Inside Issue #18: SBTL CLNG

by Lora Mathis

Los Angeles based SBTL CLNG (aka Carolina Hicks)' self-analytical work is a diving into uncomfortability. It is a mourning. An honoring of grief. An unlearning of negative patterns and taught beliefs that is spread between text, illustrations, zines, and music. It is highly vulnerable and presents healing as an intentional, non-linear process. SBTL CLNG's exploration of personal disconnection reveals patterns of what separates us from others and nature at large.


I’ve loved the powerful healing aspects of your work since I encountered it. The first piece of yours I ever saw was writing which mentioned, “emitting healing frequencies.” What does healing look like for you?
The daunting reality of healing is that once you start, you can’t really turn back. Once you realize how much you deserve to heal, you nervously just start little by little. You make microscopic progress, and celebrate private victories. You trip up —a relapse, a triggering confrontation, a self-sabotage trap you set up for yourself. Sometimes those bad moments turn into a bad month, and it can feel like you’re constantly starting at square one (or negative one). That’s the intense truth.

Healing is this constant, never-ending process; it’s very multidimensional. It takes a lot of stamina, recovery, reassurance, and self-validation. A big aspect of it for me has been figuring out what forgiveness actually means — not so much towards the forces and people that have hurt me but the constant, everyday process of forgiving myself (and I have to do this all the time). I would never treat anyone the way I’ve treated myself in my own head. I hold a lot of anger, frustration, guilt, remorse, regret towards the past and myself. But I’m learning that it’s going to be an uphill battle and constant wrestling match with myself if I don’t work on the forgiveness aspect. Much easier said than done, of course. But practice certainly helps.
 

Last fall, you began an MFA and this summer, your thesis may have you coming to the east coast to explore, “creating art amongst psychic / ecological / racist / misogynist / xenophobic violence of the new sociological landscape.” How is your work affected by this pervading, multi-layered violence?
I fell into one of many existential crises after the election. I was frozen by how scary (and ridiculous) it felt to have entered such an enormous amount of financial and emotional debt starting an MFA while the world entered this new multi-layered nightmare. But what has started to sink in since November is that this new era is not so new; everything that’s been festering, colonizing, oppressing, and killing for hundreds of years is now just inescapably present and exposed for the world to see. This experience of graduate school has been a huge self-check of my privileges and the socio-political responsibilities/ethics that I’m responsible for as an artist.
 

I know it sounds grandiose, but I feel whole-heartedly that there’s no more room to make apolitical art — it’s way too late to be neutral, about anything. This unpredictable landscape affects my work in direct and indirect ways. I have very real privileges that, so far, keep me from experiencing the immediate, life-threatening violences of the unraveling shit show. And that’s meant that I now have even more responsibility to use my access and positioning to maximize my use of resources, in order to create as much work as possible — to reach and affect as wide an audience as needs me. I’m becoming much more sentient of the ways that this landscape is affecting the very notion of home/place, planet, and the concept of dwelling for human and non-human life.

That’s been a bigger shift in my work, more eco-feminist research and socio-ecological awareness. I don’t think art for art’s sake is very helpful right now. I’ve started to notice that despite whatever form or packaging you give a work, if you have no generative content, the art is just taking up space.  I don’t want to make art just to take up space.
 

  via   SBTL CLNG

Much of your work sorts through mourning, loss, nostalgia, and growth. What are the relationships between these things?
Being a person is so intense! We carry everything that’s ever happened to us within us. This question reminds me of something one of my favorite artists Wizard Apprentice (Tierney Carter) talks about: there is so much pain/sadness in the world and for hyper-sensitive people, it’s nearly impossible to forget about it or pretend like it’s not happening. I think that’s why mourning is so prevalent in my practice, because I see that there’s so much to constantly mourn.  So much is being lost, violently erased, and threatened without end.

Misogyny kills, and it’s enraging and horrible to watch it happen on so many scales. You start to feel a nostalgia for a version of the earth we’ll never see again because of the irreversible damage that’s being inflicted upon it. As a first generation Colombian person, I think a lot about nostalgia for a place I’ll never really know—never really from here, never really from there. Yet, despite all this internal and external mess, you find yourself still opening your eyes in the morning. You’re still breathing and it kind of hits you that you will just have to keep growing because as long as you’re still alive, you still have a chance to add something good to the world, despite the grief of it all.
 

Do you believe growth is a loss?
Definitely, but the loss is crucial – without it you’d run out of space to grow. You lose parts of yourself that you’ve known for years and years. You let go of the patterns and habits you’ve gotten so used to navigating your reality with. I picture it like a video game terrain in your mind that you grow accustomed to, like muscle memory. Your life’s experience and traumas create a map and you learn your video game’s grid —all the guilt hallways, regret corners, self-hate goblins, self-sabotage vortexes. When you start to grow, you realize those virtual maps are just your own patterns shaped by trauma(s), misogyny, really toxic socialization — you keep them because they’re all you know and all you have to cope with. But, something I learned this past year (via a studio visit with Karen Rose, herbalist/healer) is that coping isn’t healing.

Once that truly sinks in, you realize that you have to scrap those virtual maps and make entirely new ones and starting from scratch is always really scary! But once you start this loss/undoing, you realize like “wait, I can’t go back anymore and even though that makes me sad (and it’s normal to get sad about growth), I know I don’t ever want to.”   
 

You’ve recently begun incorporating music into your work. How has this new medium expanded your work?
I’ve been thinking a lot about misogyny and the ways in which it’s become internalized within my own body. As someone that came of age in the punk/DIY scene where I grew up, I can trace that “community” as the place where my friends and I experienced some of our most humiliating and scarring experiences with what we thought was intimacy, validation, and support — experiences that warped our sense of self-worth and stunted so much internal growth. Fast forward to a decade’s worth of unlearning, and here I am, sad at how long it took me to realize my own agency and snap out of the stupor that had me convinced music-making and validation was to be found in “talented” men with disproportionate amounts of social capital. No one told me I could play the instruments, I could book and/or play the shows, that I should or could make my own sounds. I’m so relieved and at home now in my developing music practice. It’s become an extension of my writing and visual work, because I often incorporate all elements into my song-making and live performances. My music is intentional; when I play, I am creating sonic waves to combat my internalized misogyny and inferiority complex that a Boys Club world has instilled in me — a type of sonic mourning/grieving/cleansing. It feels so healing and exciting to create the songs my body wants to make, to create work that is deeply instinctual and non-technical. My music is partial  “fuck you” to toxic/mediocre cis man-music and damage but mostly a sonic prayer for the Earth and all its wounded.
 

  via SBTL CLNG

via SBTL CLNG

As someone who publicly shares highly vulnerable, self-analytical work, how do you carve out personal space for yourself?
As an empath, I really appreciate this question because I think about it often. Energy is very alive and real to me, so creating spaces of recovery/retreat for myself is critical. I often forget how open and exposed I make myself through my own content, but I’ve been feeling its effects much more lately. Intentionally or not, people in the contemporary moment become very entitled to your energy and emotional labor —a lot has to do with the Internet, and instantaneous accessibility to the work.  So, I suppose it “comes with the territory” but it gets quickly draining and dangerous if you aren’t careful.

Energy vampires are real and they’re really tricky/manipulative! Creating boundaries has been crucial (and relatively new for me). It’s scary to be forthcoming and clear about not only setting boundaries, but actually following through with them. Intentionally protecting my energy/emotional labor/time and anticipating my needs has become increasingly more important to me. In doing so, my practice has actually strengthened because you naturally become more disciplined and selective about how you spend your time and psychic resources.
 

There is so much power in the self-awareness and deep self-reflection in your work. It’s poignant honesty on trauma, mental illness and self-destructive tendencies has helped me sort through my own experiences. How does art become a tool for learning forgiveness in a body which has hurt itself and been hurt by others?
Something I’ve been learning through my own visual work and writing is that my subconscious is actually my most honest sounding board. A tactic for the patriarchy to perpetuate itself is to atrophy the feminine and the unlearned wisdom within ourselves (I’m directly referencing Audre Lorde’s “The Uses of the Erotic” essay — a foundational text to my practice). We are forced to mistrust and silence our own desires and instincts. After years of doing so, it’s no wonder we feel like such strangers in our own bodies. That estrangement from ourselves is how we end up so lost and far from our own power. But, I think deep down, despite how loud our self-loathing may get, we really want to be advocates for ourselves — my own art practice has taught me this. Art has helped me understand a lot about my own behavior and through that, I’ve learned how to safely hold empathy for others and myself. Art helps me better navigate reality when it often feels completely unnavigable. Art opens up portals: a source to access lost, ancestral knowledge and support; a well to receive psychic nutrition and relief; a space to unpack all the things; a refuge to cry/scream into when the sadness feels unbearable; a quiet space to learn how to forgive others, and most importantly yourself. I feel perpetually homesick for a place that doesn’t exist, so for me, art is the home I get to live in (somewhere in my mind and heart —connected via tunnels).

Keep up with SBTL CLNG on Instagram at @sbtl_clng.

See the whole spread here in Issue #18 here.

The Importance of Saying Something

By Anna Brüner

"I do not know your name — but I know that a lot of people failed you that terrible January night and in the months that followed."

- Vice President Joe Biden

You’ve heard it before in middle school anti­-bullying assemblies. You’ve read it in public ads on the subway. Maybe your Sunday school teacher even uttered the words in a watered down lecture on stranger danger. “If you see something, say something.” It is part passive plea, part ingrained civic duty. It is thrown around with other do­-gooder mantras like “just say no” and “don’t be a litter bug.” It dapples the landscape of pre-recorded messages that drone over airport speakers, “Don’t be a bystander. Report suspicious activity. If you see something, say something.”

There’s a post that was floating around my Facebook newsfeed for a few weeks. Three women were out to dinner when one of them witnessed a young man a few tables over slip something into a girl’s drink while the girl stepped away. When the young man got up to go to the bathroom, the three women approached the girl and told her what they saw. “But he’s one of my closest friends,” the girl told them, later adding that her car was parked at the man’s house and that she had come here with him. The women proceeded to inform members of the waitstaff who informed the restaurant’s manager, who was able to catch the man slipping something into the girl’s wine on the security cameras and immediately called the police. An attempted rape successfully prevented. The internet rejoiced.

“I haven’t seen you since the office party! Can I introduce you to my boyfriend?” a friend of mine said at a house party to a woman they have never met before who was being harassed by an aggressive, sober man. She went along with the act, grateful and relieved, and my friend called her a cab while they went outside to meet the imaginary boyfriend. On Master Of None, Dev (Aziz Ansari) and Denise (Lena Waithe) film a man masturbating on a crowded subway car before calling him out on the act, inciting other passengers to speak up and tell the conductor before calling the police, moments after having a conversation about how people see these kinds of acts all the time and usually do nothing. In real life, two students on bicycles stopped Brock Turner when they saw him attempting to rape a fellow Stanford student.

In his open letter to the Stanford survivor, Vice President Joe Biden wrote of “a culture that promotes passivity. That encourages young men and women on campuses to simply turn a blind eye.”

But it isn’t just college campuses. It’s high school dances and tree lined side streets in good neighborhoods. It’s public parking lots not long after dark. It’s your favorite bar or your best friend’s Christmas party or the church you’ve attended since you were three. It’s beaches and parks and bike trails. It’s alleyways that serve as the quickest way home.

A couple of weeks ago, a woman was stabbed and had her throat slit on the Chicago red line after saying “no” to a man who asked her to have his babies. Nobody did anything. Some people even took photos of her as she bled out on the floor. It happened on a train I take every day, at a stop not far from where I once walked alone to my partner’s apartment when we first started dating. But it could have happened anywhere. On another train, in another neighborhood, in another city.

“To see an assault about to take place and do nothing to intervene,” wrote Vice President Biden in his letter, “makes you part of the problem.”

I was in an abusive relationship for nearly two years. Several months in, we went on a double date with a good friend of mine and his girlfriend. We never went out with anybody. It lasted only an hour, just a quick dinner. The next day I woke up to a series of texts from my friend.

“You need to leave him.”

“You need to get out of there.”

“This is not okay.”

I didn’t leave then. I should’ve, but I also “should’ve” left long before that moment. But even though I didn’t listen to my friend in that moment, I did start to notice just how dangerous my relationship was. I stopped making excuses for my partner and started to see the framework of my abuse. I wasn’t able to do that the first time he made me feel bad about myself as a person. I wasn’t able to do that the first time he hit me, or the first time he raped me. But I was able to begin to do it the moment a friend brought attention to it. It wasn’t all just “in my head” anymore, I wasn’t being “crazy” or “manipulative” or “overreacting,” as my partner had brainwashed me to believe. This was real, and it was real because someone else, someone I trusted dearly ­­saw something and said something. It would take a few more of my friends seeing and saying something to finally push me to leave for good, but God knows how long I would’ve stayed had no one spoke up about what they saw being done to me.

There are dozens of reasons why people choose to do nothing. They don’t know the whole situation. They want to avoid conflict. They don’t want to make others feel uncomfortable. It isn’t their problem. It’s safer to do nothing. Whatever the reason, it’s always easier to do nothing. To say nothing. To pretend you don’t see it.

It would have been easy for two boys on bicycles to just keep going, to not stop, to pretend they didn’t see Brock Turner in the bushes holding a struggling girl to the ground. Maybe she would’ve still pressed charges. Maybe evidence would’ve still been brought against him in court. But maybe not. Maybe none of us would have ever known Brock Turner’s name. Joe Biden would have never written his letter.

I am begging you to not be a part of the problem. I am begging you to not be the one at the party who suspected something was wrong, the person they interview the morning or the week after. I am begging you to not play into a culture of passive, silent witnesses. There is too much violence, too much harassment and assault. There are too many lives who have been affected, permanently changed, and lost because of people who did nothing. Most have us have never hurt someone. Most of us have never raped someone. But most of us have turned a blind eye away from the uncomfortable moments where we could have acted.

I know it’s not easy. I know it will be scary. I assure you, however, the worst possible thing that could happen is not that you embarrass yourself, or embarrass another person, or make a scene. The worst possible thing that could happen is that you do nothing, you allow it to play out, and it happens again and again, behind closed doors in private places where people can't see anything. 

Strength in Vulnerability: A Reflection from Kate Flynn of The Winter Passing

 Photo by Seanie Cahill

Photo by Seanie Cahill


When I first joined The Winter Passing, I've got to be honest, I didn't know my head from my ass in terms of a lot of things  firstly, what it was like to be in a band. Of course it's something you love, so it should be easy but it's not, it's not easy at all. I had just started my first year of college and it was a crazy time of personal transformation. I was finding out new things about myself and my personality, beliefs and morals. I was away from home every week, and it my was first real time of freedom.

For four years I juggled college, my part time job, and being in a band. It left little room for anything else. This was the same story for the guys too, so I wasn't alone. We put our everything into the band, we still do. We are still juggling our lifestyles to be The Winter Passing. I wouldn't change it for the world. Sometimes, it's tough when I see some of my friends traveling together or going out and I can't because I need to save for the next tour. I need to be around for the show we have that weekend. I need to be around during the week to travel to write new songs.

As a 22 year old, I can tell you, this is hard. It's stressful both mentally and financially. Sometimes I want to scream with frustration but I wouldn't change it for the world. This band and this dreamer head of mine has given me something I don't believe any other path would have. The fact that I get to live out my dream, is all I need. It puts me in a vulnerable position at times, but sometimes when I sit back and think of all we have achieved so far, I need to pinch myself and realise how blessed I am. How great it is that I get to use my voice to make music I'm proud of, with my best friends. I've also realised that being in a band and making music, as a female, has taught me how to be strong. It’s helped me survive situations that could easily tear you down to the point of never trying again.

I believe that all of the situations I've had to deal with that have left me numb have only made me stronger and determined to learn and be a better person than I was the day before.

Admittedly, before I joined the band, the guys had already started the writing process for our first EP, so I didn't have much input. Back then, Im not sure I would have known where to start in terms of songwriting. I have always been musical. Singing is and always will be my true love. I was pretending to be Britney Spears in my mirror at a very young age and still pretend to be Taylor Swift now.

I knew music was always going to be my path, whether it worked or not. I would make crappy songs in my bedroom. I'm sure they weren't that good, but in my head, I was a punk princess singing and composing them on a shitty starter keyboard.

So when it actually came down to the writing process with four other people who had been in bands for years, I felt like I wasn't as skilled at music. I was scared to throw out my opinions, my ideas. This was my first time being in a band. By this point, they had already mostly completed the EP, I just contributed some lyrics towards the end. This feeling of being unable to contribute haunted me all the time. I knew I could do it if I just believed in myself, but sometimes these things are easier said than done.  

After this, and after a lot of weekends of traveling to shows, traveling to practice spaces and living on genuinely nothing, I realised that I didn't want to let my so called "incapability" stop me from participating in the band. When it came to writing the album, I knew I didn't want to take a back seat in any of it, I wanted to know everything. I began to educate myself. I began to let my fear of showing the guys my ideas and work. I showed my brother my idea for the song Penny Chains and I realised in that moment I was the only one who didn't believe in me. I was the only one holding myself back.

I had always been quite self-conscious since I was a child. I was never the one who wanted to be the centre of attention, I'd be quite happy to just be an onlooker. When my birthday comes around each year, I cringe. This whole day is about me and there's not a damn thing I can do about it because my family loves me too much to pretend it doesn't matter. In Ireland, your 21st birthday is a huge thing. You plan a party and invite people, actual people to this thing that's all about you. I can genuinely tell you this was my idea of hell. But after much thought and pressure, I did it. It was fine but I'm glad I don't have to turn 21 again. I’m referencing this because I feel like my self-esteem really inhibited me to be creative at the start of The Winter Passing. I felt small in a scene of truly talented people. Sometimes, I wondered what the hell I was doing. I made a decision to let this feeling go. If I was going to be a part of The Winter Passing and feel comfortable about it, I needed to pull my socks up and stop being so critical about myself. I needed to start loving the person I was and could be. I believe it's through this conflicting time, I gave myself the strength to let go of my fear of being ridiculed, being "wrong" and just doing my thing.

 Photo by Seanie Cahill

Photo by Seanie Cahill

I recently bought myself a guitar, and Ive been teaching myself through Youtube videos. I felt like taking the leap in teaching myself an instrument would make me understand the structural side of songwriting more clearer and I could relate and grow even further as a musician with the rest of the guys. Which would in turn, help when it came to writing organ parts. I haven't looked back since. Through my self esteem issues and the vulnerability I felt, I have never been so determined to always surprise myself. Surprise myself with the realisation that, Hey, you're actually really good at this," or "Hey, isn't learning from yourself just fun.”

Now, I write lyrics every day. Mostly because it's what I have found to be the only therapeutic thing for me to do whilst still being productive. In my last two years of college, I began to go through a very strange phase. I didn't want to go out or meet my friends and I would spend hours in my room with the harrowing feeling of anxiety every moment of the day.  Eventually, even leaving the house was a real process. I had to fight with myself to go to college. My friends stopped texting to see if I wanted to do anything because they already knew the answer. I went to see the student councillor a bunch of times, with no luck of feeling any better. At this point, I bought myself a notebook. I wrote the lyrics to Penny Chains and I haven't stopped since then. It's through writing that I feel I have the strength to go on, to get better and be better constantly. In my own experience, I didn't find talking to anyone at the time very helpful so I wrote to myself. I wrote these words to melodies and made songs out of them. I used pain as my way to create, be productive and progress. Most people my age suffer from mental illness at some stage of their early twenties, maybe even before and forever. Sadly, it may continue for their whole life. Whether it be lyrics, stories, or even just what youre thinking - this is why I encourage anyone that tells me that they are struggling, to write. There is something about writing it out and closing the book. Making something of the words I wrote down has been even more of a pleasure for me and makes the anxiety feel very small and allows it to be something I can control. It might be there tomorrow and but at least I've made a step by just writing about it. I've also found that letting go of the stigma of going through a tough time has made me stronger. I very willingly talk about my struggles so hopefully, the person reading may get the strength from their own vulnerable situation to talk about it too, without the stigma attached to it. My motto is that it's completely okay to not feel okay and it's also 100% acceptable to talk about it, seek help, and embrace advice from your friends or professionals. And it's true, you are the only person that can get you out of a rough time. I actually quite like the fact that it has taken my own strength to come out of a struggling and trying time. It just makes me think that if I can do that, I can do anything.

When I first started going to local shows, I was complete awe of the whole thing. I was in awe of how all these people could gather in one room and use their art to convey emotions. I had only ever heard this through earphones to my portable CD player (or my MP3 player that I later got, and thought I was the shit). I had been to a few big concerts (my first concert was Avril Lavigne and it was SICK) so going from a few thousand people to maybe 100 in a small room, watching people perform their songs, was the biggest influence in my life to date.

At this time, I didn't realise that I was a feminist. I didn't realise that I always had been. Females have inspired me my whole life thus far. I've said it before, but even as a kid, if the band had a female in it,  I was all about it. I was besotted with it. But at this time, I wasn't educated in feminism. I wasn't aware of its presence. I was at a show in Dublin and I stood back and counted the females in the room, on one hand. I started to realise then that my gender was outnumbered at these shows. Even in terms of female musicians, most of the shows were only male musicians. It got me thinking how many females are probably killing it at home on their guitars, drums, and vocals, but can't seem to make the next step of forming a band and playing shows. I remember seeing my friends band "Kate's Party" play and thinking look at these girls absolutely killing it. It inspired me so much, that when the opportunity of being in band came, I didn't think twice. I wanted to be up there, hopefully encouraging other females in a crowd that they can do anything they put their minds to. They can sell out a room with their talents. They can shift the norm. I began buying books about females in the music industry and watching documentaries about feminism in all walks of life. I educated myself and the struggles we have faced and are still facing when doing the right thing in a vulnerable situation.

I truly believe, or at least want to believe, that local scenes in my community here have come a long way in creating a safer space. People have become more aware of issues that were making these spaces unsafe. They want to make an effort to not let misogyny, racism, and sexism exist inside of these spaces but it still needs work. These things are being talked about more frequently at shows and the fact it is being talked about more makes me feel like it’s finally not being hidden or hushed, and it's being taken seriously.

My first realisation of sexism when it came to music for me personally was when a sound technician came and plugged in my organ to the DI and arranged my mic. Now if you can imagine, we aren't U2. This was in front of people who had gathered at the front of the stage and watched while we set up. I remember being met with conflicting thoughts of "maybe he is just being nice" and "why is this angering so much?" I didn't see him go plug in Robs guitar and arrange his mic so why was he doing it for me? Recently, while sound checking, I asked the sound technician if it wasn't close to feed backing, could he turn me up. I have a delicate voice, it's quiet when it's quiet but pretty loud when it's loud. He responded by showing me how small my voice was by measuring it with his fingers while smirking. This was the just the start of a bad night for me. Later, someone in the crowd shouted up a pretty grim comment during a break in the set. At this point I genuinely felt pretty degraded - but that night I called that person out on stage. I wasn't going to let anyone make me feel like I shouldn't have been where I was in that moment. I'm not really a person for conflict but I wasn't going to let it go, so I took to social media and shared it. I needed people to know, it needed to be documented, that even if we are making progress, it's not over yet. I got an amazing response from lots of people, male and female. No gender, race or sexual orientation should have to feel victimized at an event of any sort let alone an artistic event that allows people to connect. That's why we go to these shows. So we can all feel the same things under the same roof. I'm aware that there is always going to be that "one person" who just doesn't get it, and maybe they are young and haven't been educated in these issues yet - but I know that I never want to be quiet when I see or hear anything that could be harmful. I don't want another person to be in a vulnerable situation at shows that makes them feel unsafe, with no one to stand by their side. We are past that time in society, there is no need or room for it.

It's only in the past few years that I've realised how strong I can be through vulnerability. I've realised that I can do things that I would have never thought possible for myself because I am good enough. I am capable. I am determined.


Keep up with The Winter Passing, and stream their music on 6131 Records by clicking here. Don't miss them at FEST 15 this year in Gainesville, FL.

An Open Letter to Cosmopolitan

By Molly Franklin

 Courtesy of  Cosmopolitan

Courtesy of Cosmopolitan

Dear Cosmopolitan,

I will admit that the beautiful women on the cover of your magazines, paired with taglines such as “Better Sex Now,” have always been able to draw me in. Because who wouldn’t want to be that self-assured woman smiling and looking sexy in front of the bright colored drop cloth? But after reading “The Best Advice Ever” issue, which promised to supply me with all the best advice about love, work, and health the modern woman needs based on previous Cosmo advice columns spanning the decades that Cosmo has sat against that magazine rack like the cool kid against the wall outside of the mall, I feel the need to share with you how one of the articles managed not only to alienate me as a woman but cause a similar reaction in your other readers.

I stopped at the grocery store after an exceedingly long shift waitressing, picking up some amaretto and popcorn and promising myself a few careless hours of mindlessly watching TV with my feet up and ice cubes ringing like bells in a mason jar. As I stood in line, I was once again lured in by the woman, her lips painted pink, blue eyes peering outside of a satin mask. I thought about how my mom had told me in that very grocery store that I wasn’t allowed to read Cosmo until I was older. It made my hands itch every time I came to the local Hy-vee or Walmart,  and my hands itched again now. And here I was, twenty-two with my own job and apartment, and I decided to splurge. Cosmo was to become part of my routine and so when I got home I poured myself a glass, turned on Dateline, and decided to flip through a magazine that validated that I was, in fact, a grownup. I was a woman. But I found out that I am not a Cosmo woman. I am not even close.

One of the first articles I flipped to was “18 Beautiful Habits to Acquire Now.” As I read over the advice from the seventies I stopped at the piece of advice that stated “Study your body (naked!) at least once a month,” in which the author goes on to state “Be critical… In fact be ruthless!... Intensify your self scrutiny.” At this point, I would like to acknowledge my attempt of backtracking to when another woman told me to make sure to look at the pieces of my body that look great and not to be too hard on myself. But this was an article that was chosen for the Best Advice Ever issue. I found myself thinking back to a scene in Mean Girls where the aforementioned mean girls stood in front of the mirror and picked out features they hated about themselves for sport, ranging from ankles to collarbones, arms, and noses. The main character remarks that there were so many different things to dislike about yourself that she had never realized. If this were the only piece of advice about your body like this, I would have read over it and moved on. However, another piece of advice shocked me, reading “Weigh yourself every day. If gain exceeds four pounds over normal weight, go on a mini crash diet at once.” At once, the advice said, and I still think about that statement now. The finale of this article insists that if you make these things a habit, you will be a permanently put-together woman. But I do not know a single put-together woman who weighs herself every day or looks into a mirror and is purposefully self critical.

I closed the magazine, not daring to go any further, and repressing the urge to the toss the glossy paper to the other side of the room. But instead, I cradled it in my lap. I cradled it like I cradled my self hatred every day. All of the mirrors had been covered in the house with threadbare towels when I had moved home from college. I had avoided the scale like a rattlesnake. I have struggled with depression and anxiety for years, and the new medication I had been on had helped me gain nearly fifty pounds in three months. I felt trapped in skin that didn’t feel beautiful anymore. Those eyes on the cover of the Best Advice Ever issue had turned from beguiling to harsh and judgemental, and suddenly I was seeing brown instead of blue. I saw freckles pucker on the perfect skin and I realized that it was the only mirror I had looked into in weeks.

Of course, it can be argued that this was an article originally written in the seventies and that there was “today’s take,” which updated some of the advice. But even with the commentary, the message to women hasn’t changed. Here is your definition of beauty. Here is your definition of what it is to be a woman. In an age that is arguably the revival of feminism, this advice magazine for the modern woman is anything but modern. Feminism nowadays is not just the white heterosexual woman’s right to have a sexual appetite. But instead, we are fighting for inclusion, the right to an education, the right to equal wages...but these are not the articles that are being written in Cosmo.

I have realized that my mom didn’t want me reading Cosmo not because she didn’t think I was old enough. She didn’t want me reading Cosmo because she was worried that I would do what I did this night. She was worried I would find myself wanting what wasn’t realistic, and pick myself apart instead of finding body positivity.

A magazine that advertises raising people up now (and perhaps have always in a sense) brought them down. In order to find the voice of the 21st century woman, I believe that Cosmo needs to reach out to its audience. I don’t want to compare myself to who I could be if I ate less or if I stood on the scale every day and how that would make me happy. Instead I want recovery stories. I want stories of triumph and beauty and pictures of women outside the norm. The beautiful women on the covers always had a way of pulling me in, but there are women that I think who are beautiful who have never used that word to describe themselves.

I threw out your magazine that day because the Best Advice Ever was a mean girl poking at my flaws. And your advice to me was to be that mean girl.

One day I hope to describe myself as beautiful. Today is not that day.

Sincerely,
Molly Franklin

November Horoscopes

By Allie Shyer

Aries: For the past few months you may have been feeling a lack of clarity in your romantic relationships or business partnerships. You are often perceived as confident and outspoken, but this lack of stability may have been throwing off your game as of late. As Mercury enters Scorpio, emotional honesty is in the tenor of the planets. Ask for the information you need, even if it might be a hard pill to swallow. Ultimately knowing will prove to be better than guessing.


Taurus: This month will be about courage for you, Taurus. About stepping outside of your comfort zone and challenging yourself to push your own boundaries. Hearth and home will provide the stability you need to grow and experiment in other aspects of your life, and the steps can be small. Maybe it’s finally sending out that manuscript or reaching out to a mentor, maybe it’s confessing a crush or trying oysters for the very first time, the chances you take this month will ultimately benefit you.

Gemini: This month is about the dynamic between comfort and chaos. Ruled by Mercury, sometimes you are moving so fast you can’t see the progress you have made, but others see it. As you struggle to find a home for yourself that feels impermanent enough to last, you are jumping from star to star like an acrobat and that’s ok! Keep jumping, you have unwittingly crafted a net to catch you if you fall.

Cancer: This month is a challenge to find safe and magic things. Things that have reverberations, be it tokens of your childhood home or a lock of a lover’s hair. When you have found your talisman, hold tight to it and figure out how you can use its magic to get you through the emotional upsets and hard conversations that might be coming your way towards the middle of the month. Your strength is often interpersonal, Cancer, but it also lies within yourself. By harnessing and externalizing your own magic, you can then hold it for safe keeping and give it back to yourself in a time of need.

Leo: You worry about presentation because how the world perceives you is important. You may experience a rift between the reflections that come back to you and the core values that you understand to be true for yourself this month. If these things aren’t matching up, maybe it’s time to evaluate how you project what is important to you. It is ok to save those secret things, maybe for the best in the long run, but not at the expense of how you feel in your body and how you feel in your life. Let friends in, be vulnerable, occasionally, maybe even be alone if that’s what it takes.

Virgo: This is a month for establishing yourself. You are so good at doing the work behind the scenes to make things happen, and this is satisfying, but you need to be able to stand up and claim what you have worked for when the time comes, and it’s coming this month. Allow yourself to be receptive to the praise of others and the fruits of your labor. Sometimes it can be brutal to step into the light but if you let the opportunity pass you by, it will inhibit your ability to continue to pursue your passions.

Libra: You are going to feel it lining up this month as your ruling planet Venus reenters your sign. It is exciting and sinister and powerful. It comes from places in yourself that have been dark and that have grown. It is all you, it is all growth, it is all the sinewy power of your will for the better and for the stronger and for the more transcendently joyous. Growing pains are fading to reveal a new shape for yourself, a life of purpose and passion that you are working towards.

Scorpio: Nothing soothes you like a crowded room and that is almost entirely how you will remember this month, shifting faces as they pass below a green light, or a glittering bracelet or a clever joke. It’s not superficial, it is a way to survive when you are in touch with the deepest sadness and familiar with the possibility of despair. Passing through this month like a honey bee casually pollinating the flowers that interest you because you know that your presence is enough for them to grow is a way to embody a unique kind of joy that is all about survival for you.

Sagittarius: This month finds you in a state of transition. The instability makes you anxious, the anxiety manifests in patterns that can lead you away from what you need. It will be frustrating because what you need is still in the works and for a few days you might not know which way is up. Riding it out might find you in a position of powerlessness, so practice being intentional in the way you are choosing to approach each day. Give the unknown space to be what it is, and trust that resolution is just another step in a chain of reactions that is perpetual and unending. Remind yourself that you have resources and friends to ground you. Find outlets for your excess anxiety in new projects.

Capricorn: A feeling of social ease will facilitate the emergence of new projects this month. People are excited to work with you and hear your ideas. You have to remember that these intangible interactions have weight and value, and as the abstract ideas grow a more formal structure, you can count on yourself to commit hard work to seeing them through. Enjoy this month of dreaming and planning, though you are sometimes skeptical of the abstract, allow it to inform your movements this month.

Aquarius: This month is fertile if you let it be. There will be strangeness in the flowers from your soil and the fruits of your labor might be entirely different then the ones you planted, but you knew that already. If there is anyone ready to embrace the jagged zig-zag of success it is you. One of your best qualities is that you never expect anything to only be what it is. Embracing non-linearity, spirituality, and imagination will bring you a month of unanticipated joy, productivity and self-assuredness.

Pisces: Love and curiosity go hand in hand. You are demanding of your partners in a way that allows them to see themselves and allows them to grow. You may find yourself growing creatively inside the idea of another person. This is exciting, but don’t let it overpower you. Make sure that you have a handle on yourself as you delve in to the histories of loved ones. Make sure you are communicating and stay away from fantasies of people that might turn them into your own fetish objects, because this destroys relationships. Your practice, coming from a place of deep compassion, might be too much even to show to the one who has inspired it. Let your sensitivities guide you in this area. If it is too much, step back and try to remember that the world also moves outside of your relationships.

 Photo Courtesy of Allie Shyer

Photo Courtesy of Allie Shyer

Learn to Accept Your Sadness This Fall

By Joe Longo

 Photo by Robi Foli

Photo by Robi Foli

Fall is an inherently paradoxical time. Sadness fills the season with falling leaves, a constant chilly air, and the darkness of the ever prolonging night. Yet this same time of year acknowledges the beauty in the same vibrantly colored leaves, the comfort of bundling up toward a brisk air, and the peacefulness of a quiet night. Fall embraces complex emotion in a way other seasons do not. Whereas summer is a time of happiness, spring a time of renewal, and winter a time of depression, autumns elicits less simplistic emotions.

And it is in this complicated emotional field that we should make our stake this fall season.

Halloween, one of the major events and themes of Autumn, at its core elicits emotion. Children to grown adults dress up as vampires, ghouls, and--this year--Donald Trump. All in an effort to appear “scary.” These ubiquitous tropes are synonymous with feelings of terror and sadness. In fact, the fundamental purpose of the the contemporary festive celebration of Halloween is founded around the joy of extracting pretend fear.

Rather than promoting fake sentiment, how about we begin celebrating genuine emotion? This isn’t supposed to scare anyone, it is only meant to encourage people to acknowledge their emotional states. Instead of ghouls, we acknowledge our fear of being unsuccessful; no need for slasher villains when depression is creeping around the corner. In order for one to have an open and honest understanding of their mind and emotional well-being, they must learn to embrace melancholy.

Yet to fully embrace all emotions is akin to clearing one’s mind. Thus self-reflection is it’s own cathartic therapy. Tapping into the various sentiments one feels results in further happiness. We live in a society promoting physical wellness, yet mental wellness often goes untouched, specifically when that relates to sadness.

This past year saw a significant piece of mainstream media embrace sadness as essential to wellness. Pixar’s Inside Out tells the story of Riley, an adolescent girl’s emotional state, as she reacts to both an environmental and emotional transition. The film depicts the importance of emotion, specifically the role of sadness.

In an article for The New York Times, psychology professor at the University of California, Berkeley Dacher Keltner discussed the importance of sadness in relation to Inside Out. Keltner collaborated on the retaining a scientific accuracy to the film

“Scientific studies find that our current emotions shape what we remember of the past. This is a vital function of Sadness in the film: It guides Riley to recognize the changes she is going through and what she has lost, which sets the stage for her to develop new facets of her identity,” Keltner said.

Growth of one’s mental health is dependent on sadness. Without sadness, one cannot know happiness. The two dominating emotions are interwoven and function together. Much like a physical wellbeing balances rest and activity, a robust emotional state is dependent on a similar bond.

So embrace the mood of fall. Embrace the sadness. Strap on your running shoes, stream Adele’s new song “Hello” through your earbuds, and take a walk on a path littered with fallen leaves. Be sad. Be emotive. Afterall, if a children’s movie can show us the beauty in sadness in just over two hours, why not let a whole season do the same?

 

 Photo by Robi Foli

Photo by Robi Foli

October Horoscopes

By Allie Shyer

Aries: If work is grinding at your last sore nerve, ask yourself why you do what you do. If you cannot find a satisfying answer to this question then move on. For a fire sign passionless labor is a sin. You are willing to work so hard and burn so bright for projects that feel important and exciting to you. However, be sure that the decisions that you make this month are not impulsive. Remember that labor that allows you money and time to practice what you are passionate about is still labor in line with passion in a more indirect way. If your job feels unbearably dull then start finding an escape route that is practical and will allow you leeway into new options.

Taurus: You appreciate the tactile and sensory aspects of life, this is a strong foundation from which you generate and practice your passions. It is also a place of escape and solace for you. With the richness of the leaves changing, deep reds and rusting complex colors, the warm spiced smells and mossy decomposition of fall is a haven for you. Let the splendor of the exterior world provide inspiration for you. explore your leanings towards the baroque and the decadent, the marrow that lines a thing that touches death is sweet and fat. You have a unique proclivity to explore this dichotomy without being sucked into morbidity, but with a renewed passion for life itself.

Gemini: Sometimes you are unsatisfied because You want what you do not want. You are sometimes stepping on your own feet because you have two sets of feet. When you run you do not know if it is towards what draws you or what repulses you. This can make you lash out in anger when you get somewhere that you did not expect, particularly in romantic relationships. Instead of holding your partner to unrealistic expectations of fulfilling contradictory roles or desires, practice trust and transparency. Tell them your frustrations and exhaustions, tell them your insecurities. Ask with patience for partners and loved ones to help you sort through the things that are preventing you from finding satisfaction, and they will help you to gaindeeper knowledge of yourself and your desires this month.

Cancer: We exist in our own patterns based on memories of past actions. These patterns are deep set in our muscle memories and our coping mechanisms. They are presets solidified so long ago we are not even conscious of them anymore, but they have the ability to dominate our daily lives. It is so hard to get out of old habits. It is just as hard to deal with the popular rhetoric of “healthy and unhealthy” habits that often does little but make us feel shame for the way that we are going about our lives. It is important to reframe this conversation in your head. It is not about others perceptions about a healthy lifestyle or healthy habits. It is about being intentional in the way you choose to live your life. It is about seeing through a vision that you have for yourself. It is about fulfillment that does not come from doing the “right thing” or “the healthy thing” but from doing the thing you most sincerely want to do with clarity and honesty.

Leo: People are giving you contradictory advice about what you need to do to stay alive. You don’t show it but it’s wearing on you. Financial realities are starting to feel constricting this month, as they may prevent you from making the sexier career or life choice. Don’t get bogged down by what if’s. It’s ok to make a practical decision. You have so much life in you that you will find joy and adventure in the stuff of daily living, and you have the ability to inspire and excite people about what they are doing just by being around you. Use these abilities to keep you away from feelings of bleakness as you work towards larger goals.

Virgo: This month will be about setting boundaries, Virgo. Your energy is a precious and finite resource. You have to keep track of how it is being used and who it is using it in order to have enough left for yourself. If interactions with friends or co-workers are feeling draining for you it is ok to make yourself more scarce. If you worry about hurting others feelings by limiting your availability, tell them you will give exactly as much as you can, but you do not owe anyone your time or your energy; those who believe that you do are often trying to avoid harder conversations with themselves .

Libra: You build harmonies, but sometimes beauty can be found in the atonal and illogical. allow yourself to be surprised by something this month. Ordering chaos does not prevent chaos from existing, you can invite it into your life in a safe way. Invite the universe to surprise you by doing things you have never done before (it’s October, if you live in the midwest like me, it is the perfect time to find a gigantic corn maze and conquer that ish.) These small steps to be in tune with chaos will ultimately help you next time a bigger interruption knocks on your door.

Scorpio: A stirring up of deep seated patterns and unfounded fears will make you feel destabilized at the beginning of the month. As a sign so in tune with the depths of beauty in the more abject recesses of human emotion, you will have to be careful not to fetishize your own faults to a point of self destruction. It is good to wear your emotional labor as a part of your identity, but do not let it consume you. Can you engage in a dialogue with your own fear? Can you sit down and have a conversation with it? Can you invite it over to tea between the hours of one to four and then ask it to leave when it has overstayed its welcome?

Sagittarius: The perpetuity of an experience can make it hard for us to conceive of a different reality but no feeling is final. Now that you are stable, it is a good time to stretch out some emotional muscles that have been underutilized while you were in survival mode. We put things away for a time when we can use them. Take out what you have in storage, draw inspiration from old family photo albums, do what you can to ground yourself in your current reality so you have strong roots to help you stay grounded next time the wind blows.

Capricorn You, of all the zodiac are the master of exchanges. You are known for your savvy business sense, and you know how to strike a deal, but you still have a poetic leaning. You are fluent in exchanges because you are sensitive to the weights of relationships. Do you remember that O’henry story about the man who sold his prized watch to buy his wife a comb for her hair, while his wife was selling her hair to buy her husband a gold chain for his watch? Capitalism asks us to take humanity out of economic exchange in order for the ruin that it can create to be glossed over. If you forget this then you will be seceding your unique gift and your inherent intuition, Capricorn.

Aquarius Aquarius, you are always getting free, but what is free getting you? your obsession with liberation on a personal and global scale may lead you to shed things that are valuable. You travel light, but don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. In your quest for perpetual reinvention you are sometimes overly eager to cast away former iterations of yourself, instead of taking time to look back at those old yous and seeing what this new you can learn from them. Embrace your mistakes and your past instead of hiding from them, and you may find some hard won insight this month.

Pisces Don’t let them tell you to explain yourself this month, Pisces. Your unique eye creates a landscape that may seem strange for those who are not willing to take a second look. Trust in your vision, and that the people who need your work will find it and understand it. Do not struggle to translate your dreams or ideas into something more palatable for the general public.

 by Robin Berryman 

by Robin Berryman 

September Horoscopes

By Allie Shyer

Aries 
You have been running so fast that you forgot you had feet; it’s time to feel your feet. Does this mean slow down? Does this mean stop? It means do what you have to do to maintain a sense of reality so that you are in control of your own pace, of your own body. Slowing down will allow you to take in more, to get more magic in each breath. Action and magic are not opposites, but they are counterpoints, so make sure you are not going too fast to allow magic space to grow, space to change you. Magic can’t change you if you are going according to a pre-set plan, but it might still squeeze in and mess up your plan. Be in tune with magic and you will rebuild speed, and the pace will resume organically.

Taurus
Venus in retrograde brought a specter of a past love into focus, be it a pattern, a person, or a place, there are reasons that you had to part with it. Parting is not your strong suit, Taurus, so those haunting feelings are going to stick around in your life for longer that you would like. September is going to be a month of letting go of parts of the past that might seem comforting, but that are keeping you from moving on, and this is not going to be easy. You will have to be intentional about forming new routines and mental pathways to follow that will lead you away from memories that feel so vivid they could still be happening. Be gentle with yourself because it is impossible for this to happen all at once. By the end of the month though you will be experiencing the beginnings of tangible movement in a new direction.

Gemini
It is a month to remember that your autonomy is sacred, Gemini. “You are the surprise result of old plans”—in the words of Jenny Holzer, so don’t allow those plans to shackle you. Although you may ghost and glimmer an unfulfilled idea in the eyes of someone else, you are responsible for how you use every hour of your time on earth. It doesn’t matter if you choose to take a long and meandering walk or write the next great American novel, what matters is that it is your choice to make. Although reaching a feeling of self-acceptance is going to be an uphill battle this month as others project desires onto you, ultimately it will only strengthen your understanding of your own true desires.

Cancer
It’s a month about sad sweet magic and it's shining in and out of you. This month you will feel like a mouth that is always open, you are a yonic hole of mercy and creation. Yes that’s intense, Cancer, but you of all the zodiac are most prepared to own the creative potential of this open and vulnerable state. Follow those paths that lead you to create from a place of the authentic and vulnerable self, but be sure to leave room for self-care. Have a dark aromatic room ready and lit with candles that you can escape to when it becomes overwhelming, ask someone you trust to give you a back rub, snuggle in your favorite blanket even if it means turning the AC on. It is important to protect, care for, and maintain yourself as you create.

Leo
This is a month for dreaming and scheming. It is a time for getting things down on paper so that you are ready to cease the opportunities when they start appearing. Do not mistake this moment of rest as a fallow point in your life. It is important to keep in mind that planning and preparation are as important as action.

Virgo
An eclipse in your sign this month will lend a shine to you. Its going to feel like running with your shoes off in wet grass, like kissing the person who you most want to kiss, like taking a bite of the crunchiest, most buttery waffle. Take a moment to enjoy the sweetness of life Virgo, because joy is not frivolous, it is necessary and healing.

Libra 
This will be a wildly vacillating month for you. Venus has just come out of retrograde and Venus is your ruling planet, but just as you are catching up, mercury goes into retrograde in your sign. Don’t be disheartened Libra. This is a time for reflecting on the imperfections that make you who you are. Your tendency towards the beautiful and balanced aspects of life is not all there is to you. Get down into the grit of yourself this month. You might find something super valuable to your own self-discovery in that muck. Make a lot of collages and call up an old friend who knew a previous iteration of yourself. Make sure to feed yourself well, most importantly, don’t shy away from the messier parts of your feelings and emotions as they emerge this month.

Scorpio 
This month might ask you to make difficult social choices, maybe even ones with moral implications. Do not stray away from those who lead you towards the disruption of the social order Scorpio, it is time to stick by the side of friends who are speaking up for the marginalized and oppressed. But you already know this, go with your gut. Your naturally performative nature may attract the wrong kind of attention this month from people who are not doing radical work, use your powers of persuasion to sway them on issues that matter to you.

Sagittarius
This month is all about self-determination. You feel fire in your belly and you have the energy and the drive to achieve big goals. Make sure you are following passions this month, your impulses will lead you towards those things which make you feel excited and alive. Also, make sure you carve out time to stand still and notice what’s around you, to feel the green things that stay bright and simple. You don’t have to be too much, you just have to be.

Capricorn 
This is a month to feel proud of your accomplishments; you work hard, and now is the time to bask in the glory of a job well done. Things will be harmonious for you this month, not because of the fate of the stars, but because you willed it. Thanks to your careful planning and execution, people will begin to ask you to share your passions with those to those who want to learn from you.

Aquarius
In the words of Bob Dylan, “everybody will help you, some people are very kind” this is not a month to go it alone, Aquarius. This month you may feel like you are glimmering on the precipice of something unsettling, maybe it is quiet and terrible, maybe it is too bright for you to look at head on. Although you tend to be at your most aloof when you are at your most vulnerable, don’t be afraid to reach out to those close to you for help, they will offer you new perspectives that might change your outlook on what might at first seem to be a daunting situation.

Pisces
The solar eclipse in Virgo will allow you to see possibilities for love and connection everywhere this month. This fresh bloom in the face of autumn may seem strange and off key, but it is also a shift towards a new order, giving you a glimpse into who will come to be important to you as the days get shorter and colder. Practice mantras of openness and follow your most outlandish whims, the people who come into your life at this time are ready to take you as you are.

  Drawing by Emily Scheulert Photo by Allie Shyer

Drawing by Emily Scheulert
Photo by Allie Shyer

The Art of Losing Your (Almost) Lover

By Jac Morrison

If the word "fickle" was personified, I am almost entirely sure it would materialize itself as me. I fall in love as suddenly as the wind changes direction. It takes very little for my imagination to launch itself into daydreams about a lustful future with whichever human might have laid their gentle hands on me the night before. I am a textbook romantic. There is no way around that fact. Being this way has taken me on many a happy escapade -- long nights spent thinking "I'm going to remember this for the rest of my life". The sort of lustful grand adventures fit only for a Peter Sollet film.

Of course, loving so freely often means losing those lovers just as quickly as they came. I am no stranger to scarfing down loaves of cookie dough in my candlelit bedroom while listening to A Fine Frenzy on repeat. Tortured and hopeless, scrolling through their social media accounts wondering if that last Bright Eyes lyric they captioned their latest selfie with was related to me (it wasn't). In fact, it has happened so dreadfully often that I have created a three step guideline as to how to overcome the phenomena that is losing someone that was never really yours to begin with.I call it "The Art of Losing Your Almost Lover".

Step One: Stop

Often times when a human (no matter how small an appearance they made in your life) leaves abruptly you find yourself in a panic. Anxious questions surge through your head as if you were frantically flipping channels on a television. What did I do wrong? Did I come off too strong? Was I too loud? Too quiet? Was I too passionate? Was I not passionate enough? The trick to quieting your worried mind is simply, stop. Breathe. Listen to your lungs process oxygen. Close your eyes. Be in this moment, be present in the space you are in. The world is not ending, your body is intact. There is nothing inherently dangerous about this loss, despite its immediate pain. You are okay, you will be okay.

 

Step Two: Let Go

This is often the hardest part, but I find it to be the most necessary. In order to heal over the loss of your almost lover, you need to forget them. I am not saying go full Clementine Kruczynski in Eternal Sunshine on their ass but you need to remove their existence from your immediate present, at least temporarily. Delete their texts from your phone. Unfollow their posts on Facebook. Put away the sweater they left on your bedpost. Stop listening to Keaton Henson's "10am Gare De Nord" on repeat. Put down the tubes of cookie dough. Turn off Garden State. Re-organize your life to what it was before they ever came around. Remind yourself there was a time before this lover, and there will be a time after.

 

Step Three: Love Yourself

Now, I know what you're thinking. "Oh, here it comes. The grand cliche of ~You Have To Love YourSELF Before You Can Love Anyone Else!!~ But that is absolutely not where I am going with this. I do not think there is a guideline to love that says you need to be fully comfortable in yourself to love another person. (Who really is fully comfortable in themselves anyways?) But I do think it is essential to at least try to love yourself after the loss of an almost lover. Because frankly, in the recoil of your failed romance, who else is going to? Tell yourself that the inability of another human to love you the way you expected absolutely does not reflect on your character. You are not unloveable because one human doesn't love you. So, in spite of your almost lover, be in love with yourself. Do the thing that you are best at, congratulate yourself on it. Take yourself out for gelato. Take long, steaming bubble baths. Dance around your living room to your favorite angry punk music. You are good. You are worthwhile. You are valuable. Tell yourself these things until they no longer register as words in your brain.

You are good. You are worthwhile. You are valuable.

Losing an almost lover is arguably just as difficult as losing a partner. Often it comes abrupt and unexpected; one minute you are dreaming of a blissful tomorrow and the next you are stumbling back trying to regain footing as if the floor had collapsed right out from under you. But just like any other tumble in life, you will stand back up. You will dust the melancholy remorse off your shoulders, and if you're anything like me -- it will not be long before you fall in love with someone else's gentle hands.

 

To be a Jew On Christmas

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By Allie Shyer

Chicagoans are obsessed with Christmas.

As a Jew from New York, Christmas was never really a thing for me until I moved here. Last winter my boss would continuously refer to himself as a “gay Christmas elf” throughout the month of December, and all the customers at the second hand store where I worked seemed to share this opinion that Christmas was a significant holiday that needed to be celebrated (we sold out of novelty Christmas sweaters the last week of November). Having taken paid time off for Thanksgiving I had none left to spare for a holiday my family did not even celebrate. I played it off like being alone on Christmas was not a big deal to me, but in reality being a Jew in the Midwest during the holiday season is a pretty strange experience. One by one my friends and co-workers scurried away for sentimental reunions with great aunts, grandmas and second cousins. All of my art school friends went out of town to visit their families and I felt very alone in a big cold city. The week before Christmas was a strange time for me, with almost everyone I knew in the city gone. Admittedly, I am a very social person and don’t do well on my own for extended periods of time. I countered the unease that this caused me by spending a lot of time planning outfits to wear that would make me feel less lonely. I attended my weekly therapists appointment with cheeks covered in silver glitter and a navy blue jumpsuit, “I feel so strange” I told her.


My big plans for Christmas were to clean my apartment thoroughly and avoid going outside.  I skyped with my family around 5pm in my now very clean apartment. Hearing my mom’s voice made me want to cry. We tried to watch a movie together over Skype, our favorite Christmas movie called Bell Book and Candle. Bell Book and Candle is a movie from the early sixties in which Kim Novak plays a sexy independent witch who has to choose if she wants to succeed her powers for the love of a hapless Jimmy Stuart, coincidentally all of this is happening around Christmas time in a snowy New York. I promise you it is the best Christmas and witch themed movie you will see, although Kim Novak’s choice to give up for her powers for the love of the ferret-like Stuart is perpetually disappointing to me. Ultimately my mom and I couldn’t get Skype to work for an extended period of time and my dad, who never understood the cult appeal of Bell Book and Candle, decided to go finish the newspaper. My mom and I watched Bell Book and Candle separately on little screens 791 miles away from each other. It was sad but also comforting to know that we had this intangible connection. It is one of the moments that stands out to me as conveying the weight of adulthood; being able to handle long periods of separation and finding new ways to make connections. I survived that holiday season, and eventually my friends returned from their far-flung homes. My life returned to an order I was used to and my apartment got less clean (a sure-fire sign that things were returning to normal.)

Being alone taught me that I am strong, that I can weather the storms of my own emotions, and that I can develop coping mechanisms to help me beat depression when I get lonely, so in many ways, my first ever Midwestern Christmas was a time of growth.



Firsts

By Allison Shyer

 

I quit my comfy straight-laced retail job in Wicker Park to work at an upscale sex shop; new beginnings here I come. What does one wear upon their first day working at a sex shop? Black, I decided, all black with a sheer button-up over-top and eyebrows fluffed and darkened so that I would appear serious and knowledgeable about sex (obviously!) I set my alarm a half hour early, listened to Devon by grimes on repeat and made my way to the brown line, trying to talk down my nerves in my head. When I got to my new workplace, my manager was sweeping the front, “everyone’s gathering in back” they told me. The Pleasure Chest is well lit, neatly organized and approachable. The front window hosts a display of bachelorette party favors including the classic penis shaped pasta, as you go further into the store the wares become more serious, organized by function and technique. The toys are enticing, many of them have shimmering plastic exteriors that you could easily mistake for apple products; some of them are even app operated. I turned a corner to find the employees only backroom. There my boss Sarah and my new co-workers awaited me. After reviewing some HR details, we went out on to the floor for an extensive round of introductions. I was starting to feel less nervous. My co-workers seemed like clever, competent twenty-somethings like me. “ I decided to work here because I am a feminist and I want to learn.” Said my co-worker Izzy. I started to think about my reasons for wanting to work at the Pleasure Chest.

Growing up, sex was a subject that was shrouded in mystery and fear. At my fairly liberal Quaker high school we were taught sex education through slides that showed genitals ravaged by disease, and there was no information about how queer people had sex. The messages I got about sex were pretty much that no matter what happened it was going to be wrong and embarrassing the first few times I tried it, but I was given little information on what “it” was, besides highly dangerous if done incorrectly or without protection. I tried my best at being heterosexual for a while, masturbating to a floating picture in my head of Brad Pitt’s face isolated from a body; (looking back this was a pretty funny attempt to achieve normative desire) there was something that just wasn’t clicking for me. My friends would moan and complain about their relationship problems or their one night stands, while I was much more interested in making collages alone and listening to Joanna Newsom. When I was 14, my mom sat me down in her bedroom and asked me if I was gay. Flustered and caught off guard I just muttered “no, I mean I don’t think so” and got out of there as quickly as I could. How I wish I could stand in for my fourteen year old self as the self I am today and say to my mother “as it stands, there is no model of sexuality that has presented itself that is relatable to me.” because that was my reality at the time. I discovered my sexuality in my early twenties after having a wild sex dream about another co-worker at a creative writing summer camp where I was a councilor. It was definitely an aha! moment, experiencing very raw and authentic sexual desire for the first time, but the fact that it was for another woman made me feel confused and unsure. “What is my life going to be?” I had to ask myself, because being queer was not part of my original plan. That question has lead me along the path that I am following today, one that is guided by my inner passions and curiosities and desire to achieve an authentic feeling of community and acceptance, as apposed to skewed perceptions of what is “right” or “expected” of me. This is what has lead me to the Pleasure Chest. I am so excited to talk to sex with people in an environment that is safe and de-stigmatized. I am excited to make people feel like their desires are valid and normal, probably because I needed that when I was young and I had to figure it out on my own. To some extent we all do.