Witches Mag, Issue #3: Labor

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CONTENTS 1 The Weight of a Woman’s 49 It’s Time to “Work” to Shift World Gender Roles in the Workplace 3 Manifesta 51 Labor of Love 5 it’s hard work trying to be the 54 Work Clothes best you can be 55 In The Garden on Lowell 7 Notes on the Labor of Loss Street 11 Babez in Boyland 57 Not Your Mother 12 Love Letters to Mr. 58 You should. Government 59 I Quit My Job of Not Being 13 24 Allowed 22 Where were you when I felt I 64 Pussy for President could not get here? 65 How We Pay Workers in 23 In The Delivery Room America 25 Dress Your Boobs for the 67 So Few People Job You Want 68 Frida Kahlo Eyebrows 27 untitled notes app poetry 71 At The Firehouse 28 Most Of All 72 For Ada Joy 30 Seams 73 Notes to Self at the End of a 33 The Job Hunt Decade 34 small workers 77 for more information 38 Interview with Steph Wisner 78 Contributors 40 WWC by Kaley Roberts 79 In My Tapestry // the end 41 The Labor of Care 43 43 Women 44 Women’s Work 45 Reservoir 2

MANIFESTA Witches Magazine began as a handwritten idea in the back of an old notebook in October of 2018. It was born after 2 am, when my cup of tea had gone cold, my graduate school assignments had been pushed to the far side of my desk, and my thoughts were racing like I was living through a fever dream. I’d spent the week keeping up with the U.S. senate hearing during which Dr. Christine Blasey Ford bravely shared the story of her sexual assault, and then watching Brett Kavanaugh get confirmed as a Supreme Court justice in spite of Blasey Ford’s testimony. Sick of sulking in my growing disappointment and anger, I felt compelled to do something, to make something that was overtly political and overtly feminist. The results of Dr. Blasey Ford’s testimony had proven to me that women’s stories were not valued like men’s were, even in 2018, and I wanted to work to change this. I decided that night that I would begin a publication that centered girls’ and women’s voices. I scribbled down that Witches Magazine would try to create a space for girls and women to discuss sexism and feminism honestly, to write with nuance, to critique our culture, to mess up and teach each other, to admit our hypocrisy, and ultimately to have our voices, artwork, opinions, stories, and experiences centered, acknowledged, validated, and listened to. With these goals in mind, for each issue of Witches, girls and women are asked to contribute work related to that issue’s theme. The title of Witches was inspired partially by the name of season 4, episode 6 of the show Broad City. The feminism we see in pop culture is often fun, sexy, lighthearted, and apolitical, but I think this episode of Broad City, despite having passed through the filter of capitalism, maintains some of the grittiness of feminism as an overtly political movement. The women characters in this episode are powerful and struggling and funny and flawed and resilient all at once, just like the Witches you’re about to meet. Feminism is messy, uncomfortable, and difficult. It is both personal and political. It’s about challenging a sexist culture, not just making individual, empowered choices. It recognizes the downfalls of the gender binary. It knows that men are negatively affected by patriarchy as well. It requires an intersectional approach to be effective. It is often exhausting and disheartening, but it is ultimately rooted in optimism. Our work in Witches is meant to reflect these values. This publication does not claim to be representative of what misogyny feels or looks like to every woman and girl. As a young woman who is very white, mostly straight, and relatively middle class, I recognize that mainstream feminist movements have historically marginalized women of color, queer women, and transgender women and that I have a responsibility to make space in these pages for girls and women who are different than me. This is an essential element of my understanding of feminism and it consistently shapes the manifestation of my values in the personal, professional, and academic areas of my life. Witches centers the artwork and experiences of girls and 3

women with the goal of challenging existing systems from angles that are actively antisexist, anti-racist, and anti-classist. The girls and women in this issue are committed to these ethics, and we are aware of our responsibility to continue learning, challenging, advocating, and growing with each issue. That being said, anyone who identifies as a girl or woman and is interested in sharing work that reflects her experiences within a sexist culture is invited and encouraged to join us. My greatest hope is that Witches is beginning to create a community in which girls and women share their stories, discover commonalities, and learn from the ways their experiences contradict each other. I hope it’s satisfying its contributors and entertaining its readers. I hope men are reading it, too. I hope it’s teaching someone something along the way. I hope it’s making my parents proud. If nothing else, I know that beginning Witches made the anger I began harboring after the senate hearing feel purposeful and proactive as my fellow Witches and I took concrete action to contribute to building a culture that values girls’ and women’s stories more, even on this small scale. When I began organizing this issue, a year had passed since Witches was just an impulsive handwritten idea I dreamed up one night. I chose Labor as our theme because I knew the breadth of this topic could reflect the growth that Witches had experienced since its founding. Our interpretations of this theme are vast, and the array of writing and artwork in this issue reflects the growing group of contributors we welcomed in our first year. This issue includes pieces about the labor of grieving, of trying to do the right thing, of having a crush. In these pages, we’ve been honest about our work to maintain appearances, to feel in control, and to make men more comfortable. We’ve struggled with forgiveness, guilt, and introspection. But we’ve rejoiced, too—in the bliss of meeting someone who lessens our labor, in successfully defending our right to make our own choices, in experiencing the birth of a new baby niece. There are moments when we have many questions but no answers. There are moments when our work feels progressive and important. There are moments when we fight back. But there are also moments when we resign, unsure of how to change the ways we feel. I hope you know that in these moments of resignation—these moments when you think of the word futile—these pages will be here to ease your labor, to listen to you when you need it most. After all, Witches was founded for the moments when creating and sharing are the best solutions we know.



it’s hard work trying to be the best you can be (i probably could have continued this for pages but i got too stressed and had to lie down) what if i’m not doing my best what if i’m not being a good person or a good daughter or a good friend or a good girlfriend am i supporting any bad people or what if i’m supporting someone’s abuser what if the companies i support are testing on animals what if they’re exploiting their workers what if my carbon footprint is too big does my recycling actually get recycled or does it go into landfills is anyone actually good am i actually good do i waste too much should i stop eating cheese and dairy does it actually matter anyway are we going to die in 10 years due to global warming will women ever be treated fairly am i treating poc fairly what if i’m a bad person what if my best isn’t good enough i should try to be zero waste should i support more women-owned businesses do i support enough poc-owned businesses do i drive too much should i stop driving what if i’m contributing to the depreciation of the ozone layer apparently this musician is cancelled so i can’t listen to their music anymore how am i supposed to focus on anything when the amazon is burning also i should stop buying things off of amazon but fuck it’s so convenient am i donating enough to worthy causes are those causes using my money for good how do i file quarterly taxes how do i tell my parents i appreciate everything they do for me do i tell my friends and family that i love them enough i feel like i worry so much about everything and no one else worries about these things like i do i should get more mason jars and stop using so much plastic i should drink more water i should take better care of my skin so i look hot as an old person because women who look old aren’t valued i should lose weight am i eating enough protein am i taking care of myself am i checking my privilege should i check my privilege more am i too privileged for therapy does my therapist think i’m stupid are my problems stupid i should be nicer to myself i should stop calling myself an idiot all the time am i supporting ethical companies there’s no ethical consumption in capitalism anyway but fuck should i stop shaving my legs should i stop dying my hair are the chemicals destroying the planet is it vain to care about how i look when there are so many other things i should be worried about am i doing enough am i enough is anything ever enough why is everything so fucking hard all the time 6

Notes on the Labor of Loss I couldn’t stop thinking about how she left all her stuff behind. It seemed like the most obvious and trivial observation I could make. She’s dead, after all. She’s gone. It’s very clear that, wherever she is, she’s no longer here, but she left a houseful of stuff behind. Sixtythree years worth of accumulated materials. In her bathroom vanity, the same Vitamin C serum that I, more than 30 years her junior, also use and buy on Amazon. In the kitchen, the Keurig that she put through the ringer with an intense coffee addiction, day and night, 365 days a year, until she was diagnosed just under 9 months ago. In the basement, boxes of delicate, translucent red glass china, service for 8, that she inherited from a relative (does anyone remember who?) but that she squirreled away under the basement stairs, saving it, I assume, for an occasion deemed “special” enough. In the living room, her iPhone, logged into her Facebook account, messages unreplied to from friends that read keep up the fight, don’t lose hope, thinking of you, praying for you. I’m talking about my mother-in-law, Denise. Denise was a mother-in-law to me for a relatively short time; she died of pancreatic cancer 3 years and 11 months after my husband and I got married. I feel acutely like I barely got to know what kind of mother-in-law (and eventually grandmother to our as-yet-to-exist kids) she could’ve ultimately been, but it’s still too soon for me to think or write about that. In the weeks that followed her death, I found it hard to focus on anything other than the fact that she died right before my eyes, sitting up in a recliner in her office, witnessed by her son, her daughter, her sister-in-law, and me. She is the first person I’ve ever watched die, and she was the first person I lost who had grown to be part of the fabric of my daily life. I’ve been lucky to have been only tangentially touched by loss before the death of my husband’s parents. I still have two of my grandparents in my life, both of whom are in their (very) late 80s. This fact is not lost on me now, 4 years into my marriage to a man who has lost both his mom and dad over the course of those 4 years. The second most obvious and anticlimactic marker of her 7

absence hit me on the first full day my husband and I were back home in Rhode Island after her funeral. I watched my husband mow the long grass in the backyard. With a sweaty iced coffee in one hand, I raised my phone to take a photo of my husband’s progress, as the divide between mown and unmown was stark and satisfying. I’ll send Karl’s mom this photo automatically flit through my mind. Of course, I can’t. She’s gone. But I felt the impulse to connect over what I think she would’ve found satisfying—taking care of the yard, pride in her son’s homeownership, the dignity in a day’s work, appreciation for making her a part of the mundanity of our daily life from a distance. The impulse, the realization, the absence. The day before, while we were waiting for the ferry at Orient Point, I took out my pocket Thich Nhat Hanh and read aloud to Karl about how birth and death do not exist. Those phenomena are only transformation. Those who have died and who have yet to be born exist in a form that we cannot perceive. We talk about it. For us two atheists (who both only recently, in the face of such uncertainty and suffering and loss, feel some reluctance to use that term), it helps for a moment or two. It makes some sense. It provides some logic to what seems illogical. It provides some answers where there seem to be none. Where did she go? How could she leave all her stuff? How are we going to tell her about everything else that happens in our lives? During her illness and in the months since she died, I’ve done some work imagining what’s inside my husband’s head. He is 30 years old and his parents are dead. I imagine that there are probably frequent bursts of profound disbelief. Pure this-cannot-be-real energy. I also imagine a physical, primal longing for conversation, even if it’s one-sided. “Hey, mom and dad. Let me catch you up on what you’ve missed.” I imagine the seductive power of filling them in and getting a nod and a smile as a response, or even just a look of recognition on their faces. I imagine frustration at how purely impossible this is. I imagine jealousy, because I’ve found myself at times distracted by how it seems so many people remain relatively untouched by the loss of truly close and intimate loved ones, while he lost both his parents within the span of 3 years. I imagine he feels fear, which I also experience, about who and what is next. When my mom texts that she has a stomach bug, the first thought I have is, Here we go again. It’s back, and it’s my turn. 8

The other shoe is dropping and it’s on the fucking grim reaper’s foot. I imagine my husband, like I do, experiences fear for his own life and eventual suffering and demise. The flip side of that fear is the fear of sticking around for decades and decades without those who have already died and without the ones who will inevitably die before us. I also spent a lot of time, and did a lot of work, trying to anticipate Karl’s feelings. I do not recommend this and am still working on breaking this habit. When Denise was first diagnosed, I had the very cliche but also very human feeling that I had to find and talk to someone who had been through this before. I reached out to friends who had lost parents and tried to find friends who had supported partners through grief. I read as many memoirs written by the children of parents lost to cancer as I could stomach. I’m sure I wore my therapist out trying to get her to tell me what it was I could do for my husband. Certainly there had to be some things I could do to make this less awful, to make things a little easier. I am capable and educated and in therapy and motivated! Tell me what to do, I said to my therapist in so many words, and I’ll do it! As helpful as she was, the task at hand felt extremely niche, the work extremely specific. No other skill set aside from the one a person would acquire by going through it almost exactly would be quite right. There was no one to help me with this job. No one to tell me how to do the work. The truth is, and what my therapist tried to tell me at the time, and what my friends who had lost parents tried to tell me at the time, is that I would have to do what is, for me, perhaps the hardest thing of all: nothing. Fifteen months after her diagnosis and five months since her death, I have become the person I sought and never found. I have a version of the skill set I craved in another person. If you came to me today and asked me how to do the job of supporting a loved one through prolonged, traumatic stress and grief (while going through something similar, if less acute, simultaneously), I would advise the following: as soon as you possibly can, accept that there is essentially nothing you can do. No matter how tempting it is to try, no matter how good your intentions, no matter how willing you are to put in the work to do whatever it is your partner needs, no matter how much you google (“how to support a partner whose mom is dying of cancer,” “alternative medicine pancreatic cancer,” “life expectancy stage iv 9

pancreatic cancer,” “losing both your parents,” “supporting a partner who lost their only remaining parent,” “signs of the end stages of pancreatic cancer,” “memoirs about pancreatic cancer,” “steve jobs alternative treatment pancreatic cancer,” “alex trebek chemo pancreatic cancer,” “online forum for family members of pancreatic cancer patients,” “how to help a partner with depression,” “how to probate a will,” etc. etc.), the fact is that there is essentially nothing you can do. There might be the occasional mundane concrete task, like ordering peppermint essential oil and a diffuser online to try to mitigate nausea as a side effect of chemotherapy. There is the shoulder-to-cry-on role that must be filled but will feel useless and sometimes thankless. But really, all you can do for your partner besides staying with them through this is to work on not reacting instantaneously or impulsively as often as possible. (This is impossible to do perfectly, so forgive yourself in advance.) And still, “not reacting” is really just a variation on “doing nothing.” Accept the futility of human intervention in other people’s grief. That in and of itself takes a tremendous amount of work. When I told my therapist that “do nothing” would be my advice to the me of 15 months ago, she gave me the knowing look she often gives me when I think she’s trying not to contradict me but wants to push my thinking. “Really? Nothing? Do you feel you’ve done nothing?” Begrudgingly, through conversation, she helped me realize that what I really need to work on is acceptance. As a wife, a woman, a caretaker, a partner, and a human being who recently watched The Irishman and identified a little too strongly with Al Pacino’s portrayal of a morally righteous and almost-exclusively-yelling Jimmy Hoffa, acceptance—specifically of the limitations of my own power in the face of other people’s suffering—will probably be the work of my life. And figuring out when exactly to let my inner-union-organizer take over and make change for the better is the yang to that yin. But I’m willing to do the work and keep learning. And, as my acupuncturist once told me, we’re not here to have a good time, we’re here to learn, until we leave and learn what’s next. By M.E. Griffith


At a radio station run predominately by men, I joined my friends on a show called Babez in Boyland. Together we had one of the most listened to shows on the station and created a slew of content that I will forever be proud of. If you don’t have a space, create one if you can. I promise you won’t regret it. By Angela Ramos Photo by Linda Pluhar


Love Letters to Mr. Government

by feemaleartist 12


By Jaclyn Griffith

On the eve of my 24th birthday, I sit in a restaurant in Little Italy drinking red wine from a carafe, sharing ravioli and tagliatelle with my college friends. I am not my usual self tonight. I am avoiding attention, keeping my stories to myself, because I have recently been broken up with, and I am trying not to cry. By the time we get dessert, I am drunk enough that I no longer fear my own earnestness. I raise my elbow from the table, the stem of my wine glass planted loosely between my middle and ring fingers. The house red swirls like my speech, moving with me as I talk. I speak to my friends like I’m standing on a podium, making a toast to my sad, drunk, almost-mid-twenties self. “My goal for 24 is to be more like I was at 21,” I say, and my friends are caught off guard by the dramatic shift in our conversation. “I don’t want to work so hard to be with someone anymore. I was never like this in college, was I?” My very kind friends don’t answer my question directly. I blow out the candle in a piece of cheesecake I didn’t want, then press my fork into the slice over and over again, pressing lines into it until a busboy takes the small plate away from me. Outside the restaurant, I say goodbye to my friends in the middle of a crowded sidewalk on Mulberry Street. The late June humidity is sticky even after dark, but I hug my friend Megan close enough to wrap my ankles around her calves. “I need to call you tomorrow,” I whisper, letting my vulnerability stumble into her arms. “I have more to tell you about what happened with him.” “I know you do,” she says. Since we met at 19, Megan has always been able to sense and simplify how I’m feeling. She saw me for the woman I would become long before I figured it out for myself. “I’m sad,” I tell her, then I stop to take a single, shallow breath and hold it for longer than I should. Feeling the tears creep back again, I shoot my eyes up and concentrate on the restaurant’s awning that hangs above our heads, all the yellow and white pinstripes welcoming hungry tourists. “I know you are.” *** The work of holding back tears follows me throughout my birthday, my week visiting the city, and the rest of the summer. I spend the next day walking through Manhattan with my headphones in, listening to Regina 13

Spektor’s entire discography and remembering how much I loved her music during college. I walk 90 blocks, trying to figure out when I started working so hard to be in a relationship or get over a past one. I don’t understand how I can feel so empowered in some parts of my life but so helpless in others. How can I teach fifty 18-year-olds about communication in intimate relationships every semester but not know how to make a good thing last? How can I publish a feminist literary magazine but forget how to get out of bed in the morning? I try to answer these questions as I glide through every neighborhood from the Upper East Side to Alphabet City. Sweat soaks my black crop top as I make my way downtown to my favorite ramen restaurant. When I arrive at the hole-in-the-wall spot, I walk straight to the bathroom, where the walls are covered in handwriting and stickers. I dig through my bag for a Sharpie I stole from the supply closet at school, and I leave my mark on the door frame: Walked 90 blocks listening to Regina Spektor to get here. 6/20/19. Happy 24th birthday to me! That night, I see Regina Spektor in concert, alone, sitting in the last row of the theater. A birthday present to myself, I’d thought when I bought the ticket in March. During the show, I finally surrender to my sadness, and I cry throughout her set. I can sense which song she’ll sing before she plays it, and I wish I could talk to her on stage where she sits so gracefully at a grand piano. I imagine my voice traveling down from the upper mezzanine: These melodies are a part of me, can’t you see that? I want to shout. Look at your red dress, like the ones I wore when I was a teenager. Can you help me heal the ridges of my broken heart? *** On the Fourth of July, I visit my parents at their home on Long Island. We sit by a fire in the chiminea that stands on four square stones in the middle of the backyard. When I was growing up, this flat spot was the pitcher’s mound during every kickball and Wiffle ball game we played. Now, when I think about home, it’s details like these that come to mind, at least on the good days—I picture my dad fetching a foul ball out of a pine tree, a Hula Hoop for second base, my big sisters making fun of the way my knees knock together when I run. When we all visit home during the summer, these are the moments we are always trying to live up to in new, more adult ways. My dad tosses another log into the fire while my mom sits up on the deck drinking Bloody Marys and eating clams on the halfshell with me. I’m only home for two days—a fleeting gap in a hectic summer work schedule—but it’s enough time for my mother to realize something’s off. She’s aware of my recent heartbreak but dances around the pain all day. By the time the sun sets, her concern overcomes her restraint. She asks me 14

what’s wrong as she pulls the burnt black shell off a roasted marshmallow, revealing the soft white still intact beneath it. “I wish I could hit a reset button on my whole life,” I say, and my mom stays silent. “I feel like I’ve been sad about the same things for two years now. I keep working to fix them, but it’s not getting any easier.” Throughout the summer, I make a joke that no one laughs at, about how I am so desperate to find something new to consume me that I’m going to join the Air Force, or maybe the Peace Corps would be better, since I can’t even run a mile without stopping, and who in their right mind would trust me with a gun? *** Although my summer sadness is sparked by the particular man who dumped me—I miss how he wore his watch facing inward and insisted that was the proper way, and the Joan Didion on his bookshelf, and the way he referred to celebrities and politicians by their first names like he knew them personally—really, my heartbreak is cumulative. My desire for a relationship is a wound that keeps splitting open like it’s been stitched wrong. And I have grown comfortable performing the emotional labor of trying to fill this void. In the two years leading up to my 24th birthday, I take on certain practices in my role as a woman in pursuit of stable romantic partnership. Somewhere along the way, these practices become my new normal. Though I apply these rules to myself and no other woman on earth, I feel a responsibility to adhere to the following: At all times, you must put in the necessary work to win over the man you want to be with, and then deal with your devastation when you are not successful in the endeavor. Pretend you are okay when you are not, and exaggerate the length and exclusivity of your past relationships to make your pain more socially acceptable and understood. Feel embarrassed when you admit how heartbroken you are over someone you only dated for a few weeks, or didn’t date at all. Feel like a terrible, hypocritical, pathetic feminist. Feel your loneliness sear as you remember how you used to judge other women for feeling this way—you used to call them weak. Feel like the type of woman your younger self would hate—you are the ultimate betrayal of all she thinks she knows right now as she retweets Lena Dunham from her college dorm room. Feel guilty for feeling so low when there are people all around you who are suffering so much more. When you get that sinking feeling during a holiday, leave your family to go to whatever bedroom you’re staying in—whether it’s the one you grew up in, or the one in the cabin in New Hampshire that you’re supposed to be enjoying—and lie face down on 15

your borrowed bed and listen to “Ribs” by Lorde for as long as it takes you to be ready to rejoin the couples in the kitchen, or until a concerned sister comes looking for you. When you’re at your professor’s house on the last day of the fall semester, immediately flee to the bathroom when Adele’s “Chasing Pavements” comes on the Pandora station playing on the television because listening to that song in your current state should have been one of Hercules’ Twelve Labors. Spend a large percentage of your measly graduate student stipend on products that are supposed to make you more attractive to the person for whom you have feelings, then feel guilty for spending your paycheck on superficial things. Do not ever stop trying to attract someone new, even for a minute, even when you’re completely hung up on the last one, especially when you’re completely hung up on the last one, because you never know when it might happen! But also, don’t work too hard at it, because it always happens when you’re least expecting it! You should, however, always work as hard as you can to feel like Lizzo; be feminist enough to damn to hell any man who doesn’t want you, even in the moments when you want him more than you’ve ever wanted anything. And when you can’t feel like Lizzo, pretend to feel like Lizzo in front of other people. When you work six days a week at a restaurant in the summer, level up from holding back your tears to holding back your vomit, and forget what it’s like to wake up without ajita. Try to figure out ways to piece yourself back together while simultaneously hating yourself for falling apart in the first place. Avoid any plotline in any movie/show/song/book about a woman who has the “burden” of choosing between two different men who love her. Get resentful when a friend talks about her significant other, but don’t be a bitch about it, except, of course, when you can’t help but be a bitch about it, and never apologize for that. Spend a considerable amount of time making sure you’re not attracted to women, then wonder if you would be attracted to women if you weren’t raised in an oppressive, heteronormative culture, then wonder if you’re actually perpetuating the fetishization of lesbian and bisexual women by considering dating women, then tell yourself that you’re the truly oppressive heternormative figure after all because this whole time you’ve known, deep down, that you have never really had feelings for a woman, and you are very much a fan of having a man put his penis inside of you. Cry to all of the sad songs in the car. When longing for someone who doesn’t want you back, you must work to make excuses for poor behavior carried out by the men for whom you have feelings. Like, he really does want to be with you, but he’s just not in the right headspace this fall. He’s just insecure—he doesn’t believe that he deserves you (he told you that himself), but maybe if you work hard enough, you can prove to him that he really does deserve you. He’s super smart—he 16

works for NPR!—so he’s just overthinking your relationship; that’s one of the things you usually really like about him. He’s a year younger than you, so he needs a little time to mature. He’s just depressed right now. His job is really overwhelming and emotionally exhausting—way more than yours is, you suppose—and he’s a Virgo, so he works super hard at it, which is actually really admirable, if you think about it. He’s not like most people your age—he just doesn’t check his phone a lot, and that’s why he’s taking so many days to answer your messages. You just need to work on adjusting your expectations. You need to be more patient. You need to give him the time and space he needs to figure his shit out and wait until he’s ready to be with you. If you say and do all of the right things all of the time, you’ll be able to prove to him that you’re the right partner for him. If you listen to him when he’s upset, and you really make the space for him to confide in you, he’ll see how much good you could do for him. Maybe you can help him. Maybe if you’re the thinnest one, the funniest one, the most charming one in your group of friends, then he’ll finally break up with her. Maybe you can make sense of all his mixed signals if you talk to every single one of your friends about him ad nauseam. Maybe if you really work to maintain a friendship with him, eventually you’ll be able to convince him that no, really, my virginity isn’t a big deal to me, like, at all, but I totally get why you were so freaked out by it, I totally understand why you stopped seeing me after I told you, and we can work on this, we can work through this, we can work this out, don’t throw it all away over this, won’t you please forgive me for my inexperience, and, yes, please, won’t you please just have sex with me? *** “I just want something to consume me,” I tell my mom, swatting away an ember floating toward the face of my parents’ Labrador. The dog lies undisturbed, sound asleep in the damp grass next to my lawn chair. I lean down to pet her ears. “I don’t want to live inside my own head anymore.” *** With the end of the season comes the end of my Great Summer Depression, and I’m finally burnt out from two years of these expectations. There is a liberation that comes with hitting rock bottom. There is a liberation that comes with the end of a depressing season. I decide I’m ready to get back to dating once I’m able to make small talk again without feeling like there are cinder blocks tied to my limbs. Before a first date in September, my therapist tells me I have to force myself not to think beyond the present moment. She calls this extreme mindfulness. 17

“Don’t think about what you hope this becomes long term,” she says as I chip flakes of my navy blue nail polish onto her white couch. “Just concentrate on a realistic goal for enjoying your first date. What do you hope to get out of this? Perhaps a pleasant conversation over a decent cocktail?” “If someone doesn’t kiss my neck soon I’m gonna drop dead,” I say. “Does that count as a realistic goal?” This man doesn’t kiss my neck that first night, but we do have a pleasant conversation over a decent cocktail—several of them, actually. As the weeks pass, I realize I have finally met someone who wants to be with me, too. Meeting him isn’t a direct result of all my years of work toward this, nor is it some fated event that comes true because I finally stopped searching for someone. Some intangible, immeasurable combination of my past and present mindsets makes way for our relationship. Mostly, though, the secret is this: he is someone who reads my writing and answers my text messages in a reasonable amount of time, who can sense when I’m overthinking something he’s said, who doesn’t run away as soon as something is less than perfect, who meets me in my favorite café every Monday on his way home from work just so he can spend a few minutes talking to me from across a cramped table. He is someone who makes everything feel easy. It’s no wonder, then, that it takes me some time to realize I have feelings for him. Without the work that has characterized all of my past relationships, my brain doesn’t initially recognize him as a potential romantic prospect. But where’s the crazy rush? I ask myself after our third date. How come I don’t feel anxious about this? On our fourth date, we visit an observatory, where we each walk up a concrete ladder to peer out an old telescope. The white paint on the rungs nicks the palm of one of my hands as I hold down the back of my skirt with my other. “That right there,” says a proud undergraduate getting class credit for interning at the observatory, “is the one and only Saturn.” Saturn is tiny and matte, a pasty white sliver of sphere and ring at the opposite end of this bulky, immovable telescope. It looks like a little kid cut the shape out of construction paper and the undergrad taped it to the lens of the telescope just to fool us. I think of a song about a paper moon that I learned in elementary school chorus—Mrs. Violeta’s gaudy bracelets used to bounce on her wrists, jingling as she pointed to each row of students on the bleachers, inviting us to sing along with Ella Fitzgerald as she asks the one she loves to believe in her. 18

My date and I step outside, onto the balcony of the observatory, where we get a subpar view of our city, which we both agree is too small. We’re silent for a moment, looking over the unremarkable intersection below us. He slips his arm around my waist, warming me up in the October chill. I want to kiss him but resist. “Is it just me,” he whispers, “or did that view of Saturn look totally fake?” I laugh, relieved that he’s willing to say what I was holding back to be polite. “It was fake, wasn’t it? I’m convinced they were lying to us,” I say, and we make cynical comments all the way home. *** Early the next morning, in his apartment, he turns to me and says, “Being with you is too easy.” I freeze, clench my teeth and straighten my spine at the claim he’s made. I worry that he is about to confirm my fear: There is no heavy labor in this burgeoning thing we have here, so there must be something wrong with it. This must be fake. There must be something missing, right? I ask him what he means. “I feel like I could spend forever just lying in bed and talking to you.” As we spend our first few months entangled in each other’s lives, in each other’s beds, my doubts start to fade, and I eventually embrace the ease with which he has become a central part of my life. On the morning of Thanksgiving, when I am back at my parents’ house, I start to worry that during our week in separate states he will forget about me. I worry that our entire relationship has been in my head after all, that his feelings for me aren’t real or sustainable. I tell him this but add a disclaimer: I know I sound crazy, I type in a text, terrified of his response, but can you tell me that everything is fine between us? He immediately calls me and talks me out of it, which isn’t difficult to do. He reassures me that he likes me, that he doesn’t think I’m crazy, that we’re good together, that he’s attracted to me, that he can’t wait to see me when we’re both back in town. It feels simple with him. It feels the way I’ve always known being wanted was supposed to feel, but it never has before. A new normal begins. This doesn’t mean that our relationship is perfect, or that my anxieties and insecurities have vanished, or that it will remain this easy forever. But it does mean that I don’t feel like I have to compartmentalize pieces of myself around him—I no longer have to pack up my anxieties and insecurities, snap on lids to suffocate them in containers in a storage unit across town. He doesn’t require the labor of pretending I’m okay when I’m not. He doesn’t 19

put me in a position to decode his every move. He is willing to make himself vulnerable around me, but he doesn’t ask me to unpack his emotional baggage to an extent that should be reserved for someone with a private office and a copay and a graduate degree in mental health counseling. I am no longer planning out every text message, thinking I need to always say the perfect thing at the perfect time lest he disappear. For the first time, I can make myself at home in his apartment, in his everyday life. I take off my glasses, earrings, and bobby pins, and I stack them in a tiny pile on his coffee table. *** With this happiness, though, comes its own loss. I feel a piece of my identity start to dissipate. How many years have I done the work of being single and unhappy about it? What do I do now that this part of my life has been simplified? Does this mean I’m not going to cry in the car to my sad songs anymore? This lack of distress is what initially stopped me from recognizing my feelings for him. I wasn’t sure I could feel gratified without the familiar rush of pain, without the self-indulgent satisfaction of feeling sorry for myself. Have I finally been granted permission to stop working so hard to win over the guy with the beard and the glasses, the one who sits behind me in class, or serves me coffee, or steps onto my subway car, or catches my eye from across the party? When did I start feeling a responsibility to work toward not being single anymore—at 22 it became all-consuming, but didn’t it really start when I was 15? What will my clever Instagram persona be if not that of Sad Single Girl? When I walk into a bar, what will I do with my time and energy if I’m not scanning the room for someone to sloppily kiss on the dance floor later? Can it really be that simple —that he likes me back and tells me so, that he is upfront about his feelings, that we are going to continue spending time together for as long as it feels good to do so? Does this mean I’ve become one of them? I know this is what I wanted, but without being subjected to my usual labor, I don’t feel like myself. Then I think of a much younger version of me—she is 6 years old, or maybe 9; the difference is negligible, as my neuroses have been consistent for as long as I can remember. She wakes up on Christmas morning, unwraps all the things she longed for, all the things she mentioned in her lists and countdowns and prayers for months. She worked hard to get these things, or so she thinks, because she behaved as well as she possibly could in order to ensure the things she thinks she deserves. She has not yet learned that whether or not one “deserves” something is a meaningless concept. Then, in the blink of an eye, she’s sitting on her living room floor surrounded by 20

ripped paper and empty boxes and a dark feeling of disappointment upon returning to the reality of her everyday life, back to normal. But her life is different now. She has the things she wanted, and that is, objectively, better than not having them. What more can she ask for? What more can she do? She helps her mom stuff the wrapping paper into black garbage bags, she asks her dad to cut the twist ties restraining her Barbie Doll in its box. She carries on, a little more prepared for next year. *** It’s unfortunate, and at times it feels unfeminist, to admit how much my boyfriend has lessened my labor lately. I wish I could say that I freed myself of my longing on my own, that I figured out a way to live forever in that single bliss I felt at age 21. But I was in pursuit of something I genuinely wanted—clear to my friend Megan on my birthday, and my mom on the Fourth of July, as well as my Instagram followers, most people I’ve had casual conversations with in the last two years, and anyone who has read my prior Witches pieces. And I was exhausted by the labor of unfulfilled longing. Certainly this is a new relationship, and it may or may not one day be subject to the labor that I see long-term relationships endure. But for the last two years, I experienced so much of the labor of relationships without any of the benefits—there is no payoff when the labor is only on one side. If or when this ends, I will have learned to avoid relationships that ask me to do the work of convincing and begging, of strategizing and decoding. And I will leave him with a trail of bobby pins scattered throughout his apartment, coloring his coffee table, his windowsill, and his nightstand.



In The Delivery Room By Dolores Hromada Working as a delivery room nurse for 40 years taught me that labor is an unpredictable process. Just when I thought I'd seen it all, something always proved me wrong. I had to be a patient advocate. If a patient needed pain relief, I had to make sure that they received it in a timely manner. Once, when a doctor wanted to finish paperwork before seeing a patient, I asked him what he would do if it was his mother or sister. He told me that he wouldn't be allowed to care for them. I responded, "Wouldn't they be lucky!" He got up and checked the patient so that he could order pain relief. In another instance, after multiple unfulfilled requests, I told a patient to start screaming. The doctor ran into her room. She got her pain relief! There were times when partners and family members were trying to force a patient to deliver without pain relief. When a patient's partner told her that she shouldn't get anything for pain, another nurse told the patient to have him sit real close to her so that when she had a contraction she could grab his balls and squeeze them real tight and release them real slow! When he heard that, he told her that she should get something for pain.


When a mother told her daughter that she didn't need pain relief because she had 5 children without anything for pain, I told her that she was wonderful, but her daughter was getting an epidural. When everyone was shouting conflicting orders at a 16-yearold who was pushing, I told her to tune them out and listen to me. Unfortunately, not everyone has a good experience in the delivery room. If someone came in with a dead baby, we had to give them extra support through labor and delivery. We needed to make sure that they were kept comfortable. We had to support them as they grieved. Part of this process was to encourage them to hold their baby or to sit and cry with them. There was also a patient who was the victim of a serial rapist who opted to have the baby because it wasn't the baby's fault that she was raped. I needed to make sure that everyone who had contact with her was gentle, and I explained what they needed to do. In spite of being bitten, choked, and kicked, I had the best job in the world. There's a reason that women are the ones who give birth. They are strong and deserve respect!


Dress Your Boobs for the Job You Want By Tori Thomson “I’ve been thinking about my boobs a lot lately.” I say this to a friend before launching into the war story of getting dressed for work that morning. On the day in question I am wearing a sheath dress. It’s cheap so the proportions aren’t quite right but neither are mine so who am I to judge? That morning I had wrestled with my outfit options, all the possible combinations of dress/bra/ tights/panties whirling in my brain like a high school math problem. I was going to an important meeting so “dressing up” felt necessary. As I was staring at myself in the mirror, trying to be ok with the combination I’d ultimately landed on, it occurred to me again that my breasts had become a burden. I say “again” because this thought has been occurring to me often lately. The bra I’ve chosen to wear on this day is the right size. I know because I went to a store (not THAT one, a different one) and let a stranger wrap a measuring tape around my body, and subsequently tried on bras in the size she suggested and three adjacent sizes, just to make sure. I had gone in that day convinced that I was wearing the wrong size because surely THIS isn’t how a bra was meant to make my body look. But one hour later I left with two bras in the same size I’d already been wearing. I chose one of those two bras to wear with the sheath dress. I didn’t love the lines it created on my back so I decided to wear a cardigan over it. Adding cardigans makes working the math problem that much more complicated. You may have gleaned by this point that I own a lot of clothes. I’m 30 and my skin isn’t getting any younger. A decade of yo-yo dieting has left most of the skin on my body loose in all the places you’d want it to be tight. Which I guess is everywhere, now that I think of it. There’s no place on my body where I’d long for 25

loose skin. Anyway, part of the work of body acceptance for me has been trying to accept that every waistband, belt, bikini strap, and bra band is going to create a deep indent wherever it falls. I have been known, in recent years, to describe the general texture of my body as “a Ziploc bag full of pudding” and the act of putting a bra on as “putting a hair elastic over a block of Jello.” These phrases sound derogatory but to me they are merely statements of fact. Something about putting it so bluntly helps me tell myself, “This is what you got, so you might as well dress it and get out the door.” I’d like to have a knob in the middle of my back that I could turn and crank everything up by about two inches. But I don’t, so I own a lot of clothes, and I spend a lot of time on that math problem, especially when I’m getting dressed for work. The other issue I constantly run into is that having a larger chest tends to turn everything you put on into a showcase. I like the look of a turtleneck, but almost nothing accentuates big boobs like a turtleneck. Forget button-down shirts entirely, unless you want to spend the day surreptitiously patting the two or three buttons across the chest to make sure they’re still closed. Blazers can fuck off forever. Wrap dresses? Love them, but on the rare occasion that one even has enough room to accommodate my boobs, it basically presents them on a silver platter. Not exactly the look I’m going for when I want to impress someone in a meeting. Because breasts are seen as inherently sexual, the bigger yours are, the more responsibility is heaped on you to keep your sexuality in check in the workplace, and the more negative judgment you will receive for not doing so. For example, it occurred to me that morning that instead of standing in front of the mirror contorting my body to see it from every angle in the outfit, I could just not wear a bra at all. Not an option. I’d be viewed as sloppy, unprofessional, and probably slutty. These are judgments that vary in severity based mostly on the size of the breasts in question. There are, of course, intersections with race, age, and body size here as well. 26

I’m not advocating for braless workplaces, although that sounds kind of cool. Realistically, not wearing a bra can be physically uncomfortable. So what am I advocating for? Better bras? Lower boob expectations? Freedom from worrying about fashion in the workplace? I have no idea, honestly. All I know is that I’m tired of having to pay so much attention to something I have no say in. I’m stuck with these things whether I like it or not (I don’t). I’m often resentful of small-chested people in a way that I never was in my 20s. My relationship to having breasts has changed as I’ve gotten older and as the spaces I inhabit have become more and more “professional.” For a lot of us, dressing your boobs for the job you want means minimizing their sexual impact, a task that gets gradually more difficult as you move through the cup size alphabet. So yea, I’ve been thinking about my boobs a lot lately, and frankly I’m pretty tired of it. Perhaps I will run off and start my own post-boob society. But probably I will keep standing in front of my mirror in the morning, calculating how long I can spend trying on different bras with different outfits while still making it to work on time.

untitled notes app poetry I am pretending to type right now, to look busy at work as my boss walks by my desk. this is now a poem. BY ALEXA MAUZY-LEWIS 27

MOST OF ALL Can you cook? Can you cook well? Can you clean? Will you put out when he wants you to? Will you nag too much? Will you be too needy? Not needy enough? Loving him was hard. Loving myself when I was with him was harder. It might have been the way he never complimented me but always critiqued. It could have been the way he never asked but always demanded. Always took, but never gave. It’s hard to know what healthy is at 18. Harder when you’ve never seen it. It’s not exfoliating away layers of skin in the shower and putting on an orange mask because he likes you better when you’re tanned. It’s not coming home from your 12-hour shift and walking 15 blocks and 3 avenues to his apartment to cook his dinner. It wasn’t lying to your friends and losing them in the process because all your time belonged to him. You watch the presidential debates together and he convinces you that you’re a Republican. You’ve been raped and have had an abortion, he’s one of two who know. It’s okay, you sweep it under the rug, no one should know that. You can hide other parts of yourself, too. He can teach you. After enough time has passed, the fighting stops because it’s too much work. It continues for years and you become submissive. There’s no more arguing so it 28

must be healthy now, right? He wouldn’t visit you Uptown because he lived Downtown and you were too far. His career was important, more important than yours—he was going to be the breadwinner. You move to the same neighborhood as him but he has a studio and you have a roommate—he isn’t coming. You carry on like this because you’re being manipulated but you don’t realize that until 6 years and 24 therapy sessions have passed. You’re also scared. He’s never been violent, but he yells when you ask him to put the bottle down. You stop asking permission to see your family because you already know the answer and you’re too tired to fight it. Men are strong, that’s what you’ve been told. They’re dominant, and they’re the man of the house. You’re younger, and you’re supposed to feel proud to be his trophy. It’s nice when he tells you not to wear that, it’s cute when he’s jealous and possessive. When you finally get the courage to leave—the part you thought would be the hardest—the work you have ahead of yourself to gain your voice back is the most laborious of all. ANONYMOUS


Seams By Hadley Dion They appeared fiery. Red. Angry. Another unexpected mark of puberty on my already aching bloated body. My mother explained their significance. My skin had grown to make room for the muscles in my thighs. For the way my hips were expanding. The chest that stretched every shirt. I stared at my stretch marks in the bathtub, willing them to find another home. I used to pretend to read or play while I listened to the way adult women spoke to one another. My knowledge, limited. My interest, piqued. A family friend tells my mother her new boyfriend is the first not to criticize her stretch marks. He is an anomaly. I imagine the other men that came before. Maybe they thought they could love her. They must have traced her scars in the dark and wondered how to say an early goodbye. The drug store boasts elixirs for all of our female afflictions. I love the way my mother s eyes crinkle, but she buys cream to smooth them. In 6th grade I match my skin tone to a powder, hoping it will hide my acne. Disguise the marks that have formed a wall between me and every crush. I inspect each bottle carefully. Antiaging. Skin lightening. Hair removal. All the things I will need to claim my femininity sit on a shelf and not within. My first committed relationship is with a bottle of stretch mark removing lotion. At thirteen I often fall asleep on the couch over my homework. But I always awake to lather my thighs and hips with my scar solution. I promise myself that no one will see me in a bathing suit with these stripes. I know I am too young to lend my body to men. There must be time to set this right before the first man undresses me. 30

The cream is not working. I feel disfigured. Flawed. Unlovable. My body has betrayed me. I tell my mother to research laser removal. I promise her I will wait until I am done growing. A nurse tells me she is familiar with the sentiment but that my marks will fade. You will get used to them. I cry alone, so mad at this stranger for not knowing me, not understanding me, and for having the audacity to lie. Only with time do my original marks fade. New ones arise, as my body grows and shrinks along with my appetite. Along with my athleticism. Along with my anxiety. For a time, I make new scars alongside them with matches and scissors. It is difficult for me to separate the blemishes I made when I wanted to shrink, and the blemishes my body created to aid my growth. I am nineteen when I find my path to therapy. My boyfriend drives me twenty minutes to a cozy office where I sip green tea and begin examining what got me here. Airbrushed photos in the magazines I devour. The way I ve heard every man in my life examine women as if critiquing a piece of bad student art. Even how the women I admire suck in their stomachs and pinch every roll. I find it tedious unlearning every lesson that taught me to hate my body. Tedious but not impossible. When I finally put down the weapons used in this war with my own flesh, I start to make a peace treaty with myself. And then, like a fairy tale, I start to fall in love with my form. We still fight and make up, but I never treat her the way my teenage self did. At thirteen I hired myself to erase a part of my body. A part of my being. But it was an unpaid internship that got old. I no longer think it is my calling to fix the body my mother carried for me and bore out of love.


My scars may be bumpy but an expert in braille would tell you they do not read unlovable. My skin puckers and I pucker my lips at it. Kissing the seams of my body that allow me to expand. The seams that show me the hard work my body has put in to keep me whole. The only thing she asks in return is that I love her back.



small workers bird on the patio is very busy, cat watches her through the dirty basement window. tail-flick, click-clock metronome beating, come on, come back, come over. she sifts through dirt, winter bone graveyards of oreganos and thymes who couldn’t make it through January. I watch cat watch bird work. yesterday someone told me something and it devastated me. it was that squirrels will never find almost eighty percent of the nuts they bury, a million small worthless labors. HowFuckedUp is that, I say to my sister on the phone, while boiling water to make instant coffee with the last dollar and twenty cents in my bank account. when she was little, she once asked me why it is we eat some types of birds and not others. I didn’t really have an answer.


bald eagles eat fish, but they also eat other birds when it is easier, and they will even eat the dead ones, consuming whatever it is they can. I don’t think that squirrel thing is true she says before her voice cuts out. then quiet. my cell phone, like my organs in a perpetual state of dying. things echo around in this silence. a time they told me don’t be startled if the body moves after he goes. wasted, but indestructible energy, a linear life is released back for forever. or dad emphasizing that I tell him if I could see any birds’ nests from my bedroom window. a swallow began to collect twigs and things, but I kept this to myself because I was terrified he would knock it down. so, we all got bird mites. now, two elbows against the sink, stirring suspicious milk, looking at the little laborer flap around, every second surviving something. it is past time to leave for work and I think I’d rather drop dead. 35

catching a glimpse of myself in a dusty spoon, my crooked teeth remind me of two pairs of crossed legs, thirteen-year-old limbs unruly, and the first person I kissed on the mouth. leaning over a home computer, on a desk we pulled close to her mattress, scrolling through free MySpace banners. something burned up so this moment matters, gnawing on the sides. not quite the fluttering graceful butterflies, no, more like an unclipped parakeet trying to fly in its cage, wings panicked, scraping against metal. maybe it’ll tire itself out and relent when it realizes there is nowhere to go. this, or it’ll die of frustration. you are defined by how you decide to spend the moments affording your own existence, more gnawing on the sides. moments that matter compressed thinly between all the rest of it. I think of bikes recklessly slewn across stained sidewalks, chests swelling with tired unfiltered joy, 36

cores aching with cascading giggling. she would ask me which is your favorite tree on our block. now, she would probably ask me what is it you do? and I would say I watch birds through my window. no, but what do you do? I collect twigs and things and I flap around I am a small worker. I anxiously imagine cat ripping me to shreds. he sing-song moans to bird, off-key. if I chose to open the back door, she would die and it wouldn’t mean anything to him. survival for survival’s sake, useless inherited impulses. I drink my coffee and stroke his head. bird stays very busy until she flies away. cat falls asleep by the window and I leave for work. By Alexa Mauzy-Lewis


Steph Wisner: Creating New Medicines and new career paths When Steph didn’t find the work she wanted, she created it. Literally, in book form. Here’s her story. By Kaley Roberts “In day-to-day interactions, the question of ‘how are you’ returns mostly generic responses. Under the care of a physician, however, people seem to respond without the same reservation, opening up their lives for our examination.” At 25 years-old, Stephanie Wisner is listening. She’s a former medical scribe and a University of Chicago business master’s student. But above all else, she’s listening. Eagerly. And, during her year working at a pediatric practice, taking thorough notes, she heard quite a bit. “We were told the plot lines of dreams, the sensation of first loves,” she continues, in an excerpt from her soon-to-be-released book. “Frustrated parents recounted arguments with rebellious teenagers; rebellious teenagers recounted arguments with frustrating parents. Young women described their weddings and new fathers their child’s day of birth.” Wisner was listening to the same vulnerable stories many doctors do, but as a freshly minted pre-med graduate from a small town, she found herself uniquely situated to hear. East Lyme, CT, where Wisner spent her super-formative pre-teen and teenage years, has a population of 18,789—or at least it did in 2017, according to Google. During her later high school years, a few neighboring families suffered monumental losses, which were felt keenly in the tight-knit community. As Wisner put it, she was just removed enough to be able to focus on a fix. “It seemed like nothing was really getting better,” she said. And so, her interest in allegedly untreatable human conditions began. That interest—plus a lot of talent and serious dedication— landed her in Cornell’s Class of 2016. As an undergraduate, she worked 20-hour weeks in the lab, “didn’t really have a social life,” and learned that the 38

“nature of research in medicine is to publish it in papers, not to use it for people.” “And that just really bugged me,” she said. So, instead of plowing through to medical school right after graduation, Wisner set out to see if the patient side might bug her less. It didn’t. “As a medical scribe, I kept seeing all types of sicknesses, and, again, I felt so sad for all these losses. I was frustrated with the lack of movement.” Hot off her time in research, where coworkers were imagining innovative solutions and regularly exploring new cures to cancer, she couldn’t help but ask, “Why aren’t we trying anything else?” Wisner was listening, and, armed with a small-town sense of empathy and a top-notch education, she wasn’t satisfied with what she heard. Cue a serendipitous email from Cornell, advertising “entrepreneurship classes,” that pinged her inbox while she was procrastinating medical school applications in September 2017. “I called up my best friend Emily and asked her to drive up with me. I didn’t even tell her what it was, I just took her.” Wisner never sent in those med school applications. Instead, one entrepreneurship class deep, she had already witnessed how biotech start-ups can speed up the non-movement she saw in the medical world. On a whim, she applied to business school that December. Soon after, she celebrated her first day as a part-time MBA student at the University of Chicago. “I was Googling ‘What is revenue?’ under the table,” she said. “I’m amazed they didn’t kick me out.” To the staff at Chicago: keep Wisner around. As a part-timer, she has more free time to work and network and enjoy the simple things in life. Like writing a book. Creating New Medicines, which is set to come out in July 2020, is a compilation of the most important things Wisner has heard. At the intersection of business and science, it’s “for people who have been impacted by diseases that have no cures and want to do something.” She includes the stories of five diverse professionals—“I did a lot of interviews kind of like this,” she said, “except I was the one asking the 39

questions.” But her book is clearly aimed at other young people who, like herself, want to do more than just listen. “In my experience, young scientists are often interested in applying their skills to help real people, but aren't sure how to start. This book is meant to show you how.” You can support Wisner now by pre-purchasing a copy of her book on Indiegogo (and get a personalized shout-out in the Special Thanks section of published copies!). Until July, she’ll be busy editing, revising, designing and promoting her publication. And as for life outside that undertaking? She settles less often for generic answers to “How are you?” “I’ve gotten better at really asking that question,” she said. “I push people a little more for their actual answer.” Buy Creating New Medicines here: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/creating-new-medicines-bystephanie-wisner?create_edit=true#/



The Labor of Care I have a terrible memory, but most of the childhood stories that I do remember involve my Teta (this is the Arabic word for “grandmother”). She is the most headstrong woman I know, and she never keeps her thoughts to herself. Won’t soften her edges for anyone, not even for her husband, my Sidi. And yet, her whole life seemed to revolve around him. They communicated either in Arabic or through a silent language that only those married for decades can develop, so I rarely heard them speak to each other. Every morning, my Teta would get up early to make breakfast, usually an assortment of flatbread, zaatar, labne, and hummus. She knew just the right way to make my Sidi’s special tea with olive oil, Canadian honey, lemon juice—a drink he swore kept him alive. Then, together, they’d go to work at the company he built from the ground up. Around dinner time, he’d sit at the head of the table and a plate would appear in front of him, along with a napkin and a glass of water. She’d set out all the dishes on the table and he’d pile his plate, zeroed in on the food. I imagine they ate in silence when they were alone. She took care of him her whole adult life. She complained to us the whole way through, but I’m not sure she would have had it any other way. When my Sidi died, Teta was alone in that house. She stayed inside for three months after looking to the Quran for tips on how to be a widow. I kept imagining her reaching for that special Canadian honey that he swore by, cooking too much food and filling the fridge with leftovers. After a while, she moved in with 41

one of her other grandchildren and continued to work at her late husband’s company. She put the house she lived in for more than 40 years up for sale. I’d like to think she did this not out of sadness, but out of a need to let go of a life she once lived, and maybe with a sigh of relief. After a knee surgery, she started taking a pilates class. Was she the only one in a hijab? It didn’t matter, she loved it. I can’t think of another thing she does that is solely for her. To me, it always seemed as though her life was dedicated to her husband, children, and grandchildren, that her prayer is for the worship of God, her job is for the benefit of her husband’s company. She is always cooking or cleaning or helping someone from the mosque with something. I now see that she has built her life around caring for others, that this labor gives her importance. Maybe women are meant to see the labor of care as their calling. Maybe it’s biological, that no matter how difficult it is, women care so much that it comes as naturally as breathing. Or maybe they are conditioned into it, taught to put others above themselves always. In any case, women are expected to do this, and so they do; they carry the weight of their husbands and fathers and brothers and sons; they carry all of the men they have made excuses to and excuses for; they carry the heaviness of the words they use to brush off the hurt others have caused them. It seems that only now are we developing a language that women can use to build, shield, defend—a language that serves them. I wish my Teta could have discovered it sooner. By Hanna Da’Mes 42

I reclaim the labor of a woman. I honor the painstaking crafts. I embroider, weave, stitch, and collage. I use the traditional craft in unconventional ways to represent the freedom for women to choose and break the expected rules. I revere the fabric and its power to express, expose, and shield our bodies. I celebrate the fibers in their secretive strength. I remember each story told by each of the threads. I expose what was once looked over. The dedication and commitment. The labor of love, of precision, of expression. I reclaim these materials to create something that stands alone in its own power and voice. I honor its worth and its role. I award the commitment of the craft. I reclaim the labor of a woman. BY SONJA CZEKALSKI



Reservoir By Rachel Dean There’s a long reservoir. I stand at one end of it. I look as far as I can see, to where the reservoir bends around a smattering of trees, its water silver and flat as a coin. The reservoir’s opposite end is invisible—it exists in some geography far ahead, inside a present happening without me. My grandmother is ill. I write her a letter and send her a book. The letter is not as meaningful as I want it to be, but words won’t come. It’s possible to live in preparation for a moment and still feel vastly betrayed by its arrival. Maybe this is a kind of mourning. In the Bible, God asks that everyone live in expectation of Jesus’ second coming. In other words—be on guard and be good, don’t wander into traps made for simpler people. But what if you are one of the simpler people? I want to tell everyone I know that I am tired. I know they will ask, from what? I sit down on a grassy embankment near the reservoir. This isn’t a hill made for leisure, and I’m afraid I’m going to slide down into the water. A casual drowning. I dig my fingers into the grass for traction, hoping this will help. Instinct is such a flimsy thing. I think of the word futile. All of my choices now feel like small betrayals—of trust, of faith, of self. At night, I lay awake thinking, Is this really who I am? Is this the version of myself that I’ve settled for? A single bird swoops through the sky, a black cut against the clouds. Every creature labors. There is no way to exist without expending energy, but some do it more gracefully than others. Think, for example, of the jaguar and the rhinoceros. Sometimes I Google uselessly. How many calories does sex burn? How many calories does overthinking burn? How many calories does being sad burn? Google is unclear on the hard and fast answers to 45

these questions. Results are dependent on other variables—body weight, age, the degree to which the asker does not actually want to know the answer, merely wants to feel satisfied, just once, by the mathematics of the fickle human body. I overhear a friend say, one night, that I’m the type who likes attention. He’s leaning toward our other friend—a mutual acquaintance—and they laugh like they’ve landed some beautiful, synchronized joke. I can see that, the acquaintance says. He looks over at me, sees me staring, turns away fast. I take a drink from my glass. The vodka is nearly water now, the ice melted into the alcohol. I think of the doe we found wandering in the yard, an arrow shot through her stomach. Her slow limp. Her glassy eyes. We called Animal Control, but by the time they arrived she had startled and disappeared into the woods. People are so stupid, said the Animal Control worker. They don’t shoot to kill. This is the reservoir near where I coughed up smoke, where I loved beneath the thinnest slice of moon, where I ducked from the headlights of a dozen cars. So many sunsets I’ve cataloged here, so many scattered selves I’ve thrown to the wind. Sometimes there are fishermen, standing like statues on rocky embankments, but I don’t spot any today. Dragonflies zip closely over the water’s surface, and I imagine I am a person with nothing at all to lose. When I was a young girl, I was very sad. I wanted to kill myself. People don’t think that children live with this kind of certainty, but they do. Perhaps this is why I love working with children—I both believe in and respect their complexity, their depth of feeling. I understand that they are looking for outlets of expression and that they deserve, above all, to be listened to with an earnestness I don’t often extend to adults. In my own childhood, I was afraid all the time, anxious about what I could not control. Each night, after everyone in my house was asleep, I wandered like a specter, cupping my palm beneath faucets to catch errant leaks, checking and rechecking the locks on all our windows and doors. I worried endlessly about being kidnapped, raped, my body buried in the woods, my parents unable to find me. I had a certain sense that my life was headed for a close 46

and consequential doom, that all goodness and security had fled. These compulsions—these labors—were my night-shift, my way of exerting control. Look, I’d whisper to God, I am doing your work. I am afraid of aging. I know it isn’t flattering to admit to this. I’m twenty-four, and to spend any time mourning my youth means I’m a particularly terrible brand of shallow. But I have spent so long being looked at, laboring over being looked at, that I can no longer imagine a version of my life where I do not obsess over the eternal agony of physical presentation. How does my hair look? Am I wearing the right bra? Are my lips chapped? I will not feel worthy if I do not feel sexualized, despite that I never actually wanted to be sexualized in the first place. At a gas station, I catch a man staring at me. His head is cocked, his eyes wide. He doesn’t look away. What the fuck are you staring at? I say. He looks down at his feet, a flush of color flooding his face. In my head a reel flickers—tight as cinema—of all the moments I’ve accepted catcalls, hisses, ogling, hands on my waist, my ass, my shoulders, too close to my breasts. Rape jokes and roofie jokes and president jokes and can’t you just take a joke jokes, and all the unfunny garbage I’ve laughed at to escape threatening situations. As a young girl, unaware of my own body, I first learned the consequences of its changes through lingering looks of men three times my age. The anger still sits like sediment inside me. I yank the pump from my car, put it back, slam my car door shut. I hear my mother’s voice in my head. Why are you such a hothead? One day, you’re going to say the wrong thing to the wrong person. I tell my professor I’m tired of writing nonfiction. I need to step outside myself, I say. I feel like I’m whining all the time. She looks disappointed, but tells me to consider writing fiction instead. This is what’s sometimes suggested to failed memoirists and essayists—if you can’t stand to look at yourself through the lens of truth, escape into a made-up world with lower stakes. But nothing feels low-stakes for me. Not when it comes to writing. What do you want to write a novel about? The professor asks, trying again. We are both on our second glass of wine. I consider her question. I’d like to write a novel 47

about a woman who has made all the wrong choices in pursuit of her own ego. A want versus a need—such a terrible collision. All my life, my wants have been at odds with my needs. I think I have a sixth sense for recognizing the kinds of women who don’t have this problem, because they are always the women I dislike. One of my writers pulls me aside after a workshop session. I want you to be brutal, she says. I want you to go through my work and tell me what’s worth submitting and what isn’t. She is so young, her face ruddy, her eyes glistening. She is frighteningly talented. She doesn’t know it yet. But she has so much time. I want to tell her this. She does not need to race toward disappointment. It won’t make her braver. Sure, I say. I’ll take a look. In my dreams, I don’t owe anyone anything. I have said everything I have wanted to say. Everyone I love knows my worst thoughts about them. I have exhaustively labored—I have hurdled into my life with the full speed of courage. Now I can rest. Now I can sleep the sleep of the dead, and no one will come knocking at my door, asking me to confess. The sun starts to sink, light bleeding color into the reservoir water. The sky is like sherbert. I want to dip my hand in it. There are things happening that I will never understand. I am small. This could be a mantra of meditation. I know I should return home now, that someone is waiting for me, that someone is wondering where I am. It’d be wrong to ignore that privilege. I think of what I’ve lost over the years, what I’ve surrendered, what I’ve labored after. I think you’re dealing with a lot of anger, a friend says to me, a lover says to me, everyone in my life says to me. I hear the words over and over again in my head, the cautious care of people trying to tactfully reveal a hard truth. I read a quote on my Instagram feed in neon calligraphy: Everyone wants to be better, but no one wants to do the work. We believe such terrible things about ourselves. I stand, brush off my jeans, head toward the silver gate that bars the reservoir from the road. I begin the slow walk home. 48

It’s Time to “Work” to Shift Gender Roles in the Workplace By Jillian Violet On June 10, 1963, the Equal Pay Act was set in place stating that women and men must receive equal pay for equal work. However, 56 years later, the average woman’s salary in the United States is 72% to 82% of the average man’s. In 2019, female full-time and yearround workers were paid only 79 cents per every male dollar, creating a whopping 20% difference. This is an explicit inequality between the sexes, but more pernicious than the pay gap is the way that gender roles restrict all of us in the workplace. The female body is belittled in the United States, and as a result, a woman’s focus is pulled away from her profession and onto her body. When touching base on this subject, Jameela Jamil said, “What an ingenious way to keep us from becoming equal. How can we be as powerful as men when we are worried all the time?” We are pitted against one another to fight about body image and focus on comparing ourselves to others. We have been told to fight each other instead of fighting back. We have allowed the patriarchy to switch our focus off its unjust and sexist ways and I say no more. There are many stereotypical standards that society has set forth for both men and women, and these are keeping us from moving forward as a community. While women are usually held to standards of feminine appearance, men are held to a standard of strength. We 49

say that we want men to become more sympathetic and aware, knowing that we can be just as strong and hardworking as they are, but at the same time, we must realize that we have to actually accept men when they make this emotional change. It is easier for our brains to remember information that supports our stereotypes. What we must do is break this biological setting and start viewing each person as an individual, rather than as stereotypical gender roles. We all have the intelligence to understand that we can overcome these stereotypes together as a community. Stereotypical compartmentalizing is a reaction of the brain and it was not meant to hold us back and to obstruct our focus from working together, but unfortunately it does. However, we have the true power to make these issues obsolete because once we stop stereotyping it will be easier to see the unique aspects that each individual has to offer. So what is holding us back? I speak for all the young women who are frightened about their future status in a workplace knowing that the odds are against us, knowing that gender inequality is still heavily prevalent. And I say to the women both older and younger than me: in order to overcome the sexist standards placed by society, we must stop pitting those same standards against each other. Forget about weight, forget about looks, and forget about race. We have the power to unite together. Not only can we unite together as women, but we can unite together as people in a workplace.Â


Labor of Love By Liz Daleo Griffith I don’t know why I have so many half-used notebooks around my house. Is it a form of hoarding? Maybe. Or maybe I’m just cheap and hate to waste perfectly good paper. One never knows when a list will be needed, or a piece of paper to doodle on. I’m a big doodler. Especially when I’m on the phone. I’ve made many Peter Max-like doodles while spending endless time on hold. My go-tos are boxes and stairs, with slanted lines making them three dimensional. There’s a face that I usually draw, too. It’s a man with a bald head. He resembles the toy man who comes in a plastic frame, with magnet shavings and a special pen to drag the slivers of magnet to the man’s face. I’ve seen countless kids draw him bushy eyebrows and a mustache. Sometimes when I’m doodling, I make the spiky hair stand straight up. It’s just a thing I do, doodling, the same way I make the sign of the cross every time I see a funeral procession, even though I'm not very religious, even if it’s for a stranger. It’s just another thing I do because I am who I am. I needed to make some phone calls. My daughters have suggested I continue therapy contrary to the fact that my former therapist said I was “cured.” Hahaha, writing that sentence helps me realize that therapy is always a good thing and that quite possibly, I was seeing the wrong therapist. My daughters have done their due diligence and put together a list of mental health professionals in my area that take my insurance. So I grab the nearest worn and torn notebook, for doodling, and try to locate my landline. My landline is like an old friend, or an old shoe that’s perfectly worn in. I open the junk drawer in the kitchen to pick out my writing implement of choice. A pencil or a Sharpie, no, a good old fashioned Bic ballpoint pen wins this time. As I flip through the pages of the handiest spiral notebook, I feel the back of the previous pages. Like a reverse engraving, there are lots of words written instead of my usual doodling. I take back my idea that I might be cheap; if I were cheap I would’ve written on both sides of the paper. Another thing that 51

makes me who I am. Fanning the pages with my thumb I reach the beginning of the many words I wrote. Every year, for the past five years, I’ve made a photo book for the parents of the little girl I have been taking care of since she was twelve weeks old. In these annual summaries showing her life in pictures, love is abundant. I knew that my little friend would be turning five in the summer and would be starting kindergarten shortly after. This meant our time together would change dramatically. No longer would her dad drop her off in her pajamas so we could have breakfast together. No more long luxurious bubble baths, no more reading books all day, singing silly songs, making slime, or playing at the park. Last year, I wrote on the inside cover of the photo book, summarizing the years we’d spent together, from the colicky crying infant to the amazing 4and-a-half-year-old she had grown up to be. Now, I revisit the words in my notebook, and I am here to testify to anyone who has ever doubted it: it is undeniably possible to love someone else’s baby as much as your own. I don’t remember when I started loving her, but I can assure you I would give my life for hers. I know that I felt so sad in the early months of our days together when she was colicky. I knew it wasn’t her fault that she was crying, I knew it wasn’t my fault, either, and I knew she would eventually outgrow it and be none the worse for wear. I can’t look back to any specific time or event that changed my nurturing and caring into unconditional love, but it sure did happen. She became a huge source of laughter and cuteness and smiles and booboos and stinky poops and teething. I’ll spare you all the details, but I have the photo albums to prove it. Still flipping back through the pages, I found another draft in my handwriting. It was a letter I wrote to my sister. Like my 5-year-old, I can’t remember when I started loving my sister. She was born when I was 4, and I can’t remember my life without her in it. We are 5th and 6th in birth order; she’s the baby of the family. We did everything together when we were little. We always shared a room, and we would take turns singing to each other or tickling each other’s backs at night till we drifted off to sleep. She moved from New York to Florida in her early 20s to follow the man she would eventually 52

marry. Still, we stayed close. We were pregnant and raised our children at the same time and went through all the trials and tribulations that sisters and friends do. We kept up our relationship mostly by talking for hours on the phone, which is probably why my landline feels like an old shoe. I was a stay at home mom—in some ways, I still am, although my kids are grown and I’m getting paid to raise other people’s babies now. When my kids were young, we lived stringently, so our family vacations consisted of throwing the three kids and the dog in the car and driving down to Florida every spring to visit my sister and her family. The weather was always warm and the food and drinks flowed. During those years, I never would have imagined that I would someday draft a letter to that very same sister trying to understand how she ended up not loving me for who I am anymore. We had a falling out last year, and although I still remember every detail, blow by blow, all of the anger and hurt feelings and tears, that’s not what this is about. Since I found these two handwritten letters, I keep asking myself why it is so easy and natural for me to love a crying, colicky baby with a stinky diaper, when it has been so difficult to love my sister who’s been part of my life for as long as I can remember. Taking care of babies is my work, my profession, and although I love it, I certainly feel that I’ve earned my paycheck at the end of each week. But repairing my relationship with my sister is so much harder. It doesn’t come naturally like it used to, like taking care of children does. I often think about how this isn’t what it’s “supposed” to be like, this isn’t how it “should” feel. Blood relations are supposed to make things easier, simpler. Loving a family member should require less work than loving someone else’s baby, shouldn’t it? I don’t have any answers yet. I am still putting in the work of making sense of this, and of healing my own wounds from our falling out, regardless of whether or not my sister is a part of my life in the future. This emotional work is, at times, some of the hardest work I’ve ever had to do. I never sent my sister the letter I wrote, but I read it to myself from time to time to try to figure things out. I guess that’s what makes me who I am.


Work Clothes

By Kendall Stark


In the Garden on Lowell Street I come from her body. I don’t only mean mother, I’m not talking only of direct contact between our membranes: It’s older than that, more compounded. It’s the sourdough passed down the years and families, The piece that’s put aside and included in the Next batch and the next and another: Skin folded in quietly, without trace. Her honeysuckle, snapdragon, snakeroot, The dormant vines of autumn strawberry beds, Her quilted bed collecting sweat and anguish- And also every sweet thing. I feel her blooming up inside of me every time I make that joke about myself, touch the Wrinkles forming fresh on my neck, Smile to myself because no one but me has seen the Passing of this maple leaf, the crunch of her body at midmorning. Little girl, you come from earth people.

Your bones know it, though the rest of you is finding out. Trust the heaving of your spirit, The muscle memory in your fingers, The skylark and the lobelia and goldenrod— And your own true sounds. There is singing here, and it is me.


I think, and am perhaps sure, that it’s not enough to belong. It’s maybe more important to sow than to reap. She sowed, spent a lifetime planting, Bending her waist toward the earth and leaving behind Only hope, the faith in her labor and gnarled knuckles. Really, reaping is nothing : it’s over as soon as it’s done. But planting keeps on, requires waiting and breathing And holding on. On the prairie, they hang flowers upside down to Collect the moment, dried color for the winter throughUndead flowers for the supper table, reminding of Good things during hard nights. If they put me in the ground, I will send out what I know, I will shoot it to you in faith : That you must say your name clearly, and smile if Another roots into you, and let creatures feed. And joy—sing, yes! Joy—sing for sourdough and ladybugs and grandmothers. But if I get my wish, I will hang upside down, Undead and color-cloaked, Waiting for someone to reap. By Lydia Renfro


by feemaleartist 57

You should. By K. Griffith

“You should save for retirement, at least 10%! You should save for your future husband, your wedding, your honeymoon! You should move back in with your parents to save money! You’re going to want to buy a house, you’re going to want to pay for your kids’ college tuition, you’re going to want to pay for family vacations. Don’t you want to have money in the bank just in case of emergency? You should,” my colleagues would say. “Ummm... okay, I don’t know, I have to pay rent and student loans like RIGHT NOW, and I might wanna go on vacation during our next break,” I would mumble, uncomfortable and insecure as I watched my plans disappear into the abyss, beneath the pile of papers I had put aside to grade. “You should... you should… you should...” *** I was hired as a New York City Public School Teacher when I was 22, and thankfully the strong union I’m part of guarantees retirement benefits, healthcare, childcare leave, and a pension. In the early 2010s, there was a hiring freeze and NYC was unable to hire new teachers. This means that more often than not, I am the youngest teacher in the room by at least 10 years. *** “You should save for retirement, at least 10%! You should save for your future husband, your wedding, your honeymoon! You should move back in with your parents to save money! You’re going to want to buy a house, you’re going to want to pay for your kids’ college tuition, you’re going to want to pay for family vacations. Don’t you want to have money in the bank just in case of emergency? You should.” It took nearly five years but eventually I was able to finally answer all of these coworkers, “Actually, I don’t know if I want to have kids or get married, so until I figure it out, I’m going to use all of my hard earned money to travel, explore, shop at TJ Maxx, and focus on myself.” All of a sudden, my coworkers were silent. 58

I Quit My Job of Not Being Allowed BY ELSA CRUZ This story is about chipped nail polish. That’s what they decided was important. That’s what they decided could define sexiness and beauty. Until I decided they couldn’t—not for me. This is a story about fighting a battle with myself and others— and how I came away from the fight still covered in hair and fat and chipped nail polish. But knowing how to be sexy and beautiful... for me. Before we get to the chipped nail polish, we need to get into the mind of who I’ve been for most of my life. At an early age, I learned that I wasn’t allowed. I was not allowed to be imperfect. Now I think humans in general learn this—not allowed to be late, or have depression, or need a minute. But as a woman, I learned all these things and more. My body especially was not allowed to be imperfect. By being taught that I couldn’t be imperfect, I was also taught that I must be constantly judging myself and assuming the judgment of others. And I didn’t just accept judgment for my “imperfections” that were static and there to stay. I also accepted judgment for the “imperfections” that are stages in natural cycles—nails growing, oil building up on hair and skin, teeth looking a bit 59

yellow, hair all over the body sprouting in wiry fields. You know, things that need tending to. This “tending to” seemed to fall into a woman’s responsibility for her imperfections. Women are taught to spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars every year on keeping the imperfections at bay. To ward off the evil spirits, who might actually enchant some passerby to see beyond the surface. It’s a lot of work. I remember a friend telling me to try to hide my fingers when I was talking to a certain guy because he thought chipped nail polish was gross. I made fists and hoped he wouldn’t notice. I grew up understanding that I needed to practice good hygiene. That I needed to have a skincare regimen, that I needed to brush and somehow style my hair, file my nails, the basics. There were even some fun elements like picking out lip gloss at Target and deciding which shampoo made my hair the shiniest. But here’s what shocked me as I grew older and wiser: The unwritten rule that this tending to must be done almost in secret. With all the appearance that you were already tended. That really, you don’t even need tending. That maybe this tending—like everything—is all for show and fun. That truly sexy women don’t even need facials, they just get them because they’re relaxing. Some women do it so well that I really believed the sleight of hand. Add then, of course, judged myself for being less subtle. 60

You know who and what I’m talking about. The women who arrive to get a manicure with their nails already looking pretty damn good. The women at the gym who already look “perfect.” The women who look “put together” (whatever that means) even when they’re cleaning the house at 11 pm. The one who bounces into the hair salon with hair washed, cut, and styled in a way that I’d pay a lot to walk out with. The one at the wax center who looks like she’s never in her life experienced any form of leg hair. Me on the other hand… Am I not allowed to be “imperfect” even for the sake of striving closer towards “perfection?” I mean, I’m trying! Look, here I am at the salon! I’ve been judged for being red-faced and sweaty at the gym. By myself and others. I’ve been judged for having split ends while I am sitting in the chair waiting for a haircut. By myself and others. For having hair that I wish to remove when I show up at the wax center. For having a skin problem when I show up at the dermatologist. These are the people who were supposed to “fix” me. But I allowed myself to believe I was supposed to already be fixed. All this judgment and striving and attempted trickery was out of fear—fear that I would be “letting myself go” (in my 20s) otherwise. Fear that men and women would consider me gross, unkempt, grimy. A wearer of granny panties (because I 61

also am so gross that I forgot to do laundry). A skipper of showers. A neglecter of nails. Naive in the ways of sexiness, seduction, and… beauty. But while I was afraid of “letting myself go,” I was actually letting go of myself. My real beauty. My delight. When I feel like I’m not allowed to be just my natural self now and then, then I start asking questions like, Then why am I even here? What is even the point? What’s the trick? The one where you can look “perfect” without trying? When can I stop all this pretending? I used to put on makeup just to FaceTime with friends, even though we were both supposed to be in PJs drinking wine— you know, letting our guards down. But the mask stays on. (And sometimes it’s a facial mask, but even then you need to look pretty and have the mask perfectly outline your face and show your threaded eyebrows. And your styled “messy” bun needs to stay perfectly on top of your head—not lurching violently to one side as mine often does mid-conversation). I do my hardest workouts at home. Because I know my sweaty, red, fat, acne-scarred face will press up against the floor like an idiot when I’m done, and the sweat will mix with a little bit of drool and drip onto the mat during that last excruciating plank. I’m sorry that I can’t look sexy while attempting to look sexy. Sorry that I want something more real than that. So, to all the people who’ve judged me (including myself), sorry that my nails were chipped when I came to the manicure place to have them repaired. I’m sorry wax technician, that you had to see my hair before you yanked it out. I’m sorry that my hair was greasy as I stepped into the 62

shower to wash it. I’m sorry that I bleed on my period. I’m sorry for being hungry at mealtimes. I’m sorry for being tired after work. I’m sorry that I’m bloated after eating. I’m sorry that there was something in my teeth while I was chewing. I’m sorry for having messy hair in the mornings. Sorry for answering the door in mismatched pajamas at 7 am. Sorry for that cellulite right where it always is. I’m sorry the chair made red lines on the back of my legs while I was sitting in it. Sorry for that merlot staining my teeth when I was having too much fun to worry about it. Sorry that you had to point it out. I’m sorry for all the ways my body failed you and failed me in your presence. And you know what? I’m sorry for all these things becoming so important. I’m sorry for caring. I’m tired of caring. Sorry for being tired. Sorry for needing some other way to be a woman. Stretch marks, bloated period abdomens, and expanding vaginas tell us that we’re capable of great labor. And I’m not going to spend my strength on hiding—sweaty face or pubic hair or chipped nails. The work of imperfection is never quite over. But I can see the fruits of my labor—hairy, scarred, bloated, accepted, beautiful fruits. I choose delight instead of judgment. Delight will reign over all things beautiful and sexy and real in my life until you can’t tell the difference. I’ll zap off the hair on my vulva if it makes me feel better. I’ll also spread out my prickly pear legs at the pool if that feels more fun. Yeah, I think manicures are boring. Yeah, I went up a size. Yeah, I have hair there. Now pass me that piña colada. 63

a commentary on a form of labor that a woman has yet to perform in this country.

By Claire Christine Sargenti 64


Although it's important to challenge the barriers and inequalities women face when entering traditionally male industries, I am really interested in exploring why we value different types of labor the way that we do. The low-wage workforce is disproportionately made up of women, specifically women of color. This results in a concentration of women into jobs with poor pay, no healthcare, no paid leave, no retirement benefits and unstable schedules. Why is it that these female dominated fields, such as retail, food service, caretaking or teaching, compensate workers so poorly? It shows a lack of value for work that is traditionally female, what some may call structural sexism. These "pink collar" jobs are essential to keeping our society healthy, they are projected to grow in coming years, and yet we continue to pretend that they are worth little in order to keep women marginalized and degraded. Taking this further, why, also, are women never paid for doing hard work in the home? Women spend 4.5 hours daily on unpaid labor, far more than the average man. They are more likely to be responsible for children and disabled or elderly relatives. Why do women who work part-time or stay home in order to take care of their home and family never see an ounce of support for their labor? If home health aides and childcare workers and housekeepers and secretaries are compensated for the same labor as wives and mothers, why do the latter have no access to pay or benefits? I hope that my rearrangement of the hourly wage data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics conveys this hypocritical message—our choice to provide no assistance or compensation to mothers and caretakers is exploitative and inherently misogynistic.


“The power is in the person who’s trying, regardless of the success. If you’re trying, you’ve got all the power, you’re driving the agenda, you’re doing all this stuff. Like, I just introduced Green New Deal two weeks ago, and it’s creating all of this conversation. Why? Because no one else has even tried. Because no one else has even tried. So people are like: Oh it’s unrealistic, oh it’s vague, oh it doesn’t address this little minute thing. And I’m like: You try. You do it. ‘Cause you’re not. ‘Cause you’re not. So, until you do it, I’m the boss. How ‘bout that?

…And when it comes to shaping the national conversation, frankly, I think it’s because there’s so few people that are trying on a level where they are risking something of themselves.”


Frida Kahlo Eyebrows By Marisol Diaz You have a unibrow. You need to wax your eyebrows. They’re too thick. Ew, why do your brow hairs stick up like that? Did you get your eyebrows threaded? I wish I had your eyebrows. Frida Kahlo. You have eyebrows like Frida Kahlo. Your unibrow is so thick, you should be Frida Kahlo for Halloween. Your eyebrows are so beautiful, you should be Frida Kahlo for Halloween. Last week I found a photo of myself when I was thirteen years old, with green braces and my hair in two braids. My eyebrows are black, thick, and even darker than my hair. Completely untouched by tweezers or waxing or the other things everyone tells you to spend money on. Thirteen year old me can still hear the words floating around in my head, all the words that the girls with no arm hair would tell me— You have a unibrow You need to wax your eyebrows It feels like such an enormous thing to worry about at thirteen. I start to believe it. I wonder— Is it that bad? Straight jet-black hairs that shoot up in different directions, unmanageable. Mom tells me she loves my eyebrows, that I should dress up like Frida Kahlo. She tells me that every Halloween and it always horrifies me. I reject her idea. I can’t dress up like someone with a UNIBROW. Not like Frida Kahlo. 68

Thirteen-year-old me tells me that I’m fat, and the number on the scale defines me. The P.E. teacher weighs everyone in gym class and when I get off the scale, the girls ask me— 100 pounds. I lied. Fat with thick eyebrows. In 2007, I guess I was ahead of the trend. Before high school, I start running… and eating less. On the first day of school, I use my nervousness as an excuse not to eat lunch. My friends notice, but it isn’t until the third day that they force me to eat. My collarbone starts to stick out and I think it’s funny how I can make it pop out more. I weigh myself obsessively and think about how I finally fit in size zero jeans. I’m finally skinny, a whopping 96 pounds on my fourteenth birthday. My chubby cheeks and thick legs have disappeared, replaced with what I think will make me happy. I’ve made it into the skinny club. I spend the next decade whispering my mantra— I will never be fat again. Now if only you’d wax your eyebrows because, you know, Frida Kahlo. (so you don’t look like Frida Kahlo) Fourteen-year-old me lets a bunch of girls sit me down in a bathroom, crowded with all of us. Me on the toilet seat, everyone is laughing and talking. It’s a party in this dimly lit bathroom until I hear the wax rip and the sting and a gasp. Everyone crowds around me and tell me and my tender red skin— You have so much hair, it’ll grow back in like a week. Stop freaking out, it isn’t even a big deal.


I spend the rest of summer trying to cover the missing patch of hair in my right eyebrow. I part my hair to the side, cover it with makeup, hats, bangs, anything will do. When I finally pull off my beanie a few days after the incident, my parents look like they want to kill me. What have you done? Every month after I turn fifteen years old, I get my eyebrows threaded. My eyes water every single time but I clench my teeth and tell myself the stupid saying Beauty is Pain. Eight dollars to erase my Frida Kahlo eyebrows. Get them threaded to oblivion. I let them get dangerously thin. I get compliments and it feels like I’m doing something right. Skinny girl with skinny eyebrows. 2010 could not get any better. I keep myself at 100 pounds for the rest of high school. I’ll never be fat again... And like clockwork, I get my eyebrows threaded every few weeks. I believe I need to have them done like that. At the sight of the first few stray hairs, I beg my mom to take me to the salon. Yes, I HAVE to do it today, my eyebrows are a mess. I don’t feel complete without having clean eyebrows. You don’t understand. I’m not Frida Kahlo. Last week I found a photo of myself when I was thirteen years old, from when I thought I was fat and that my eyebrows were too thick. I didn’t know it would take me until twenty-five years old for my eyebrows to finally look like that photo again. I didn’t know that I was allowed to stop comparing myself to everyone else. That I could accept my body for how it was. I didn’t know it would take me more than a decade to think If these eyebrows are good enough for Frida Kahlo, they’re good enough for me. 70



FOR ADA JOY I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the history of humans. And not like politics or imperialism or anything like that, but more like how the plague wiped out a THIRD of them at one point? And all that slow, nomadic migration over the unimaginable number of years. Like how did they seriously walk or boat all of that way?? And then I think, SO many humans have died in so many harsh ways. It was impossible to survive! Even if a plague weren’t floating around, just the common cold? And SNAKES? All of the various tribulations across ALL of that TIME it took to evolve, little by little, generation by generation, over millions and millions of years. Each life and struggle just a blip in time, only a portion of a pixel in the image of whatever universe we're in. And that could make me feel really small and insignificant. But then I think... I mean, all of my ancestors survived. At least long enough to have one or a few kids (then maybe the plague got them). And that makes me feel weird and incredibly special. I mean seriously, what are the actual odds that ALL of those ancestors survived AND perfectly timed their procreation for ME to eventually be the one to spin around on this rock a few times? And then I see my sister give birth to a baby. And there’s no question about it; this tiny little blob of complex cells and muscles and lymph nodes and thoughts and feelings: she is a miracle. She grew INSIDE my sister, day by day, little by little, millions and millions of cells at a time. Grew in her mother’s safe and warm and nurturing vessel, just like the generations and generations before her. We were all there, thanks to our mothers. And our mothers’ mothers’ mothers. And their mothers. And thanks to the plague not getting them before they pushed us out.


Notes to Self at the End of a Decade By Stacey Kahn 1. One morning, you will wake up in another body. It will feel differently, look differently, move differently. But don’t let this new body be a bully, because she will try; when you suddenly start getting those migraines, and hangovers even after only one drink, and the heartburn from your twenties not only sears your throat but forces you to have a dedicated gastroenterologist and three endoscopies, show her that you can run a 10K for the first time in your life, even though you have asthma. Show her you can make your hips look like two perfectly sloped lines in a jumpsuit. Show her that on some nights, you can turn sadness into a crowded, sweaty dance floor, dim lights and loud pulsing music, your hands raised above your head as if in hallelujah, as if the drink in your hand is the holy water you were told not to drink. 2. When you get your Masters degree from an Ivy League, you will feel proud and embarrassed. You will hide until forced to reveal the name of the school. People will congratulate you and you still will have to work to convince yourself that you deserved that slip of paper, that year of study, that new group of powerful, woman-identified friends. But this work will be work worth doing, because it will be tied up in the work you’ve been doing every day for the last couple decades, in the small white and cream office every week with your therapist. You won’t anticipate the work you’ll have to do among people who, upon hearing of your accomplishment, immediately ask why you didn’t find a husband in those hallowed halls. A missed opportunity, one of them will say. 73

3. Some of your partnered friends who have never had to resort to online dating will tell you to try online dating. They will tell you stories of how people you never met found success, found the people they would marry, from one fateful swipe on their phones. These success stories will feel like storyboards that you’ve never seen, they will feel like an airplane that takes off but will never come down. Some of these friends want to see you happy, some of these friends won’t say it, but would rather your existence in their lives include a ring and a mortgage and someone to go out with every Friday night. Both sets of friends think this is the only way happiness looks, and the subtext for both will remain the same: you are not enough. 4. You will eventually go on a few of these online dates. You will move your finger in a shallow arch across your phone’s screen while you’re lying on your bed, a wave of loneliness or a wave of despair, or are they the same thing, filling up the square of your blanket pulled tightly under your chin. Your favorite time to be alone is when the city you live in is alight, a set of vertical constellations brought down for you to walk among. You will make yourself unreachable by hitting the airplane button on your phone, you will put your headphones on to create the soundtrack of these streets, you will walk for hours with no particular destination in mind. The sweat that forms will you make you cold, but this is the goal, because it will outweigh whatever feeling you encountered during the first act of this action. These moments, these arrangements you have with yourself, will be better than every online date you go on. At the end of them, you will not have to say you have to run to the grocery store to get a fictional item because you’re tired of talking about nothing, of calling out the many -ist or -phobic things that were said over the bubbles in your wine, of feeling unsafe. You can go to the grocery store because you actually want to, then cook yourself a meal when you get home, the rhythm of chopped onions and garlic the soundtrack for the apartment you love. 74

5. You will have a crush. Something inside of you will pry itself open, and the light that it hasn’t seen, hasn’t felt, in almost a decade will overwhelm you. You will Google an article titled 8 Reasons Why Being a Grown-Ass Woman with a Crush Totally Sucks and it won’t make you feel better. A crush is antithetical to the grown-up life you’ve been living; the job you fought to get and love, the confidence you’ve worked hard to gain, the awareness that’s come with age. A crush will blindside you; it will make you ask your friends to help compose texts, it will make you analyze every message, every interaction, it will exhaust you when you try to tame an errant curl, fix your eye makeup, adjust the jumpsuit that’s hard to pee in on days you know you’ll see him. He will say something infuriating over text while you’re out with coworkers, who will notice the tears you’re trying to talk through and ignore. Your coworkers, a fixture of your grown-up life, all kind and brilliant, will count off your most admirable qualities. You will laugh and have another glass of wine because you don’t know what else to do, and when you get home, swaying slightly at the top of the stairs, you will feel the tears come back, you will imagine falling backward and cracking yourself open even more, so that you no longer have to let the light in because you are entirely light yourself. And when you get into your apartment and brush past the ghost of last night’s dinner, its smell still lingering in the air, you will make your way to the bathroom. You will meet yourself in the mirror, your eyes a shade of blue you swear you’ve never seen; maybe the Pacific Ocean you once lived near, maybe the color of ice in a cartoon, maybe the veins you hate to see. It’s a blue surrounded by a darker ring of blue, not unlike a target with a bullseye. You will close your eyes and imagine an arrow hitting their centers, shattering, so the tears have somewhere else to go, and eventually, your cheeks will finally dry. The make-up you put on to make you prettier will have turned into a blur of black and light pink, the 75

evidence of a slow, past motion, almost like an abstract ballet. A different kind of pretty, when you’re ready to open your eyes to it. 6. It will be the end of August when you travel solo internationally for the first time in your life. No one will be with you on the airplane, no one will be waiting for you on the other side. People will tell you that you’re brave, but that seems unwarranted; it’s privilege and a certain sense of proving people—mostly yourself—wrong that got you here. You will have wanted to walk streets you didn’t know, eat dishes you never imagined, exhaust yourself after hours of looking at things you never had before. And there is something about going back to a space that is not yours and all yours; you will drink local beer you bought from the bodega (though they don’t call it that here) in bed with the TV on; you will hear a language that isn’t yours, the words you don’t understand a makeshift lullaby singing you to sleep every night. Your grown-up life is a dull hum back home, across an ocean, across two time zones; it is a line struck through a sentence that you will then turn into a tightrope to walk back across the ocean, back into the life you’ve temporarily left behind. Your balance beam will be the comfort and dread that nobody here knows you, nobody will ask you when you’re planning to get married, why you live with a roommate who’s not your partner, as if you’re a flickering image on a screen that won’t stay lit without someone attached to you. On this trip, the most significant others you have will be the other solo women travelers you meet, each like a sunset, leaving you at the end of every day but not without making an impression. They will make you feel brave, and safe, and seen. And suddenly, you will see some part of yourself begin to set, you will see yourself dissolve into a million different colors across the sky, across this city that is not yours, immersed in a language that ricochets off your ears, and you will realize that the missed opportunity was only and could only ever be you, you, you.

*** 76

The third issue of Witches is dedicated to the girls and women who are trying on a level where they are risking something of themselves.

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CONTRIBUTORS sending gratitude & praise to all of these Witches

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founder of Witches Mag 78