independent or cold. I didn’t want to wallow or beg or pray — though I’m sure leaving the rain behind wouldn’t mean the end of grief. But it could be a start. Magic would not bring my father back, but magic exists all around me, in nature and light and the warmth of my home. I found magic that summer, not where I escaped to, but where I ran from — in my friends and family and everything that lives beyond grief, beyond death. Where the sun goes, I belong. That is magic enough. ■











mongst the billowy clouds of emissions that pervade the city of Varanasi, the monastics blow smoke of their own. The cannabis simultaneously scorches and massages their lungs, its familiar warmth melting their frostbitten senses. They live in a mystic plane of transfigured consciousness, washing down the smoke with a swig of high-proof liquor encased in the remains of a human skull. They are the Aghori. Though Hindu doctrine dictates to abstain from worldly pleasures, the Aghori claim that these intoxicants heighten their spirituality. In a trance, the Aghori’s days are spent roaming about the countless funeral pyres in the city and meditating on top of decaying corpses. The funeral pyres, as well as the Ganges river, are littered with human remains. Bereaving families come to Varanasi to perform last rites and dump corpses into a river universally considered holy by Hindus. The Aghori offer prayers to those unable to afford funeral services catered towards the high-caste and high-class. They don’t charge, they don’t care for capital. They only want death — death as attunement, death as a merging of the self and the divine Whole. Countless bodies that end up at the funeral pyres are the abandoned and homeless, forsaken by the overwhelming disparity imparted by urbanized hypercapitalism. Aghoris craft necklaces and other sorts of jewelry from the bones of these remains, and use skulls as drinking cups. They also eat the corpses. Though it can feel harrowing to accept, a story that begins must eventually meet its end. A story without an ending is nothing but an unfinished one. To some degree, the lives that we construct, or rather, our perceptions of the lives we construct seem to follow a twisted narrative structure, even if only in our heads. There are moments of earnest jubilation, unendurable sorrow, and unrelenting terror. We piece these together in order to conceptualize all that we have experienced, yet we are mortified of the climax: death. It is insurmountable, yet we choose to live as if it is absent from our existence, only letting it command us in the wake of a horrific tragedy or tantalizing loss. The Aghori reject not only this



condemnation of death, but the materialistic posturing of our lives. It is all an illusory diversion in their eyes. They maintain that these “stories of our lives” are total fabrications; birth is not the beginning, death is not the end, and our lives are not our lives. The Aghori are a specific sect of Hinduism and are known as Shaivas, or worshippers of the deity Shiva, the Lord of Destruction. Ethnocentric Westerners are quick to label their practices as “Satanic,” though the Aghori know nothing of this concept. In some ways, such ill-conceived notions are fated to arise: the philosophies of the Aghori present a drastic departure from the consumerist maxims of Western life. High-caste and highclass members of Indian society also hold disdain for the Aghori, maintaining their conventional practices as the only feasible ones. None of these outsiders mean anything to the Aghori – neither does money, power, or material amenities. Their name comes from the Sanskrit term aghora, or roughly, “entering light from dark.” They believe their human lives to be mere illusions distracting us from the Oneness of the universe. The sense of our independent self is nothing but a sense, for there is no difference between self and other, between man and God. We are all manifestations of an individual divine power, regrettably deluded into perceiving ourselves as ourselves. Death, reviled and detested, is the catalyst for us to reach Oneness — to escape our fragmentation and reach Wholeness. Jarring yet emblematic, this act is an evocative denouncement of worldly desire, an act in which the consumer becomes consumed. It is a liberating practice, underscoring the distance of the Aghori from the intrinsic greed of humanity. Something as repudiated as a piece of a corpse is consumed as a means of sustenance. It is treated simply as that. At the same time, this ritual not only contradicts the norms of Indian civilization, but of civilization entirely. Not unlike the other practices of the Aghori, social norms do not influence the practices


necessary to attain their spiritual destination. Practically all religious parties adhere to their belief because they believe it to be the one and only truth, and the Aghori are no exception. In their eyes, desire is inseparable from human nature. By rejecting desire, they reject their own humanity, granting them absolution from reincarnation. Their apathy is a principle akin to their faith, if not even more significant. Suffering is intertwined with life, and life is intertwined with suffering, so why should anything be done to erase it, rather than erasing notions of life itself? How these practices comprise this erasure is unclear to many, but it makes more sense than anything else to the Aghori, who make the conscious decision to enter this oath: to be numb is to be independent of any source of delight or affliction, any source of love, hatred, anger, envy, lust, fear, disgust, and most significant of all, any source of desire. And to be existence and


numb is to be immune from whatever happens outside of it. ■









We wrap ourselves in that name as a source of protection. Freedom is in that name. Healing is in that name. Shout it — for there is something about that name.






un across the room, raise your hands — step. The body is a vessel for praise. Use it with all your might. Let it shutter in your bones like fire. Like fire, run! For you are free! Freedom is in that name. Healing is in that name. Power is in that name. Shout it — for there is something about that name.

I was raised up with that name: Jesus. As soon as I spoke, nights ended with the Lord’s prayer and the tune of Jesus Loves Me. I was taught not to pray like it was a routine, but to really speak to Him. Each night my parents crouched down around my sister and I’s twin beds — surrendered.

Gospel music was in our bellies. There was no elaborate band, just the talents of a pianist and drummer with tambourines aiding in Total Praise and joyful noise. Our music held life. Transcending beyond notes and lyrics, the voices of worship encouraged us; no matter the circumstances, we were Blessed and Highly Favored. Something about the music was different — it was spirited. The pastor moved our congregation just as the choir did — speaking life through crescendos and perfectly timed pauses. “Can I get a witness?”

Saturdays were reserved for children’s choir practice, and every Sunday Morning we’d scramble to get to church on time. I’d often dread itchy pantyhose and matching dresses with my sister. No matter how hard I tried, my slow pace and frequent whining never prevented us from getting to church. My parents allowed us to enter church as annoyed as we wanted; we never left the house of God feeling the same way we came. The church was where I was surrounded by my people. Sunday Morning was nothing short of a ritual. Though the pastor urged every lost soul to come as they were, no one ever did. The ensembles made for a colorful crowd. The pews were full of hats that housed perfect press-and-curls reserved for the glorious day and knee-length skirts accompanied by threepiece suits. The entrance into the sanctuary was never lonely. After a million welcomes, good mornings, and hugs, the choir — first serenading us outside of the doors — boomed when we finally stepped into the sanctuary. Welcome. I never dared touch a door. They opened at the whitegloved hands of the ushers, who escorted us with order and a smile to the perfect seat for four. The choir bellowed in a way that only we could in God’s house. Shout! Screams and wails of worship filled the room. My church had a smell. It had mints and popsicle fans, and the Holy Spirit took form in rhythm — hymns and gospel speaking life into those who had seen so much of it.



There was no such thing as strangers in the church, just visitors, brothers, and sisters. The pastor urged the congregation to turn to their neighbor and say “Neighbor, Trouble Don’t Last Always.” The service ended in a proclamation that each person be blessed when they come and go. The Black church was more than just a community. It was kin. It was family. It was looking out for each other because my mother knows yours. I was known as the daughter of Charlotte and Anthony — ah, the Marburys, our family unit, a part of a beautifully woven quilt of support. Faith was one of the few things passed down in our history. The spiritual trumped the physical. My family may have lacked the prestigious connections and trust funds, we were all invested in spirituality beyond comprehension. As a church kid, there was no such thing as leaving early. I’d sit back in the volunteer breakroom and listen to light post-service conversations shift into deep reflections and prayers over one another. The pastor and his wife not only offered prayers but answered them through action. Love was on display through the investment of time to instill what was necessary for every Black life: hope. I remember going to a church in my white neighborhood when, God forbid, we’d be too late for our church home’s service. Their Jesus was different. They whispered that name, and that name demanded composure. There was no shouting, only swinging melodies. Their church’s building was 10 times bigger

“ TRANSCENDING BEYOND NOTES AND LYRICS, THE VOICES OF WORSHIP ENCOURAGED US; NO MATTER THE CIRCUMSTANCES, WE WERE BLESSED AND HIGHLY FAVORED. ” yet it felt so empty. No hugs here — maybe a handshake or a wave and smile. I didn’t dare speak or shout “amen” in agreement. Their pastor never asked for one — just calm hmms.

Our Jesus was different because our struggles were different. To go through so much but still yell out that name — “Jesus” — is power. It’s liberation, it’s necessary, it’s survival.

It was as if they didn’t need to shout the good news of freedom through Jesus, but that they themselves were the true embodiments of it. The true strong hands of white purity were where their Jesus had bestowed birthrights of superiority and perfection, equating Him to their whiteness.

Dr. James H. Cone, the Father of Black Theology, merged and intellectualized with Black identity Christianity during the height of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, when the question of whether the faith was a “white man’s religion” was raised. Cone argued that God was on the side of the oppressed: liberation and freedom were nothing short of Jesus’ own story. The story of Jesus, although perverted by the majority, is related to the Black experience at its core: the resurrection represents the ultimate act of liberation.

What shocked me the most weren’t only the points uplifting aggressive evangelism or passive belittling of those from other faiths or backgrounds. It was the silence. They never addressed real issues of oppression — oppression which their silence uplifted.



Liberation was on full display in my church home. The God we served was worthy of praise in every form, no matter how loud, grandiose, or “out of place” it seemed. We had no other choice BUT to shout that name! Our Black existence, and the pride and strength within it, was found in a world that demanded the opposite. Life was nothing short of a miracle. In the house of God, every Black body belonged to no one but God. My church was a place where freedom was found within a world where we had to beg for it. Our spirituality, merged with His greatness, shifted the atmosphere. He saw each shout, each burst into tongues, and each fall out for the radical faith it was in the midst of circumstances where it seemed irrational. At the core of the Black church is survival, and though our faith was shaped by the unique experience of race, it didn’t omit internal issues.


you hear…?” I’d constantly question the standards for women and the bizarre concern and near obsession of “purity.” I saw the consequences of a ruined reputation when one fell short of expectations created by people, not God. Comfort I once found within the community I had grown up in shifted into fear of missing the mark of perfection. Fear is powerful, and in my case it turned into resentment. The weeds within the church overtook the seeds of faith that were once planted in my life. The unanswered questions, instilled shame, and the constant over-spiritualization of personal suffering and trauma combined with fear – church hurt. The hurt I experienced from a place where I first found true, full love was an unexplainable pain. It wasn’t until I encountered Him personally that I truly grasped the One I had been introduced to serve. Calling on that name Jesus wasn’t a way out of life’s issues. Faith was a personal tool of relief that went beyond my own understanding, and most importantly: it was my choice. That name commanded doors to open that I’d never dream of. Calling on it divinely positioned souls in my life at the perfect time and place. By getting to know Him in silence and true devotion through prayer and meditation, I experienced Him outside of the church.

The world around us constantly challenges the Black identity, experience, and — the very worst — humanity. The church had to prepare the youth for life outside its walls. Preparation was demonstrated in the form of tough love: breaking down in order to be built back up and earning mercy by enduring hardship. These unfortunate attempts of guidance snowballed into weeds within the garden of the Black church.

The church is now somewhere I run to when I need a hug only a grandmother can give. A place where God’s grace shines through His people, and where His image is made apparent through His craft that he is so clearly obsessed with.

The church is made of people, and no one is perfect. This fall from grace and perfect sanctification didn’t disguise itself for long.

Christ is my Firm Foundation — but the church was the home built upon it. No matter the dysfunctions of any household, there is no place like home.

Gossip after service from women I once looked up to made my ears perk up as a teen. The adults expected to set an example failed to, and sealed the deadly sins they had allegedly turned away from with a “Girlll, did

My identity is still strongly rooted in the seeds my parents planted. I still end my nights with the Lord’s prayer and Jesus Loves Me before bed. All because there is Something About the Name Jesus. ■






No one ever died inSeptember.

Your name Your is my name creation is my by KATLYNN FOX







he boys are splashing in the shallow end. August is finally learning how to walk, but he has no idea how to stay afloat. Ozzy’s dark curly hair drips with chlorine as he holds August in his tattooed arms; they spin around in a circle. I yell out “whirlpool!” Ozzy and I used to love playing that game together in my grandparents’ pool, and now he gets to show our nephew. August throws his head back and cackles a loud toddler scream of joy. Everyone around smiles. The boys are home, the backyard is full, and my love is palpable. My nephew has blonde curls on top of his head like tumbleweeds in the west. August comes alive in the summertime. His cheeks get pink from sun exposure, and he wears a floppy hat to cover his scalp. The best days are when he comes over to play in the pool, and he gets popsicle all over his hands, sticky and sickly sweet. The dogs run from him in the backyard, and my mom calls after him to “be careful” and “be gentle.” Strawberries and blueberries sit squished in his little palms. They are ripe for the squeezing, nearing the end of a long, hot season. In Texas, August is scorching. It drags on like a winding road. People often refer to August as the dog days of summer because it’s an impossibly unbearable few weeks. Dogs pant, people sweat, plants die, and the pool is already a hundred degrees. My nephew, however, is sweet; his laugh is boisterous and round. He learned how to give a good hug before he could use the word. In my family, August is a month of mourning and reflection, birthdays and weddings, long lives and short deaths. It is a time of rebirth and renewal. Families return from vacation. Students return to school with newfound optimism. In August 1999, my nephew’s mother was born, two decades before she became my sister-in-law. His grandparents got married in the same month a year later, 22 years before he was born. My mom still keeps her wedding ring somewhere hidden in the depths of her closet — a tiny princess cut diamond that carries the weight of three kids and a house in the sub-

urbs. Six years later, his grandfather – my father – died suddenly. It was August, where life sprouted from the roots of love and death. The fruits were in season and ripe for the picking. Before my nephew was born, I sat with his mother at the kitchen island and we talked about names. I showed her my list of baby names that I kept tucked away in my phone, scribbled on a page in my journal. August was jotted down below Winter. August for a boy and Winter for a girl. Summer would be too predictable — it had to be August. He could be something wonderful. August stomps around my house like it’s his palace, so brazen he forgets to be gentle, running forward while looking over his shoulder. He reminds me so much of a foal. Running wild in the grass, he is otherworldly. His spirit transcends bruised skin from falls in the yard, and he becomes something akin to nature. Untamed and free until the sun goes down and the birds fly home. He stumbles, so clumsy that I fear one day he’ll break his arm just like his dad and have everyone sign his gaudy neon cast. His life began two Februarys ago, but every year when his namesake comes around, does he not get reborn? Our past with August has shaped his future and he has no idea. He shouldn’t have to. He didn’t choose his name — I did. When a person is named after something or someone, they must take on the associations that come with it. They don’t really have a choice. I am named after my grandmother, a curly-haired spitfire who used to sling drinks in Chicago. August is named after the month, untouched by its reputation — despite emerging from such complexity. My brother bears the name of our favorite blue sea creature. Ozzy did choose his name. It came from the show we used to watch as kids, Oswald. The little blue octopus with his top hat and little weenie dog, aptly named Weenie, trotted around their city and made friends with everyone. Ozzy told me that he wanted a life like that: filled with friends, laughter, and walks around the neighborhood. Now, we both live separate lives in our own apartments with our own dogs. He became his idol on the silver screen. I mimic him from 200 miles away, just like old times. I pet my dog, go on walks, and find family within the comfort of my friends. Ozzy spent his childhood jumping on our trampoline and scribbling on his walls with permanent markers. He spent it living in a different body and answering to a different name. The vandalized walls of our home couldn’t contain us, so we escaped into the backyard. My brothers and I made mud-pies and captured bugs in mason jars. We climbed the splintered steps of our treehouse and slung handfuls of sand at each other from our ladybug-shaped sandbox.







“ It was August, where life sprouted from the roots of love and death.” cicada


My brother was jaded in every way a person could be. Stuck wearing clothes that didn’t fit, expressing a laugh that didn’t sound quite right, and listening to a name that laid uncomfortably over his skin, suffocating him. He was reborn when he dug his hand into his chest and pulled out the being trapped inside. The carcass fell onto the ground, charred and burned beyond recognition. Eventually, all that was left was charred soil. He rose above the ash and became golden. He was born a girl but emerged as a man. I think about the people Ozzy and I used to be together, decaying with his old body, preserved only by ash, yellowing photos, and homemade Christmas ornaments. The way we know each other is unlike anything in this life. Shared rooms, toys, memories, and love that waxed and waned without good reason. I regret the fights and quarrels that ended in begrudging apologies. We will never get that time back, never live in the same house again and whisper with flashlights under the comforter or scribble on walls together in secret. Instead of sharing a room, we share texts and see each other on holiday breaks. He sends his art and I send my stories, and we admire from afar. We spend most of our time together talking on the phone now instead of brawling in the yard. His voice crackles over the speaker while I busy myself cleaning my room, putting clothes away, and picking flower petals off the floor. He spends his days drawing, creating Friday the 13th flash sheets for his shop, and scratching his nine-year-old pitbull, Lily, on the head — lilies of the valley, so potent in the spring. Ozzy answers to the name of something so innocent, tied to our shared memories by a string frayed on both ends. “I wanted a name that reminded me of just being happy and peaceful,” he said. “I wanted to have something that was entirely my own.” August was a name I chose for my own child; it was born from my grief and carried the hope of a legacy. I could pass something on even if it was painful. But I know the name was never mine to give: it belonged to August even before he walked the earth. It belongs to his parents. They rejoice in the hardships that brought August home, and he dances freely on the foundation that built our family. Now, I want to have a daughter one day and name her September. Maybe I’ll call her Ember. I’ll pass something on: a controlled burn. She will rise out of dirt from an untouched plane. The soil will be enriched by the flame of her fingertips, it shall kiss the bushes and bless the crops. Ember will be the phoenix that rises from ashes of purity. There is nothing she has to overcome yet because tragedy doesn’t coexist with her namesake. No one ever died in September. And now my hope is she’ll spread her flame into the rest of the year. I’ll give her a title untethered to pain — not to erase the past, but to enlighten the future. My best days are yet to come. Maybe I will marry in September. I will laugh, sing, and dance there, too. There is so much joy that I haven’t felt yet — people I haven’t met yet. I haven’t met you, September, but the name belongs to you already. ■



“I haven’t met you, September, but the name belongs to you already.” cicada



There are certain themes in literature that seem to be permanent fixtures, gleaming with ubiquitous romance that can’t be resisted by even the greatest of writers and poets. August is that ubiquitous romance personified. by KAAMILAH ALI layout AVA JIANG photographer AARON CASTELLANOS stylists MIMO GORMAN & YOUSUF KHAN set stylist FLORIANA HOOL hmua PHUNG HUYNH & DAKOTA EVANS models JEANCLAUDE BISSOU, CHASE SMYTH, & REMY TRAN videographer MADISON PAYNE



“August rain is baptism by fire. It washes away the heat and restlessness of a whole summer and soaks the ground in prayer for a cool autumn.”


hree Augusts ago, everything was brand new; I was new to 18, new to college, and new to dating. Two Augusts ago, everything was still brand new. I was new to being in love, I was at an even newer college in a new city in a new apartment exactly one year into my newfound adulthood.

Most of all, August is unforgiving. It feels like a long goodbye to the thrill and potential of summer — a creep towards unremarkable autumn days where the dark swallows the world much too early. The days drag on forever but the weeks end all too abruptly, and by the end of it, the promise of September begins to feel more like a threat.

This past August, nothing was new but everything was different. The boy I met at 18 was no longer mine, my new university wasn’t so new to me anymore, and the rumbling swarm of doeeyed freshmen reminded me it wouldn’t even be mine for much longer. Reality set in.

In The Sound and The Fury, William Faulkner notes that “Some days in Late August at home are like this, the air thin and eager like this with something in it sad and nostalgic and familiar.”

Sylvia Plath says “August rain is the best of the summer gone, and the new fall not yet born. The odd uneven time.” She’s mainly right. Everything about this month is odd and uneven. I find that August rain is baptism by fire. It washes away the heat and restlessness of a whole summer and soaks the ground in prayer for a cool autumn. Maybe that’s why it feels like the time to start over, transform or transition. Maybe that’s why it feels so uncomfortable.

He’s right, of course. Right alongside the hot anguish and itch for excitement, there is a familiar malaise that washes over the world in the final summer days. It feels like a long Sunday bathed and soaked in golden sun, and it smells of wet grass and hot earth. It’s nostalgia. It’s where aimlessness meets hunger and boredom meets opportunity. The whole world knows it’s the last chance for adventure, to be excitable and uninhibited before life carries on. In Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem, the thin and eager air is a side effect not a comfort. For her, “August comes on not like a month but like an affliction.”

The odd uneven time. Plath is only one of many authors to dedicate her scripture to this phenomenon — to take note of the condition of this particular month. If my heart wasn’t naturally inclined to romanticize the paralyzing melancholy of August on its own accord, I would have no difficulty finding the romance in the pages I flip through and the lyrics I whisper, all spelled out in sweltering desperation. Endless lines of poetry and prose trace fingers across the days and weeks that bind together an annual era of sticky nostalgia and sweet disposition. And for good reason. There is something unwaveringly romantic about the month: the 31 days of hot fervor, listless winding summer days that bleed into hotter nights. It’s watching melted ice cream drip on burning pavement and the hair sticking to the back of your neck. August is sitting on hot asphalt curbs, sweat dripping down your chest and pooling all over your body while you pray for something exciting to happen, for anything to happen. The sun hardly sets in August. Rather, it falls into the horizon over the course of what feels like hours. It’s much like the way you fall into bed with a lover for the first time — wrought with anticipation and already aching for the next time before the first has even ended. The sun goes down as if it’s aching for the dawn, the chance to rise again and blister the earth with its unrelenting scorch before the dusk has even settled.


The affliction is that itch, that malaise, boredom, and hunger all up against the ticking time bomb of cold air and dead leaves. It’s an affliction of wanting and yearning, an affliction of lamenting decisions to be made and decisions past. If June offers sun-soaked gluttony and July sweet absolution, August is the purgatory you suffer for the sins of summer. It is a full body experience of pleasure turned agony, a ringing in the ears: Time is almost up. The universal contention is that August is some kind of precipice, a point of no return. You never come out of the conclusive summer month the same as when you entered it — or at least you shouldn’t. Like Natalie Babbitt describes in Tuck Everlasting, “The first week of August hangs at the very top of the summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning.” It’s a momentary pause at the peak before you descend into the unknown, and it reverberates through the stagnant air like the permanent buzzing drone of cicadas and lawn sprinklers. For four whole weeks you’re right on the verge of something, and in the end days you molt the skin you’ve tanned and blistered for the last twelve. It’s the exact time of year when the ideas of reinvention begin to trickle in. The questions that hang in the air incessantly at the





skin you’ve tanned and blistered for the last twelve. It’s the exact time of year when the ideas of reinvention begin to trickle in. The questions that hang in the air incessantly at the start of every new milestone year: the first days of middle school, high school, senior year, college… Who am I? Who will I become? The ideas of reinvention trickled in every time I went backto-school shopping with my mom, meandering through some suburban shopping mall — our only reprieve from Texas heat. It became my favorite time of year. She was exhausted but compliant, and I was all potential: new clothes could make a new girl. If I picked out just the right stuff, I could walk down familiar halls renewed and exciting. Reinvented. …Who am I? Who can I become? These questions must be the result of years of transition from long summer days to classrooms and school yards. Where Christmases might dull with age, the magic we prescribe to summer in childhood never seems to falter, never seems to wane even as years pass. As we inch closer to the fall, there is a renewed sense of urgency — the fear of magic slipping away. The melancholic feelings we have about August are something like the aftershocks of childhood trepidation. They come from the time when the threat of September rang too loud in our ears, when we felt our three months of magic, snow cones, swimming pools, tallgrass, and bug bites circling the drain, and when we knew we were soon returning to hallowed halls and old friends in shiny, new shoes. August is the month of starting over. It rings in the new year, not with champagne and glitter falling from the sky, but with ferocious dedication to metamorphosis, to pulling off the layers we sweat beneath and revealing a whole new being altogether — baptized in warm rain and salty oceans. The first autumn wind will blow away the last remnants of the person you were before a summer of stagance then transformation, and you can never find that person again. I’m of the philosophy that people change like seasons do, that the same summer never comes around twice. You only ever get one, and there’s never another like it. The nostalgia Faulkner finds hanging in the thin air, the odd, uneven time brought by Plath’s August rain, and the affliction that comes on to Didion are only reminders that the Augusts of yesterday are long gone. Even as we age, even when we trade in back to school for back to the office, and brand new sneakers become a brand new pair of sensible flats, there is an unrelenting possibility in the autumn leaves changing. Possibility is what keeps us alive. Starting over, staying fresh, never going back to the people we used to be is what makes us whole. And when we lose the wonderment and romance of childhood everywhere else, all we have left is the way we write about August. ■



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I’ve never been stung by a bee Presence

Feared Yet











had a language with my dad that only we spoke. I’ll try to translate.

I’ve never been stung by a bee. Even as a child, when I spoke too loud and ran too fast, they never bothered me, but they were always there. At that time, my parents were still married. I had my brother and sister, very few worries, and a rainbow rug on the floor of my room. My friends were other happy children, who my mom organized play dates and small groups with. Connor was one of these friends.

He told me that gardening healed a part of him and that dancing let him express it. He showed me every side of him: his engineer brain, his poems, and the books he gifted me on my birthdays. If I couldn’t sleep at night, he would make me tea and let me borrow something to read. He taught me that bees are very gentle if you let them know you’re their friend. When he got sick, he said that he spoke to his cancer the way he spoke to the bees, and hoped that it wouldn’t hurt him.

His parents sold a house to my mom and dad on Lincolnshire Drive, and they became our neighbors. At our playgroup, my brother, Connor, and I would play with sticks in the backyard. They were our swords and our light sabers. If it was warm, we would run around in our swimsuits with the sprinklers on and cannonball into the pool.

My dad’s illness spanned my freshman year of high school to my first year of college. It was a rollercoaster of health and disease, chemo and radiation, and hopes for a remission that never came. In his initial diagnosis, the doctors told him he had months to live. It seemed true — his body became so frail that I didn’t think he would ever look like my dad again. His round stomach deflated and his tan skin turned translucent. Running into family friends became torment when they would comment on his sunken cheeks and sagging jeans.

When Connor was four, the doctors found tumors in his spine, heart, and abdomen. He was diagnosed with stage IV neuroblastoma and died four years later. Connor was the first person I ever lost. My brother and I visited him in the colorful, sterile hospital room while our mothers cried. I didn’t know death. I barely knew sickness. And Connor was so unafraid. I couldn’t conceptualize that a child, who was like me in every way, was going to die, so I did what I knew: I played with my friend.

I wanted to scream, I wanted to cry, I wanted to hide. I wanted to crawl into the grave right next to him. At the same time, I wanted to hear him climb up the stairs to tuck me into bed again. I wanted him to have gray hair and glasses and dance with me at my wedding. There were too many memories to hold onto and too many hopes to let go of.

His parents and the rest of our community prayed for him to be healed, for his small body to fight against itself. Despite our desperation, there came a time when Connor’s family knew that he wouldn’t have the opportunity to grow up.

There were times between his diagnosis and death when he didn’t even look sick. He grew confident he could beat it, and I grew comfortable he would always be there. But, cyclically, the cancer reminded us it wasn’t a silent killer. I laid in a dorm bed while he lay in a hospital and called me to tell me it was time to come home.

My grief for him was as small as I was. It grazed me, but it didn’t incapacitate me. However, it changed the course of my life, laying the groundwork for a shadow of loss that would never leave my side, even if I didn’t know it yet.

How would I fit the next 40 years of my life that he’d miss into one conversation? I formulated a plan for what I needed to say to him on my three hour drive from Austin to Dallas. But when it was my turn to take a seat on the vinyl couch next to his bed, he was too tired to hear any of it. We spent those last few days tip toeing around death, hoping that if we were quiet enough it might retreat. In my all-consuming grief, I’ve scoured for signs that I still have access to my dad. Now that he’s gone, I find his letters tucked between pages in poetry books. I read them often because I’m ravenous for his words, to hear the dying language of our relationship. I visit the river where we spread his ashes each year on the anniversary of his death and I cry. In those vulnerable moments — the water still with his memories — a bee will follow me around. It’ll land on my arm or leg and I won’t be afraid.

“ In those vulnerable moments — the water still with his memories — a bee will follow me around. It’ll land on my arm or leg and I won’t be afraid.” cicada


“ The bees of my childhood followed me into adulthood — but I changed. “







“ When I opened my eyes, I saw a bee next to me, as if it had been there the whole time. I











E 215






E You wouldn’t catch me dead losing. I’m an Olympian. I don’t lose. I don’t like the way they’re looking I control my outcomes. I count at me. The dogs are bucking my dollars, pool my assets, notch my bedpost. I like testing my limits their heads in the pit like I like a shot in the hand, a line of my stomach. My skin weeps on the sink. I’m an Olympian. I’m a goldmedal winner. I have a to-do list from my body in sleep, and a nervous tic. Don’t come over the soft fetal folds beating now: I fell asleep still standing, like a lathered-up bad horse bathed still. On waking, I burn in the blue TV light. My body through my days, a white wound is a temple, but I’m a wrecking ball. I’m an Olympian. I’m an eight-year-old wanting infection. with Mod Podge, newspaper, I’ve done amateur surgery – and a volcano due tomorrow. This must be what I’ve been looking split myself wide open and spilling – for: watching my properties on these white sheets, trying accrue value, watching the champagne spray into the Pacific, watching to get this lump out of my stomach. my net worth billow like yacht sails Trying to feel empty. Trying to feel full.

E 217

in the wind. I’ll drop and give you 100 right now. It’s game day, My hands pool. My heart is a bird and like I said, I don’t lose. and my body is north. ■








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