Issue 9 Editor’s Note

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The following is the full Editor’s Note for Issue 9:

let this be the healing
& if not   let it be
            Danez Smith, “little prayer”

Sitting here in the oppressive summer heat, a reprieve from the frigid winter that numbed my fingers and toes, I’m having trouble summarizing the lifetime experienced in the last year and a half. A time that’s felt, and feels, like standing in front of a funhouse mirror or walking through a Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Experiences of trauma, hate, grief, greed, injustice, passion, fear, growth, and strength. New and old clashing repeatedly until there’s no differentiating, though it all has its own weight. No work, only home. Repeat. No work, only home. Repeat. Work. Home. Repeat. Work is home is work. Repeat. Blurred days blending and gathering inertia, becoming an existential black hole to be constantly clawed out of.

The period since our last issue has been defined by a generalized anxiety, coursing through my flesh, feelings that had been bubbling to the surface for years becoming the baseline of daily life. The type of fear that made me feel like the main character of a Stephen King novel. Fear of every interaction possibly spurring a domino effect I didn’t even know was already occurring, of someone I know and love hurting, dying, brutalized – horror stories come to life. 

In the moments of uncertainty and doubt, where nothing seemed to be moving forward and often felt as though we were moving backward, I grasped on to the small moments like a newborn baby clinging to its parent’s finger, considering the warmth and newness of it, trying to understand how it fits into the whole scheme of its miniature world. Mundanities, like walking my friend’s dog with no headphones in, feeding off his unabashed desire to explore every sidewalk crevice, know every blade of grass and house corner intimately, were pure and grounding. In those moments, there was no drowning out. Not with music, or alcohol, or productivity, only true presence and awareness. 

I’ve long struggled with the expectation that every moment needs to be productive, every bit of time utilized correctly so nothing is wasted. And yet with so much time during the pandemic, so much space to create, it had been difficult to do anything. The looming knowledge of why I had the time followed me like a shadow, reminding me that others were in pain, struggling to live, fighting to survive. Instead of creating, I spent time evaluating how long the collective trauma would last, when I’d feel comfortable seeing my friend’s again, worrying whose wrongful death at the hands of police we’d be protesting next. Reflection brought my inner self outward, forced me to learn more about who I was and what I was passionate about. I sat with and accepted feelings that were hard to face, had honest conversations and searched for balance between social engagement and self-knowledge. 

This space, however fraught, cast a light on the relationships I held close and uncovered how much those people truly meant to me, how they carried me through. I found calm in routines, like making breakfast at home or sitting with a cup of coffee and nothing else. They grounded me and were essential to enduring the inescapable dread. At times I had to question if I was disassociating, coping, or actually facing the reality of the last year, the past half-decade. But it’s clear now we need to take whatever we’ve learned and keep applying it, keep pushing, and continue to learn and shift. We shouldn’t succumb to a comfortable desire for “normalcy.” We have moved the marker. 

When considering the past year plus and the path forward, the word I keep shifting my mind back to is intentionality. The routines and calculated risks of the pandemic gave space to the more intentional, gave strength to conviction and encouraged the existential nourishment gained from supporting the community. Knowing that time is fleeting, knowing that we can cease to exist so quickly, how am I putting care and thought into my actions? Am I only reposting stories online or am I donating to mutual aid funds, bringing food to pantries, participating in protests? Am I actually doing the work when I know I can? 

We must continue to ask ourselves these questions of intentionality. We have gone through a collective trauma, an amorphous mass pain, and the immediate reaction is to push it deep down until it seeps out of our toes and act as if it never existed at all. But that would be a disservice and a dishonesty, threatening the negation of any lessons and the devaluation of any growth. Erasure of the last year and a half isn’t the answer. Reflection and connection through art and community is. That’s why Sobotka was created: to provide an open community for writers, and ourselves, to engage in. With so much necessary distance, isolation, and uncertainty since we spoke last, we hope this makes you feel human and unalone.

Kathy Klimentowski
Chicago, July 2021

Issue 9 Contributors

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We proudly present our Issue 9 contributors!

Prose:
Vincent Barraco
Aaron Eischeid
Chase Griffin
Anthony Koranda
Chuck Kramer
Cody Lee
Delia Rainey
Owen Schalk
Yash Seyedbagheri
Kevin Sterne
Nathan Stormer

Poetry:
Alex Bahler
Katelyn DeAlmeida
Mark DeCarteret
William Doreski
Carol Ellis
Jennifer Haare
Jack J. B. Hutchens
Ryan Janovic
Justin Lacour
Kristy Lueshen
Jennifer MacBain-Stephens
Marshall Mallicoat
DS Maolalaí
Alexandra Martinez
Sara McNally
Cassandra L. Meek
Tiffany Mi
Nikki Monroe
Amanda North
Alex Wells Shapiro
Karo Ska
Adrian Sobol

Art:
Elise Paluszak

Issue 8 Editor’s Note

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The following is the full editor’s note for Issue 8:

When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.
            Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

and I’ll go to work and I’ll go to sleep
and I’ll love the littler things
            Mitski Miyawaki, “A Burning Hill”

A couple months back at Off Color, standing in a room full of other people escaping the wind, feeling drained from work and a bit distant, Kathy said something to me that stuck: “this is the season for talking to people.” It made me pause because my immediate thought was that it feels like the talking never ends but, in spite of that, the sentiment felt right. Winter is a time of growth in Chicago. The cold slows us down, pushes us into bars or inside apartments, into ourselves. The ones we make time to speak with are the ones we care about deeply, the ones that nourish us until we can bloom back out onto the streets in Spring.

Since we started this project half a decade ago, I’ve seen my understanding of myself broken down to something unrecognizable and built again from the dirt through work. Commitment and surrender to work in all its forms felt like a way to simplify life into something consistent, something that gave order and purpose in a world that felt, and still feels, chaotic and purposeless most days. Washing dishes, grading papers, writing poems, pouring beers, designing books. All these activities gave me a self through action, but not the commodification of that action. The vital element was not the product or the image of work, but the work itself. Sustenance through quiet, sustained practice. Freedom through constraint.

In this era of ubiquitous media, constant digital communication, and mutating ad algorithms, we are encouraged to be consistent in our construction and expression of self. We are expected to define our identity publicly, refining primarily through externalization and consumption. Self-reflection has always been difficult, but in this context it seems wasteful, if not downright useless. Change of any kind can be construed as inauthenticity, as if somehow the true identity is codified in its first public form.

This pressure for consistency seems largely tied to the framing of self as a commodity, as a product to be consumed and, through its own consumption, be formed more perfectly to be consumed more. We are given a plethora of digital platforms to connect (read: consume and be consumed) and yet, even with all these tools we’re given to realize ourselves, most of the people I know feel more fragmented than at any other time in their lives. Maybe it’s the age, maybe it’s the alcohol, maybe it’s sociopolitical fatigue.

But, to me, this discontinuity need not be feared. The self is a reflection in shards of glass, fragmented mask presented as face. The goal isn’t to pretend the mirror is pristine, but to recognize the cracks and reimagine how the pieces fit together, maybe flip the pieces over and focus inward, maybe see your face reflected in those you talk to and love.

In the past decade, work helped me love the littler bits of life, to find freedom in acknowledging limitations. This magazine is part of that, as well as the other creative ventures I’ve pursued, but the most significant element of that realization has been conversations, both with the work of others as well as those others themselves. I’ve wrapped my interior self up in the interiors of others, and we’ve created our mirrored masks with little pieces of each other, forever reworking.

The pieces in this issue navigate the construction and conception of self through a variety of nuanced lenses, from transformative childhood experience to extended hallucination narrative to a snake eating its own ass. The self is central to these poems and stories, but it is not static. There is little demand for consistency of identity in the work herein. The self here transforms and is transformed by time and physical geography, creating boundaries and then transgressing. The self is built from and exists in the soft clay of trauma, triumph, absurdity, and beauty. It is warped, fragmented, whole.

We’re grateful that these writers have engaged in the difficult exercise of reflection in spite of the cultural indicators that such a private activity may not have value, which is to say it cannot easily be commodified. This issue stands as a physical representation of and testament to that exercise, as a synthesis and presentation of the exploration. We hope this collection validates in some small way the practice of reflection, subsequent action, and gradual growth.

As always, we hope this makes you feel human and unalone.

Nick Rossi
Chicago, January 2020

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Issue 8 Authors

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We proudly present our Issue 8 contributors!

Prose

Nishat Ahmed
Joshua Bohnsack
Mary E. Hilbert
Nicholas Kirwen
Thomas V. Lerczak
Leland Neville
Steve Passey
Juliana Ravelli
Suzanne Farrell Smith

Poetry

Eric Tyler Benick
Ingrid M. Calderon-Collins
Marcus Clayton
Joseph Demes
Cat Dossett
Matthew Friend
Jack Granath
Claire Hancock
Scout Kelly
Marlo Koch
Carlo Matos
mo Santiago
Stephanie Schubert
Katy Scrogin
Eric Streichert

Art

Zach Hobbs

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Submissions for Issue 8

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Submissions for Issue 8 are open until May 31st, 2019 at 11:59PM CST!

Send us your poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction!

Find full submission guidelines here!

 

 

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Issue 7 Editor’s Note

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The following is the full editor’s note for Issue 7:

Although born a summer baby, home always looked like witches in windows, puffy jackets in the middle of downtown, noses red and runny and frozen, and powdered hot chocolate with dissolvable marshmallows to warm our insides. I find solace in a time where apparitions come out to play and the dead scratch at the ceilings of their coffins, preparing to see the moonlight again. There’s comfort in walking around, crunching leaves beneath feet, hands buried deep into coat pockets and scarves wrapped around faces four times. There’s warmth in the sound of furnaces ticking awake, lingering campfire smoke in your partner’s hair, and whiskey filling up your glass. There’s magic in this time of year: in Halloween, in Fall, in Transition.

But warmth often cools. As I grew older, the home always found in the unrelenting Midwest began to morph. The pleasant glow emanating from memories became cold with silent, empty apartments, mice found in bread bags, distance built by thoughts held instead of vocalized. Specters knocked at my door, pulling me back to memories I so badly wanted to forget. Often, I could only make out remnants of what used to draw me to this blustery season. Instead of mulled wine under blankets and comforting movies with people around, all that seemed to be left were numbed toes and half-hearted hang outs.

While it may be tempting to build a home in memories, as my friend Amy would say, change is always first perceived as loss. I’ve always been tied to nostalgia, never wanting to forget all the nourishing times, writing them down in lists, in books, in my phone, just to make sure I remember. I don’t like letting go of what I once defined as my home, my surrounding, my friends. Slowly, with many bruises and burns, I’m finally beginning to learn how to accept that this season won’t be the same every year. It won’t always be shows and costumes and vulnerability and friends. Sometimes it’ll just be time with yourself or with the person you love most. And that’s okay.

During the first year of Sobotka, I was living alone in a town full of transitional people. I’d stayed in Urbana for a job after graduating, though almost all my friends had left. Memories of house parties, late night talks, midnight grocery store runs, and climbing roofs haunted me, haunted this town. When I finally decided to move back to Chicago, I told myself that I wouldn’t be alone like that again. I began to fill every day with friends or activities or work, anything that would keep me occupied and away from my thoughts. I put my energy into people and projects, but never into myself. By keeping a safe distance from anything that was going on in my mind, I was never able to develop, learn about myself, or grow. I became stagnant.

This year, I’ve finally allowed myself to create new experiences, ones that I never imagined I’d have. This is the first time I’ve fully written the Editor’s Note, the first time I’ve ever had any of my work published and read in public, the first time I’ve ever traveled to Pittsburgh or the Smoky Mountains or Madison or experienced the inexplicable House on the Rock. By letting go of familiarity, I’ve been able to have a year of strange, scary, exciting, influential experiences. Now, I find comfort in moments where I sit in my room, no one around, and am allowed to write and read and be with my thoughts.

Instead of focusing on distance during this season, it’s become a time to dig out an understanding of what I need to not slip on that ice on my way to work or school or the bar, to take skeletons off their hangers and into the light. Though snow blizzards and cold winds can act as a comforter, tucking us far away from what’s waiting beyond the door, they also give us a space for self-reflection. This space can serve as a moment where we look back at past decisions made, where we diverged and got caught up in the thoughts of all that went wrong. Here’s where we understand how to release, move forward, and enjoy this new type of season in our lives.

Some of the pieces in this issue ruminate on softer, fuller times, while others try to find a path or new focus for the future, but most are looking for meaning, a reason, an understanding of what to do next, what is the right move in this game of Sequence.

Each time these glimpses into people’s lives flood our inbox, everything reawakens: motivation, examination of self, possibilities. The lapse in creativity, filled. Home is where we expect to feel welcomed, unafraid, comfortable. These pieces remind us that not everyone has that luxury. Some live inside themselves, questioning their actions and inactions constantly. But we can also find a peace in this turbulent place. Even if it requires changing your perspective, even when it’s extremely difficult.

As always, we hope this makes you feel human and unalone.

Kathy Klimentowski
Chicago, November 2018

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Issue 7 Authors

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We proudly present our Issue 7 authors!

Poetry by:

Edward Ahern
Nishat Ahmed
Dessa Bayrock
PJ Carmichael
Sarah Champion
HarryJames Clifford
Josh Dale
B.R. Dionysius
Malina Douglas
Carol Ellis
Nikolai Garcia
Kathleen Gunton
TS Hidalgo
Betsy Housten
Sneha Subramanian Kanta
Radhaika Kapur
Kayla King
Luis Lopez-Maldonado
John Rodzvilla
Constance Schultz
Miranda Sun

Prose by:

Chance Chambers
Dustin Davenport
Dane Erbach
Ed McMenamin
Amanda Rozmer
Kevin Sterne
Annelise Trout

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Wordsmith Wednesday: Patti Smith’s M Train

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Our words this Wednesday come from Patti Smith​’s M Train.

They are:

“I hate being confined, especially when it’s for my own good.”

Presented almost as an aside in reference to trying to slyly stay unbuckled on an airplane, this sentence quietly links foundational themes in the text and illuminates them like the author clicking on a lamp in the corner of the room you’ve been sharing to show you more clearly the details in the chairs in which you both sit. In a book that is in large ways about place, space, and an oscillation within those concepts from the joys of Home to the omnipresent itch to roam independent, these words highlight an elemental juxtaposition in Smith between her love of comfortable routine—coffee at her favorite NYC table, her minimalist wardrobe, the love for her late husband Fred and their Michigan house—and the need to feel the wild pulse of world, especially through traveling to places once inhabited by artists she admires. There is sureness and self-awareness in this conflict that makes these little imbedded revelations in Smith’s writing more intimate, her fiercely imperfect independence human and alive. Bristling sincerity and curious uncertainty give texture to the prose that makes the reader feel as if they’re carefully but confidently being shown around a friend’s unfinished house, snapshots and nostalgalia picked up along the way. Smith acknowledges inconsistencies in construction and decor but never apologizes, rarely even attempting to meaningfully explain the vision for the final product, possibly because there never has been one except for it to be completely untied to expectation. We just watch her build the house around us and herself, finding beauty in the bent nails, rusted hinges, and knowledge it will never be done, getting lost enough in the ramshackle romance not to notice Patti herself has thrown on her black coat and gone out in search of coffee just when things seemed to be coming together. – NR

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Wordsmith Wednesday: Natalie Diaz’ “My Brother at 3 A.M.”

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Our words this week are Natalie Diaz’ poem “My Brother at 3 A.M.” from her collection When My Brother Was an Aztec on Copper Canyon Press.

It reads:

He sat cross-legged, weeping on the steps
when Mom unlocked and opened the front door.
        O God, he said. O God.
                He wants to kill me, Mom.
When Mom unlocked and opened the front door
at 3 a.m., she was in her nightgown, Dad was asleep.
        He wants to kill me, he told her,
                looking over his shoulder.
3 a.m. and in her nightgown, Dad asleep,
What’s going on? she asked. Who wants to kill you?
        He looked over his shoulder.
                The devil does. Look at him, over there.
She asked, What are you on? Who wants to kill you?
The sky wasn’t black or blue but the green of a dying night.
        The devil, look at him, over there.
                He pointed to the corner house.
The sky wasn’t black or blue but the dying green of night.
Stars had closed their eyes or sheathed their knives.
        My brother pointed to the corner house.
                His lips flickered with sores.
Stars had closed their eyes or sheathed their knives.
O God, I can see the tail, he said. O God, look.
        Mom winced at the sores on his lips.
                It’s sticking out from behind the house.
O God, see the tail, he said. Look at the goddamned tail.
He sat cross-legged, weeping on the front steps.
        Mom finally saw it, a hellish vision, my brother.
                O God, O God, she said.
Part of a collection wrapped around themes of family, addiction, and Native identity, Diaz builds a space that is spiritual in its commonality, the mirror between real and surreal shivering on the masculinity and meth use of a brother. This poem blends those worlds in a way that sets the fears of the addict and the addict adjacent next to each other, both seeing the devil in the flickering in the dead of reservation night. A silent audience, the darkness surrounds and absorbs everything between the mother and her son: the familiarity, the desperation, the confusion, the love. Linguistically, repetition wraps a peculiar calm around the frantic energy of the son, peeling back the mystery of addict behavior with a knowing hand both clinical and caring. Loving an addict can warp expectations of normality, deadening nerves past shock and exhausting empathy into apathy. Diaz expresses this beautifully through her approach to the erratic, irrational behavior of the poem’s eponymous brother: her descriptions of the man’s addiction, much like the behavior of the mother, is without exaggeration or judgement. Her’s is the deadened, hesitant compassion of one that’s seen the devil too often to be still be scared of his tail, let alone the spitting lips he splits. – NR

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Submissions for Issue 7

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Submissions for Issue 7 are open until April 15th!

Send us your poetry, prose, and creative nonfiction!

Find full submission guidelines here!

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