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 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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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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Wordsmith Wednesday: Kaveh Akbar’s “An Apology”

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This week’s Wordsmith Wednesday is Kaveh Akbar’s poem “An Apology“ from his collection entitled Calling a Wolf a Wolf.

It reads:

“Lord, I meant to be helpless, sex-
less as a comma, quiet as
cotton floating on a pond. Instead,
I charged into desire like a
tiger sprinting off the edge of
the world. My ancestors shot bones
out of cannons and built homes where
they landed. This is to say, I
was born the king of nothing, pulled
out from nothing like a carrot
slipped from soil. I am still learning
the local law: don’t hurt something
that can smile, don’t hold any grief
except your own. My first time—brown
arms, purple lips, lush as a gun—-
we slumped into each other’s thighs.
She said duset daram, mano
tanha bezar—I love you, leave
me alone. See? There I go scab-
picking again. You should just hang
me in a museum. I’ll pose
as a nasty historical
facet, wave at the cameras, lecture
only in the rhetoric of
a victim. As a boy I tore out
the one-hundred-and-nine pages
about Hell in my first Qur’an.
Bountiful bloomscattering Lord,
I could feel you behind my eyes
and under my tongue, shocking me
nightly like an old battery.
What did I need with Hell? Now that
I’ve sucked you wrinkly like a thumb,
I can barely be bothered to
check in. Will I ever even know
when my work is done? I’m almost
ready to show you the mess I’ve made.”

“I’m sorry” tends to show up in our everyday vocabulary, similarly to “umm” and “like” and “what’s your name again?” when we’ve been taught to be apologetic for who we are and how we feel. We find ourselves in a tug of war between what we think, want to say, how we want to act, and what is expected of us based on social, sexual, religious, et al expectations. As much as we want/hope/try to fit into the mold or perception that our parents/friends/significant others have of us, when that is not who we truly are, our thoughts and actions aren’t always able to align. We speak out of turn, we feel too eager, too energetic, too prepared. We say our sorrys.

We want so badly to be someone else or discover who we are, learn from our past, but during that process we find out we are is a whole bunch of wires all mixed up together never connecting to the right plug. We are human and we want a range of uncertain desires that make us feel like pieces of puzzles that don’t fit together, that we’ve cut apart to line up. This mess is something we must love first before being able to present to others. We must find our roots, our initial selves, and hold fast or it will always be an inward fight. – KK

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