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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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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Issue 6 Available Now

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Issue 6 of Sobotka Literary Magazine is available now here!

Thank you to everyone involved for their work, help, encouragement, and support. We are psyched to be giving these authors a platform and hope people will feel lit in their bones if they check out this issue!

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Editor’s Note for Issue 6

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The following is the full Editor’s Note for Issue 6:

One cannot walk this winding street with pride
Straight-shouldered, tranquil-eyed,
Knowing one knows for sure the way back home.
One wonders if one has a home.
– Gwendolyn Brooks, “One wants a Teller in a time like this”

What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.
– Kurt Vonnegut, Palm Sunday

I’ve come home again.

I sit in my car in the morning waiting for the engine to heat up, for my bones to stop creaking. I speed down country roads lined with cornstalks, green and strong until they are harvested or left to turn dead-gold. I drive past the cemetery where my friend’s grave is on the way to and from work, sometimes slowing down to look through the narrow gate and across rolling headstones. I ride the Metra line downtown to avoid the Dan Ryan, the one my dad took for years when he worked at Wrigley, the one that goes through my childhood hometown and Brooks’ Bronzeville, too. I walk suburban streets with my dog, I walk from the L to my friends’ apartments, I walk down high school halls, weekend alleyways, the steps to my parents’ basement. I sleep in my middle school bedroom on an air mattress. I dream of Chicago and its sprawl because I’ve come home again.

Home doesn’t always feel that way. When I left Illinois for Tennessee almost four years ago, I swore I’d never miss this place. I told myself nothing tethered me here besides family and the familiar. Graduation from college had been followed by a failed job hunt, a funeral for a close friend, and sixty-hour work weeks in food service. Lost and apathetic, I’d unconsciously distanced myself from the people and places that reminded me of my past, of myself. But I hadn’t been able to hide. I’d haunted my old campus, broken shouldered and cloudy eyed, for months until I’d moved back in with my parents to try to piece together part-time teaching jobs around Chicago. I’d felt lonely, pathetic, and out of place, no longer at home in the spots that were once mine. Winding through the suburbs and the city’s south and west sides, I wondered if I had a home.

Sobotka grew out of that emotional homelessness. Kathy and I needed something to focus on besides day jobs, and we felt we could provide a platform for people seeking that same connection: a community built not from place, profession, or past, but from words. So we started working on this project nights and weekends, with nothing but a feeling and few hundred dollars.

In the years that followed, this magazine helped create one of the most stable communities in my life. It connected me to Chicago while allowing me to explore creative opportunities in Nashville. It has provided me the space to express myself alongside artists I respect. It has introduced me to the writers, readers, editors, and bookstore owners that continue to breathe life into this magazine and other creative pursuits. It has showed me that a community can grow from a gut feeling, hard work, and a dedication to kindness.

Now, after three years away, I have come home again. This time I find comfort in the cornrows and the creak of airbrakes. I feel the magic in the streetlights, in the midnight train’s horn. The mythos of the Midwest feels present in the memories of my past, in the spine of this place, in myself. I ran from these streets at my sickest, but now I’m back having combated the disease of loneliness and emerged stronger. Time may heal most wounds, but community heals the rest. We want this magazine to be a meeting place for like minds to warm their hands and heal a bit with us from the stress and stimulus that daily life can bring. Come sit down by the fire a while. Make yourself at home.

We are proud to bring the pieces in this issue under one roof. The works here deal heavily with loss, confusion, frustration, and the search for a sense of comfort. They examine the idea of a home (or lack thereof), whether in the literal sense, in relationships, or in one’s own body. They range from the deeply personal to the slyly humorous to the bizarre, but all offer a space for the reader, whether it be a quiet seat in the corner to observe or a spot at the table for an intimate conversation. The authors within may not know for sure the way back home, but they’re willing to walk with you, to help straighten your shoulders and calm your eyes, to keep you company down this winding street.

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

Nick Rossi
Chicago, November 2017

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Wordsmith Wednesday: Kurt Vonnegut “Wailing Shall Be in All Streets”

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Our words this week come from Kurt Vonnegut’s essay “Wailing Shall Be in All Streets” from his posthumous collection, Armageddon in Retrospect.

The excerpt reads:

“The facile reply to great groans such as mine is the most hateful of all cliches, ‘fortunes of war,’ and another, ‘They asked for it. All they understand is force.’ Who asked for it? The only thing who understands is force? Believe me, it is not easy to rationalize the stamping out of vineyards where the grapes of wrath are stored when gathering up babies in bushel baskets or helping a man dig where he thinks his wife may be buried.”

A veteran of WWII taken as a POW during the Battle of the Bulge, Vonnegut’s writings on war and the institutional machineries that create it have informed my perspective on pacifism and patriotism since adolescence, specifically in thinking about the human costs for soldiers and civilians. Vonnegut spent the first part of his career writing directly or indirectly about the sickening inhumanity and personal trauma of the American firebombing of Dresden, a mission that killed tens of thousands of innocent people, including women and children. He’d spent the days during the bombing hiding in a slaughterhouse and the days after working alongside Germans to search for survivors while stacking burnt bodies for mass cremation. The American media hardly spared a headline for victims and vets alike, the government sparing even less. I can only imagine Vonnegut’s anger and despair at this, a young man recovering from the suicide of his mother. His humor, calm criticism, and emotional generosity in the face of trauma taught me a ton on how to navigate heaviness and injustice, how to use art and voice to make something half a century ago halfway around the world feel present and vital and human.

Despite the art of people like Vonnegut and idea that we are the most advanced civilization in the history of our planet, the United States has been at war in one capacity or another for well over half of my life. Recently we elected to give an unstable old man access to the largest nuclear arsenal in history, a cyberbully with the foreign relations tact of an aggressive fifth grader in the schoolyard and the empathetic capacity of a rock. The fear of the Cold War is creeping back into the collective psyche through the language of politicians and the media. So, as the flag waving of Veterans’ Day fades until next year’s brief show of nationalist pride and social media posts, I suggest we build a statue of PFC Vonnegut holding a basket of burnt babies in front of the White House, the Capitol Building, and the Pentagon with a plaque simply saying “The Fortunes of War.” Just as a friendly reminder.

– NR

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Wordsmith Wednesday: Kenneth Calhoun’s Black Moon

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This week’s Wordsmith Wednesday comes from Kenneth Calhoun’s novel Black Moon.

It reads:

“Maybe it was the hurricane upsetting a sealed storehouse of voodoo, Dr. Ferrell considered as his daughter hovered over them.

He distracted himself with his ongoing mantra of maybes.

Maybe it was the toxic dust from fallen towers, the ash creeping into our lungs. Maybe it was some ancient spore released by the melting ice. Maybe it was the earthquakes and the tsunamis they summoned. Maybe it was the hole in the ozone, the collapse of the upper atmosphere. Maybe it was the betrayal by the banks. Maybe it was the dead surpassing the living. Maybe it was the ground choking on garbage and waste. Maybe it was the oil blasting freely into the ocean, or the methane thawing at the bottom of the sea. Maybe it was the overload of information, the swarms of data generated by every human gesture. Maybe it was the networking craze, the resurrection of dead friendships and memories meant to be lost, now resurfacing like rusted shipwrecks to reclaim our attention and scramble our sense of time.”

We’re constantly handed so many options within every interaction that our brain is wired to ask the possibilities of each outcome. The “whatifs” and the “maybes,” the vast landscape of opportunities, they have begun to hinder us, to seep into all aspects of our daily life. As humans, it’s natural for us to want to explore the future and the past for answers. What this ends up doing though is stopping us from living in the present. We are unable to move past certain life choices because we are ceaselessly racking our brains searching for every other decision we could have made, every cause that could have led up to this effect, and how it could have been different.

Calhoun brings us into a presently apocalyptic world that is inhabited mostly by people whose thoughts are never-ending, whose brains cease to shut off at night, who don’t sleep. This “mantra of maybes” is one way that this disease takes over people’s minds and tips them into a sleepless abyss, filled with ramblings and incoherent monologues. Though terrifying to see on paper, this is not far from our own thoughts, the neurons in our brain firing constantly looking for answers to our own questions. Dr. Ferrell embodies the beginning stages of this process, shows us how getting wrapped up in these thoughts, though sometimes important to ask, can steer us away from living in the present, from returning to a collected state of calm and moving forward in action, not solely in questions and thoughts.

– KK

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