Absence

by Margaret Rose

From glossy pages the words bombard me-
SMOOTH SKIN IS ALWAS IN
EFF RTLESS FROM EVERY ANGLE
VISIBLE SCARS, MEET VISIBLE RESL TS
AND…THEY M KE YOU A LITTLE TALLER
FEELS LIKE NOTHING, DOES EVE YTHING
BOLD, BOOST D COLOR
P MP UP THE VOLUME
HAIR COLOR EMER ENCY
I AM NOT A GIR I AM POSION
ENHANCE YOUR LUMINOSIT
-and everything is said in an absence.

 


 

Margaret Rose is currently a senior attending Aquinas College. Earlier this year, she studied in County Galway, Ireland. She is studying English writing, music, and Irish studies. The poem “Absence” was written as part of an ekphrastic project she did with Anna Rose for the class Artists and Writers in Collaboration. Margaret completed the written pieces in the project, while Anna completed the visual art pieces. The project’s focus was on beauty representations and expectations as depicted in women’s style magazines.

A Good Read

by Alaina Hefferen

Out of all the books in the world
you are my favorite read.

Your edges are torn
some pages are missing
the language is illegible at times.

I like your inconsistent plot
for mine is equally unfinished.

 


 

Alaina Hefferen is enrolled at Grand Valley State University and is originally from the east side of Michigan in the city Shelby Township. Her poem is about the appreciation of the imperfections of people and embracing the unknown that is ahead.

Evelyn Hugo Steals My Heart

I just finished listening to The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid on audiobook. I’ve been traveling through her story for the past week and a half while driving and am finally done. I absolutely loved this book, even the embarrassing moment when my husband was in the car with me as a sex scene came on.

I loved this story so much more than I ever expected to — I rarely read romance and have very low expectations when it comes to anything whose title includes the words “Seven Husbands.” But I tried it on a friend’s recommendation (thanks, Mei Ling!) and cannot believe how much I loved it.

Without spoiling too much, I’ll summarize it as a story about a movie star — Evelyn Hugo — whose career started in Hollywood in the 1950s and whose fame and love life were legendary.

Her story moved me to tears numerous times: in heartbreak, loss, and the achingly tragic decision to keep her sexuality a secret. Having only recently learned that I, myself, am bi- or pansexual, I haven’t read, watched, or learned much about LGBTQ+ history. I love Grace & FrankieRENT, and Kinky Boots, but beyond these glimpses into what life was like for queer people in decades past, I haven’t much considered how hard and absolutely unkind society was to those who were different, mostly because I’ve been too caught up in how society still discriminates against queer people.

This story, then, was the first time I fell in love with characters whose full queerness had to be stifled. And the best part of the book is that it is first and foremost a love story, as well as a story about friendship and family. The fact that some of the characters are queer is secondary to the main plot and overall importance of the story. And I love the book for that reason so much. Normalizing queerness is so important. The “point” of this novel isn’t to wave a rainbow flag (although there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, of course); it’s to simply be a good book.

My biggest takeaway from this book is to value my fucking time. I already live, or strive to anyway, with wild abandon, aware of how precious every moment and day is. But this book reminded me that lovepassion, and pleasure are absolutely the most important things I live for. Of course changing the world and shaping politics and caring about others and the planet and being a good role model and having fun and and and… are all important too. They’re what gives my life meaning. They’re what connects me to my community. But if I were given only a day or two to live, I would want to spend every single fucking moment with my husband.

I happen to be one of the lucky ones; we’re almost six years in, and we love each other more than ever. Like, we loooooove each other. We’re hot for each other, and we’re proud of it. We spend so much time together every day and never get sick of each other. We’re passionate and sincere and in love. We don’t fight and haven’t had any arguments beyond getting annoyed about something stupid in probably over a year. And there isn’t a recipe to it. We aren’t somehow better than other people or anything. We just care A LOT about us. We’re hella compatible and we’re both aware of the imminence of death someday so we just refuse to fuck around.

And this book reminded me that every single day with the person I love is precious. Either one of us could get in a car accident any day. Or a serious illness. Or or or. And that’s terrifying, but it’s also sobering.

I don’t believe in an afterlife of any kind. If there’s anything “next” or if reincarnation is a thing, I won’t be me anymore. My consciousness is tied to my physical brain. My memories and emotions and “nurture” and perception and sheer existence are all dependent on my meat sack continuing to operate at full capacity. Sooooo my time is so important. And spending my time specifically with my best friend, my partner, my love is what I care most about. I have Evelyn Hugo (and Taylor Jenkins Reid) to thank for that much-needed reminder.


The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is available from online booksellers and your local bookstore. Read it. Seriously. It’s so good. You’ll cry and laugh and rejoice and remember to live and love and be. A much-deserved (even if no one truly “deserves” anything) five stars.

“Yes Means Yes” teaches me to fight for healthy, shame-free sex

4 stars: “Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape”, a book of essays collected by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti //

A number of these essays are amazing and helped me change my thinking and take on even more feminist, inclusive, and egalitarian views. This book takes on rape culture, sex work, misogyny, queerness, porn, sex education, consent, masturbation, the myth of sexual purity, and process-oriented virginity.

“Killing Misogyny” by Cristina Meztli Tzintzún goes into explicit detail about how even forward-thinking, “outwardly feminist” people can privately exploit the women in their lives; sadly, women are often encouraged to keep these instances quiet to “protect” the “good” men, instead of holding those people accountable.

Too many times in radical left circles, we uphold the image of the man who transforms himself from being hypermasculine and self-destructive to being hypermasculine and revolutionary, but fail to extend this same image to the scores of heroic, deserving womyn who have transformed themselves from victims of a life of subjugation and violence into radical, self-loving feminists who use these personal struggles as a catalyst to create radical social change… I believe we can tear down the walls of silence that maintain structures of misogyny and create safe spaces that are maintained through deliberate action, praxis, and love. [bold emphasis added]

“Who’re You Calling a Whore?: A Conversation with Three Sex Workers on Sexuality, Empowerment, and the Industry” is an amazing interview. In particular, I loved the sections that:

  • examined how sex workers also “commodify men”: (“I remember looking at guys in strip clubs and seeing dollar signs in place of their heads… You stop seeing men in the clubs as people — they are money in my pocket or not. I hate it when people assume that the only people commodified in sex work are the workers.”)
  • discussed how in an ideal world, clients would be polyamorous and have enthusiastic permission to sleep with / get a lap dance from / date etc. sex workers
  • how sex work can be empowering or exploitative (or both), and how this makes it similar to any other profession: (“An exploited woman is one who is not comfortable in her line of work, does not enjoy what she is doing, and is only doing it out of desperation, coercion, or because it seemed like the only way to make “easy money.” This feeling can be experienced by workers in any profession: ambulance chasers, attorneys, doctors, salespeople, et cetera.” However, because the stigma is much greater for a sex worker, an exploited woman would be… relegated to deal with feelings of shame and social rejection in silence.”)
  • the three women interviewed discussed being “particular and choosy” about what types of work they do and even what kinds of acts they will or will not perform or which clients they will be with

Another article, “An Immodest Proposal,” blew me away in its wholesome, gloriously-healthy dreams of how we could learn about and learn to engage in sex as young people if we only taught a different narrative than the current “It’ll hurt the first time” / “Save it for someone you love” / “Don’t have too many partners or you’ll be called a slut” bullshit teens are fed. This article made me a steadfast, vocal advocate for empowering sex ed for teens and young adults; I hope young people can enjoy good, honest, healthy, happy, communicative sex when / if they become ready. Women and girls have desires, and they are wonderful! Understanding them and learning to celebrate them is CRUCIAL to breaking down the patriarchal, religious, and oppressive cultural mores that I and so many others were raised under.

“Real Sex Education” by Cara Kulwicki also discusses how to teach teens about sex; my favorite section mandates that sex education doesn’t have to be graphic or “porn” to be qualitative:

“Letting teens know that women usually achieve orgasm through rubbing of the clitoris, whether with fingers, mouth, object, or penis, isn’t the same as screening an instructional video on giving good cunnilingus. It’s not the same as writing down the names of sex-toy shops on the blackboard or handing out diagrams of cool and exciting coital positions. And teaching that lubricants reduce pain and increase safety and pleasure during many kinds of sex should be thought of not as performance advice, but on par with vital lessons about condom use.

Real sex education… [teaches] that pleasure is an important part of any sexual relationship. It’s about teaching that there is nothing wrong with wanting to feel sexual pleasure and seeking it out, so long as it is done safely and responsibly. It’s about teaching comfort with one’s body and a lack of shame over desires, and that there is more to sex for all people than sticking penises inside of vaginas. Real sex education teaches how to go about making intelligent, safe choices, rather than just stating choices available… And I believe that teaching teens to make smart choices about sex must involve teaching them that having sex, partnered or alone, can be a smart choice.”

“A Woman’s Worth” by Javacia N. Harris dives deep into the realm of media, cultural expectations, and how women are wrongly judged for their “sexual value” rather than who they are (which can totally include their sexuality IF they want it to!). We need to take hard stands against content that demeans women, and we also need to “find ways to build ourselves up individually in the meantime” while we’re waiting for (and creating) art that empowers and celebrates women.

“Sex Worth Fighting For” by Anastasia Higginbotham looks at self-defense and encourages women to fight tooth-nail-and-voice against unwanted sexual advances, regardless of environment, company, or whether or not the advances are coming from someone you know or love. We can’t just envision a world where rape doesn’t exist; we have to combat it in our own lives and stand up for ourselves at all possible moments:

“We can learn to fight for sex on our own terms. Literally. With strong words, conviction, and certainty, with hands, elbows, knees, feet, and a “NO” so mean it chills the blood.”

This essay doesn’t victim-blame; encouraging women to stand up for themselves doesn’t mean that those who have been assaulted somehow failed, but it does demonstrate that we can RUN the very second that we feel uncomfortable, disrespected, or violated. I know that my own assault from someone I was dating is sticky because I didn’t ever vocally say no, and I didn’t leave. Instead, I froze up (which is an article of its own) and just mentally checked out, thinking that if I just let it happen, it would end soon. Had I read this article before that night, I might have been mentally prepared to say, Fuck it, fuck being polite, THIS IS NOT HAPPENING, and left with no explanations. I’ll never know for sure. But I do know that we need to say SCREW the societal expectation that women are supposed to be polite and smooth things over and take what’s coming for them. We are better than that, and good sex is worth fighting for.

“The Process-Oriented Virgin” by Hanne Blank is another of my favorite essays. It explores the notion that some people are redefining what constitutes the “loss” of their virginity; while I myself prefer to think about things in terms of sexual experiences rather than “losing virginity”, this essay is really important. Blank explains how some are discounting any sexual experiences where they didn’t orgasm or didn’t initiate or didn’t enjoy the encounter, etc. etc. The point is that these people are reclaiming what it means to become sexually active and are eradicating the notion that OTHER PEOPLE are the ones who decide when you “lose” your virginity; instead, she advocates for a new “cultural constant” that allows each person to subjectively decide when they have experienced sex. This is especially important for queer people, who don’t necessarily ever have penis-in-vagina intercourse, but who obviously still have sex — which they define and interpret. Enacting this definitive change “would change sexuality, gender roles, and maybe the world.”

I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone interested in dismantling gender roles, sex, and rape culture. I gave it four stars simply because I skipped a number of the essays and actively disagree with one, but I still think it’s an amazing collection and am a better person having read it.

 

Two poems from Kevin Lee McLary

Graduation Day

 

I feel a bit smaller with every passing Graduation Day

like I

was too lazy to get those C’s and degrees

withdrew from college

because I was

too sad

too low

all the while thinking I was

too dumb to make anything of myself

 

like that piece of paper was the key to ignoring my mental illness

and becoming the model citizen my parents always thought I’d become

but instead of growing up

I grew in

into the shoes of

can’t hold a job

can’t get out of bed

can’t pay the bills

can’t find my own pulse

because I figured my life was over,

I couldn’t fathom bouncing back

when I had no plan

no direction

nowhere to go but up

but somehow

I caught myself spiraling

convinced I was better off dead

I felt the coolness of the bathroom floor

and when it was all slipping away

I wished I could have done things differently

hoping to dodge my bipolar one way or another

I came to the conclusion that this is my life

there is no part of me that can exist without my brain

as imbalanced as it may be

It is part of who I am

and that is nothing to be ashamed of

I am more than my successes and failures

I have more in me than a college degree

there is no way that the best day of my life is Graduation Day

 


Value Meal

I hate hearing the term “value meal”

is there another expression that doubles as getting swallowed whole by American advertising and consumerism?

maybe “Refinance now”

maybe “Buy one, get one”

maybe “Payday Advance”

maybe “Zero down for those who qualify”

the ad men are angelic

and my nightmares are filled with nothing but dollar signs and prison bars

sometimes,

I can’t tell the difference between the two

 

let’s face the facts

it’s easier to get approved for a mortgage you can’t afford

than it is to cancel your Comcast service

but make a single comment about how little we make

and suddenly

we appear ungrateful for the duplex on California

the house too small to raise a family on National

the homes all over our city with more mice than food in them

I’m convinced that rich white men want nothing more than to rob us and be thanked for it

so thank you

 

I can’t wait to see the new Statue of Liberty

an assault rifle in one hand

and “The Art of the Deal” in the other

they look down from their ivory towers

and tell us to pray to their three dollar bills

printed with their white Jesus

with a silver star on his chest

And combat boots on his feet

God bless America

God bless the dead presidents

God bless the ad men

God bless rugged individualism

and consumerism

and competition

and minimum wage

 

leave the pitiful at your doorstep

leave the lost in your kitchen

take the hopeful to the bedroom

and wake them

when the American Dream is over–

money & guns: this is america

Gambino’s new video “This is America” is a thoughtfully choreographed masterpiece, evocative, timely, crucial. I was reminded of others’ work, Danez Smith, Claudia Rankine, Michelle Alexander, Jess X Snow, Myles Golden, George Abraham, Toni Morrison, Khalid Abudawas, and I felt that this video is poetry, that it takes audiences on such a stark, emotional journey, and it does so well. This project uses every imaginable aspect to convey violence, corruption, and terror. Each swell, musical style, and rhythm is meant to bolster the content of the lyrics and visuals.

The very first glimpse we have of Gambino is when he comes into view from behind a beam: taking us by surprise. Before the first sound loop changes into the next section of the song, we see him pull a gun out and execute the guitarist, terrorist / POW-style right after grooving to the intro, aka in the middle of ordinary activities.

After the commentary indicative of a Black Lives Matter / cultural truth “we just wanna party”, the chorus dives into critiques of guns, police, and the divide between people of color (particularly dark-skinned Americans) and inner city police forces (“Don’t catch you slipping up” and “guerilla”).

His main entourage or co-stars in the video are young; including young dancers is a beautiful statement and nod to those learning and dancing young, particularly to those youth of color in inner cities (the school uniform aesthetic) who dance for fun; it also serves, as culture and roots remind us, as an homage to inner city youth of days past.

Obviously one of the most fucked up and therefore powerful images in the video is when he slays the church choir. But the very way the scene is set up is also a powerful statement; Gambino slips in a side door unnoticed, meaning we as the audience probably didn’t even notice the door until he came in, since we were so focused on watching the choir perform. He acts at home, dances, smiles, laughs, freezes, turns, catches an assault rifle, and guns down the choir. During my first time watching the video, I said to my husband, “I almost had to expect that after the first guy he killed.” That in itself is part of the statement. How often do we just feel numb to the news of another mass shooting, another school shooting, another person with access to a gun who had never passed a background check, another bucket in the ocean of reasons assault rifles should not be manufactured for civilian sale. Another instance of Conservative gunowners possessing more rights than victims of gun violence.

The next scene depicts police and violence against individuals dressed in street clothes, hoodies, loose pants, etc. During the middle of this scene, Gambino jumps on beat and makes eye contact with the camera while singing, “Whoo, whoo!” He jumps playfully, sings goodnaturedly, as though the officers are a joke. As though the scene is a joke. Because how Black men are treated in this country by the police SHOULD BE A JOKE. But it isn’t. This irony packs a punch.

He dances again with the group of young people. He plays it off. It’s not ‘serious’; it’s normal for these kids to be dancing in the middle of chaos with the police; their neighborhoods are overpoliced and underserved. This generation is growing up when Black Lives Matter and social media and everyday life in their communities teaches them that this combative existence against the police is normal.

The lyrics during this section focus on a materialistic critique, a critique about caring about superficial things (“geekin out”; “fitted”; “Gucci”; “so pretty”). Then, the content moves in on a critique of guns and international weapons trafficking (“contraband”; “the plug in Oaxaca” (a city in Mexico); “blocka”). You’ll notice also that as the camera pans over some kids sitting on a balcony / second floor of the building, one kid is recording everything on a phone; this serves to critique the normalization of recording violence. I’m sure others who teach or are around teens can attest to this prominent habit of theirs today. When I was in high school six years ago, only a few (and I’ll be rude and call them shitty) of my peers recorded fights instead of getting help or trying to intervene. Now, I see my teen students pull up videos of fights or show off footage they recorded almost daily. They don’t seem to mind the wrongness of laughing at and celebrating violence; they’ve been desensitized. Inner city violence is multi-faceted and has a long history that can be traced directly to racism, segregation, poverty, systemic discrimination, intentional drug ferrying, redlining, gentrification, and on and on. But none of this okays the celebration of violence.

Gambino pauses in the next moments, and the music stops. He lights a joint. Casually. Pointedly. Again, a critique. Others of us light up to escape, to ignore, to waste time and not improve the problems laid out in the video.

I know there are so many things that have escaped my notice or that I can’t catch as references or significant because I lack the knowledge. One of these is the significance of all the parked, abandoned, hazards-flashing cars. I notice a young woman perched on one car’s bumper who seems to blow a kiss as the camera pans out.

The song shifts again, a second moment where we expected the song to be over, yet it continued. Point being, yes, these problems, that’s just it, they keep going. There are that many of them. They remain unsolved, placed on America’s back burner.

The final section of the song sounds like an outro or like background music in a slow-mo or timelapse portion of a movie. The part of the movie that isn’t content persay but filler. The scenes that help you understand the transition or the passing of time. The story being depicted here is Gambino running, terrified, from the police. But this is just something that happens. It’s just filler, just time passing. Right?

The conversation continues in the words of many other, wiser writers and people. Individuals on my Facebook timeline have pointed out references to Fela Kuti and New Jack City. I’m not pretending to be an expert by any means, but I’ve been a fan of Gambino’s for years, and this new video is fucking powerful. Thanks for reading. What do you think of what I unraveled? What did I misinterpret or miss altogether?

And may the universe bless Donald Glover.


Featured image credit: Highsnobiety & Donald Glover

Fear is Not a Factor

by Hailee Cederquist

Fear is not a factor
At least, it shouldn’t be

Fear is a temporary fence
Our doubts will rust it
Our voices will tear holes

And that’s why fear won’t work
We the People were born demolitionists
We tore off our shackles
We opened the gates
We will not let fear control us

Not for long, anyways
Because rust turns to blood
And the voices to battle cries
Hoarse with Revolution!

So why is it
That November 9th
A good friend of mine
Came to me in pieces

She said ‘My mom wants to leave the country’
So I shut my mouth with the politics
And I thought about the people

People who have struggled
So spectacularly
Whose trials I couldn’t even begin to fathom
They are drowning in the debates
And all the politicians can talk about is
What they think is right and wrong
But it’s really more or less
Majority and minority

They don’t talk about a mother
An immigrant
Who is so terrified of America the discriminatory
That she wants to leave
Life in its ashes
She is a citizen.

Don’t tell me that the president
Has less power than I think

He has the power to tear down our carefully constructed cases
To change the meaning of We the People
To We the Majority
To strike doubt into our dreams
Our dreams
Dedicated
To a truly equal America

Where a family can speak Spanish in the grocery store
And not be looked at
Like America’s blackheads
And anyone can get married
Without us having to argue over it

This is especially sickening to the ordinary people
Maybe not me and maybe not you
But those without a voice
Because they’re too different to have one in your court room

There is a way
We can keep fighting
We can keep our heads high
But most of all,
We have to hope that this earthquake
Doesn’t turn into a landslide

use your noodle: “On Imagination”

I received a reviewer’s copy of Mary Ruefle’s chapbook essay “On Imagination” and tore through it in a single sitting – during which I took notes, underlined generously, and paused to marvel at how her written experiences were so spot on.

“On Imagination” details the ways in which we, the world’s creative types, use imagination to craft. It also expounds on the ways that everyone uses their imagination daily – to fall asleep at night and imagine they’re safe from harm, to get in a vehicle and imagine they’ll arrive to wherever they’re going without crashing, etc. etc.

This essay is less of a textbook and more of a mindfulness guide; I’ve since quoted its wisdom in conversations with other writers to ask how their imaginations influence (whether consciously or subconsciously) their work. Ruefle considers how our imaginations create our perceptions of the world – how when we mishear someone’s sentence, we’re actually creating a new reality, one in which the sentence we thought they said is actually what they said.

She then uses this knowledge of the imagination as power – if you can understand and flex your imagination, you can nudge the imaginations of your readers or audience and create a more convincing world / argument / narrative.

I strongly advise teaching this essay if that’s your profession. At the very least, pick up a personal copy from Sarabande Books if it’s in your budget (~$13 including shipping) or if you’re already a Ruefle fan. You’ll be pleased to learn about her personal life and inner thoughts while marveling at the importance – and prevalence – of imagination.

 

Peace & love from Jay the Inspirational

What is the power of poetry?

Every word that you put together to form a sentence can be used to incite violence, provoke thought, or give comfort. It is our duty as artists to be cautious with our words. Poetry has the power to change the world, but we must be careful what we say. I believe that violent words have the potential to do more damage than any sword.

How has writing impacted you?

There is an infinite liberty when I pick up my pen and turn on an instrumental or start playing my djembe. I can sing or write about anything on my heart. One could say it’s therapeutic to be able to get all of my one million scattered thoughts on paper.

Who or what inspires you?

My mother inspires me. She taught us to respect each other and to treat others the way we wanted to be treated. We never wanted for anything. Granted, we didn’t have all the fancy material things, [but] we were happy. It’s all about love. My mother definitely had a major impact on me.

You write a lot about family and friends; where do you gather support and connection from?

Again, my mother and my grandmother were the first people to really invest in my music. I tell the story all the time, but my mom bought me my first keyboard. My grandmother makes a point of telling me the story [of] how when I was two, I came up to her and told her that Jesus told me to preach. To this day, I am still preaching; it’s just a different message.

What is important to you?

Love is important. Love is the energy we transfer through art, our lives, and the experiences we share on this giant space marble. We cannot advance as a people until we come together in love. Only when we put down our weapons and learn to love can we truly understand what unity is. In short, we are all [we] have here.

Unless we come together, unless we have love others more than we love ourselves, this world and our communities will continue to be at war. It is time to lay down our arms and open up our minds. Our planet is dying; cultures are disappearing. Listen, it’s easy; we just have to be nice. Stop treating your neighbor like dirt.

Be good to yourself and every living thing on this planet, from the smallest human to the oldest redwood.