A Call To End Harrasment At Shows

By Meg Zulch

Courtesy of Kenneth Miller

Courtesy of Kenneth Miller

I hate going to shows. Not because I don't like seeing my favorite bands live. And not because I don't get totally high off that mid-show euphoria, when the music hits you just right and you feel like you're soaring over the crowd without any recollection of the pain you wear like a crown. It's not even because of the crowds, even though my smaller meek self doesn't always do well in them. It's because each and every time I attend a show, I'm reminded of my foolishness in feeling entitled to enjoy myself, to become vulnerable in the presence of the music that moves me so deeply. I'm reminded that even here I cannot feel safe. Especially here.

To my fellow femme-presenting people: Have you ever noticed the energy of the crowd fluctuate as you walk into a show? The ripple effect of what feels like rows upon rows of prying eyes on you from sinister men? Men who look earnest as you search for your friends in the crowd. Men that stand too close to you, following your eyes and breathing down your neck. They claw at you from behind, touch your body before you can say or do anything to stop it. All of our bodies are already so closely packed together, so they obviously reached up your skirt by accident. C’mon bitch, it was only an accident!

I hate how women and people who look like women are trained to avert their eyes when walking down the street. To stay as small as possible when passing men so as not to attract too much attention to themselves. Most importantly, they cannot smile. Smiling is a form of weakness. Smiling is an invitation to be touched. Never smile, always look down, walk a little faster.

The same rules apply in these crowds housed in sweaty basements or fresh cut lawns. You mustn't dare make eye contact with a single soul while navigating your way through the crowd or you're trapped. And God forbid if you lose yourself in the moment, rocking your head back and forth with closed eyes and a goofy smile, whoever your gaze lands on when you open your eyes is the person you're inviting to touch you. Inviting to talk to you. Inviting to assault you. There's hardly anywhere to move, and you feel your skin break into a hot itchy rash as you fight suffocation and endure the prying eyes and needy hands.

You could leave. You could push through the crowd and take a deep breath on the other side. But this is your favorite band, you fought forever to get to the front, hell you paid for this. So you stand your ground, elbow all your trolls and force yourself to enjoy the show. In the back of your mind, you wonder if the boy will hit back if you punched him in the face. Boy, would that feel good.  But would the crowd react? Probably. Would you get kicked out? Definitely.

You wish there were ways to secretly and subtly torment your abuser. But the weight of rape culture and femme oppression is just too heavy on your shoulders for you to even consider making a plan. It's exhausting. You just came here to see your favorite band play.

In The Eyes of a Sorority President: Rape Culture on Campus

By Amanda Saper

Courtesy of  Flagler College

Courtesy of Flagler College

When I became President of my sorority they told me a lot of things. They said, 

“Leading 200 women takes a very special person” 
“This will look great on your résumé”
“Empower your girls”
“You’re unbelievable”
“I expected nothing less from you” 
“They are so lucky to have you”

And this was exciting. This was thrilling. Truthfully, you have to be kind of crazy and yet, kind of wildly passionate to agree to lead 200 college-aged women at a large public university. 

They told me about the logistics: The papers, the meetings, the interviews. 

I attended conferences. I wrote letters. I became an administrative queen. I argued on behalf of us. It's exhilarating. I am learning critical skills on how to be a leader and how to represent my organization. They told me all this would happen. I knew about the strength of sorority women and the power of a chapter president.

But there were things they didn’t tell me.

There were things that live in the corners of dark rooms.

One week in. It was late on a Friday night and a girl showed up knocking furiously at my door. When I opened it, I remember her being kind of frozen until she collapsed on my floor. She didn’t have to say it. 

This was the first time that I was confronted with the idea that I would be dealing with sexual assault as a sorority president. 

I did what I knew to do. I called the right numbers, said the right things. But her eyes were somewhere else and I had to wonder if a phone call would ever be enough. 

I let it go. Because she asked me to. Because it is difficult to report. Because I thought this would be a rarity. Because she wanted to forget, so I thought I had to too.

But weeks went by and another girl showed up at my door. The same knock. 

“No I don’t want to report it”
“He is my friend” 
“We social there too often” 

Two days later, another girl came with the same steady knock. Ending in the same way, asking me to forget. 

There were days when their knuckles against the wood of my door felt steadier than their muted voices, as they rushed through stories with missing pieces. 

Sisterhood. Was this what they were talking about? Trying to piece them back together, a kind of quiet struggle only we knew. They didn’t want justice; they wanted a friend. So I kept their monsters with me.   

The knocking never stopped.

They didn’t tell me about this part; the part that I couldn’t put on my résumé, the part that had nothing to do with a strong public speaking voice, or a well-written email.   

I see him sometimes. I see all of them actually. I watch them and I wonder why they never told me about this part. About knowing people’s pain, but not being able to do anything about it. There is nothing empowering in this part.  About seeing them at crowded parties and having to smile. But they seem okay, so I think that I have to be too. Because after all, it wasn’t even me it happened to, it wasn’t even my story.

But that’s the issue here; It is is my story, It is everyone’s story.

Being in a sorority is about taking care of each other. And we do take care of each other. We pick each other back up and try to make sense of a messy world. But the mess keeps getting larger and there is silence where there should be words. I am in desperate search of those words.

They told me being president was about empowering women. And some days, it is. But these people’s monsters have become my own, and there must be more that I can do than carry the weight of it with them. 

Being president of my sorority is the greatest thing I have known, but I am told to empower women in a rigged system where there are silent heroes. Heroes that do not know they are heroes. Heroes that think it is their fault because sorority women are sluts, and we are stupid, and we did this to ourselves. 

Sometimes I wonder when I will be next. Whose door will I knock on? And how far must this go on until we run out of doors?

Black Girlhood and Learning to Survive

This essay was written in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month

TW sexual violence

By Nobody's Darling

By  C 'marie

I understand now—a week from 24 years old—that surviving black girlhood is a revolutionary act.

The teachings of how to survive were subtle but they were there. They existed to keep me and many generations of young girls Out Of Trouble.

Before the phrase ‘rape culture’ existed in my vocabulary, I had already learned that my body did not belong to me. At seven years old, it had been ingrained in me to not say ‘no’ the first time I was inappropriately touched. I knew to call it anything but what it was. It was inappropriate unwanted touching that happened over and over until he got bored; he grew up and discovered prettier girls that had already developed breasts and butts. Girls that were his age, girls that I hope he asked before he touched.  

“Boys will be boys” is a phrase that I know I would have heard if I had spoken up. Boys will be boys; apparently, boys do not know that pinning you down or covering your mouth is not a friendly game and that goes beyond I’ll Show You Mine, You Show Me Yours. That is taking control. That is taking from someone else.

Between the ages of seven and nine, nearly every memory was removed from my brain. There are memories that I did not dare think about. What happened didn’t happen, because I never thought about it. Anger and resentment were exactly what I felt every time I saw him, though I wasn’t quite sure why. I convinced myself I was overreacting, that my feelings were displaced: I was the one that returned next door, I was the one that didn’t say anything, I was the one that felt uncomfortable but went along with it, I was the one at fault.

Sexual abuse often gets swept under the rug, especially when you are part of a Black family and from the same community as your abuser. Speaking up can mean ruining someone’s life, something I didn’t want be blamed for. Though I cannot recall being told that no one would listen or believe, I knew that saying he touched me would mean I was trouble. That Girl would be attached to me and my being. The elders in my community would warn future little girls to not be like me.

I cannot say I felt the love or warmth as I recognize it today, but I always felt the protection, the shield of family. That shield, even if it protects your abuser, is never lifted. Calling him my abuser has never seemed fitting. Nothing about him makes him mine. His actions are not mine.

He is a part of a cycle of abuse. It took me years to acknowledge the abuse since he was barely a couple of years older than me. He practiced what he learned from his own household.  There was another victim: him. I learned that right after he stopped, which might be one of the reasons why he stopped. His emerging manhood and his father being a cop meant he would never let anyone get close enough to know.

Most days I’m glad that he was the one that stopped, because I’m not sure I would have ever found the strength to not go back. I was a lonely child, missing the one person that was supposed to protect me and trying my hardest to not succumb to the voices in my head that told me over and over that self-harm was okay. Comfort led me there, fear is what made me stay.

His experiences don’t justify his actions. However, most of my anger is directed towards the adults that did not teach us boundaries, or give us space to speak about how badly we hurt.

I want to protect those girls. The black girls who are told to never say no. The black girls who have always felt alone. The black girls who are told they are pretty only from those who want to damage them. The black girls who desperately wanted to be heard but whose screams have never seemed loud enough to start a movement.

We owe it to them. I owe it to myself.

Am I Queer Enough?

By Anna Brüner

Courtesy of Anna Brüner

Courtesy of Anna Brüner

Growing up, I was more attracted to the Disney princesses than I was their male counterparts. Around ten years old, I started having body dysmorphia and started dressing like a boy whenever I wasn’t confined to the plaid jumper of my Catholic school uniform. People described me as a “tomboy,” so it wasn’t really a weird thing. My first real kiss was with a girl. At fifteen, I came out to my mom as bisexual. Her response? “No, you’re not.” It hurt a lot, but at the time I had the convenience of having a boyfriend, so any “queer talk” was something future Anna would have to worry about. I had a boyfriend all through high school and only a handful of close friends (including my boyfriend) knew about my lady­loving tendencies, but no one else ever suspected. Unlike the few friends I had who were openly gay, I was never bullied, threatened, or ostracized, and a huge part of me felt absolutely horrible about it. I was straight­-passing, and that was all I had to be to survive adolescence.

When I came to college I started dating women. None of them developed into a relationship, but I was in love with all of them and stayed friends with a few. In college, particularly art school, no one batted an eye at the mention of being bisexual. It was a totally different energy than what I had experienced my whole life. Everyone around me was so accepting of everyone else’s sexual orientations, it was like being enveloped in a rainbow of puppies and mimosas.

And then I got a boyfriend.

Then another.

And another.

“You’re just one of those bisexual college girls who sleeps with women but only has relationships with men,” a friend said to me one night, mostly in jest, but it still hurt. What if it was true?

In all of my relationships, I have always been honest with my sexuality. Sometimes it has been fetishized, sometimes used against me, sometimes beaten down with double standards, but more often than not it has been regularly accepted by my partners. When I first tell a new friend that I like all genders (I still use “bisexual” out of habit, though I consider myself pansexual), none of them are shocked. Following my freshman year in college, my mother even apologized for how she reacted when I first came out and has been incredibly accepting of me. I don’t tell everyone about my sexuality, mostly because I feel it’s not important for everyone to know, and also because I know how bisexual women are viewed in society ­­ and I don’t want to be that. But by not embracing it, by not shouting from the rooftops, by not lending my voice to the LGBTQ narrative, am I taking part in the alienation of queer people? Have I been shielded by my hetero­normative relationships for too long? Am I not queer enough?

My current partner (and fiancé) is a straight man, and he knows just about everything about me. In the beginning of our relationship, I was dealing with a lot of gender dysphoria and discomfort with my body and my identity, and he was very supportive. I talked with him a lot about how I’ve never felt like anything ­­ male or female ­­ and that sometimes it made me more comfortable to be more masculine on some days and more feminine on others, but mostly I just felt comfortable in the middle of both, or even removed from the spectrum entirely. We talked about a lot of things. I decided I wanted to go by they/them pronouns. I officially came out to my friends as agender, and (accidentally) came out to my mom as well (she was cool with it). The acceptance was overwhelming.

But in a relationship that’s perceived as heterosexual, where I rarely feel or identify as a “woman,” then is the relationship still considered heterosexual? Or is it just something else that doesn’t need a label? I don’t know.

What I do know is that my partner and I will never encounter the violence, hate, mockery, or crudeness that gay couples so often suffer. We will never be denounced by our community or abandoned by our family members. We won’t live in fear when we go out in public together. Just like in high school, I feel incredibly guilty that I am not a part of the struggle...or at least as big a part of the struggle as I could have been. I could have done a lot of things differently. I could have made my voice louder, my art louder, my isolation louder, my anxiety louder, my self­-hate louder, but I didn’t. I still can, though, and I will not be apologetic about it. I will be queer as the day is long. I will be the queer cousin at every Thanksgiving. I will be queer until the day I die. I will be queer enough, whatever that means, and stop questioning it or validating it.

Somewhere there’s a little girl wearing her father’s t­-shirt and baseball cap, and she’s drawing mermaids and thinking about the girl who sits three desks in front of her in class, and she’s wondering if all these feelings are normal or ever going to stop or if something’s wrong with her. I don’t want her to ever feel like something’s wrong with her. I want her to know she’s queer enough. She’s enough. 

On Being Unapologetically Black

By Charlene Haparimwi

I sit in my multicultural literature class as we sit and read Frederick Douglass’ autobiography. I enjoy the read, relating to his struggle and wisdom, lost in the translation of his oppression until I am called on by my professor. The trance is broken and I tensely wait for him to ask me the inevitable. I am the only black student in this required multicultural class.

“Charlene, tell us what you think. What is it like to be African-American in the present day?”

First off, I am not African-American. I was born in the summer heat in Harare, Zimbabwe in 1995. The Zambezi river runs deep in my veins, the Victoria Falls crash against my skin, the soft grass and roots of the Earth grow in my natural hair.

I am African, I am Zimbabwean.

Second, I cannot and will not speak for the plight of an entire race. Would I ask you professor what it is like to be white? I can only talk about my own experiences, my personal struggles and joys as a young black woman living in Chicago. I can only talk about how some people look so reserved and fearful when they see me walk down the streets of Lincoln Park, when I enter restaurants and shops in Wicker Park, when I visit my white boyfriend in Logan Square. I see the look of relief flood their faces when they realize I’m one of the good ones because I “talk white.” I am not like other black people in their eyes, they do not see my skin, they see themselves. I am the model minority and that hurts me more than it appeases them.

I am unapologetically black.

I love my deep melanin, my rich culture, and the voice I have to speak about important issues. I am absolutely here for the gum popping, finger snapping, fast talking, weave wearing black women. I am here for the basketball playing, rap loving, fashion forward black men. I am here for nerdy black girls and boys, quiet black boys and girls, entrepreneurial black boys and girls. I am here for every stereotype and every exception to the rule of blackness the world sees, imagines, perpetuates or try to eradicate.

There is no me against them, we are all one voice, one people.

So when you ask me what it is like to be African-American in the present day, let my voice be silent while the voice of others rise high. Listen to the histories of Langston Hughes and James Baldwin, listen to the truths of Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison. Hear the words of Beyonce and Kendrick Lamar, do not try to explain to us, think for us, be us. Let our culture breathe and live on its own.

It all begins with listening. This isn’t a piece about perpetuating white guilt, claiming ignorance or prejudice. I am glad that my professor wanted my voice to be heard. I am glad when people try. But the first thing to do is just listen. Let us speak when we want to speak, when we want to be heard. Let us educate you on our personal oppressions and struggles, whatever they may be. Help us help you formulate the right questions in the right way. I am so proud of who I am, who I want to be. And whenever someone wants to just sit and listen, I will be unapologetically me. 

How Poetry Ridded Me of My Dogmatism

By Allie Long

Courtesy of  P  ablo by Buffer

Courtesy of Pablo by Buffer

I grew up in a world where dogma was the sole means of justification for behavior. We had all kinds of dogma that dictated all sorts of things: Religion, politics, cultural views of masculinity and femininity, career paths, etc.  I grew to become extremely dogmatic in my political conservatism partially because of this environment. There is something comforting in the level of certainty that accompanies such a dogma, but my inability to see the world in shades of grey was my way of deluding myself into thinking I had everything figured out. I could not accept other points-of-view, and I grew to dislike people who disagreed with me. As I began to delve into poetry, however, I found that the inclusivity of poetry was fundamentally opposed to the exclusivity of my dogmatism. Instead of continuing to live in a state of cognitive dissonance, I decided to examine my ideological dogma with a fine-toothed comb. I was definitely not pleased with myself after the examination. So here is the piece meal story of how poetry helped me unlearn that dogma. I hope you are able to take something away from this experience.

Zooming In and Out

The plot of land your house or apartment sits on appears flat even though the earth is undoubtedly curved. What’s more, the fact that we exist and are able to analyze the conditions surrounding our existence makes it difficult to stomach the vastness of the Universe and its seeming indifference to our existence. Our existence is contingent on the Universe’s existence, but the opposite of this is certainly not true. So how the hell does this have anything to do with poetry? Well, John Donne once wrote “no man is an island,” and I tend to agree on some level. Of course, if you zoom in close enough, it’s easy to see yourself as an island. It’s easy to think the planet revolves around you. If you’re only testing a dogma’s effectiveness on yourself, well, you’re going to be blind to the bias in these results. As a personal example, I was a conservative Republican because when I zoomed in on just myself, my family, and my homogenous peer group, that dogma worked. I couldn’t understand why my attempts to widely apply this ideology were met with such hostility by those who were born into different circumstances than I was. The major fault here wasn’t even the ideology itself. It was my absolute and unequivocal adherence to it and desire to apply it to everyone’s life. My inability to “zoom out” and acknowledge the diversity of human life led me to the misguided belief that if I could just make people understand my point-of-view, they would be able to apply my dogma to their own lives. My plot of land appeared flat, and I could not look at the bigger picture to see humanity’s curvature. This is where John Donne’s words come into play. No man is an island because everyone’s ideology will eventually have some effect on someone else. If you adhere to any ideological dogma, you are in danger of hurting someone emotionally, mentally, or even physically because you essentially vilify the existence of people who do not adhere to the same precepts. Even if there is no ill-intent, any variation on the assertion that someone cannot experience fulfillment and acceptance in life unless they live by your ideological dogma will cause damage to that person.  

Empathy

This is an admission of guilt: It took reading about other people’s personal experiences through poetry for me to truly feel that their experiences were valid. Take, for instance, the new, pro-discrimination legislation in my home state of North Carolina. Four or five years ago, I would have supported that legislation because of religious and political dogma. It goes without saying that I am disgusted with my old self for her inability to empathize with anyone who differed from her version the norm. I do not excuse my old self’s beliefs, but when marginalized people are continually turned into statistics, it can be difficult to remember the faces behind those statistics. If your ideological dogma continually uses belittling language to address those outside the status quo, that can also dehumanize those marginalized people. It took actual stories of actual people for me to gain an emotional connection to those different from me. I remember some of the key works that helped me humanize all people: Danez Smith’s “Not an Elegy for Mike Brown,” Paul Muldoon’s “Meeting the British,” Jean Toomer’s poetic novel Cane, Patricia Lockwood’s “Rape Joke,” and Nicole Blackman’s “Holy.” All of these poems (and one novel) moved me to tears because of the stories they told. They were stories of survival, strength, and recovery in the face of insurmountable odds. They were stories I had never heard told that way before. Poetry allows us to see that as humans, we have more in common than not.  Bit by bit, my dogma was being unraveled by poetry’s cultivation of empathy in me. I wish I could have just been inherently empathetic to all people, but I am grateful that poetry was there when I needed something to help me grow.

 A Change of Heart

 Any sudden change in ideology is met with skepticism. The ideas you’ve been quietly contemplating for years change over time, but when you final become vocal about them, the decision will seem rash to others, especially to those who knew you as someone completely different. The people who have known me for a long time especially don’t understand what I mean when I say that poetry was the catalyst for these changes, but I like to think of poetry as a means of education. In my opinion, my poetic education was education in its purest form because I learned about the different aspects of the world from actual people who live or lived in them. There is no middleman in poetry, which is how I think of textbooks and lecture halls. Poetry allows us to be fully immersed in real people’s lives as told through their eyes. There’s no better way to learn than that. My political dogma acted like a middleman through which I screened the experiences of others. When I let poetry remove that filter, I was able to get a purer sense of the world and the people who inhabit it. 

 The Consequences

 Most people would probably say my ideological change was for the good but certainly not everyone. I’ve had people say they’re proud of me. I’ve had people say they’re disappointed in me. The reactions run the full gamut, but I learned quickly to take each reaction in stride. Just like I cannot expect people to understand all the reasons for my ideological shift, I cannot expect to understand the complete set of reasons for their reaction to it. At the end of the day, I am more content and self-aware than I have ever been, and I know any attempt to undo what poetry has taught me is fueled by some sort of ideological dogma. I always remind myself that if other people want my fulfillment to be contingent on adherence to their worldview, then it is up to me to realize that their true desire isn’t for my fulfillment; it’s for my adherence no matter the emotional or mental cost. I found the best way to handle those situations is to thank them for their concern but to not let them stop me from moving ever forward. Believe what you want, but never let your beliefs become dogma.

Words & the Fullness of Our Being

By Ian Kerstetter 

Courtesy of Ian 

Courtesy of Ian 

“It just feels like I have to walk on eggshells when I’m around you Ian. I’m never sure what words to use or what I shouldn’t say,” she tells me. We are 20 and I can see in her eyes that we are growing apart. I don’t know what to say. I wish I could tell her, “you don’t have to feel like that. I’m not going to be angry with you if you say something I’m uncomfortable with. I might be upset, but as long as I know that you’re willing to listen to me when I explain why I’m uncomfortable, then it’s fine. The issue is that you’re scared of being wrong, and I can’t control that. I care about words because I know what it’s like to be hurt by them. I’m not trying to make you feel guilty.” I try to say something similar but I’m not sure it helps.

I am 21 and someone walking by me says, “Everyone’s offended by something these days. You can’t please everyone with all this political correctness, Jesus.” I have heard it before, but my ears still begin to burn and I want to tell him, “I’m not offended. I have been called faggot and redskin and freak enough times by assholes like you to grow a pretty thick skin. Hateful language doesn’t just offend, it has harmed me. And I may have grown up and grown this thick skin, but I am still mad because I see others harmed by it. Words are powerful. Faggot is not a word that allows a young person to imagine how beautiful, complex and important they are. Telling gay couples that their love shouldn’t be legal tells young gay children that their love is invalid. Deliberate and coded racial slurs perpetuate white supremacy and tells people of color that we are not safe or powerful or important around you. Making jokes about rape helps men justify raping. Language is important, you asshole.”

But I don’t say any of that to this stranger. I am afraid to challenge such confident ignorance.

I am 22 and I begin to tell people that while he/him pronouns are fine, I would rather them not call me man/dude/bro because I don’t always identify as 100% male. I mostly ask the women who are close to me, because I feel safer being honest with those who already see me for who I am.

I am 23, and this boy I just met (on Grindr, let’s not pretend) kisses me and asks, “So I saw on your profile that you’re Native. How Native are you?” And as far as I am concerned, the date is over. Because I remember being a child again whose white friends joke that I can track animals and speak to trees because I’m a redskin and whose native friends joke that I’m not Native enough because I grew up so far away from my Nation and have fair skin. I remember being in a bar with a friend of a friend whose parents own a vacation home in Santa Fe (strike one) tell me that my heritage is “cool” (strike two) and that we definitely have something in common because he’s “1/16 Cherokee”. Seriously. Three strikes, I’m out.

I am almost 24 and this date is over because indigenous people, my people, have had their ancestry measured and documented by colonial governments in order to keep track of us and erase our identities and communities. The date is over because I am a whole person, not a half or a quarter anything. The date is over because I am a citizen of the Oneida Nation, no matter how mixed I am or how many miles lay between the rez and the hospital I was born in to my loving parents. The date is over, and I want to tell him, “I am biracial and I am whole. Colonial notions of ethnicity aren’t good first date conversation material.” But my anxiety and memories of this same conversation clamp down my jaw and I do not feel strong enough to say anything besides, “I am biracial” and hope that he doesn’t press further. Incredibly, he does: “So like half and half?” I want to die. I mumble, “yup” and change the subject. I know I am never texting this boy again, no matter how cute he is. I suddenly remember how much I miss my family. I break down sobbing on my walk home. The weight of words and of people interrogating my blood cracks me open all over the sidewalk.

 

• • • • •

Asking people around us to describe us using the language we prefer to describe ourselves is not a symptom of a spoiled generation as baby boomers assert. We are not asking that we be treated like special snowflakes. The descriptions of our genders, orientations, racial identities, politics, and other aspects of the self that we are asking others to use are not selfish. They are a vital and urgent attempt to live our truth.

In doing so, we are asking a limited language to perform in new ways that reflect a fuller, clearer picture of human experience and who we are within that infinite spectrum. Asking others to recognize the way we describe ourselves is a radical and healing act, one that seeks to re-infuse stagnant language, and ultimately, relationships with the breadth and depth of diverse human identities. Raised in the height of multiculturalism, we are no longer satisfied with standing to the side as the token minority characters. We ask to not only be tolerated, but to be seen for who we are and listened to when we speak of ourselves.

This is the message every politician, artist, director, writer, employer, teacher, and parent needs to hear: When someone who is different from you speaks, listen to them. When you don’t know something about another person’s experience, ask them. We are the experts on our own identities and experiences, not pundits or preachers or politicians or insulting Hollywood caricatures of us. The first and last step in learning about someone different from you should be listening, not telling or interrogating or justifying or citing the flawed media and language that we don’t fit in.

Telling others how we prefer to be spoken of isn’t always easy to do, but someone sincerely listening can go a long way towards communication.

This is more than just political correctness. It is a move to try to undo and revise the often restricting and harmful language that we have inherited from a dominant culture built on imperialism and control. It is an attempt not just to “tolerate” but to honor and celebrate the fullness and beauty of human experiences, as many of our ancestors on every continent did in their languages and traditions before being colonized and displaced. Whether a nonbinary person is asking you to use pronouns that they prefer, a person of color is asking you to not use racial slurs that perpetuate white supremacy, a queer person is asking you not to apply heterosexual norms to them, or anyone is asking you to use language that they prefer, they are asking you to see and embrace who they really are, something everyone has a right to. In the current political climate we live in, this is more than just a request for human decency. It is a move to be seen and heard amid so many voices who would erase us.

If all of this feels difficult or overwhelming, trust me, it should. Learning any new language is difficult and requires intention and consistency. But know that no matter how hard or inconvenient it might seem to use different language, know that it is far more difficult and inconvenient for many people to learn it and invent it, surrounded by societies and languages not built for them. Know what we are trying to bend these languages to fit everyone better and ultimately, to reshape our reality to do the same.

 

The Future Of My Mental Illness

By Anna Brüner

I’ve had panic attacks all my life, before I could even recognize them for what they were. As a child I developed obsessive fears. Some were somewhat rational, like my parents dying suddenly. Some were bred into me, like going to hell if I wasn’t a good enough Catholic. Some were absolutely preposterous, like my eyeballs falling out of my skull at any moment. All of them affected me the same way as if all were equally possible. Imagine a five year old hyperventilating on the sidewalk and pushing on their closed eyelids to “keep them in there” because they could “feel them getting loose.” Yeah. That was me. And my anxiety still works like that.

I didn’t get treatment for my ever-present panic until I was already an adult, and was diagnosed with Bipolar I. It’s dumbfounding to me that I was twenty years old when I was diagnosed, since looking back on my adolescence it now seems so obvious that this had been going on since I was thirteen. Perhaps everyone was just distracted by my eating disorder at the time that all the other stuff just kind of took a back seat. Or maybe I was just really good at hiding all of it. 1 in 5 manic individuals will develop Bipolar I before they’re twenty. Suddenly my mood swings and episodes that came with puberty had the name “bipolar,” and my anxiety had a new name that it got in therapy. “Panic disorder.”

When I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I was in an abusive relationship where my illness and treatment were used against me time and time again. The relationship was one of the reasons I quit going to therapy and taking my meds and went back to engaging in risky, impulsive behavior. The delayed trauma that came months after leaving that relationship was the main reason I went back to therapy. I found my current psychiatrist, who is the first medical professional I’ve seen who didn’t want to just suppress my demons under a cocktail of pharmaceuticals to get me through the day. Don’t get me wrong though: I take a lot of medication. He assures me in our sessions that one day I might be able to live without it...but he assures me of this while increasing the dosage of my mood stabilizer and prescribing more anti-anxiety meds. It’s more than a little difficult to believe him when he says things will get better.

There is a very real chance that all of my diagnoses could change going forward. “What if I get to be thirty years old and they say I have schizophrenia?” I’ve mulled over while lying awake at night, paralyzed in bed with a racing head and heart while my partner sleeps. What if I become so depressed that I become suicidal? What if my marriage falls apart and it’s my fault? What if I have a child and am not emotionally stable enough to care for it? What if my child is mentally ill because of me? What if I become violent or abusive to the people I love? What if I wake up one day and I am terrified to ever leave my house again? It spirals out of control pretty quickly. But then I think about what my psychiatrist says. What if things don’t get worse? What if they only get better?

Courtesy of Anna 

Courtesy of Anna 

Despite my mood swings becoming more extreme even within the past year, and despite my panic attacks becoming more and more frequent, I am getting better. Maybe not in any medical sense, but I am getting better at taking care of myself. The fact that I even called psychiatrists around Chicago and found one all by myself was a huge step; I am terrified of using the phone. I go to therapy twice a week, consistently, having learned that days where I skip for whatever reason usually take turns for the worse. I set timers for when to take my medication. I’ve begun carrying a brown paper bag with me to class and work in case I begin to hyperventilate. I’ve learned to identify when a manic or depressive episode, or a panic attack, is beginning to set in. I am getting better at acknowledging what my emotions are. I am becoming more outspoken about my illness and getting better at communicating it to others.

But I’m also getting better at planning how I’m going to do all of this in the future. I’m scared about what will happen if I can no longer afford therapy or medication after I am off my parents’ medical insurance. While this feeds into my anxiety, it is realistic, and I am hardly ever one to be realistic about anything (remember my fear of my eyeballs falling out?) In an ideal future, I am off of medication and practicing transcendental meditation and making organic meals for my tidy, emotionally stable nuclear family, somewhere in New Mexico or northern California or wherever the hell zen mental health gurus go to be, well, mentally healthy. Maybe some of that will happen. Maybe I have a nervous breakdown in my forties and it all goes away. The important thing is to never stop taking care of myself.

I am in a better place now than I was two years ago. I am a better person now than I was two years ago. I don’t know what I’ll do in the next decade or even in the next year, or hell even two weeks from now, but I’ve already gotten myself help before when nobody else knew how to help me. My psychiatrist assures me that that’s what it’s all about: being able to take care of yourself in the way you deserve.

I am sitting in my parents’ house, and my collection of small orange prescription bottles are lined up along my childhood dresser. Beneath the soft blue and white guestroom colors my mother painted the room a few years ago are the bold orange, red, and purple walls where I once spent nights scrawling passages of Shakespeare in hot pink marker along my ceiling in a manic, sleep deprived high school haze. Though no longer visible, I know a temple to my panic lies behind the pale blue paint and paintings of sailboats on tranquil waters. I know my mental illness will continue to evolve and will never go away, but I am determined to keep chasing clarity and peace of mind, even if I never truly find it.  I’ll figure out how to take care of myself. I’ll stop hiding my problems. I’ll try to live without fear.

And I’ll bring my xanax with me. Just in case.  

For the Ones Who Were Told to be Extraordinary

By Kat Freydl

The first time someone asked me about my college plans, I was 10 years old. I was a member of the Duke TIP program and every single honors program my school (about 400 students strong, a private school nestled in the moderately deep south). The instructor of my advanced reading and writing class, Great Books, used my essay introductions as examples, declaring them better than her own. My book reports were always kept as student samples. I had a picture of the Savannah College of Art and Design taped to the inside of my binder and a Harvard Sweatshirt that I wore like a security blanket.

“I’m not sure yet,” I said after some moments of deep, ten-year-old pondering. “But I really think I’d like to try for an Ivy.”

And that was that. I was a bright kid (by some strange alchemy, that was the term they always used, too--a bright kid), and there were big expectations for me, expectations that I never once doubted I would meet.

Time passed, as it does. In sixth grade, my history teacher mistakenly administered me an eighth grade U.S. history test rather than my own age-appropriate makeup test, and I scored a 100% even though I’d never studied the material. In seventh grade, I tried to start up a school newspaper. It failed, but at the end of the year, I still got the “aspiring graphic designer” award. I placed in all of the spelling bees and math competitions and art shows I was thrust into. The thing is, I was raised to believe that I was exceptional.

The thing is, I’m not.

The summer before ninth grade, I moved to Michigan to live with my father, vacating the Christian school nest for the big bad world of common core and underpaid teachers and arts as required electives. My first report card came back with three Cs, three Bs, and one A (in English. And it wasn’t an A, it was an A-), and I cried. It wasn’t the first time I had ever cut myself, but it was the first time I did it with feeling. I threw away my notebooks and signed up for tutoring at Sylvan. I stopped wearing the Harvard sweatshirt.

This place became normal to me. It was a public school, but it was one of the top public schools in the country, the kind where the University of Michigan was a safety school, and if you wanted some Adderall you just had to walk up to any kid and shake them a little. This school had seven lunch lines and a salad bar. This school had customized napkins. Instead of shoving me into a locker or calling me a faggot, kids sent me off to be friends with girls who would try to frame me for shoplifting at CVS. When I tried to kill myself, this school had a plan in place for it, a well-oiled machine from common use. This school. When I left it, it felt like I was breathing for the first time in two years. I came back here, to the moderately deep south, but stayed in public school, a system that puts more emphasis on getting by than excelling. And I’m here. I’m at that moment that my elementary school teachers and church ladies and distant relatives have been waiting for with bated breath since I was 10, the precipice of the rest of my life...and I don’t want it. I don’t want the gowns or the class rings or the flying graduation caps, the pomp and circumstance, the girls hugging me like they never gossipped about me in the cafeteria or over bathroom stalls, the photos and the smiles and the glossy, passive-aggressive graduation party invitations. I don’t want it. I don’t want to cross the threshold, walking over some metaphorical bridge off of this metaphorical precipice to the next one. In fact, more often than not, I want to fling myself off of this precipice and take the fall laughing. At least then the wind would tear the laughter from my throat and the reflexive tears from my eyes so I wouldn’t have to put in the effort of holding them back.

I’m not a bright kid, and possibly never was. If anything, I was born too old for my body, and that stopped being impressive once my physical age caught up with my witty one-liners and knitting hobby. Soon, the other things--the local newspaper articles, the poetry books, the writing gigs, the jokes and the jokes and the jokes--will stop being impressive too, and I’ll just be left with this (bathtub-pruned fingers and dead hair from one too many bleaches and tears and tears and tears). I suppose that’s why now, at the less-than-a-semester left mark, I’m spending large amounts of time crying and watching reruns of bad Nickelodeon shows and reading teen novels rather than the dense philosophical literature that has come to be expected of me. I’m horrible at making choices, is the thing, and grey has never worked for me--I eat too much or not at all, I sleep all day or don’t sleep for a week, I wait until approximately one day ago to paint over the garish neon pink and lime green of my bedroom walls from age 13. I can’t compromise with the simplest of objects, like my mother’s clawfooted bathtub, which instead of filling up like a normal person I lay in, stark naked, turning on the spigots in turns, scalding hot water as long as I can stand it followed by freezing cold until the tub is full and my nervous system is well and truly overwhelmed. And I suppose that’s why, after 7 years of prepping for the Ivy Leagues, I’m not settling for community college, but actually want it, even though everyone I tell makes a face like they’ve just eaten something sour, waiting a few beats too late to respond with a fake-enthusiastic “Oh.” It’s the want they don’t get. Bright kids don’t take a year or two to go to community college in the town they’ve spent their whole lives scraping the walls of. And yeah, sour-faced-downers, I guess you’re right. Bright kids don’t.

I am not a bright kid. I want it. I want the weird credit hours and the familiarity of routine, picking up hours at Smithfield’s Chicken and Barbecue or Olive Garden or whatever other mundane job will take me, refilling sweet tea for people I’ve known in this same old town for my whole life, spending the excess time writing and reading and making art and living and laughing and watching my baby sister and baby underclassmen friends grow up and, yeah, it’s true, saving money so that that same baby sister can go to the university of her dreams. It was a decision made out of obligation but solidified by choice. I choose the sour faces and the puckered brows and the southern-fried, gossipy whispers. I defer my acceptance letter and honors college enrollment to the unversity of my dreams, put it on the back burner for later and take the closest thing to a gap year a person like me can manage. I’m not a bright kid. I’m a kid, said derisively by a bitter woman as she looks at my dyed hair and dubious clothing choices disapprovingly. I am poser trips to record stores and iced coffee with too much cream and sugar.I am writing this at my desk in my freshly repainted room with Christmas lights draped over paintings and drawings and photos of my friends that plaster the walls, clad in a bathrobe and sipping a Vitamin Water.

I am not going to an Ivy League. I am not bright. I am, maybe for the first time, letting myself be average.

I’ve never been happier. 

The Art Of Mastering Gayness

By Kenneth Miller

Courtesy of Erin Southwick

Courtesy of Erin Southwick

You pass a boy in the ninth grade who smells like band practice and pickles, and realize you like men. Stare off as he packs his locker with heavy cardboard-covered biology textbooks, exposing his veiny spectacular bicep, and think, “Whoa! This is amazing.”

Attend 4th period scripture class and grasp that this interest must be kept a secret. You’re still curious though. That doesn’t stop. Google images of naked celebrities and declare Brad Pitt your first love. Look up what an uncut dick is and question where your foreskin went. Masturbate an extraordinary amount and write haikus about your orgasms. Soon, you will be miserable and exhausted. Just wait.

Go to the graveyard with your best friend and come out of the closet. Watch as gusts of air twist the fraying trees’ branches and retract your queer thinking. Instead, hold her as she comes out and cry uncontrollably while keeping your twisted secret. Feel liberated and grab a Bacon, Egg and Cheese and two Grape Cherry Fusion Four Lokos from the bodega. Recognize you are normal and loved.

Get pushed against a decaying train station’s wall by a man with screwball eyes and slim lips. Have your first kiss with a stranger who plays the piano and smokes dope. This is what you wanted. Follow him to Burger King and let him buy you a small fry. On your way back, stop at your elementary school’s playground. Give him head and swallow his lumpy cold load. Taste the fries stuck in the crevices of your teeth as you tell your mom you had an uneventful day.

Move away for college, but not too far from the city. Meet other types of gay men and try not to stereotype any of them too pointedly. When they’re not looking, sneak onto Grindr and see which ones are looking for a hookup. Discover the bears who are really into leather, the Britney Spears gays who have Instagram accounts dedicated to the Vegas queen, the punk queer boys sported with septum rings, the Equinox-loving juiceheads obsessed with douching, and the daddies wanting to exclusively indulge twink boys with money and domination. Taste the rainbow and celebrate a community you can finally call home. This is where it all happens.

Courtesy of Kenneth Miller

Courtesy of Kenneth Miller

Still, you have an identity crisis and slowly detach yourself from the one community you feel most comfortable in. Dye your hair bizarre colors and see someone new in the mirror every day—someone worth fucking. Ink your skin with images that make people think you’re a different kind of gay. Paint your nails to show people you have an edge and can take abuse. Come to terms with the fact that you will never feel welcomed in your own psyche, and move forward thinking about those wondrous Hans Christian Anderson tales your mom used to read aloud where the boy was happy and could have it all.

Replace your sadness with men. Become an expert at performing discreet blowjobs in public places. Eventually encounter a true man who believes in God and appreciates the wonders of art on your way to work. Fall in love and bring him home for the holidays. Defend him as your dad questions the legitimacy of a theatre degree, and wipe away his tears with your childhood blanket. Capture his eyes looking into yours and note that the worlds you live in coincide with one another.

Get stared down as you hold his hand in Union Square by the protesting religious right. Head to the dog park as he fights back against the woman with the zany voice and childless stroller. Go to Whole Foods and feed each other bits of strawberry cheesecake with oozing fudge drizzle. Feel domesticated and safe.

Look through his cellphone and catch the sight of dick pics that aren’t yours. Say nothing. Continue to let him cheat on you, and justify his actions when loved ones question. Ignore the betrayal because it’s easier than facing the world lost, alone and sad.

Figure out who you are. Place your life in context with your peers—the queer AF folk and the hetero ones. Separate what defines you sexually and personally. Realize some factors are interchangeable and that’s okay. Think of ways to define yourself outside of your sexuality and come back dry.

Wonder why you were made this way and awe at the existence of humanity. Contemplate the possibility of true alikeness between individuals, and retreat to feelings of childhood innocence. Think about it again and again.

You will stop one day and begin embracing your identity. Trust me.




When You Cannot Hold Her: What Grief Has Taught Me

By Lyndsey Bourne

Courteous of Kelsey Martens

Courteous of Kelsey Martens

I remember swing sets, I remember summers filled with macaroni and cheese. Mid-day, my grandma would stand on the porch with a cigar in her hand and call out to us kids swimming in the lake to come inside for lunch. Those early summers on Skaha lake were filled with laughter, sun tan lotion, swimsuits and fresh picked peaches. Every night we’d play cards, drink iced tea (or “kids beer”, as we called it), and all seven cousins - Danny, the eldest, was too adult for this - would crawl into bed and watch Jumanji, Madeline or The Adventures of Robin Hood. The house was filled with mismatched pillowcases and furniture left over from the ‘70’s. We loved that house. When I think of it, I feel warm, and slightly sticky from all the melted ice cream-stained shirts. I was happiest in that house. I still am, though now my visits are few and far between. The air there is now sullied, tinged with grief and nostalgia. My grandma is dead, but I can see her everywhere on Skaha Lake, and I can tell the house misses her footsteps.

She’d been sick for a while, but time seemed only to intensify the pain. The summer before my freshman year at NYU was especially awful. I was depressed, overwhelmed and confused about the future. My grandmother, suffering from Alzheimer’s, lived with us for part of that time. This detail is particularly important, because the memory of that summer clouded my four years at NYU. Often I was left alone with her, expected to help take care of her. I could tell my dad resented the time I spent with friends. Taking care of her was difficult to say the least. She was restless, despondent and incredibly unhappy. She knew she was sick, though the how’s and the why’s, like everything else, eluded her. She fought, she needed something to hold on to, something to ground her.  Keeping her away from the phone was the hardest. She obsessively dialed the disconnected numbers of her dead parents and siblings. Keeping her occupied was a challenge, a frustration.

 That summer, I watched myself grow impatient and tired of looking after her. She wouldn’t eat. She couldn’t sleep. I remember the moment I knew I was changed by this. The moment I hated myself. My hair was dripping wet, soaking through my t-shirt as I sat her down on the couch in front of a rerun of Bewitched. I was unfocused, in a rush waiting for my dad to come home and relieve me. I turned on the stove to heat up a can of Campbell’s tomato soup. A few friends and I were about to meet for lunch. I packed up my bag and returned to the soup, which had come to a boil. There were tiny, white specks swimming in red. I had left the rubber spatula in the pot, and it had partially melted. I looked at the numbers on the clock and out at my grandmother, who was now obsessively rearranging the objects on the coffee table. I should’ve made a new pot of soup. I should’ve, but I didn’t, and reaching for the strainer I cursed myself for not taking better care of her.

I worry you can’t see her. That right now, I’m conveying only the pain. There’s no one I’ve loved more than my grandmother. She was magic. She looked at you and showed you all of herself. She looked at you and made you feel like the most important person in the world. Now, lying in bed, I realized how hard a spirit is to capture. How - when someone dies, you can still feel them, see them, hear them, but what I can’t seem to remember is that she keeps being dead.

My grandmother was stubborn and impatient, she loved to laugh. She had the biggest smile. She was restless too, she could never sleep. Her hands – like ginger roots – were always busy making cookies or kneading dough for her famous biscuits. She worked all her life, taught her sons to be feminists, and poured me my very first drink. She was opinionated, feisty, and intensely loyal. She loved my grandfather with a kind of fervor I’ve yet to experience or even understand. At five, she caught me snooping through her bedroom. With confusion, I held up the prosthetic breast I had just discovered from the inside of a dresser drawer. Without shame, anger, or condescension, she held my little hand to her chest and explained to me what a mastectomy was. That’s the other thing about my grandma – she understood pain better than almost anyone I’ve ever known. She carried it with her, never letting her misfortunes perceived as weaknesses.

It’s been two years since her death. I was studying abroad in London and my friend Bubba and I were at a local pub, already a few beers in, when I got a phone call from my dad. I don’t know exactly why I chose to answer his call. He was with my grandma. He asked if I’d like to speak with her. I hurried outside into the cold London air. She barely spoke, in a voice frail and distant, but I could hear her breathing. I was suspended in that moment, my own voice becoming small and naïve like a child’s. I told her I loved her, again and again and that I missed her. And that was it. I went back inside and finished my beer, tried to insert myself back into the night. Two days later, she was gone.

Of course, this wasn’t my first experience with death yet is still feels new, and different. I can’t look at my dad without seeing her. I can’t step into our summer house on Skaha Lake without expecting her to walk through the kitchen or call out to me from the back porch. I have to keep reminding myself that she’s dead. I know that I’ll never be able to articulate loss with the same fluidity and finesse as writers like Joan Didion and C.S. Lewis. All I can do is try to wear my grief with the same kind of grace and truth that my grandma did, try to remember to love more, love better and look at people with tender eyes. 

Mom, Me, and Reality TV

By Jaclyn Jermyn

Courtesy of FYI Network

Courtesy of FYI Network

I haven’t had cable television for nearly a year. It’s just one of those expenses that seems silly when you have the entirety of the internet at your disposal. But I often feel a small twinge of sadness when I can’t flop down on the couch at any given moment and flip through the channels in search of a Golden Girls marathon. 

I know I don’t need need TV to make me happy but there’s such a (possibly) unhealthy pleasure in old fashioned binge watching, commercials and all. That’s why, I often end up abusing the privilege when I stay at my parents house. Being on vacation and having few responsibilities affords me the luxury of ignoring all of the hiking and biking and mountaineering I could be doing. The real lost opportunity would be not taking advantage of a comfy couch with countless throw pillows, a fully stocked pantry, and a wide array of high-definition channels.

This holiday season, I discovered the wonders of both Esquire and FYI networks. Esquire broadcast marathons of Parks and Recreation three days in a row (including the final seventh season that until today, had not been on Netflix). FYI network created a glorious piece of television called Married at First Sight.

The premise is sort of outlined within the title— so-called “love” experts (in the areas of relationships, sex, religion, etc.) act as matchmakers for six individuals, matching them into three couples that will agree to get married without knowing each other until reaching the altar. Seriously, they have to introduce themselves somewhere between the “sickness and in health” and the “I do.” 

The premise was ridiculous and yet, astonishingly captivating. I was hooked within the first 10 minutes of watching. My mom was hooked within the first 30. 

The important thing to note is that enjoying reality TV wasn’t about the substance, because truthfully, there wasn’t much to go on. It was a chance to hang out with my mom for an extended period of time and talk in coded language about our ideals of happiness, love, and marriage. 

My mom met my dad when she was in her early 20’s, getting married and having me by her mid-20’s. They’re still happily married, unlike the parents of so many of my friends. I don’t know what she expects of me. I can only assume that she wants me to get married someday. I know I want to get married someday. So we watching strangers on TV pick out their wedding dresses and get ready for their big day. She remarked how the backyard, with it’s view of Lake James, a state park, and the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance, would be a pretty place for a wedding. I would be lying if I said I hadn’t thought the same thing before. 

As much as people say that reality TV rots your brain, I can’t help but get a warm and fuzzy feeling whenever I get a minute to watch some. I thought about all the times we would watch Say Yes to the Dress together and those wedding design shows—there was clearly a trend happening. I didn’t feel pressured though. I was more than happy to keep watching Married at First Sight with my mom for the rest of the afternoon. I think this is just our own low-maintenance version of mother-daughter manicures or lunch dates and I don’t even have to leave the house. 

On White Guilt in the Classroom

By Sung Yim

Photo Courtesy of  The Conversation

Photo Courtesy of The Conversation

So I’m sitting in class, minding my business, when the teacher brings up racism without any prompting. Let’s call him Prof. H—, for what I like to call the hard H in White.

It’s a writing class and Prof. H— is apologizing for the severe dead-white-maleness of his reading list. I’ll admit I had some feelings, but nobody had challenged it. Nobody had questioned it. That’s kind of the typical experience for a lot of non-white students.

Prof. H—’s eyes are darting from mine to my classmates’ to papers in his lap. His voice is a hoarse vibrato.  He’s mixing up tenses, he’s mixing up names and dates. At one point he refers to Sandra Bland’s passing as an indisputable suicide, unaware that the Waller County DA’s office had declared investigations of her death as that of a possible homicide—weeks and weeks ago, in the wake of dodgy circumstances and their resulting public outcry. When I correct him, he goes on about how calling it a murder robs Bland of her personal agency. Oh, never mind the suspicious conduct of the police department! Never mind the triumph this declaration symbolized for countless weary people.

Fact deflected with philosophy, a hallmark of fragile dominance.

At another point Prof. H— quotes Attorney General Eric Holder and calls him, repeatedly, Eric Garner. When he realizes his mistake, Prof. H— says I’m not good at talking about race through a jittery correction. He says we are not good at talking about race and proclaims how important it is to keep the dialog of racism in America going. He says Eric Garner and victims like him are killed because people like us in classrooms like this, we dodge the questions and fail to linger on the answers. Because we’re not good at talking about race.

He’s saying we, we, we in a room occupied by several students of color who are exchanging tense glances and negotiating whether to let it go, like so many small feats of discomfort throughout our days, or to say something because bless this nervous son-of-a-gun for trying, but this discomfort in a classroom environment, let me tell you, is some bullshit.

Look, racism, anti-blackness, police violence, these are more than crucial subjects for all citizens to engage with. Especially those of us who interact regularly with the Chicago landscape of urban living and injustice—whether in the form of community segregation or gentrification or yes, police brutality, the cover-ups and protests thereof. I firmly believe that artists must be up-to-date and in-touch. Artists must be conscious cultural critics, must engage with the world around us and the times we live in not only to stay relevant, but to dig out what good purpose our work can serve for the world.

But this white dude with a PhD is stammering through matters of race with the kind of shakiness and manic unease you see from a kid who broke their mom’s favorite vase playing catch inside. Y’know, there’s this feeling like they’re trying to do the right thing by apologizing and addressing the issue, but they’re trying to cover some shit up at the same time. Like, I didn’t mean to. Like, please don’t be mad. Like, I swear I wasn’t throwing that ball inside.

Y’know like nobody asked for an explanation, but they just keep rattling one off.

That’s what white guilt looks like to me. It’s a grown man with an education behind him struggling through explanations nobody asked for.

It looks like a lot of other things, too. It looks like me handing in an essay that challenges the woefully dead-white-male academic canon that I know is far from finished and receiving no notes of criticism. Page after page of clipped comments like good, or nice, or great. It looks like the acerbic all-nighter taste of acid reflux from too much coffee and not enough breakfast while I bust my ass trying to work something out, and all the satisfaction of turning that shit in dissolving the minute I flip through pages of nothing useful for my next round of revisions. It looks like self-doubt, it looks like me questioning Prof. H—’s motives and my own credibility because maybe the work unpacked too sore a subject for him to argue or engage with as a crafted object. It looks like impostor syndrome through a racial lens. Like I’m drifting through academia trying to school myself because people are too afraid of looking racist for schooling me.

Here’s the thing, I don’t have a concrete solution to that. This isn’t something I can outline in a bulleted list of demands and submit to every white educator. Not with the expectation of success or even peaceful discourse. Because so often, the alternative is a flurry of whitesplaining and overt racism. I’ve had teachers do far worse than Prof. H—. One white teacher felt so threatened when I pointed something out that had never occurred to him as racist before, he told me people of color were inherently too biased and sensitive to credibly identify racism. That same teacher tried to resolve the conversation by saying he’s married to an Asian woman, so he gets it all the time.

Another white teacher of mine consistently bowed and said thank you in butchered Korean every single time I left a conference.

Another white teacher rolled her eyes and demanded I repeat myself in terse hisses any time I spoke or asked a question throughout my ESL years. I was nine years old. She once shouted at me for asking how to pronounce something—like, everybody knows that. Like, figure it out yourself. Like, I don’t have time for you people.

Look, as much as I throw the word white around and as much as the fragility that word evokes might make the average white feel vilified, I love me some whites. How can I not and expect to survive life in the Midwest? Midwestern America whose mascot may as well be a Minnesota white boy with an Eminem poster on his wall and good table manners.

I won’t apologize on behalf of whites and I refuse to pardon whiteness so simply. But for me, for my own personal growth, I hold that there’s value in diving deeper than the surface of whiteness. This in itself is survival. This in itself is my meditation, my reconciliation, and yes, I love my white husband, white friends, white teachers, but I will never forgive whiteness as a social construct.  Whiteness as a tool of oppression and cultural dominance. Those feelings and ideas aren’t necessarily at odds.

Prof. H— might embody all these fragile, defensive, clueless splinters of whiteness, but he’s also a brilliant linguist. A class-act nerd with more intuitive knowledge about the craft of writing than most anybody I’ve ever met. I have loads of respect for him. It may be tempting to frame his nervous, tactless, imposing whiteness as separate from his more commendable qualities, but this is oversimplification at its worst. Just as he rattles off an explanation of racism and his complicity without anybody having asked, fingers shaking, the quake in his voice beseeching our approval, he will rattle off an explanation of ekphrasis, modular essay forms, onomastics, and the love he has for such compartments of language with that same desperate quake and shake.

We’re all the best and worst of ourselves. Not as self-contained segments and sound-bytes running in perfect sequence, but at the same time. All the conflicting versions of ourselves run parallel to one another, a loud and cacophonous chorus of personhood.

But all that? How do I articulate all that in a room full of people on a fixed schedule? How do I challenge his anxious expression of whiteness physically in the face of his anxiety? I might be so bold as to write, but I’m not cruel. I don’t want to be the bad guy. I don’t want to shout kill whitey in his own classroom, and that’s something left largely unspoken too—the power dynamic not just between white and non-white, but also between an educator and a student.

So where does that leave me when, in a room full of people, a white dude with a PhD mixes up names and dates as if Black Lives Matter is just a catch-all catchphrase?

Where does that leave me when, on a draft full of room for improvement, I read nothing constructively critical? Where does that leave me when the same white dude who so eagerly wants everyone to know he’s one of the good guys hands me nothing nuanced beyond static praise? When I wonder if that desperate apprehension and guilt also skews his response to my work?

Where does that leave me, when in a room full of people, Prof. H— says we but the W stands for white?

What I want is for him to know I have many warm, tender feelings for him and what he’s about.

I want for him to know I’m a dedicated worker who cares about more than the buttress of ideology in their work.

I want for him to know nobody asked him to explain his whiteness and giving an explanation apropos of nothing is a self-service that falls short of true accountability. I want for Prof. H— and all the Professors W, I, T, E, et al. to do the good work of racial justice in the classroom quietly. Instead of telling us how much you give a shit, give a shit. Instead of bemoaning how white your reading list is, build a better one. Rest in knowing that students of color will take notice. Realize the tragedy in the fact that we will, the tragedy in how those silent acts of simply leveling the playing field are actually so loud and remarkable to us.

Don’t guilt us into absolving your complicity for nothing but words.

On Invisible Illness

By Rivka Yeker

Theories that diseases are caused by mental states and can be cured by will power are always an index of how much is not understood about a disease.
— Susan Sontag
Photo by Morgan Martinez

Photo by Morgan Martinez

People with invisible illnesses often avoid planning. We mark our calendars in pencil, for the purpose of it being easily erasable if we wake up that day feeling as if our bodies are rejecting us from the inside out.  There is no cure for chronic illness, for autoimmune diseases, for the things our body controls that we can’t.

I have been dealing with a headache disorder that has been restricting me from ever living a normal, healthy, consistent lifestyle ever since I hit puberty at 11. I have always felt the need to apologize for my inability to stay out a whole day, my anxiety towards sleeping at another’s house due to not knowing whether or not my head will cooperate, even frantically writing emails to teachers and professors for missing their class because of something I couldn’t mend in time (or at all).  For a long time, I sat through events and parties with a pounding headache, just to say I could be there. I went out even though I felt physically and mentally ill, and I continued working even through incredible pain. Only in the past few years, has the illness worsened, that it forced me to skip out on many social and professional endeavors, but I have learned to listen to my body when it is telling me it’s turning off.

Chronic headaches means that I get at least 15 headaches in a month, which equates to half of my month is spent feeling like garbage. These headaches could range from mild (bearable, usually treatable with Excedrin), intense (usually not treatable, can barely get through a whole day with but still doable), and unbearable (usually migraines and typically ends in vomiting and needing all the lights off with my head shoved in a pillow). Headache disorders are lifelong and they are debilitating, causing them to decrease one’s quality of life. Not only are they physical, but they also increase depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbances, which makes everything all the more difficult.

Since headaches and migraines are typically given to us by our parents, I shouldn’t have been surprised when it started becoming so consistent and disabling. I’ve been watching both my parents struggle my entire life, mostly seeing how my mother would spend days in bed trying to fight a monster clawing at her body and attacking her own mental health. Even with her chronic pain, she was still very much a mother in that she screamed at my brother and I while a brick threw itself back and forth against the walls of her head. Now that I don’t live at home, I don’t see my parents’ suffer as much, but I know that they are some of the only people I can confide in about my headaches and migraines and be sure that they completely understand. This is something we cannot escape, regardless of how much we try to persevere through the pain.

Trying to explain to people how it feels when I have a migraine is almost impossible, it is crippling and it is draining. My face flushes, I am nauseous, my head is a thousand different metaphors for pain, and my entire body needs rest. It needs a place to break down. When I make plans, I always tell people that I am flaky and to be aware of this, but I don’t want them to think it’s because I don’t want to spend time with them. I am genuinely unsure of how I am going to wake up that day. Is my head going to hurt? How sad am I going to be? How anxious will I feel? Will I have no energy? There is never a concrete answer and I am never sure how I will react. If I have the option of staying in and taking care of myself, I would much rather do that than do what I used to do: force myself to endure pain, only to know I’m going to regret it.

There are too many times when I feel bad for something I can’t control. I feel bad that I feel ill, that I can’t do something, that I have to leave early, that I have to be alone, that I can’t make it to a lecture, I feel bad that I have to warn people that I am flaky, and that I am quite possibly notorious for that. Only lately have I learned that one should never apologize for their illness, for their mental state, for their inabilities to follow through. I have learned that especially in a society that is unbelievably demanding, quick-paced, and vicious, we must learn to step back and value someone’s capabilities. Those who are genuinely ill, whether it’s someone who struggles with lupus, MS, diabetes, chronic headaches/migraines, mental disorders, even women dealing with their menstrual cycle, or any other illness that seems invisible, deserve their right to be ill and shameless about it.

They are already suffering enough.

It feels awful to feel like a burden around people, to avoid relationships because you don’t want to become an annoyance for someone else, you don’t want pity; you want to feel normal. If someone you know struggles with an invisible illness, acknowledge it and understand their needs and restrictions. We are trying our best to get through life, just like everyone else.

Winter Blues

By Skylar Belt

Courtesy of Skylar Belt

Courtesy of Skylar Belt

 

It’s a strange and satisfying feeling pissing yourself in the wintertime. On the one hand, yes, you are infinitely embarrassed to have just peed your pants. But, on the other hand, as your piss slowly soaks into the fabric of your pants, it warms you up. And it feels good. Comforting. Like a much needed hug.

    It doesn’t last though, and soon you’re left shivering in your own piss, unable to get up because you drank too much, or did too many drugs, or simply because you’ve lost the motivation to move.

    This was me about two winters ago. I went to my friend's New Year’s party. I drank until I cried, smoked cigarettes until I felt nothing, and then collapsed in my friend's basement where I peed my pants. And it wasn’t for another four hours that I was able to pull myself up, change my pants and make a very tiresome walk of shame home.

This was one of my worst winters ever.  But as a person that battles everyday with depression, every winter is hard.

    I can look back on that now though and see it for what it was. I was just a kid struggling with depression, trying to find a release from all the punishing thoughts inside my brain.  But it took me awhile to see myself that way. To show myself compassion. At first, I looked at what had happened as a confirmation that I was, indeed, a fuck up. My dad was a fuck up. And now, so was I. Simple as that. 

    I know now that wasn’t the truth. And a little part of me knew it then.  But I wasn’t strong enough to say it to myself yet. I needed help.

    So I looked for people that seemed to care for me: Friends, family, lovers. I kept them close so on the days when I felt awful, so they could tell me I was beautiful. So they could remind me that my happiness was worth it and that loving myself wasn’t wrong. And so they could kick me out of bed on the days I refused to move, and help me laugh on the days it hurt to smile. They rubbed my temples on the days it felt like the world was collapsing in on me.

    These were the caring hands that helped carry me forward, but they couldn’t bring me to happiness itself. There was always this heaviness, like a sinking weight, that kept me two steps away from reality. 

    It wasn’t until I finally gained the courage to love myself that I started to feel in control of my life again. At first, I started small. I ate food that made me feel good. I drank, but not to excess. I exercised regularly. I pushed myself to get out of the house and talk to people. I wrote in my journal. And I didn’t punish myself for the times when I slipped up on loving myself.

    It was hard at first, and then it got easier. Still, sometimes it would get hard again. Even after all the work I put into desperately trying to feel good, I’d return to that terrible feeling again. I thought it would pass. And sometimes it did. But those days felt like mystic vacations that I was never really able to hold onto.

    This year, before the mild autumn days gave way to the icy coldness, I finally gave in and made an appointment with a therapist. In that initial visit, I found myself more scared than I had ever been in my whole life. My hands were shaking, I had a headache and I felt like I was about to vomit. The therapist asked me why I was there, and when I told her it was because I feel sad all the time and I don’t know why, I almost cried. It was the first time I had ever admitted that to myself out loud. And it was the first time I finally felt like I was getting control over my feelings.

    I know that this winter will be difficult to handle at times. But I’ve gotten a lot better at learning to love myself, and using the resources given to me to get through it.

    It’s been two years since I hit rock bottom in a pool of my own piss, but since then I’ve come a long way in learning to love myself.

A Brief and Personal History of Trees

By Jaclyn Jermyn

Courtesy of Jaclyn Jermyn 

Courtesy of Jaclyn Jermyn 

A tiny pair of ceramic clogs from Amsterdam.

Five different ballerinas decked out in tutus and pointe shoes.

Thick clay angels with rosy cheeks.

American Girl doll Kit Kittredge, decked out in her flour sack birthday dress and missing a hand from the one year the Christmas tree fell over.

My family isn’t particularly religious but like a lot of American families, we celebrate Christmas yearly, if only to gather together and celebrate each other. For every year I can remember, decorating the tree was a heavily ceremonial way to usher in the holiday season.

When my Dad was young, he and his brothers planted pine trees on an empty plot of land my grandparents owned. The planting wasn’t executed very well and only a third of the trees survived to adulthood. The ones that did make it often graced our living room with their presence.

There was one year that Dad would load my brother and I on a toboggan and drag us out to the farm, brandishing a hacksaw in a blizzard to cut a tree down.

Each year on the night we would get our tree, my brother and I would haul out the boxes and lay out each ornament on the pool table, as if we were gearing up for an appraisal and subsequent auction of each item.

We would fight over the Christmas music we would play (I would always find a way to work the Mariah Carey album in there, if only for nostalgic reasons, and the Nat King Cole version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, which was, and remains, my personal favorite), and we would go about finding the sturdy branches for our favorites, high enough that the dog couldn’t reach.

This year will be my first Christmas in a house I don’t consider my childhood home. Wanting a fresh start, my mother has chosen an animal theme for the tree, meaning there will be plenty of penguins, squirrels, and lambs, but no ballerinas and certainly nothing that says my name.

I get it; I really do.

But it’s hard not to feel alienated from a home that already isn’t my home because I don’t see myself in it when I’m there. My room doesn’t look like a room for me even if I recognize my dresser. I’m at this weird in-between stage of my life where I’ve grown up and forsaken childhood but I’m not established enough to have my own Christmas tree, decked out with snowmen that say “Jaclyn 1995, Love Grammy & Poppy.”

I found myself tearing up in Target a couple of days ago because I couldn’t find a candle that smelled enough like the pine trees I remembered. When I told my Mom about it, she sent my Dad out to cut me down my own tiny Christmas tree. I’m grateful but I can’t help but keep thinking that it’s not really the same.

Courtesy of Jaclyn Jermyn

Courtesy of Jaclyn Jermyn


Hibernation

By Meg Zulch

Courtesy of Meg Zulch

Courtesy of Meg Zulch

I always whine relentlessly about how much I dread the approach of winter. The cold weather is treacherous, my skin gets flaky as hell, and every walk to class is like a balancing act between black ice and freshly fallen snow. There are certainly downfalls to these frosty months, as they cause Seasonal Affective Disorder from the sunless gray days, and intense cabin fever thanks to arctic temperatures. But secretly, I revel in all of this. My like-minded sister and I agree, it can feel great to have an excuse to just be your sad self. Winter calls my name.

Like the bears and the squirrels around this time, I too hibernate. I choose a comfort food of choice to buy in bulk whenever I can, a couple of shows I want to marathon on Netflix, and an album to depressedly indulge in as I cry under all my blankets. Every other time of the year, I do everything I can to resist my natural urge to be depressed. Winter, in all its greyness and frigidity, encourages me to finally embrace this sadness, and let it come in waves. And as someone who loves to hold things in, this is so relieving. Winter is my detox.

Albums like Sky Ferreira’s Night Time, My Time, Mitski’s Bury Me At Makeout Creek, and EVERY SONG BY ADELE is on repeat during this season. In this warm and secluded space, I feel completely free to release the emotions from the past year (and the emotions these particular albums bring up for me) as I enthusiastically drench my pillows in tears. Winter is not a season for makeup.

I often don’t make time for self care, or allot time to veg out and do things for pleasure. The conditions of winter (as well as my resulting sadness) encourages me to treat myself and truly give myself the time that I need to zone out, laugh and relax. I spend hours at a time excitedly devouring new TV shows, like Master Of None and Jessica Jones. And I lose myself in the stories of familiar characters like Nancy Bowen from Weeds or Hannah Horvath in Girls. Winter is one long flickering glow of a laptop screen, dancing in my smiling eyes.

During my hibernation, I eat incredibly well and have long and lovely sleeps. Sometimes, I even take naps. I lay in my dark room for hours, drinking one cup of tea after another as I celebrate my solitude. I write and I write, the words just flow out of me. Winter is a long hug, toasty and safe.

When I awaken in the spring, as the ground thaws and the leaves return, I remove my sheets for cleaning, smiling as I inhale the lived-in smell in their fibers. I feel clear, awake, and new. After all those months of indulgence, it feels strange to re-emerge at first, my body still heavy with sadness and solitude. But I sigh with relief when I release these “burdens,” running free and light in the sun, as I so quickly forget how dearly I once held my sadness, my mind, myself, just moments before. Winter reminds me of everything I want to forget.

A Year On Carpenter Street

By Anna Bruner

Courtesy of Anna Bruner

Courtesy of Anna Bruner

To the first place in Chicago to make me feel at home

Our windows were always open because there was no air conditioning. A single ceiling fan in the living room crept at a snail’s pace, stirring the air as slowly as if it were pancake batter, while the sun setting over the house across the street painted our walls orange. The ice cream truck would come at four, but we would hear it until six. And then it would come again at eight, it’s mechanical melody warping the cantina and rap music blasted by our neighbors every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night. Everyone sat out on their small cement porches close to the sidewalk, or their obscured wooden decks overlooking Jardín de las Mariposas -- the Butterfly Garden -- or languished in the heat of their living room on white pleather couches, too stoned to change the channel. Children rode their bikes until 10 o’clock at night, a few blocks from the Pilsen bar where a man’s throat was slit only a couple weeks before. Overall, it was a safe neighborhood, even in the record-breaking heat of August.

Everything smells like fresh asphalt still staining your tennis shoes black, pesticide, fresh tamales, sunscreen, and cherry slushies. Everything is sticky and covered in swarms of ladybugs: the curb, the ivy, the murals. The bus depot painted over the Virgin of Guadalupe mural a month ago, and now it’s just white. Kind of a trend in this neighborhood. 

Grandmas line the streets with their colorful yard sales of plastic jewelry, VHS, and porcelain knick knacks (kittens, geishas, colorful fruits), as our grey cat lies in the sun on the sidewalk for hours, accepting tummy rubs from strangers. Somebody got their car radio stolen last week, so the blue security lights turn on every night and everything glows until four in the morning. We sleep with the windows open and our mattress in the living room. Our potted plants cast long spidery shadows over the floor. We’re too tired to feel the mosquitos anymore.

Indian summer settles over the streetlights and the tops of trees, turning everything gold. The milkweed along the old railroad track sheds and puffs of it travel on the wind like snow. Lines of elementary school children in bright colored coats and hats march to school behind their mothers, their older brothers all smoking cigarettes behind the closed barber shop. Steam from the bakery rolls over the street like smoke, filling the air with the smell of warm bread and wet leaves. Hundreds of monarchs fill the butterfly garden, migrating a week later. A boys and girls’ club comes after school to paint the pavilion in the garden bright blue. Someone that night writes “A+A Forever” in black sharpie on the third step. 

Another smoke shop opens. Another fight breaks out with the neighbors, leading us to stay up all night watching documentaries about Catholic saints. Halloween brings hundreds of college students to house parties, caking the sidewalk in leaves, candy wrappers and broken bottles. Another street is torn up, blocked off with a “Building a New Chicago” sign, then sits idly unpaved for a month. Someone spray paints next to it, “Where is it, Rahm?” Our heating kicks in. We bring the cat inside.

Courtesy of Anna Bruner

Courtesy of Anna Bruner

The front steps, iron and painted the same blue as the butterfly garden gazebo, are the first to freeze over. Then the sidewalk, then the street. When snow falls, it will clear faster on the sidewalk from the shuffling of boots to and from the bus stop each morning, but it will build up in the street overnight. Snow plows don’t come here. While you wait for the 18th bus, you will have to time it perfectly so you don’t end up waiting for 25 minutes, frostbitten to your core, trembling as you try desperately to smoke a cigarette. You hide behind the boarded up butcher shop to shield yourself from the wind. 

Christmas lights go up. Christmas tree lots pop up around taco stands. We are the only menorah on the block, but we blend in with the advent wreaths flickering in every living room. Everything is covered in ice and candlelight, the night sky is bright yellow, clouds reflecting the city we never see while we’re on break. Secluded, we build snowmen in the butterfly garden, walk to Rosie’s in La Villita to get donuts and empanadas, hot chocolates, and horchata on Sunday mornings. Isolated from the train, with no one trekking out for house parties in February, we stay in watching German films with the electric blanket, getting stoned until we begin to thaw, saints candles flickering on the bookshelf.

Courtesy of Anna Bruner

Courtesy of Anna Bruner

As the ice around the thin tree branches gets clearer and clearer, the sound of melting drops against the sidewalk sometimes sounding like rain, children start playing outside again. We filter through pages of Diane Di Prima and Patti Smith in the rare bookstore. Cigarettes are no longer smoked in a hurry, walks to the bar or to the train or to the stockyards or the deli are always enjoyed. The sun shines in an impossibly crisp blue sky, light bouncing from the graffitied white walls emblazoned with the word “Hustle” along the corner of the convenience store down the street. Colorful bulbs left over from Christmas still swing in the tree branches, their thin branches starting to burst with red and green fuzzy buds. 

House parties resume, revived with the angst of midterms and the ecstasy of spring break. Our friends smoke in the butterfly garden and climb the trees, and we all sit on the rooftop playing music and talking about “next year” all night long. Another smoke shop opens. Another street closes. The family next door has another baby, and there are showers and parties every day with pink balloons and mariachi music and the smell of burgers and kabobs on the grill. Flowers sit out on the porches in barrels, pots, and hanging baskets by the dozen. We buy more plants from the community garden and scatter them about the apartment. We get another fake leather couch, and a record player, this time from a store and not an alleyway. The margarita bar opens its patio once again, and every weekday evening clusters of thin angry-looking art students gather over large neon drinks. 

The cat goes outside again. The ice cream truck comes back.

On The Insulin Dependent Road: The DIY Guide to Touring with Diabetes

 

By Tim Mack

Photo by  Ashley Kossakowski

Photo by Ashley Kossakowski

So you want to go on tour? Fantastic!

Going on tour is one of the best parts of playing music. It’s time to pack all your gear and a few of your closest friends into a van that isn’t fit to drive down the street and head out across the country. But before any of that happens, there are a few things you’re going to have to do to prepare for your journey.

First, do you have all your gear? Drums, guitars, bass guitar, etc. This stuff is arguably the most important because if you don’t pack your gear then you’re missing the whole point of a tour, you big dummy!

Second, do you have all of your clothes and essentials for the tour? Rule of thumb for packing tour clothes is to take the total number of days you will be on the road then divide that number by itself. The resulting number is how many pairs of clothing you will need. Using this equation, we find a 13 day tour yields one shirt, one pair of pants, one pair of underwear, and one pair of socks. Same for a 30 day tour. It’s simple mathematics. A toothbrush, sleeping bag, and pillow are all musts and will be a nice addition to whoever’s home you forget them at.

Third, do you have all your meds? Your meds are important because, unlike socks and underwear, you WILL need them. Do you have enough insulin to make it the entire tour? How many days will you be on the road? Divide that by 6 and that’s about how many vials of insulin you should bring. What about test strips? Do you have enough to last the entire trip? One vial of test strips usually lasts about 5 days. Hopefully you accounted for the upcoming tour and tried to be frugal with your blood sugar testing in the weeks leading up to it. That way you will have plenty of strips to bring on the road. Don’t forget to bring your insulin pump supplies so you can swap out your pump site every three days and bring that bag of syringes just in case your pump stops working. Of course everything would be for naught if you forget the cooler and lunchbox you will need to keep your meds from frying in the heat during those long drives.

Do you have everything packed up and ready to go? You do? Radical! Time to hit the road! It’s day one of tour and you’re first up for driving duty. But hold on. Don’t go putting the pedal to the metal yet. There are a few things you have to do first.

Make sure you adjust your mirrors. The rearview mirror is useless since you can’t see out the back window anyway thanks to the pile of gear blocking your view. The side mirrors, though, should be adjusted properly. Make sure everyone is buckled in and then check your blood sugar. If it is under 100, you are not fit to drive. In the case of a blood sugar reading under 100, eat a few glucose tabs or drink some soda to get your blood sugar back up. Once it is back up above 100, you are all ready to head out on your very own tour adventure!

TIP: IF your van does not have air conditioning, make sure your insulin pump is not in your pocket. If you find yourself on a long, non-air conditioned, drive then you need to put your insulin pump in a lunchbox alongside an icepack. If you don’t do this, then your insulin pump will heat up and make the insulin inside of it useless. This will send your blood sugar skyrocketing and you will not be a happy band mate.

Hopefully the drive went well and you made it to the venue.  If you made it to the venue in one piece then it’s time for the show! Load in your gear and put it wherever the promoter tells you to put it. If you don’t know who the promoter is just look for the only person there. So load in, set up, and then wait the 2 hours after the actual start time for people to start trickling in. At some point you will receive a rough estimate of what time you are supposed to play.

Test your blood sugar about a half hour before you play. You probably want to go into the show with a blood sugar of around 180. This way when your blood sugar drops after the show due to the physical exertion, you will hopefully stay in the range of 80-140 and not go too low. Make sure you are drinking plenty of water before the show as well because nothing ruins a set like heat stroke. Head to the stage about 5 minutes before the show starts to make sure your gear is all set and ready to go. Time to rock!

If you prepared for the set then you shouldn’t have a problem, but if you begin to feel light-headed or dizzy, make sure you check your blood sugar. If it is under 60 you need to stop the set and raise your sugars right away. In case of a low blood sugar emergency, just ask your guitarist to play some tunes from his solo project while you down a Pepsi and wait for your body to stop shaking.

As soon as you finish your set, you should start tearing down your equipment. Take all your gear offstage and then break it down. This way you’re not taking up time mucking around on stage. If the headlining local band needs to borrow your gear, then you can just leave it set up. Sometimes it’s difficult for the band that lives 20 minutes away from the venue to bring amps, drums, and talent.  But what are you gonna do? Say no? Ha! If you do that then there’s no show, dummy! So lend up!

So the show is done, you’ve packed up all your gear, and you have found a place to crash for the night. You are exhausted from a long day of driving and rocking out but before you can get some sleep you need to make sure your blood sugars are in a good place. By now they should be dropping a little from all of the day’s activities. Remember, you cannot go to sleep with blood sugar under 100. This is very important. If your blood sugar goes too low while you sleep, you may not wake up at all. So if you are under 100 then you need to eat or drink something to bring your blood sugar back up. Some fun activities you can do while you wait for your sugars to go back up are: watch your band mates sleep and wonder what their dreams are like, watch Adam Sandler’s The Cobbler on your phone, or just stare at the ceiling for a while. The sky is the limit!

Make sure you rest up because you’re about to do everything again tomorrow. And the next day. And the day after that. At times your health will stress you out to the point where you think, “why the fuck am I doing this to myself?” Your blood sugars will refuse to go down then refuse to go back up. You will lose at least one vial of insulin at some point. You will Google search nearby hospitals because even though you drank a coke and ate a bag of skittles, your blood sugar is still 54. You will be on the phone with the company who made your insulin pump trying to figure out why it isn’t working the way it is supposed to. Everything will feel out of your control and you will just want to quit.

But you won’t. You will keep going because the good will outweigh the bad. Long days will end with nights spent with familiar faces you haven’t seen in what feels like ages. Unfamiliar faces will become new friends. You will experience the kindness of strangers firsthand when one puts a roof over your head and a couch for you to crash on for the night. And once you’re sharing a stage with your best friends and playing music you created together, you will remember why you do this. Because touring and playing music is what you love, and it’ll take more than a broken pancreas to take that away from you. 

Monsters Of War

by Anna Bruner

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

I grew up with monsters. Before the Disney Princesses, before being shown Back to the Future and Sixteen Candles by friends and babysitters, before sitting in on my mother's marathons of musicals and historical epics, my earliest films were Universal's monster movies. Dracula, The Wolfman, Frankenstein, and The Mummy were all weekend staples for my father and I, and we often binge-watched them again and again every Saturday from the solidarity of a pillow fort or makeshift blanket tent. As I grew older, some of my fondest memories with my dad involved late night screenings of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and (once I got a little older) movies like Dawn of the Dead and The Evil Dead. 

 As a child, I would flip through the glossy pages of my dad's books of production stills, old horror movie posters, and glamour shots of actors and actresses in gothic and otherworldly makeup. My school notebooks and binders were plastered with images of The 50 Foot Woman and Cat People. If there was a movie I hadn't seen, my dad probably had seen it, and his memories and summaries of those movies often stood in for more traditional bedtime stories. Each of us would put on a thick European accent and recite "Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright," the way most parents and children recite goodnight prayers. He told me all about the sci-fi films of his childhood: The Blob, The Thing, The Day of the Trepids, The Creature From The Black Lagoon. He vividly recalled sneaking out to see Carrie when it first premiered, and how he had to walk home alone afterwards through the fog of a sleeping neighborhood. As a teenager, he introduced me to the B-movies of Ed Wood. He instilled in me a great love of the scary, the odd, the macabre, and that love is one of the strongest bonds I have with my father. 

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

But I also grew up with war movies. Both my parents are history buffs, and watching documentaries and films about WWII were often Sunday night traditions for both of them. Indeed, the first film that made me want to become a filmmaker, the film that is the reason I ever went to art school, was Life Is Beautiful -- a movie about the Holocaust. Such films were about entirely different, real life horrors, which were all too fresh in the memory of our world’s history. It wasn't until I was a teenager that I began to realize, however, that a war movie can be a horror movie…and in turn, a horror movie can be a war movie. 

Courtesy of Cecchi Gori Group

Courtesy of Cecchi Gori Group

In high school I reread Bram Stoker's Dracula for my AP English class. We talked about the themes to be found within it -- mostly sexual, since it dealt with a time of greatly repressed sexuality in Victorian Britain -- but also how it was a story that greatly dealt with xenophobia. Count Dracula, a foreigner from Transylvania, comes to England with the intent to buy land and reunite with a woman he believes to be the reincarnation of his great love. The fear that surrounds him, the fear he instills in others, is a fear of "the other."

Here is a figure from "the old country," largely steeped in traditional folklore unfamiliar to Western Europe, perceived as strange, different. and even terrifying. This fear of "the other" can be found in the other monster films as well.

In The Wolfman, an American tourist undergoes the transformation into a local legend foretold by a Romani woman, after he murders a Romani man he believed to be nothing more than a wolf. In The Mummy, British and American archeologists are terrorized by the undead pharaoh of the civilization they are trying to colonize. In Frankenstein, the monster is not feared because he is violent, but because he is different.

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

When we look at the Universal monster films in this light, it's no wonder why they fell out of style in the outbreak of WWII. Fear of immigrants and foreigners was prevalent in day-to-day American life…but compared to the real life atrocities of Stalin and Hitler, no fictional monster could really compare. Monster films all but died out during the war, and the age of romantic comedies and musicals took over to provide something much more lighthearted to fear-weary movie audiences.

After the dropping of the atomic bomb, the reality of nuclear war pervaded everyday life, even in peacetime. As America entered The Cold War, the possibility of atomic bomb strikes seemed more and more likely. Even when my father was attending elementary school in the 60's, he still recalls the sirens warning people to get to their nearest fallout shelter, with regular "duck and cover" drills conducted in class. Monster films returned, but this time they were no longer the monsters of pre-WWII xenophobia. These monsters came from nuclear radiation and scientific experiments gone wrong. Giant insects and reptiles plagued New York City and Japan. Aliens from other planets no longer appeared as "the other," but rather just like us.

The alien in The Day The Earth Stood Still appeared to be an average man, while the aliens in The Thing and Invasion Of The Body Snatchers could take on the form of anybody. During the Red Scare, suspicions of Soviet spies and agents implanted in our society ran rampant among the American people. The films of this time reflected those fears, and the fears of science going too far, creating entirely modern monsters.

Courtesy of Walter Wanger Pictures, Inc.

Courtesy of Walter Wanger Pictures, Inc.

In the 60's, films changed to reflect the civil rights movement and the struggle in Vietnam. Romero's Night of the Living Dead became the poster child for "civil rights horror films" because of his African-American male lead, Duane Jones. While Romero has stated that Jones got the lead role just because "he was the best actor in the auditions," he has also gone on to say that the final image of the film (when Jones was shot through the head by white farmers even though he was not a member of the undead) immediately evoked images of everyday racial violence in America, and that the film has become an "undeniable" reflection of the civil rights movement.

When my father first showed me Carrie, the movie he said scared him the most when he was my age (12), I wasn't afraid of it. Interesting, seeing as even at 12 I recognized it to be a movie about repressed female sexuality -- a theme heavily explored in the feminist horror films of the 70's, from violent and even paranormal female characters, to the evolving rape-and-revenge genre that peaked with I Spit On Your Grave. The difference in these films however was that now the monsters were men, even when their female victims seemed to be more than human.

Courtesy of United Artists

Courtesy of United Artists

Horror films, regardless of their quality or public reception, have always been political films. They play on our fears, they reflect our realities, and they take real life terror and make it digestible by giving us a good guy to root for. Often, in real life, there are not good guys to root for. These films take the fear and paranoia of our history and make them understandable to a modern audience.

As the master of horror, Stephen King, said: "We make up horrors to help us cope with real ones."