Square 95 Magazine | Fall 2021

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Volume 1, Issue 2 | Fall 2021

exploring IdentITy


Cover designed by Katie Chapman

Volume 1, Issue 2

About About

District is the award-winning, editorially independent news source for the Savannah College of Art and Design. Founded in 1995, the publication has evolved to an online format where students create daily multimedia content. District has earned more than 500 awards from organizations including Columbia Scholastic Press Association, Society of Professional Journalists and Associated Collegiate Press. District operates on the passionate belief that educational and inspirational content should be available to all.

Square 95 is the student magazine of the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah. All editorial content is determined by student editors. Opinions expressed in Square 95 are not necessarily those of the college. © 2021 Square 95. All Rights Reserved. No part of this magazine may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the publisher. One copy of Square 95 is available free of charge to SCAD students, faculty, staff and the public. Additional copies are $5 each.


Editor-in-Chief

Perrin Smith

Art Director

Tyler Lowe

Managing Editor Kendra Frankle

Copy Chief

Eve Katz

Music is often so central to our sense of self. It can symbolize the values we hold dear and be indicative of our personalities. For this issue of Square 95, we asked every writer, artist, designer, and editor to pick one song for an accompanying playlist. We invite you to listen to their song choices in the playlist “Exploring Identity” on Spotify while you read. In your Spotify app, scan the code below to be linked directly to the playlist. Please enjoy!

Assistant Editor

Ali Grutchfield

Designers

Abby Gregory Helen Nichols Lauren Sciortino Francesca Villa


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Editor’s Letter

Stubbed Toes, Old Stories, and Glue Written by Perrin Smith, Illustrated by Adrienne Krozack

The Basement Written and Illustrated by Jenna Gutierrez

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Advocacy Beyond Stereotypes

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What Used to Be Brown

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Rainbow Roots in the Black Night

Written by Elizabeth Parent, Illustrated by Soo Hyun Namkoong

Written by Sevyn Michaela-Rose, Collage by Bryn Renèe Mayo

Written by Ka’Dia Dhatnubia, Illustrated by Mr E. Minx


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Skin Deep

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Escape from the Lodge of Sorrows

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Dearest, I Am

Written and Photographed by Marleah Flajnick

Written by David Dufour, Illustrated by Emily Bernier

Written by Kaitlynne Rainne, Illustrated by Scarlett Thayer

If I’m a Different Person With Each Language I Speak, Who Am I? Written by Julia Gralki, Typography by Urja Dwivedi

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Taking the Empty Lane

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Between Chapters

Written by Joel Thatcher

Written by Haylee Gemeiner, Illustrated by Mayce Schindler


Katie Chapman is an illustrator who discovered her love for surface design at SCAD. Her greatest inspirations are children’s book art and nature. She will graduate in March 2022 with a B.F.A. in illustration.

Adrienne Krozack is a children’s book writer and illustrator who enjoys telling whimsical stories that empower children and inspire positive social change. You can find her work at the following website: adriennekrozack.myportfolio.com

Jenna Gutierrez has felt a deep passion for storytelling since she was a little girl. An illustration student, she also incorporates her characteristically childlike, whimsical style into writing, often reflecting on childhood and nostalgia.

Elizabeth Parent started writing when she was young. Her work is inspired by neurodiversity and mental health because she found solace in creating something that relates to others in an important way.

Soo Hyun Namkoong’s Namkoong art explores feelings of the moment through a variety of media. She worked on the opening credits for Uncanny Counter and the music video for Jimothy’s “Getting Acid.” Her work can be found on Instagram @namkoongzzz.

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Sevyn Michaela-Rose is a poet and writer who explores the curiosities of life­—as can be read in this issue’s article, “What Used to be Brown,” and debut poetry book, Where the Coast Begins and Ends.

Bryn Renèe Mayo is studying fashion design and is expected to graduate in 2022.

With a B.F.A. in writing, Ka’Dia Dhatnubia has published memoirs in Blue Marble Review, fiction in Moria, and a feature story with Savannah Magazine. Currently, she freelances for My Goddess Complex, covering her first love—music.

Mr. E. Minx is a multimedia surface designer and drag artist from Houston, Texas. Whether through their illustrations or captivating an audience on stage, Minx values telling unique stories with imagery and concepts.


Marleah Flajnik reimagines the mundane through colorful and graphic photography. Using her talents as a means of expression, her creativity and charm translate from camera to image. More of their work can be seen at www.martookthis.me

David Dufour writes about forgotten people. Primarily a nonfiction writer, he dabbles with autofiction from time to time. He also writes personal essays, one of which has been published in Prometheus Dreaming.

Emily Bernier is a textile designer and printmaker who adores tactile mediums and the connections they bring. Through exploring memories, their surroundings, and a variety of other subjects, their fine art practice blooms.

Kaitlynne Rainne has been telling stories since she learned to write. She loves helping others share their stories, which you can find through her work as an editor with District.

Scarlett Thayer creates art to provoke questions about the sense of self and reality. This allows her to better navigate the worlds inside and outside of her.

Julia Gralki has been writing fiction since she learned to use a pen, but only recently discovered her passion for nonfiction writing. Her favorite thing to write about is running, which you can find on her blog www.runflysmile.eu.

Urja Dwivedi was about to become a type-designer when she was offered an internship at Ogilvy. Without hesitating, she jumped at the chance. It changed her life. She is now pursuing an M.F.A. in advertising, although she can still be found exploring typefaces in her spare time. Joel Thatcher has been a swimmer for over sixteen years. This commitment has led him to multiple NAIA National Championship titles as well as a desire to write about the sport he loves.

Haylee Gemeiner is a writer who is always up for a challenge. From fictional stories to personal essays, she aspires to offer a unique perspective in all her writing.

Mayce Schindler is a junior pursuing a B.F.A. in illustration for entertainment. She has been interested in art since childhood and specializes in creating dreamlike aesthetics in her pieces.

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Editor’s Letter

Written by Perrin Smith, Editor-in-Chief Illustrated by Adrienne Krozack

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It’s true for everyone though, ain’t it? How y Paw, the Southern way to say grandpa, used to tell great stories. we end up as ourselves is a bit of a mystery. We Before he passed away, he told one come into the world with certain facets of our of his favorites like this: He was a little boy, outside person predefined. We are who we are in so running circles around his childhood home. It many ways. From childhood to adulthood, we was high summer. Hot, humid, miserable. His uncover even more about ourselves which we Mama was tired of all his clodhopping. “Stop know must have always been there. Still, the time it there!” she yelled across the yard. Paw didn’t we spend clomping around the earth develops our listen—he never did—and kept on running. personalities, too, ever so steadily. Our actions shape us. So do the actions of Seconds later, his foot snagged a tree root that others. And the actions of people we may never had twisted its way up through the ground. meet impact us daily. It all forms us, little by little, Wham. Thud. into who we are. Our favorite movies, shows, He fell flat on his chest. When he told me this story for the first books, games, paintings, songs—they all play a time, he was leaned back in his favorite recliner. role in it. No matter the medium, stories have He chuckled. The lesson I should learn from power. The characters we love are, in a way, just his bruised toe, he said, is to listen. “You got-to a reflection of ourselves or who we’d like to be. pay attention when someone knows a thing or The stories they inhabit offer comfort and provide two you don’t.” safe places to explore the world and who we are. For some reason, that story is synonymous to There’s no clear answer as to which moments me with identity, our theme for this issue. Maybe define us the most. To chart it is messy, and it’s because Paw was always telling (and repeating) complex, and seemingly impossible. But we try. stories. That was his personality—a part of his When our team set out to create the second identity. When I thought of Paw, I thought of tall issue of Square 95, we knew that the theme tales. Yet now that he’s gone, I think of myself. “identity” would be open to interpretation. We That maybe my infatuation with storytelling grew knew that this topic is so vast, so varied, so from his stories. Perhaps the interest so central intricate, that we would only ever scratch the to how I view myself developed because of him. surface of what makes us, well, us. Even so, while But inspiration and identity aren’t easy we awaited submissions, we could have hardly things to trace back to their sources. dreamed of what it would blossom into. Dozens of writers, artists, and designers came together to create this beautiful, diverse magazine that you hold in your hands now. n her debut novel A Place for Us, Fatima Together, they interpreted our theme in ways Farheen Mirza wrote the following: “How were they to know the moments that they were specially positioned to—from profiles would define them?” These were the thoughts of about local eccentricities to reporting on how Hadia, the eldest daughter in a fractured family, language can influence personality, from the as she considered the ways people could hurt intricate pattern-work that makes up our cover one another across years, decades, and never to detailed paintings and designs from artists’ know which actions wounded the deepest—the imaginations found further within. They created smallest, most intimate failures or the largest, a mosaic, pieced of their unique views on identity and held together by their ingenuity. most cataclysmic?

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he stories Paw told me from his recliner were the first ones that stayed with me. Even today, I can remember the inflection of his voice as he spoke—which words he enunciated more clearly, which ones he emphasized. That’s the funny thing about stories; they stick with us. Whether we want them to or not, certain ones adhere like they’ve been glued onto our bodies and others fall away. We can’t control it, only pay attention to when it happens. So, as you dive into the articles and artwork your peers have dedicated their summers to crafting, I have one question: Which of these stories will stick with you?


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Tucked beneath a Long Island home lies the most magical place in the whole wide world. Written and Illustrated by Jenna Gutierrez

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ur basement was a mecca for the children of Taft Drive. A winding staircase transported visitors from the main floor down to the bottom. Half of the floor space was run entirely by my twin sister (who I have only ever called Sissy) and me. The stairs divided the basement into two juxtaposing areas: the “kids’ side” and the “adults’ side.” They were unified, however, by school bus yellow walls with orange and lime green moulding. Sissy made signs written in Sharpie on the wall to label both areas—for newcomers, of course. For the rest of our friends who came down, it was muscle memory. Keep left for the kids’ side and stay away from the right. That was the rule if you wanted to play at the Gutierrez House: never, ever go on the adults’ side. We didn’t need to though—our side was enough. The monument of the kids’ side was a colossal 1995 Hitachi TV, with all other toys and games surrounding. It was covered in thick dust and could barely budge when we needed to move it forward to re-plug the Wii into the wall. Sometimes it didn’t turn on. When it did, we chose between Guitar Hero and Super Mario, and if we broke out the guitars, Mom would sometimes come down for a song or two. Up against a bunch of seven-year-olds, she shredded the tiny plastic guitar to Kiss and Alice Cooper songs. After our defeat, she would proudly walk back upstairs with her nose in the air, not to be seen again for another few hours when everyone was sent home for dinner. On the many days when the blank TV screen mocked us, we got creative. Sissy and I had all the typical toys. Yes, the used-up Barbies, the Polly

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Pockets, the countless birthday party Build-a-Bears. But imaginative play, play that we conceived out of nothing at all, was what we did best. We liked to pretend most of all—pretending to be singers or parents or, most notably, maids. “French Cleaning” was what we called it, dreamt up by my sister and me along with the Lefkowitz twins next door. A bunch of eight-year-olds cleaning for fun. The Hairspray soundtrack blared from Mom’s boombox, Sissy on her hands and knees to scrub under the craft table. Imagining Link Larkin singing back to me as I sang all of Tracy’s verses, I wiped down the vandalized, homemade chalkboard dramatically, as if he was lovingly watching me. Everybody sang. Everybody knew all the words—I made sure of it. “French Cleaning” was unexplainably fun. It felt mature in a way, like we were growing out of something. But the next night was the debut of my performance of Lady Gaga’s “Alejandro,” where I squeezed into Sissy’s red leotard from one of her recitals and provocatively danced and lip-synced for the parents and kids of Taft Drive. It was a smash hit. Mrs. Murphy next door peed in her pants. Performing never got old in the basement, we just slowly seemed to. “If you play ‘house’ with us, you can be a celebrity,” my neighbors and I would beg Sissy. The prospect of fame in our performances became the only way we could get Sissy to play pretend with us past age ten, and we really tried our hardest to lure her in. “You can wear the Hannah Montana wig today and our kids can be fans!” Maggie exclaimed, kneeling over a pile of doll clothes. But Sissy rolled her eyes and confidently crossed over to the adult’s side, disappearing into the giant

couch with her brand-new iPad. With such ease, Sissy shattered the rule that shaped our childhood playground. As if we could have just walked over there all along. A great wave of shame smacked the kids’ side, flooding our wonderland. The dolls and the dress-up and the dancing suddenly became shameful, a vice I had to keep hidden from my now seemingly older twin sister. So, I waited patiently for Sissy to go to dance class for the night, knowing I would have a few hours to indulge peacefully.

Keep left for the kids’ side and stay away from the right. That was the rule if you wanted to play at the Gutierrez house: never, ever go on the adults’ side. And to the kids’ side I went, savoring the last moments I knew I would have in the make-believe. We all eventually followed Sissy, though, slowly making the switch to the adults’ side. Accompsett Elementary to Accompsett Middle School. Hanging on the yellow walls was a taxidermy swordfish that my dad and brother caught, its eyes still glassy and alive. The monument of the adults’ side for many years. My mom hated it.


Surrounding the fish were cabinets filled deep with antique liquor, matted with dust and cobwebs. These cabinets also shelve dozens of the greatest movies of all time, according to my dad: The Godfather, Goodfellas, Raging Bull. And at the very far corner of the adults’ side was a closet stuffed with a giant, working tanning bed. My dad and older brother bought it when they won a scratchoff, I think. This closet also stores our thirteen-foot Christmas tree and, eventually, that swordfish. But the couch was always everybody’s favorite part of our new hangout spot. The longest part of the sectional doubled as my brother’s bed when he would come to visit, my mom tucking sheets into it as if it were a mattress. My brother shot an infamous photo of me sprawled on the couch holding countless twenty-dollar bills from his wallet, showing off a tragic Justice tee and oversized sunnies. We loved the couch. Couch meant visit which meant fun. Its neonmustard color was confusing, even its material was confusing—perhaps chenille. But it was massive and unexplainably comfortable, with the brawn to hold piles of giggling teenage girls. And eventually some teenage boys, too. Countless first kisses took place on this ratty couch, under tents made of gawky pubescent legs and me and my sister’s old fairy comforters. In the seventh grade, Minnie, one of the kids’ side originals, spilled her melted rainbow Italian ice all over Colin Kehoe, a ginger boy from school with confused proportions, when he reached in for a smooch during Insidious. Minnie

screamed. Colin didn’t. R-rated movies were picked out from Pay-Per-View, and we prayed that our parents would not notice on the bill. Or maybe they would just be too uncomfortable to bring up why Fifty Shades of Grey was rented. So, we watched and laughed, our faces bright red and burning.

With such ease, Sissy shattered the rule that shaped our childhood playground. Our basement remains a mecca—the walls are now a lousy tan, though. But in some corners, you can catch patches of yellow and orange peeking through the weak paint my mom desperately slathered on. Those walls were some of her biggest burdens. The Hitachi TV finally gave out. My parents had to pay my huskiest guy friends to haul it up the basement stairs and outside to the curb. Mom posted all our Build-a-Bears to Facebook Marketplace for free—they were gone within a day. But the bride and groom horses Sissy and I made (both of which are named Neigh Neigh) got to stay. They live on the shelf above the new flat screen that we sometimes plug Guitar Hero into.

But the couch is gone. The beloved couch. The couch my friends have written whole papers about. I stalled its departure for a long time, but eventually, Mom said it just had to go. Stray popcorn kernels and M&Ms hid under the many cushions, getting shoved into the cracks and crevices of its never-ending form. She took it completely apart to clean, finding old remotes and mismatched Old Navy flip-flops stuffed under the pull-out mattress. It was transformed, she said. Ready for its new home. But it just wound up sitting on the dirty porch for three days, waiting for the truck. It reminded them of my brother, who passed in 2019. That’s where he slept. He loved that couch. As did I. But we make do without—the scratchy carpeted floors have become its replacement. On New Year’s Eve, they are littered with sleeping kids clutching half-empty Mike’s Harder cans. Drunken friends passed out between the display case of American Girl dolls and Dad’s old family photos, wrapped up in blankets and pillows we requested they bring from home. They spread out. Both sides filled. Our mecca.

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Written by Elizabeth Parent Illustrated by Soo Hyun Namkoong

Disability rights advocate and lawyer Haley Moss talks the nuance of neurodiversity.

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n my experience being neurodiverse, I realize that we tend to gloss over or look past very serious injustices or ableism towards my community. According to Jeff Miller of Potentia, at least 20% of adults are neurodiverse. Yet, somehow, we are still struggling to get past stigmas, alienation, or just blatant disrespect. Advocacy is so crucial for those who can’t speak up for themselves or fear the repercussions of doing so. Haley Moss, a disability lawyer based in Miami, Florida, is one of those advocates who helps to communicate what disability rights are, why they are important, and why they shouldn’t be ignored. Having conversations about disability and disability rights is underdone, but it is often an important conversation we should be having. Above all else, human rights consist of the ability to be free from alienation and be treated equally, which, unfortunately, is not a guarantee to all— including those in the neurodiverse community. Moss has accomplished a lot in her years of being an advocate, disability lawyer, writer, and artist. She takes every opportunity to generate awareness surrounding neurodiversity—even recently appearing on national television to explain her stances on disability rights coinciding with human rights.

Being neurodiverse comes with its hurdles, we have to learn the basics of human emotion around us, social cues, and even how to communicate what we’re feeling when we are feeling it. A lot of these tasks are second nature to the neurotypical population, and that’s what sometimes casts us to the side, the inability to do everything our peers can do right from the start. When Haley was young, she was thought to be completely nonverbal indefinitely. Her doctors and family didn’t think she’d ever come close to saying a full sentence let alone become a well-respected disability advocate and a disability lawyer. She often speaks about her mother giving her support and guidance along the way, and how much it helps to have someone care about what you do, and how you get there. Over the past decade, Moss has been writing books on autism and disability rights, and even disability law topics. She takes pride in expressing her values surrounding neurodiversity as it’s a topic she has passionately defended since she was diagnosed as a child. It is completely okay to not know something, or be uneducated on the topic at hand, but it is so important to not be dismissive of this community, because chances are they have been dealing with dismission, alienation, or even bullying for a good part of their lives. SCADDISTRICT.COM

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What does being a disability advocate mean for you, and what type of fulfillment have you experienced from it? Moss: Being an advocate means using my voice to speak for myself and my perspectives, educating others, and sharing more about autism and neurodiversity while also highlighting the issues that affect my community. It also means knowing when to listen, pass the mic, and amplify others who have different experiences than I do. As for fulfillment, I think there is so much to be done in order to have a more inclusive and accessible world, and knowing that this work will continue to exist although it shouldn’t have to exist keeps me going. I also think the people who want to learn more about neurodiversity and disability are open-minded, passionate, and genuinely want to do better. So, I think I meet a lot of really cool people, and every day is an adventure! You recently made an appearance on the talk show Banfield speaking about Britney Spears and disability rights. Without getting too political, what do you think people often overlook in trials pertaining to disabilities from an attorney’s perspective? Moss: If we’re talking about Britney Spears, people really tend to overlook the disability issues involved—if they are involved. Most of the focus is on other aspects of social justice, such as reproductive justice and sexism, but ignoring that people who end up in conservatorships, like Britney, are deemed disabled by the court is a mistake. Reproductive rights and disability rights are intertwined, and disability is intersectional with most marginalization. But as for what people overlook in court proceedings involving disability is mostly how disability can be involved. Even in conservatorships and guardianships, those proceedings happen primarily to people with

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intellectual and developmental disabilities. Also, there are lots of issues with how disability is perceived on the stand if someone is testifying and sharing their side or what they might have seen as a witness. Ableism* is a real trial that all disabled people experience one way or the other, but what advice could you give to the inadvertent ableist, or the one who tries to say the right things, but messes it up somewhere along the way? Moss: Ableism is embedded in our culture, and even people with disabilities can unintentionally say or do ableist things. Think about how often we say ‘crazy,’ even though it is seen as offensive to some people with mental health disabilities. One of the hardest experiences I have is with “benevolent ableism,” when people offer me help when it is neither wanted nor needed. It’s well-intentioned and disguised as caring, but often speaks over or silences a disabled person because somebody else is deciding what’s best for us without our consent. I think about this a lot in terms of parties–I’ve had friends tell me I wasn’t invited because they thought a social situation might be too loud for me and they were being kind by excluding me, instead of inviting me and allowing me to make the choice. A lot of my advice is simple–it’s okay to mess up. We all do it. What’s important is what you do with that information. You realize what you did, why it is wrong, apologize if you’ve hurt someone, and learn how to do better. I come from a place of calling people in, rather than calling them out. How do we turn the harmful things people say or do, especially if they mean well, into little moments of learning and growth? That’s what I hope to do. We talk a lot about neurodiversity and the obstacles that come with it, but in a sense of practicality in the real world, how has being disabled affected you?

Moss: I am autistic, and I can’t separate my autism from myself. I don’t know what it is like to be neurotypical or nondisabled. I likely never will, nor would I trade the brain I have for a neurotypical one. Some things are very overwhelming for me! I sometimes have difficulties from sensory differences, so places that are really loud and crowded can be a lot to handle. I also struggle with making friends and understanding certain social cues. Also, my executive functioning skills aren’t the best. I have a hard time knowing when to start and stop things and doing a lot of the things young adults typically struggle with. Except I do want to do stuff like clean my apartment, and I just find the steps of getting out the vacuum, mop, different cleaners, etc. to be cognitively overloading so then nothing gets done. It isn’t the same as “I don’t want to do this.”

we can while rallying around them. People know what they struggle with, but it’s less often we talk about what someone is good or encourage them to follow their dreams and nurture their talents. Aligning people to their strengths and celebrating those differences can make a world of difference for someone.

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or the neurodiverse community, an ally or advocate means the world. A lot of times we are left trying to find someone to help or listen to, and when we have someone like Haley batting for us, we can rest easy knowing she cares.

What’s some advice you have for people who want to help their disabled or neurodiverse loved ones? Moss: One of the best things you can do as an ally is be affirming. People with disabilities are often told either by people they care about or society as a whole that something is “wrong” with them, and they are broken. Instead, we should be supportive and give that person as much love as

* Ableism is a term we use to describe a person who favors able-bodied or minded folks and discriminates against those with disabilities. As an advocate, Haley has had her fair share of run-ins with even those who mean well, but still have some of those same mindsets. SCADDISTRICT.COM

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Brown

What Used

TO BE

What will I discover? It’s a mystery to unearth, similar to John and the bricks. Written by Sevyn Michaela-Rose Collage by Bryn Renèe Mayo

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he layout of the brick flooring on my patio is in the pattern of a double basket-weave. Pairs of parallel bricks lay vertically, and then horizontally, and so on. I never thought much about bricks or how they could be arranged for aesthetics until now. These bricks are the foundation of my patio. Sturdy. Dependable. I run my fingers across the worndown clay, feeling the soil that rises between each one. I wonder to myself how long they’ve been here. Who placed them into the ground? What were their names? Why this pattern? After some research on the double basket-weave pattern, I found that it was a common choice among bricklayers during the 1950’s—the decade this condo was built—because the layout process is quick, efficient. When I first moved into the Winston Churchill Condominium complex, the bricks on my patio were covered with weeds and earth—something they had in common with Mr. Churchill. I spent a week pulling up Ivy and Spiny Sowthistle, shoveling the dirt, and hosing down the bricks. What used to be brown became a wine-colored red. What used to be hidden became seen. Among the patio ruins, I found all kinds of items that I assumed were left by previous tenants. Old flowerpots, dead herbs, a not-so-yellow tennis ball.

It was only a ruler, but it made me feel connected to this stranger. As I traveled inside the two-story condo, I wondered what else I could find. There could’ve been an endless number of tenants that came before me; I was renting the place after all. Inside a kitchen drawer rolled around two glass lightbulbs and a black pen. I found a dent in the dining room wall as if someone had bumped a piece of furniture into it. A can of white paint and leftover window blinds sat in the closet. And the only thing left in my room was a wooden birdhouse on my window ledge. Inevitably, I opened the white-painted attic door in the ceiling tucked away on the second level of the condo. The door itself lacked a handle or string to pull, so as a result, I stood on a chair

and used a butter knife to loosen it. Wooden stairs unfolded from a darkness that smelled of musty lumber and, ignoring the creaking steps, I climbed into it. There were more items than I expected. The hanging lightbulb illuminated two broken side tables, a small run-down bed frame, and a dozen cardboard boxes—all framed by wooden planks and rockwool insulation. With the flashlight on my phone, I sifted through the boxes. A lot of the items seemed like junk. Old receipts from Kroger, broken dishes, crumpled pieces of paper with no writing on them. I feared that all I might learn about this tenant was that they went to Kroger, were clumsy in the k itchen, and suffered from writer’s block. And then I pulled out a wedding invitation dated for 2006 and addressed to a man named John. Underneath that, I found a printed-out email from a friend inviting the same John to perform at a music venue in Atlanta. So, the tenant’s name was John. After that, I found a ruler that I took and used for my design classes. It was only a ruler, but it made me feel connected to this stranger. Among some of the crumpled-up paper, there was a handmade bracelet along with a love note from a woman named Sarah, and a poster for Bonnaroo’s lineup from 2005. Lastly, I found a thank-you note from the couple who got married; John performed at their ceremony. So not only did John go to Kroger, lead a clumsy hand in the kitchen, and suffer from writer’s block, but he was a musician with a current or ex-lover named Sarah.

I went through a breakup most recently; leaving someone you still love feels violent. I imagine it’s like pulling off my own flesh. To remedy this, I listen to James Taylor and read scripture. Things I’ve been doing for a long time, yet they feel more alive to me now. There were also a lot of firsts at this condo. I grew my first tomato plant here. I rescued a stray kitten here. I decided to be a writer here. When I move out of the Winston Churchill Condominium complex, I wonder what I might leave behind for the next tenant to find? I imagine they would discover a few stray coffee beans in the kitchen. Surely one of my gold earrings or a dog toy. Maybe they’ll locate the polaroid of me and my ex-boyfriend that I misplaced just like I found Sarah’s love note to John. I wouldn’t be surprised if they found scraps of scribbled paper in my closet—all unfinished poems or daily schedules broken down hour-by-hour. And on the patio, maybe a garden gnome or two. These bricks are the foundation of my patio. Today, I sit under my beige umbrella surrounded by five-foot-tall hedges, Stevie laying at my feet. A church bell rings, and the breeze blows, and I think about the continuation of life. The seasons and the changes and how time prevails. If someone had told me when I first moved into this condo that I would undergo a quarantine, adopt Stevie, and break up with someone I thought I would marry, I wouldn’t have believed them. The sun rises just to set, and the bricks on my patio have seen this almost twenty-five thousand times. There must be some kind of wisdom that comes with this. I run my feet over the grooves of the bricks. I want to ask them to share with me all they’ve seen and all they know. How many more sunrises and sunsets will I see? Who will still be there with me to watch them? What will I learn? What will I discover? It’s a mystery to unearth, similar to John and the bricks. Who used to be a stranger became a living, breathing life. What used to be brown became a wine-colored red. I’m not sure what will become of my tomorrow. All I know is that I must look for it.

The sun rises just to set, and the bricks on my patio have seen this almost twenty-five thousand times.

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’ve been walking among the bricks on my patio for over a year now. I’m sure they’ve seen my feet change over the days. I learned how to live on my own here—I paid bills on time, cooked Cacio e Pepe, adopted my own dog and named her Stevie. Mornings have been filled with coffee, quiet thoughts, and poetry about the ocean. Nights among friends have been illuminated by the hanging string lights outside. I discovered moving plays by Henrik Ibsen, how to successfully escape the bites of mosquitos, and how to be okay with solitude amidst a quarantine.

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A queer, Black trailblazer, a young Atlanta performer, and a midwestern baby gay all walk into a gay bar . . . Written by Ka’Dia Dhatnubia, Illustrated by Mr. E. Minx

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The city of Savannah’s smile is sugary as Southern sweet tea. She laughs, mimosa bubbly, to include everyone in the joke. She is cigarettes in cold coffee, shattered wine glasses on cobblestones, river water in fine china. She is hot pink protesting, rainbow flag wielding, civil rights marching for civility’s sake. She is a child of tradition, running around barefoot and skipping over abandoned tree roots in her Sunday best. She is drunk on ideas of progress and liberalism and open-mindedness. And you are her gay, Black best friend. You are looking for home in her fickle arms.

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he queer environment in Savannah is still a work in progress,” says Anita Narcisse, “because Savannah is very like gay [masculine] forward, like [cisgender] gay [masculine] forward.” Born and raised in Savannah, Narcisse, also known by their stage name Rita D’LaVane, is the founder and executive producer of Savannah Sweet Tease, a queer and BIPOC-forward burlesque performance troupe. They also work at Club One—Savannah’s only gay bar. This may come as a surprise, especially with Savannah being considered a queer-friendly city. “People like to say s**t all the time like, ‘Oh, Savannah is very queer-friendly, most of the bars are queer-friendly,’” says Narcisse, a non-binary, femme-presenting, trans person. Narcisse runs their thick fingers through their dirty blonde pixie cut. “I’m like, ‘First of all, I can tell you right now I don’t feel safe in most of the bars downtown, not just as a queer person but the fact that I have tits and was born with this biology.’” For Narcisse, Club One is a safe haven in the midst of Savannah’s saturated nightlife not only because of its inclusivity but because it was after passing beneath that brick building’s blue awning that Narcisse discovered themself for the first time. On Narcisse’s sixteenth birthday, they rushed to get their hands on a fake ID. Not long after, their sister invited them and their best friend out to Club One to see her roommate perform as part of the cabaret. Narcisse jumped at the chance to see drag up close, because it was 1998, and drag and queer subjects, in general, were only whispered about in the presence of trusted company. “So, I went to the drag show and it pretty much changed my life. What it taught me is that I didn’t necessarily have to be a man to be a pretty woman,” Narcisse says. Having come from a dance background and a Southern life full of pageants, seeing the drag performance solidified their future. It was sitting in that club,

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surrounded by their sister, best friend, and a crowd of beautiful strangers, Narcisse thought, “This is the direction I want to take one day. I don’t know how I’m going to do it. I don’t know when I’m going to do it, but one day.”

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had a chance to experience my first drag show, not in Savannah, but tucked away in a corner of Chicago’s grand Grant Park during Lollapalooza 2021. It was the first drag show in all the festival’s thirty years. Performers of every size, color, and gender expression strutted down the small stage to the immaculate mix of top pop hits by DJ Cash Era, a Black, queer, Chicago-native. Miss Toto, the host, was armed with a mini white Moncler, bodacious humor, and muscles that effortlessly propelled her through splits and flips. Tenderoni, 2021’s Drag Queen of the Year, popped out with the sharpest dance moves and pinkest fishnet tights as they pumped a cutout vaccine sign in the air while “Shots” by LMFAO played. Ramona Slick—a blonde bombshell in a slime-inspired neon pink and lime green number sashayed to Marina’s “Venus Flytrap.” Nico—a tall, slender devil in bright red flexed their long pointy-fingered gloves before yanking them off and setting off silver glitter bombs. When Nico blew a silver confetti canon as their performance finale, my hands rose to the air as tears fell from my eyes. The joy was euphoric, cathartic, a dream far removed from the reality of the pain my queerness had caused me up to that point.

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n 2013, Narcisse made their own dream come true and Savannah Sweet Tease was born. The burlesque troupe dominates the performance scene, being voted Savannah’s Best Performance Troupe every year from 2014 to 2020. “Gender is not what one is but rather what one does,” wrote American philosopher and gender theorist Judith Butler. So, if we liken gender expression to performance, Narcisse would be leading the highly dramatized version of that, and they take their responsibility as an experience creator very seriously. “Right off the bat, I knew that I wanted Sweet Tease to be something for everybody,” Narcisse says, “like, everybody in every sense

of that phrase—every body, every person, every identity, and definitely queer-forward, because I also was just really tired of this heteronormative type of storyline that kept repeating, appealing to the white male gaze.” That responsibility also runs deeper than advocating for bodies that resemble their full figure. Narcisse has a wide, round nose, lines carved into the dough-like softness of their cheeks. Despite these features that another Black person would recognize as familiar, Narcisse’s skin is pale as sun-bleached sand. They’re white-passing. Their earliest memory is of an old white woman following a two-year-old Narcisse and their darkskinned father around the local Piggly Wiggly, threatening to call the cops. “Where’d you snatch that child from?” she demanded. Narcisse internalized this and other experiences, processing their privilege of passing as both white and a woman, using it to advocate for those whose power is systemically threatened or diminished. “I also understand how hard it is for black and brown people to be visible and vocal at the same time because of the threat of violence,” Narcisse says. “And people don’t realize how much of a real thing that is in the South. People think that Savannah itself is just this bubble in south Georgia where everybody loves each other. That’s some bulls**t.”

The joy was euphoric, cathartic, a dream far removed from the reality of the pain my queerness had caused me up to that point. One reason people may perceive Savannah as this liberal glass box could be the dominating presence of the Savannah College of Art and Design. Each year, thousands of young creatives are drawn to the city, eager to dive headfirst into their newfound freedom. One of these young creatives was Atlanta-native Chrush Graves. In 2014, when Graves graduated high school and got accepted into SCAD, they moved to Savannah and never looked back. With an awkwardly lean but lithe figure, and skin the color of rich hickory, Graves had a lot of growing to do. The softly sculpted angles of their face—thick lips, and a wide nose that curves and slopes into a flat cone—read masculine, traits they had trouble accepting. It wouldn’t be until age twenty-one that they realized their gender identity rested more comfortably in the grey area. Luckily, Graves found a place in Sweet Tease where all the walls and siding were lovingly painted in shades of gray. “When I first moved to Savannah, I was trying to find clubs to go to that were eighteen-plus friendly, and I heard about them through Club One,” Graves says.


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Source: GALLUP

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Dazzled by the extravagant performances, glittering personalities, and dramatic makeup, Graves thought, “Wow, I want to do this.” After a coworker who was already in Sweet Tease showed them the ropes, Graves won first runner-up at a pageant later that same year. Directly after, they joined Sweet Tease on tour as the stagehand, merch person, and sound person, learning how to costume, choreograph, and promote shows along the way. “And ever since then I’ve just been in it to win it,” Graves says. Outside of Sweet Tease, though, Graves describes the queer environment as “strange.” Because SCAD students are young and dipping their toes into the gay pond, the queer community is one big game of musical chairs. “It was hard to find a group, or if there was a group, one that I fit in with,” Graves says, “I would usually just have like one to three queer friends at a time.” I had a similar experience at SCAD, always being surrounded by queerness in the loosest definition of the term, but never with a solid group. It wasn’t until my junior year that I would explore how I fit into that wide, everchanging term.

While clubs may be the problem, they are also actively working to be the solution. “I’ve seen events that are brunch burlesque or brunch drag, where people can go [out] . . . and not drink,” Graves says. Dry brunch festivities also allow for anyone of any age to attend and find comfort in a community they might have never found otherwise. Even Narcisse regrets how limited their outreach to youth is, aware of the inherent conflict of their more mature occupation. “And that’s something that I do miss because I do feel like it’s important that the youth become aware of how the world actually is,” Narcisse says. “If you’re Black and you’re queer, you’re taught from a young age how to mask your identity.” Masking your identity is exhausting, terrifying, but it’s necessary to stay safe. The threat of homelessness looms heavy over the city’s Black queer youth, especially when women’s shelters only accept cisgender women with children. Narcisse cries, “What happens to people who are vulnerable, who are getting sexually assaulted, who don’t have a shelter to go to? Who is advocating for them? Who’s giving them counseling? Who’s giving them resources? Where’s the outreach?”

I am but a chopped branch that will grow roots elsewhere.

It wasn’t until I settled in the “just right” chair of bisexual that I joined the game. Luckily, I didn’t play too long, and now have a reliable circle to support me through every bout of bi panic. If the queer community is a game of musical chairs, imagine playing after one-too-many vodka cranberries. Savannah’s main attraction is its bustling nightlife. Born from a history of having to hide under the honeyed haze of intoxication, sporadic spotlights, and blaring music, the queer community’s ties to that nightlife run deep. “I feel like there are a lot of spaces that aren’t open for people under the age of eighteen,” Graves says. “And sometimes people just don’t want the nightlife scene and just want to hang out with people during the day while sober.” After my first and only night out, a drunk girl throwing up two feet away from me, catcalls, and leering eyes, I can’t help but agree.

Before reaching out, you have to reach in. After unwillingly coming out to my parents during my junior year, it was only in the aftermath that I could process how lucky I am. I had to get my own phone and I cannot visit home, but I have my own apartment, my own job, my own life. I am but a chopped branch that will grow roots elsewhere. I’m choosing to grow those roots in Savannah, messy and complicated as it may be. It’s where I first found myself for myself; it’s where I found the power in admitting what I want without worrying if it made those around me comfortable. “It starts out very small, but as you put yourself out there and be vulnerable with the community and with yourself, you find your community and your family,” Graves says. “It’s like a game of telephone but ends up like a big family tree.”

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A photo student explores body modification. Written and Photographed by Marleah Flajnik

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pproaching my eighteenth birthday, I anxiously asked my parents if I could get a tattoo. I remember worrying about what they would think: Would they care how big it was? Would it matter what it depicted? Or would they throw the whole idea of it out and tell me I could never get one under their roof—no ifs, ands, or buts? Thankfully, they didn’t mind the idea of tattoos, and soon after, I began expressing myself through body modifications. More and more, body modification is becoming a way for people to express themselves. Through piercings, tattoos, body hair, hair color, and so much more, people do it to better outwardly express and feel like the truest version of themselves as they do on the inside. As someone with numerous tattoos and a few piercings, I began this project to allow “modified” individuals, like myself, to be normalized and accepted. I also wanted this series to aid in setting a new standard and celebrate these modifications as a form of each individual’s self-expression of their identity, rather than condemning them for it. There are many reasons why people physically alter their bodies. They might want to preserve a work of art on their body forever or attach a memory to themselves. Perhaps they just want a fun and reckless decision to look back on and laugh at, or simply explore who they are. Whatever the reason, it all comes down to them wanting to feel confident in their skin and expressing who they are however they choose. Attending art school, it’s more than a little difficult to find someone who doesn’t express themselves in some way or another. Being here, and becoming a result of my surroundings, has helped me truly appreciate the beauty of every individual for simply expressing themselves in their own way. I know a few people whose norm is to have outrageous hair colors—which they change every few months. The thought of them

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not doing so seems unnatural to me. I also have friends who, since the first day I met them, have had dozens of piercings. When they show me old pictures from before they got their piercings, it feels almost as if I no longer recognize them with something so distinguishable absent. Others I know have built quite the tattoo collection since we became friends, and I can see how much happier and confident they are because of it. Everything I’ve mentioned is more than just a body modification, it’s a way for people to represent—and embody—their inner self. It’s almost unfathomable to imagine the people I know without these modifications as it’s so tied to their identity. The thought of them facing challenges throughout their personal or work lives in order to conform to more conservative ideals can be quite upsetting. Despite modified individuals being accepted and celebrated amongst so many of their unmodified counterparts, there continues to be lingering disdain from older generations, more conservative people, and certain employers. Nearly anyone who’s gotten a piercing, tattoo, or dyed their hair (in a conventional or unconventional color) has had at least one person remark: “Good luck getting a job!” “You know you’ll have to take that out in the future, right?” “Is that your last one?” “You’re gonna have those in your wedding pictures!” These comments can be quite challenging to deal with and often hurt—especially if they target a modification you’re proud of, one close to your identity. It creates a wholly unnecessary form of conflict. Just like all major decisions, one must weigh the pros and cons. I cannot speak for anyone except myself, but as I acquired more tattoos

and piercings, I’ve always considered the possible consequences. For example, my piercings are pretty mundane. But if necessary I’m comfortable with taking them out. And when it comes to tattoos, I’m very careful about the placement and subject matter. I contemplate the permanence of my decision. By choosing to modify our bodies, other modified individuals and I know it may reduce the chance of employment in some fields. It could mean not getting hired or having to wear certain clothing to cover them up. It could also introduce judgment personally or publicly. Some lifestyles and career paths have room for tolerance and others don’t. Regardless, one should be aware of the possible, if unjust, repercussions of modifying their body. It is simply a price we must pay for wanting to express ourselves authentically—which is something I hope to bring more awareness to. Through my and my peers’ experiences with expressing our identities through body modifications, my goal was to portray these physical adornments with accuracy to the individual. These are fun, sometimes little things that make us feel more like ourselves and we should be allowed to have them without judgment. In hopes of strictly showing the modification, I removed each participant’s face. As a result, it allows the viewer to interpret the images in a more straightforward yet abstracted sense so no judgments or negative associations can be levied at the person. By adding vibrant colors and a playful take on a taboo topic, it allows the viewer to experience such a controversial topic from a more lighthearted perspective than they normally would. Progress and change are still needed from society at large for the normalization of body modifications to continue, but day after day it’s becoming more abundant. And I know efforts to bring awareness won’t be needed for much longer—so I hope.


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How Ryan Graveface, an independent museum curator and record producer, is building a legacy of eccentric delights. Written by David Dufour, Illustrated by Emily Bernier

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elcome to the Lodge of Sorrows,” says Ryan Graveface. He stands in front of an open door, then gestures for me to walk in. It’s late summer. The low country humidity looms over us, the sun sweltering. Inside the Lodge is a recording studio, a screen-printing workshop, and a vacant space which will soon be a concert venue. The floors are covered with storage boxes. His recording studio is decorated with amplifiers, several synthesizers, as well as what appears to be a small Hammond organ. The Lodge of Sorrows is one of Ryan’s latest projects. “I think it’s the best name I’ve ever come up with,” he says, “because it’s so indicative of how I feel about this f**king town.” For thirty years, Ryan has collected true crime memorabilia, roadside oddities, and freak taxidermy. He is the owner of Graveface Records and Curiosities in Savannah, Georgia, the founder of an independent recording label by the same name, as well as the founder and owner of the Graveface Museum. Also, Terror Vision, his outlet for releasing movie soundtracks as well as films on VHS. He began purchasing true crime collectors’ items in high school. As he puts it, it’s never enough for him to just buy a single piece of memorabilia because he likes it. Ryan Graveface is a selfproclaimed completist—he wants everything. “That’s kind of my thing,” he says. “I don’t typically just buy a thing. I, historically, will buy someone’s estate.”

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He owns the largest collection of John Wayne Gacy paintings in the country. For the past seven years, Ryan has also conducted his own private research on several Gacy cases. Using what he finds, as well as information given to him by a fellow collector, Randy White, Ryan has been compiling this material into a documentary. The documentary is his way of showing that, despite being “incredibly guilty,” Gacy is in fact innocent of roughly six of the murders that he was executed for. Not only does Ryan hope to re-open Gacy’s investigation, but he also truly believes that his efforts can change history. Purchasing estates has left him with more than prison artwork, though. Now that he has acquired unheard interview recordings, and formed relationships with collectors who knew Gacy, he holds information that hasn’t been seen in books or documentaries. “I don’t talk theory,” says Ryan. “I’m only speaking of facts. And some of those facts are gonna piss people off.” The last thing he wants is for people to watch the documentary, and then dismiss his found evidence as theories. Many of his Gacy artifacts have come from Karen Kuzma, Gacy’s younger sister. She and Ryan first met several years ago and have since become close friends. Over the years, Kuzma has been subjected to harassment from people she assumed to be collectors. “All the people that Karen kind of befriended in the Eighties, Nineties through her

brother . . . ya know, people who were writing to Gacy on death row um, they all turned out to be horrible people,” he says, “Not shocking.” Like any celebrity with hangers-on, dishonest true crime fans have used Kuzma to feel a connection to fame. Ryan Graveface is not a “flipper,” someone who befriends people like Kuzma only to snatch an item and sell it online. He explains that, given the sheer number of Gacy-obsessed folks on the prowl for money, it was crucial for him to earn her trust as a legitimate collector. “When I met Karen, did I know she owned anything cool from her brother that I would eventually put in a museum? No, technically not,” he says. “But did I want to meet her regardless? Yes. I legitimately care about her.” Ryan believes that his museum is an educational place. What he’s acquired in his almost thirty years as a collector is certainly impressive, yet also provides grounds for him to finally lay infamous rumors to rest. Rumors such as Gacy’s final words, which have been falsely remembered as: “Kiss my ass.” Far from that, his last words were, as Ryan can recalls, “Taking my life won’t bring the victim’s lives back. Say goodbye to my sister.” The artifacts on display in his museum break through the often shocking, gruesome veneer of true crime collections. Having only been an establishment for over a year, the museum’s collections probe difficult questions, yet there is still a sense of humor in it all. Ryan says that he’s not a fan of the sensationalism that often


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But things changed, time passed by, and people around town slowly became apathetic toward the change.

surrounds true crime artifacts, like the Museum of Death in New Orleans, where shock is the priority and the facts are secondary. When the Graveface Museum first opened its doors, folks would challenge Ryan on the accuracy, and truthfulness, of his collection. People often think that they understand famous criminals because they’ve listened to a podcast. Occasionally, Ryan would get backlash from true crime fans because they believed their podcasts over him. The connections that he has built through his thirty-plus years of collecting— meeting collectors, becoming lifelong friends with the family members of notorious criminals—is the rift between him and a typical true crime fan. If nothing else, he would like for someone to leave the museum with a philosophical outlook on criminal justice. It’s rare that he speaks highly of other collectors, unless they’re from the older generation, the “OG” collectors, as Ryan calls them. “The OG guys are all I care about,” he says, “because they’re the guys that used to visit Manson, and Ramirez, and Gacy. They seemingly like me quite a bit.” If you ask him about contemporary collectors, particularly younger ones who are active on social media, he’ll tell you, “People get into collecting now because there’s fashion to it.” On social media, they will pose with whatever new collectible they’ve found. “There’s like a sexy sort of—I’m not being literal; I don’t think it’s sexy—but like they’re trying to be hot,” he says. “Like, ‘Look at all my tattoos and my Gacy painting.’ It’s bizarre on the collector’s end because they’re s**theads that kind of diminish the whole thing that I love doing.” They find collectibles online from Supernaught or Serial Killers Ink, thinking, “Clearly it’s real. The guy says it’s real.” They tend to buy collectibles that are either fake or overpriced. “There is more fake s**t on the market today than I’ve ever seen in my entire life.” He and his friend James Sparks, a criminologist and Gacy’s former art dealer, like to laugh at them.

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ater, we meet in a room connected to Graveface Records in Savannah’s Starland neighborhood. Ryan’s been using the space as storage for his horror-themed pinball machines and novelty arcade games, or “coin-op machines,” as he puts it. Walking in I see Ryan, hunched over an old pinball machine, trying to make repairs. The glass covering is off, one hand pulling the pinball lever, the other fooling around with the mechanics inside. Surrounding him are dozens upon dozens of coinop machines­­—each coated in neon, in blinding primary colors. Some are shaped like race cars with little steering wheels attached. In the corner, an old Pac-Man game sometimes shouts “PacMan!” in a robotic voice. He pulls the pinball lever back and watches as the ball zips around. The machine reverberates with flashing noises like that of an old casino.

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A large window gives a view of the neighborhood, right next to Starland Yard and directly across from a small liquor store. He glances out the window at the crowds forming near the Yard and describes to me how, exactly, the atmosphere in Starland has drastically shifted. “You see all these white people? Exclusively?,” he asks. “It was not that. It was a very low-income African American neighborhood and I loved it to death.” Before Graveface Records and Curiosities opened its doors, there was nothing like it in Starland or all of Savannah. “The store was such a unique place for about three or four years,” he says, “before all the rich, white developers found it.” When he first moved to Georgia, he found comradery within the neighborhood. People in town were familiar with Ryan’s previous bands (Black Moth Super Rainbow, the Marshmallow Ghosts, or Dreamend), and would often come into the store asking for autographs. Record releases sold well, and many Savannah folks supported his independent label by attending the shows put on by Graveface artists. It became a popular hangout for residents of Starland. “Moms would shoot the s**t with me while their kids were having a blast,” he tells me. One of the first arcade games Ryan put in the store was simply free entertainment for neighborhood kids. “I was like, ‘I’ve gotta have a free play game in there,’ I don’t know why, I just thought it would be a good idea.” But things changed, time passed, and people in town slowly became apathetic towards change.

Suddenly, no one was coming to the events. The same energy that surrounded him in earlier years, had somehow vanished. In town, people scarcely bought his own releases in the store. “It used to bother me, like, two years ago man. It actually kind of rocked my world,” he says. “How can people claim they’re looking for something here, and there’s someone providing it?” Of course, Ryan could always pack up and take his oddities elsewhere. “I really feel that I’m the only bit of edginess in this neighborhood. And there’s something to that I like.” He hasn’t given up on Savannah. Although he is actively looking to open a location in Chicago, Savannah needs him. “I think my businesses are just me,” Ryan says. “They’re not even an extension of me. Like, walking into my store, it feels like home to me. Walking into the museum, feels like home to me. I can’t fathom that it feels like that for most people, but for the few people that perhaps do share that sensibility, we probably could be, like, best friends.” Ryan still feels that, but, despite relative success, he is an outsider. “I’m lucky to have found enough weirdos that are exactly like me from outside of Savannah to support [the Museum],” he says, “because if I had to rely on Savanniahians solely that would have been out of business the month I opened it.” Aside from internet saboteurs, there are numerous fans of the work Ryan is doing. Over the last year his museum went viral on TikTok, which brought a younger crowd that might otherwise not have heard of him.

Ryan would meet people who had driven hours to see his collection. Often, they’d leave the very same day because Graveface was their only stop. They weren’t staying the night. They weren’t having dinner. They came for the museum. “We created our own tourism,” he says.

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round 2000 was when he set out to create his independent record label. Graveface—the name and concept— came to him in a dream while he was still in high school. After watching Instrument, a documentary that follows the band Fugazi on tour, he felt that starting a label was possible. He wrote emails to the producers at some of his favorite labels (Kranky and Rock Action, to name two). “I said, ‘Do you have any advice for someone starting a label? I own half your releases, I respect the s**t out of you, just fire when ready.’” One response, from Stuart Braithwaite of the band Mogwai, was positive from what he can remember. But a producer at Kranky records simply wrote back, “Do not do it.” “I responded like, huh, all heartbroken,” he says. “And I was mad. I stopped buying their releases for a while.” He wrote back telling the producer how old he was (still a teenager), where he lived (the Midwest), and what he did for work (managing a Pizza Hut). That same producer from Kranky records wrote back trying to explain himself. As Ryan can recall, he wrote: “I’m not SCADDISTRICT.COM

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trying to kill your spirit, but if you’re not going to commit to this fully as a concept, that will be punishing to your artists. The reality is, if you’re working forty-to-fifty hours a week for somebody else, that’s forty-to-fifty hours a week that you’re not putting into your artists.” “I was pissed,” Ryan says. “Now I think it’s maybe the smartest advice anyone’s ever given me.”

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hen he was 15, Ryan began writing letters to serial killers in prison. Of all the inmates Ryan has corresponded with, he is especially close with two of them. One of whom, he says, “killed over thirty people and has admitted to me that he’s soulless.” He wouldn’t tell me their names. “If they’re willing to be honest–and this guy has been nothing but forthcoming—it’s fascinating,” Ryan says. “Same reason you watch a dumb true crime show, but this is a million times more rewarding. You get to hear all the perversion.” Although he finds their honesty rewarding, he often wonders just what it is that makes him so trustworthy. “I think I’m just real,” he says. “See, the thing is, I actually don’t want something.” If they aren’t honest, or he feels like they’re manipulative, he’ll stop writing to them. “There’s nothing masturbatory in it for me,” he says. But he admits that “you could argue I do want something from them—and I want that honesty.” These letters weren’t written with the intention of grifting personal details from the inmates. They were written in earnest, because Ryan wanted to form genuine connections. This past May, Ryan learned of new health issues that he would not go into specifics about, although they could be severe. “Uh, so I relayed this, I don’t know why, to this specific serial killer,” he tells me. “And he ended up calling me, maybe two days after I told him what I’m going through,

and says that he—and this is bat s**t crazy—that he talked to his doctor on death row, and he found out that he can donate a specific organ to me.” This inmate arranged to meet with a lawyer so that he could write an affidavit pledging this organ away. “No friend has called to offer me such a thing. My family hasn’t been really even that nice about it,” Ryan says. “Let’s say the transplant never occurs. I will, until I am dead, I will never forget that someone even offered that.” It might come as no surprise that Ryan feels different from his own family. “No compatibility at all,” he says. “I’m a musician. My dad played drums in high school; I play music for a living. They didn’t collect s**t. They don’t even really have any hobbies. I can’t find any person in my family that’s even remotely relatable.” He laughs it off and assures me that, “they’re nice people, they’re fine.” Growing up, Ryan was a quick learner, especially when it came to instruments. “I think I was a bit of a loon,” he says. “The performing arts center in my high school allowed me to just do whatever the f**k I wanted.” When he performed at his high school’s recitals, he would often compose his own music. He still has recordings of the piano recitals. “I actually just found that tape, I haven’t heard it in twenty-plus years. I’m not going to do anything with it,” he says. “It’ll be interesting to see where I was versus where I am. Which I think I was better then, because that was all I did. Now I’m talking Gacy all day instead of practicing.”

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charted out my life when I was 17 years old,” Ryan says. His scheduled accomplishments are measured in massive strides. They begin around age nineteen, then to twenty-four, twenty-eight, thirty, forty, up to about his mid-sixties. By age forty, which he is now, his plan was to start

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publishing books and, unsurprisingly, he is writing one. He’s working on a “story behind the piece” book, which he started writing during the first week of the COVID-19 pandemic. It will be a collection of stories recalling how exactly Ryan acquired his sprawling collection, as well as some of his “honey holes” around the country where he found them. “A lot of the stories of acquisition are often times more interesting, or equally interesting, to the pieces themselves,” he says. Like his achievements, Ryan has also begun plotting his wishes for the estate he’ll leave behind. With absolutely no desire to have children, his legacy will primarily be left to his wife, Chloe Manon. Graveface, the label, will be killed off once he dies. He wants no re-pressings. It’ll be over and royalties will be paid to the artists. “That catalogue will go back to the respective artists,” he says. “Chloe will never have to think about it again.” As far as the record store, he explained his desire to see it become an employee-run coop. “Terror Vision I feel the opposite about,” he says. “I actually have a release schedule billed out for years.” Ryan says he feels lucky to have Chloe, expressing that when he’s no longer around, he knows everything will be left in good hands. “She’s the only person I’ve ever met, not even dated, that I actually think can successfully take over all of this upon my demise.”


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I’ll be waiting until you are ready. But, oh, my friend, how lovely it will be when you can finally say my name. Written by Kaitlynne Rainne, Illustrated by Scarlett Thayer

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’d like to think she came on a specific day, at a specific time, at a moment when the moon aligned itself just right over the expanse of the horizon and the whispering winds deposited her gracefully on my doorstep. But, if I’m honest, her arrival was more of a realization on my behalf. She had been there for years, walking alongside me in subtle steps, shadows of greatness lined up behind mine. Do I think she is great? Learning of her presence certainly was not, but as I look back at the footprints we’ve made together, I can only conclude that she has helped me be great. When I say I did not recognize her, I don’t think I could have even if she walked up to me and introduced herself. Instead, she disguised herself as mature and quiet, controlled calm that seemed impressive for a young child. At eight years old, I sat off to the side, a book in hand, or simply sat away from the rambunctiousness that would let loose on the playground. Sometimes, I miscalculated my luck and joined in on the fun, never failing to fall over and skin my knees. I found myself on the sidelines once again, oblivious to my melancholy companion. At home, things were, well, things were. I had a roof over my head, food to eat, clothes to wear, and a room I could sleep in. It was normal in the way that things weren’t normal. It was a mask to what was a more deeply rooted mess. An entanglement of sorts that even if I were to try to explain, my words would fail me. But she didn’t. She stood by my side as the years went by and at night when I’d hug my pillow to my chest and allow the rogue tears to slip down my face, I could have sworn I heard her whisper, “It’s okay. You can cry with me.” As the years went by, she saw me grow up. She bore witness to the loneliness I felt in the quiet of the night and to the angry mutterings I whispered to no one in particular, all from pure exasperation of being pulled into the middle of another fight. Out of everyone who knows me, she probably knows me best.

I

was around fourteen years old when I saw the first evidence of her presence. Standing in front of the mirror, I tucked my yellow uniform polo into my pants and affixed the school pin onto my left collar. I lifted my head to check my appearance and balked. My eyes had sunken in, there was a deep hollow in them. Not terribly deep, but the kind of depth that required concealer to help me look alive. Just a subtle nod to exhaustion that threatened consumption. “It’s fine,” I reassured my reflection. “You just need sleep. You’ve been up studying a lot recently.” Nodding, I accepted the explanation and turned around, grabbing the rest of my things to wait in the living room until my parents were ready to leave. I can imagine that she was angry with me for brushing her off as simple exhaustion.

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Who was I to do so? Certainly not someone with power to belittle hers. She had an imposing nature, ready to snap in the slightest moment. She held a strength I was envious of. Her eyes held this depth to them. Not in the way blue eyes reminded you of the ocean, rather, it was a depth that if you held her gaze for too long, you’d lose yourself on the way in. Later that year, as a second semester gave way to summer, I felt her sharp sting once again. This time, she came in the form of betrayal, a loss that tore me apart more than I wanted to let on. It was as though she were making her presence known. “Look at me,” she said. “You can’t ignore me any longer.” I tried. During the day, I taught swimming. Keeping up with the children made it easier to forget. Laughing with co-instructors made me feel like I could relate to people again. At night, I would lie awake in bed, headphones on with the volume turned up to a somewhat obnoxious level. I valued my hearing only enough to be cautious of how much it was blaring into my skull. Okay, now I must be honest, in those moments, I did see a glimpse of her. But as quickly as I felt that sinking feeling settle, I changed the song, turned the TV on, drowned her out with as much background noise as I could handle. In the middle of all the sound, I would pull a book and spend time with words. Anything I could do to give me a reprieve from acknowledging her, I would do. It was a sick game of cat and mouse, although, as for what came later, I do not know who began chasing who. Nor can I say my attempts at ignoring her were any better. In fact, they began to spur her presence on. Sitting in my sophomore English class on a Tuesday morning, she broke me. I don’t know how. I was listening to music—don’t worry, I had already finished my work. I turned on my laptop, pulled out my headphones, and just vibed. I vibed until I began crying. Sobbing, really. My teacher looked at me with concern and gently took the hall pass from the hook on the wall and gave it to me. “Here,” she said. “Go take a walk. Get some fresh air.”

Who was I to do so? Certainly not someone with power to belittle hers. I took it and went straight to the girl’s bathroom, locked myself in the last stall, and cried. It was the first time I had let myself feel the depth of the loss I had suffered. It was the first time I felt her hand on my shoulder. A cold and unsettling melancholy that was simultaneously comforting, so comforting. Things were never the same after I walked out of that stall.


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I feigned recovery. Telling myself over and over that she was gone but even I saw past my blatant attempt at convincing.

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his is the point when my memory I felt, for a lack of a better way to describe it, weary. even took over my music taste: the louder the becomes hazy, but I know that at every And, in a stupid assumption, I believed I could guitar and drums, the better. I walked until I couldn’t walk anymore. No corner, things got worse. I isolated dismiss her, that she would disappear if I tried myself from people, a withdrawal that felt like hard enough to move on. I began a ritual—for food, no sleep, I couldn’t think at all over the hum solace. I didn’t have to put on a smile, try harder every motivational word I wrote I tried to chase that took a permanent residence in my head. As to learn a genre of pop culture, or even be a fully her away. She fought back, hard, with vengeance. it came to be, the spring semester gave way to functioning human. Instead, I opted for sitting in She began seeking me out in unexpected moments. summer, and I found myself moving. A new space, the hallways and I read. Little did I know, history I didn’t know then, but moving on was the wrong a new environment but I couldn’t even find it in myself to feel that joy. To say it got bad would be was repeating itself. A girl, on the sidelines, a way to approach freeing myself from her. Graduation came and went, and I found a gross understatement. Nights became blurred. book in hand, melancholy companion beside her. Only this time I recognized her, and I accepted myself boarding a plane that September to go to The concept of time was thwarted. “What day is an art school of all places. I remember looking it?” I’d asked myself until there was a moment, I her companionship. At home, things were . . . well, things weren’t around my room. Saying goodbye to a space thought I’d never ask it again. just “were” anymore. The angry screams became that held so many memories, good and bad. As louder, I think a door broke off its hinges at one I walked out, I turned around and whispered, point. The silence that echoed after, though, was “You’re not following me anymore.” Yet, she did. the worst. It was in those unguarded moments I hat night. It was a stealthy follow. She lurked in the felt myself turning in towards her cold warmth I shiver as I recall it. Numb is one seeking comfort. She welcomed me with open shadows, not quite knowing what to say but of those words that seems too heavy, arms. The summer that followed was when I felt standing in the doorway. I feigned recovery. too final in its interpretations but as my eyes her take over without warning. Not in a body Telling myself over and over that she was gone but closed that night, the only thing I felt was numb. snatcher way. It was more of a transitional shift even I saw past my blatant attempt at convincing. I couldn’t even feel her anymore. When I woke that became louder echoes, echoes never leaving She came again, this time, I didn’t bother to shut up the next day, I stood in the shower and when her out. I let her sit next to me on the floor in the I was done, I sunk to the floor. I felt the flutter me alone. bathroom that Christmas and we simply held a of the shower curtain and briefly acknowledged quiet vigil. Words weren’t necessary. I think she that she was right there sitting on the other side. “You call yourself worthy?” took one look at me and felt sorry for me. I was “Why would you do that?” “I’m sorry,” she said gently. “I . . . this is sorry for myself too. “Who the hell do you think you are?” not good.” Not two months later, the world shifted and “She was right to walk away from you. Everyone “Gee, you think?” I asked, sarcasm dripping everything I had come to know was snatched out from my voice. else should, too.” from under my feet. Who was there to catch me As we sat in the silence we had become Her whispers kept growing in force. The when I fell? She was. In the middle of a concrete accustomed to, I vaguely realized that there was insults that were flung at me during the day room, four walls, and an open floor space, she no way I could move on. There was only such a followed me into the night, repeating over and befriended me once again and in lieu of my failed thing as moving forward. I stood up and walked over, until I couldn’t hear anything else but attempts previously, I left her alone. “You’ve got out. It’d been a while since I’d simply stared at her ringing. It felt like she was mocking me. She a friend in me,” she said. “But I can never give reflection, but I allowed myself the time to do so. was screaming now. Sleep became foreign and you peace.” She looked at me, a soft smile gracing her would sometimes only come after I exhausted lips. Slowly, she lifted her hand and held it out. myself with tears and, after every time, she would Tentatively, I grasped it. never fail to cocoon me in her embrace—stroking “It’s okay. I know it has been a while and my hair, whispering to me as my eyes drifted shut. I know now may not be the best time. But . . . I We began to share a silence that only came when think it’s time for me to introduce myself. I need two people understand each other. you to know me officially,” she said. In a world that was black and white, gray “Why? After all these years . . . why now?” painted my vision. It all looked the same. Stifling I asked, a slight tremor cursing through my body. insanity at its finest. I sought comfort in chaos. My “Because it will help us move forward.” life as I knew became an emotional and mental I held her gaze and could see the sincerity wreck. It became hard to be anywhere, especially behind her stare. Those eyes that threatened when the effects she was having on me became to lose me in their depths now seemed to offer trademarked as an “attitude.” I’m pretty sure she nothing but mere reflection. The truth. I held loved that characterization. her hand tighter in mine. I mastered how to give her the attention “Dearest,” she began in a soft lulling voice, she sought. To the point of almost losing myself, “I am Depression.” I gave her everything until I had nothing left to I swallowed at her name. Yes, I had known it give. It was then that I lost myself. On most days, but for her to speak it outside of the confinements I refused to even look in the mirror for longer of my subconscious. For her to speak it so than necessary because I hated seeing her staring I hated her. Even so, I feel like hate was definitively . . . I needed time to adjust. Time to back at me. She was so deeply engrained that I too much of a soft word. I felt repulsed by her. I live with the truth of her identity. wanted to cut her out of me. From the look she gave me, I knew she wanted her gone. I wanted to be gone. Somewhere, anywhere away from her. But where could I understood. Again, my memories are hazy because I freaking go? The world was shut down and I was stuck where I was. Standing with her became spent the better of that time lying on a couch his was during junior year, early more addicting. Again, I don’t want to say that and getting sucked into a fictional world. But I do senior year of high school. I was she body-snatched me, but she took up residence know that slowly, I felt her deathly strong grip on sixteen going on seventeen and, in inside my soul at this point. We had lunch together, me relax. She coaxed me up off the couch when the span of seven years, I had experienced twenty. cried together, did homework together. Hell, she needed. I spent time reflecting with her.

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Her whispers kept growing in force. The insults that were flung at me during the day followed me into the night, repeating over and over, until I couldn’t hear anything else but ringing.

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For thirty days, we had this ongoing routine that became easier with each passing minute. And then thirty days became a year. We’ve now reached an understanding between us. She can’t leave, she can’t simply pack her bags and catch the midnight train, nor can she live to consume me. I have accepted that she’ll always be a part of me. She’ll bear witness to me

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growing old, hopefully finding love, and, maybe, she’ll be kind enough to leave my children alone. It has been a year since she last hit me and beat me down. In that time, I’ve realized that she is just as much a part of me as I am of her. But she is more than her melancholy beginning. She is a reminder of greatness; of an inner strength I would not have known had it not been for her. Behind

this calm face, never-ending chaos is she and she’s more at peace than she thought she could give. I lift my head and look her in the eyes. She smiles at me. She has wrinkles by her eyes that tell stories of weariness, of a life well-lived. She has a soft smile, one of recognition and relief. Relief at finally being known, and acknowledged, and given a promise to be taken care of in a


healthy manner. I take a breath and shuffle a little closer, standing toe-to-toe. She extends a hand and I take it, her cold warmth now just simply warmth. The words don’t come, the gravity of the moment sinking in. She knows my name and I can finally acknowledge hers. She smiles, a little more than before, her eyes glint.

“I told you knowing my name would help,” she quipped in a playful manner. Laughing, I nodded. Who knew that after all these years she’d make me smile? “Yes,” I agreed. “In knowing each other fully, we can finally give each other peace.”

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Exploring personality in light of language—or is it vice-versa? Written by Julia Gralki, Typography by Urja Dwivedi

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an you do an American accent?” someone asked me. It was a hot summer day in North Carolina and my cross-country team was seeking shelter under the trees. We were getting ready for another meet. “You mean an American accent in German?” I asked, looking around me to see if anyone was listening in on our conversation. “No,” they said, “in English.” My following attempt at an American accent must have seemed a little helpless. I was confused. I had been trying so hard to get rid of my German accent already that I hadn’t expected a question like this to come up. I had only recently moved to the United States and my speaking contained a lot of stumbling over words, mispronouncing them, and putting them in the wrong places. But it was this moment that pushed me to perfect my pseudo-American accent even further, just to see if it was possible. I was fascinated by the idea of blending in seamlessly, of hiding my accent so perfectly that people wouldn’t be able to tell where I’m from when they heard me speak. One and a half years later came the day a professor told me that I speak with “no trace of a German accent” and I barely hid my smile. I had finally managed to mask that part of who I am. I had finally left behind the German part of me, the part I no longer wanted to be.

To have another language is to possess a second soul. —Charlemagne, 9th Century Emperor of the Romans

“Your voice is different when you speak English,” a friend said as we switched back to speaking in German from English. We were walking in snow-covered woods during the never-ending coronavirus lockdown in Germany. She was right. My voice did sound different in English. The moment I flip the switch from German to English, not only does my voice have a different ring to it, but also my personality. It’s like there are two separate rooms in my head—one labeled English, the other German. “I miss speaking English,” I told my friend that day. We had been speaking in English for nearly our entire walk. “Why?” she asked. “It’s like I’m missing a part of myself,” I said. Perhaps Charlemagne had it right? Maybe there are two separate personalities inside me? I talk the most in English—I’m more expressive, more confident. Even the sound of my laugh is different. I’m still shy regardless of which language I’m using, but when I speak German I feel more rigid, more conservative, and less talkative. Research shows that I’m not the only one who feels like a different person depending on the language I speak in. A University of WisconsinMilwaukee study, published in 2008, shows that most Hispanic bilinguals shift personalities along with language. The participants said they felt more assertive when speaking Spanish compared to English. They were also perceived as more extroverted by those around them. Lina Vasquez, a YouTuber and professional language coach who speaks eight languages, has made similar experiences although she disagrees with this conception of personality. In conversation with Vasquez, I learned that she is not just a polyglot, but that she also grew up in multiple cultures and countries. She was born in Latvia, raised mostly in Australia, and heavily influenced by her stepfather’s Peruvian heritage. When she started learning Brazilian Portuguese, she noticed that she felt more alive in that language, as it ignited a flame inside her that other languages hadn’t. “A language always comes from the culture,” Vasquez said. “And a culture always transports emotion and feeling.” SCADDISTRICT.COM

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For Vasquez, the answer to the question “who am I?” has been shaped and expanded by her multi-cultural upbringing. “I wouldn’t be the same person if I hadn’t grown up with all these languages,” she said. “The exposure I had to different cultures influenced my open-mindedness into knowing that the world was bigger than just me and my language. That’s also where my sense of curiosity was definitely fed.” The eight languages Vasquez speaks are Spanish, English, Portuguese, German, Latvian, French, and Russian. She uses some of these languages in her job as a language coach. She also journals and listens to music in different languages (even in ones she doesn’t speak or understand) and has several languages for meditation and prayer. Vasquez uses meditation not only to practice languages but also as a means of self-development. “Spending time with yourself inevitably allows you to get to know yourself better and be able to step away from those intrusive thoughts that create fear and anxiety,” Vasquez wrote once in a newsletter to subscribers of her language blog and learning platform.

A language is an exact reflection of the character and growth of its speakers. —Cesar Chavez, Civil Rights Activist

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he day I boarded a plane to the United States, I changed my phone’s language to English. Almost simultaneously, I switched my brain’s language to English too. I started thinking in that language and I haven’t stopped since. My thoughts flow with more ease and, quite literally, I feel more myself in a language other than my mother tongue. “We all go through that lifelong questioning of who am I,” Vasquez said. Even as a child, she found herself in between two cultures, not knowing where she truly belonged. “I was never really Australian,” she said. “But then I was never really Latvian as well.”

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L

anguage is also a reflection of our views of the world. While we use language to express our opinions, it also determines how we can express them. “In Brazilian Portuguese,” Vasquez said, “you have so many different words for somebody who’s your friend, a lover, or someone that you love. So, naturally, there’s more tools to construct oneself in that way.” The diversity and specificity of words show what values a culture is centered around. In this way, language creates a window through which we look at the world. Elias Capello, a professor of anthropology at SCAD, agrees that language and our perception of the world are intertwined. “In Russian, ‘blue’ has many different categories,” he said. “There’s a different category for light blue, and there’s a different category for regular blue or royal blue. Whereas in the United States, typically in American English, we just have one category of blue. Later on, people learn the difference between light blue and dark blue.”

When she speaks English with me, the words flow with ease and calmness—mixed with a pinch of an Australian-Latvian accent. “I would say both in English and Latvian I feel like myself, probably because I’ve spoken those languages for the longest time,” Vasquez told me. “But what does it even mean to be myself?” Identity is always changing. Cesar Chavez said that language is a mirror to the character and growth of its speakers. In what I glean from this, language is a reflection of our personality and personality is a reflection of our language. It moves both ways.

To learn a language is to have one more window from which to look at the world. —Chinese Proverb

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Brain scans have shown that people who speak a language that differentiates between categories of blue perceive the color with greater sensitivity. This is not only proof that language shapes our perception of the world, but also that language influences our biological setup. But how much power does language actually have?

Language shapes the way we think, and determines what we can think about. —Benjamin Lee Whorf, Linguist

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enjamin Lee Whorf was an American linguist who studied the relationship between language and our thinking. Our experience of the world is mediated through culture and language. When a culture names an object, it makes the object culturally significant. Like “blue,” some words are named more thoroughly than others. Therefore, the worlds of different cultures are distinct worlds—not just the same world seen through another set of words. Language has the power to shape the way we think and what we think about. “Based on the language that I speak, different things come to my mind,” Capello said. “For example, if ‘bridge’ is masculine in your main language, you’ll think of bridges as masculine. Whereas if ‘bridge’ is feminine, you’ll see bridges as beautiful and less industrial.” The fact that language influences our perception of the world also challenges the concept of truth and reality. “Saying what is truth, or what is better than another can only be relative,” Capello said, “because our perception differs based on the language that we engage with.” Perhaps language not only shapes the way we see the world, but also the way we think about ourselves. For example, the image I hold of myself in English is more outgoing, more talkative, more creative. My sense of humor is drier in German. I even find myself thinking about political and environmental issues differently in German—all because the linguistic resources my brain has been given are different.

The limits of my language mean the limits of my world. —Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosopher

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hen Ludwig Wittgenstein spoke this, he meant that the human existence is beyond our understanding and can’t be put into words. But there is always more than one interpretation. Language limits us in how we think and express ourselves. Yet, at the same time, we get the chance to expand and overstep this limit with each language we learn. It opens the door for a new way of seeing and understanding the world around us. Switching to a different language is like changing from jazz music to classical music. “You’re going to be dancing in a different way to jazz than if you play classical music. You’re going to move and dance in a different way,” Vasquez said. “I think the different languages I speak allow me to share more of myself, just in a different way.” “You kind of take on the things from the people around you, from the cultures that you have experienced and lived in, to almost create a new world and a new understanding,” she said. Capello has similar experiences. When he visits his parents in Louisiana, the contrast between the French Creole he uses at home and the academic English he uses when teaching becomes especially apparent. “I’ll code-switch

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and talk to my parents in a way that’s almost as if I don’t have my Ph.D.,” Capello said. When he is with his parents, his language is more focused on family values. However, while at SCAD, he said he thinks more about social justice and diversity. “You might make more sarcastic jokes with your friends than you would with your parents,” he said. “And that’s overexaggerated if your parents speak one language, and you speak another with your friends. So there might be a whole subculture of personality that you engage in, like, maybe you’re more sarcastic, maybe you have a more dry humor.” Professor Capello’s words ring true for me, too. When I speak or write in English, it feels like an upbeat, active music track. I find more ways to express the person I want to be. I am less concerned about the past. It’s almost as if the language propels me forward. Speaking another language gives me more opportunities. It’s like unlocking the next level of a video game—the language is opening itself up to all its people, culture, and community. So, am I really a different person when I speak another language?

I prefer a layered identity; I am the sum of many parts. —Stan Grant, Journalist

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hen you show up, you want people to perceive you in a certain way,” Capello said. “Because people’s perception of us can shape the identity labels we find.” When I decided to drop my German accent, it was because I didn’t want the label “German” stuck on me. I wanted to be free in deciding who I share that piece of information with rather than it being revealed by the way I speak. But speaking without a foreign accent doesn’t make me any less German. It is one thing I will never be able to change about myself. The only thing that changed is the way it’s expressed. “I think some staples of our personality stay the same,” Capello said. “If you’re an open-minded person, you’re going to be open-minded in every situation. What changes is how that comes across.” Vasquez agrees. “I wouldn’t say that I’m a different person. I think that as human beings, our brain is naturally trained to stereotype and to put things into boxes,” she said. “So it makes it easy for us to say, ‘I become like this when I speak that language,’ and, ‘I become like that in a different language.’ It’s not like I become someone different. I’m always Lina, but I’m multifaceted.” Multifaceted—a face made up of many parts. There’s no correct way to show oneself, no singular way to express who we are. Every part of the whole contributes to a completed picture. No one aspect of who I am is more myself than another. Every part of me is part of the whole.


In what I glean from this, language is a reflection of our personality and personality is a reflection of our language. It moves both ways. SCADDISTRICT.COM

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Bill Pilczuk, head swimming coach at SCAD and former world-class swimmer, reflects on his successful, albeit unorthodox, swimming career. Written by Joel Thatcher

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ill Pilczuk was a long way from his home in Cape May, New Jersey. It was Saturday, January 17, and yet another warm summer evening in Perth, Australia, for the finals of the 1998 Swimming World Championships. Not a single cloud could be spotted in the pale blue sky as the 50-meter freestyle finalists prepared themselves behind the starting blocks. Beneath the waving flags of every nation, Bill sat on a white plastic chair, the same kind that can be found at any local pool, drying his legs behind the block of lane six. He was the only swimmer not wearing his warm-ups, instead, he wore only his black swimsuit and the towel he carried with him. A pair of clear goggles rested on his tall forehead, over a black cap with an American flag printed on the side. As the announcer called his name, he rose to his feet and gave a shy smile, and something in between a wave and a fist pump to the Americans waving flags in the stands, before he looked back to the ground. Behind the blocks, Bill was the embodiment of the word long. His tall form was muscled, but not bulky, and his usually tall smile was replaced by a stoic expression and dead-set eyes under his clear goggles. He slowly exhaled, puffing out the cheeks of his long, oval-shaped face as he eyed the competition. Two lanes over from him, in lane four, was the top qualifier of the evening: Alexander Popov, “The Russian Rocket.” An absolute titan of a swimmer, Popov had won gold in every international competition he participated in since 1992—a winning streak that included fifteen European, four Olympic, and three World Championship races. To put it simply, he was unbeatable. Although mild-mannered in his day-to-day life, Popov was

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known for his ruthlessness in the pool, commenting once in an interview with the New York Times that, “If [up-and-coming swimmers] have a little potential, you must get on top of them and kill that enthusiasm right away so they will lose their interest in swimming.” It’s this drive that still causes many today to consider him the greatest sprinter in all of swimming history. Popov always swam to win, and on that January day in 1998, he had another gold medal in his sight. It was his race to lose. He knew it. The world knew it. And Bill knew it as well. The only question was how much Bill Pilczuk, a still relatively unknown swimmer from New Jersey, was going to make him fight for it.

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rowing up in the beach community of Cape May, New Jersey, Bill had also grown up in the water. After learning to “not drown” in the ocean, Bill’s grandmother suggested that he join a local swim team. He swam two years at the Cape May City Swim Team, then transferred over to the Wildwood Crest Dolphins. To Bill, the change was drastic. “They were a professional team compared to the one I was on,” he said. Bill continued to swim there and for his high school swim team throughout his early years. He swam any event his team needed to score points, but almost never touched the 50-freestyle, which would eventually become his best event in the future.


Most swimmers that reach the international level of competition are noticed in high school. They are child prodigies. They break National Age Group Records. They are given scholarships to NCAA Division I schools. Bill took a different path. After high school, Bill knew he wanted to continue swimming but had no idea where. When he graduated, he didn’t have times fast enough to go straight to a Division I program, nor the grades to be eligible to compete in his first year of college. He ended up attending Miami Dade Junior College in Florida for the first two years of his At the World Swimming Championships, Pilczuck (third from right) stands with other collegiate career. Even at the junior swimmers from around the globe. Perth, Australia, 1998. college level, Bill was entering a new world of swimming. “I actually didn’t even know a national championship level existed until I got to junior practice, Bill had to hop out of the pool, walk over to where his coach college,” Bill said. “They were like, ‘You ever been to Nationals?’ And I would write the workout on the whiteboard, then return to his own lane to train alone, doing his best to follow his teammates from a distance. was like, ‘I don’t know what that is.’” Never mind the fact that he didn’t know what it was, nor the fact that he But competing or not, Bill was determined to keep training to get faster. was the slowest on the team at the start of the season—after his first year at Much like when he entered Miami Dade, he realized that he was once Miami Dade, Bill placed sixth in the 50-freestyle at Junior College Nationals, again the slowest on the team, eighth, out of all the 50-freestylers. That then went on to win gold his second year. In fact, he swam fast enough to simply wouldn’t do. At the start of Bill’s junior be noticed by David Marsh, year, he was finally allowed to train a new coach starting his first and compete with the team. He year at Auburn University immediately noticed a difference in in Alabama, a Division I his training group. “In everything we program. At that point, Bill did, we wanted to beat the guy in front decided he was ready to move of us,” he said. “Every practice was a on to the next level and he competition as opposed to just trying transferred to Auburn the to finish a workout.” And the difference seemed to be working. Although next year. Due to complications with the date of his graduation from Miami he was only able to qualify for the NCAA National Championships as an Dade, Bill was forced to redshirt his first year at Auburn, meaning he alternate, he had moved up to be the fourth fastest on his team by the end wasn’t allowed to compete with the team. In fact, due to NCAA eligibility of that year. And so, he continued to train. guidelines, he was barely allowed to train with them either. During each

It’s in the back of your head. But if you actually did it, it would have been unimaginable because it’s not something you’re actually thinking about.

Bill Pilczuck (second from the left, inside the boat) poses with some friends before getting interviewed by MTV’s Daisy Fuentes. Cape May, New Jersey, 1990.

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In his final year in college, Bill qualified for Nationals in the 50-freestyle and placed fourth in the country, tying down to the hundredth of a second with his teammate and training partner. From where he had begun his swimming career in Cape May, Bill had come a long way. But he wasn’t done. Along with the remainder of his training group at Auburn, Bill decided to keep swimming to see how far it could take him. “I had a really good breakthrough year,” Bill said, looking back at his first year as a college graduate. “Immediately that summer, I ended up qualifying for the first national team I was on for the Rome World Championships in 1994.” According to Bill, his success came because he finally stopped growing and his body was able to develop muscle rather than height. “I was a very slow developer. I have a moped license that I found recently, and I was five

feet, six inches when I was fifteen years old. So not a very big guy. And I have team pictures where I’m down to the shoulders of my friends, and now they’re at my ears so I don’t think I finished growing until my senior year in college.” As the common saying goes, Bill was a late bloomer. Now realizing his potential, Bill set his eye on the 1996 Olympic Trials. In order to qualify for the Olympics, a swimmer must place in the top two of their event. Bill, once again, qualified for the meet in the 50-freestyle, entering with the goal to place in the top eight. Bill placed third. Not only that, but he touched the wall five one-hundredths of a second behind the competition, less than half the time it takes the average human to blink. “Obviously, we always want to make a team,” Bill said, looking

From the previous page: The Japanese National Team visits Auburn University in 1996. Left-to-Right, Pilczuck (second from left, in plaid) is pictured with Yoav Bruck, Suzu Chiba, and Takashi Yamamoto.

Above: Pilczuck bends to accept his gold medal at the World Swimming Championships, beating Alex Popov just moments before. Perth, Australia, 1998.

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back on the race. “It’s in the back of your head. But if you actually did it, it would have been unimaginable because it’s not something you’re actually thinking about.” For him, third place and a personal best time were all he could ask for. “Nobody knows what third place feels like. It was really not that big of an issue for me. It’s more of an issue because it’s an issue for other people. I feel kind of awkward when people are like, ‘Oh, you got third, that’s gotta be disappointing.’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, sure.’” Bill’s not one to stop and consider “what if.” Instead, he chooses to focus on “what now.” When he sets his mind on a goal, he focuses on it to the point of tuning everything else out, so don’t be offended if you text him and it takes a few days for him to respond. And he’s never been one to follow the traditional path, even in his daily life. Years after his swimming career had ended, Bill began coaching at the Savannah College of Art and Design. Here, he also found himself helping out with a local club team alongside his fellow coach, Joe Witt. One day, the two of them attended a swim clinic hosted in Atlanta with a group of thirty or so other coaches from the southeastern United States. While walking along the deck of the pool, Bill failed to notice the plastic tarp covering the pool to keep the heat in. “We all heard the splash,” Joe said. “But by the time we all turned to see what was going on, Bill had jumped out of the water so quickly that he was just standing on the edge of the pool, suddenly soaking wet from the waist down.” Bill told Joe he was going to change but, never one to follow the traditional path, he returned only fifteen minutes later wearing a pair of khaki pants that ended about halfway down his shin. “Where did you get those?” Joe asked. “I walked across the street to the cleaners,” Bill said, a smile on his face. “Someone had left these.”

The official blew his whistle, indicating for the swimmers to step on the blocks. Popov was the first to step up while Bill was one of the last. While the rest of the competition stood bent over as they awaited command, Bill stood tall, looking forward as he adjusted his goggles, one final act of defiance against the expected. At last, the official spoke: “Take your mark.” Beep. Bill shot off the blocks. He knew that Popov raced to win. So, what if the Russian couldn’t see him? If Bill were to go out fast enough, the swimmer in the lane between him and Popov would block him from his vision. By the time Popov realized what was going on, it would be too late. And so it went. Bill slammed his hand into the wall 22.29 seconds later, becoming the world champion. From the beginning of his swimming career to when he decided to look for pants at a dry cleaner, Bill has always broken away from what was expected. He was no child prodigy. He didn’t get picked up by a Division I school out of high school. Instead, he found his own path. A path that led to him breaking yet another tradition, the tradition of another Popov victory. It’s easy for a swimmer, or a person in any field for that matter, to see what is traditionally done and think to themselves that it’s the only way to be successful. But, in reality, there are many paths available to accomplish a goal. Bill is an example of the power of finding your own route to success. “It hasn’t been easy for Bill,” David Marsh commented in an interview with SwimNews following Bill’s victory. “It’s been something he’s had to work very hard at. He didn’t have the financial support and raw talent of the typical championship swimmer. If he doesn’t accomplish anything beyond winning a world title, he’s already beaten the odds.”

He was no child prodigy. He didn’t get picked up by a Division I school out of high school. Instead, he found his own path.

B

ack at the World Championships in 1998, many coaches were probably secretly hoping to stumble into the pool themselves because of the heat, but that would have to wait.

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It’s safe to say that my identity issues are a symptom of my mental disorder—thank God. I was about to blame it on being a Gemini. Written by Haylee Gemeiner, Illustrated by Mayce Schindler

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I

t’s an early and insignificant morning when I find myself standing, bleary-eyed, in the kitchen of my new apartment—one I can only afford with two roommates and a dreadful retail job. The scent of freshly brewed tea (lukewarm in a “Coffee: Because Adulting Is Hard” mug I received as a gift) is almost strong enough to mask the stench of cigarette smoke left behind by the previous tenant. Almost. After a restless past few days, I’m there, mug in hand, becoming acutely aware of my surroundings again. Is this the signaling of a new chapter of my life entering its draft stage, or did my Adderall just kick in? Either way, something new is beginning—this scene’s color grading changes, and the world is cast in muted shades of sepia and emerald. I become fixated on many new things after that. Propagating stolen plant clippings and investing all my time and money into DIY projects I’ll never finish. I’m composting vegetable scraps and giving silly names to neighborhood cats. I’m applying for jobs I don’t qualify for and fleshing out fictional worlds reserved for my maladaptive daydreams. I stay up late to watch TikTok’s or rewatch anime, and I have an overpriced candle that smells like oceanside birch, sparkling waves, and white sage. It’s been burning for days now. I think I’m getting used to the pungent notes of Marlboro wafting from my walls and carpet—the same Marlboro’s my parents used to buy a decade ago for $10 instead of $12. I see my life as a compilation of eras. Some notable ones would be my emo phase in the eighth grade, and, what followed soon afterward, when my fangirl tendencies evolved from punk bands to s***ty television shows beloved by Tumblr. Or when I auditioned for the school play and contemplated an acting career for a year, then again when I graduated high school and developed a snobby film major mentality. A few months into working towards a film degree I realized I didn’t have the backbone (or the mental stability) to work in the industry, and finally switched to writing. After that, I transferred colleges twice until I finally settled at my third, right at the start of my third year. All good things come in threes, but I don’t think I’ll ever be confident in the choices that led me to where I am today. Or even that they were good ones, for that matter.

In other words, having identity issues seems to be an integral part of the individualistic, American experience. I’m always questioning. Not so much my beliefs, values, and convictions, but my preferences, interests, goals, and likes—they have forever been fleeting. Burdened by my inability to enjoy things casually or for extended periods of time, they are fragile and transient. I’ve become someone who is perpetually unsure. Maybe it’s just that I’m not very in tune with myself or maybe I’m overwhelmed by the illusion of choice, but with something like four seeds of a pomegranate, I am destined to return to the liminal space between chapter breaks and wait for the story to pick up in its next arc. Then, my character can develop, and perhaps even grow.

After a few months of fixating, of becoming one with my interests at that time, I start to feel an itch. I’m not as satisfied by the things that once interested me anymore and without realizing it, I’m preparing to move on while having nothing to move on to. This limbo has been my most consistent experience, and I default to it routinely. I’ve become somewhat comfortable in my eternal identity crisis. It wouldn’t be all that profound of me to assert my lacking sense of selfidentity like it makes me special because even the concept of identity can be attributed to the consumerist desire to be seen as unique and individual. In other words, having identity issues seems to be an integral part of the individualistic, American experience. I, and many others, however, struggle because of our inability to ever resolve these issues. There is the notion that identity is a balancing act of what characteristics define you, who you want to be, and how you want others to perceive you. I think Erik Erikson failed to consider how a dopamine deficiency might affect this process while outlining his stages of psychosocial development. This last year I went and got tested for, and ultimately diagnosed with, ADHD. As a person who struggles to feel a consistent sense of identity, I’ve never had a more singularly identifying experience such as this. Horoscopes, MBTI Personality Types, Buzzfeed “Which_ From_Are You?” quizzes—I suppose these were the prerequisites

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for my recent psych evaluation. I’ve always needed a little help defining myself. During my experience of getting diagnosed with ADHD, I realized that identity issues are a symptom of my mental disorder. My psychologist explained to me that children with ADHD, especially girls whose presentations are severely understudied and often deviate from the standard, often grow up feeling misunderstood and confused. Like with all neurodivergencies, there are negative associations and perceptions of ADHD. These stigmas familiarize children with shame and inadequacy early on, and such negative emotions and insecurities impact us later in life by making it harder to assess ourselves in adulthood. I did well in school, I always received good marks, and my teachers would gush about what a pleasure it was to have me in class. I didn’t display the same signs of ADHD as my brother, who was diagnosed at a young age, and so I struggled with it unknowingly. I focused more on not twitching in my seat during a lesson than I did on the material. During tests, I made simple mistakes because I couldn’t slow down—and no matter how many times I read the questions, I couldn’t decipher any meaning. I often resorted to cheating on homework assignments last minute because I was a chronic procrastinator.

I struggled to maintain relationships because, although I cared deeply, I was forgetful when it came to reaching out. I remember feeling hopeless during this time, because no matter what I did I always struggled, and because I couldn’t figure out why, I started to look internally. This undoubtedly impacted the person I grew into. There is also a widely accepted theory that ADHD stems from a lack of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine, the neurotransmitter responsible for the overall executive function of emotional and physical responses, coordinates our relationships with pleasure and reward. People diagnosed with ADHD often struggle to find the motivation to complete low reward tasks and become paralyzed, or hyper-focused, on something that is more pleasurable instead. Hence the common symptoms of trouble focusing and completing tasks.

My psychologist explained to me that children with ADHD, especially girls whose presentations are severely understudied and often deviate from the standard, often grow up feeling misunderstood and confused. Whether it was from growing up feeling hopeless or my brain’s predisposition to erratically chase after anything that provides dopamine (or both), I think it’s safe to say that my identity issues are a symptom of my mental disorder. Thank God. Because I almost blamed it on being a Gemini. I expect now that my current interests will inevitably fade, and I will be set off wandering again, unsure and searching for nothing. My propagated seedlings will die, and I’ll forget to compost the scraps, and the world of my daydreams will eventually bore me. The weather will change, with colorful sunsets and sunrises mellowing into autumn. I won’t get the jobs I don’t qualify for (not that this will surprise me) but I will be reminded of how mind-numbing retail is. When I’ll look back at this chapter later in my life, I’ll probably think of dirty fingernails, and sleep deprivation, and smell the smoky birch, waves, and sage, and see the world through the gritty, earth-toned filter for a moment again, but it will be like a dream I can’t quite describe. When I light that candle or make a cup of tea, the dream will be so close, and still barely out of reach. Approaching these lulls has always made me anxious and wistful. The same way summer in August, Sunday afternoons, and opening your last birthday present makes you feel. I don’t think I’ll ever be rid of that yearning nostalgia—but maybe this time, I’ll find it in me to extend my reach farther towards the dream of what was and bring it back into consciousness again. Maybe I can turn this chapter’s conclusion into a page break instead.

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