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 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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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: Eileen Myles’ “An American Poem”

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Our words this week come from the end of Eileen Myles’ poem “An American Poem” from their 1991 collection, Not Me.

The excerpt reads:

“I am a Kennedy.
Shouldn’t we all be Kennedys?
This nation’s greatest city
is home of the business-
man and home of the
rich artist. People with
beautiful teeth who are not
on the streets. What shall
we do about this dilemma?
Listen, I have been educated.
I have learned about Western
Civilization. Do you know
what the message of Western
Civilization is? I am alone.
Am I alone tonight?
I don’t think so. Am I
the only one with bleeding gums
tonight. Am I the only
homosexual in this room
tonight. Am I the only
one whose friends have
died, are dying now.
And my art can’t
be supported until it is
gigantic, bigger than
everyone else’s, confirming
the audience’s feeling that they are
alone. That they alone
are good, deserved
to buy the tickets
to see this Art.
Are working,
are healthy, should
survive, and are
normal. Are you
normal tonight? Everyone
here, are we all normal.
It is not normal for
me to be a Kennedy.
But I am no longer
ashamed, no longer
alone. I am not
alone tonight because
we are all Kennedys.
And I am your President.”

Assuming a fictional role in an American political dynasty, Myles allows themselves to interrogate identity, both personal and national, in a voice that naturally oscillates between sincerity and sarcasm. A real-life blue collar New Englander, they use autobiographical content about being a young queer poet experiencing the class contradictions of New York City juxtaposed with their assumed identity as a closeted member of the (in)famous Kennedy family to complicate the typical idea of success as power, beauty, wealth, and fame with the realities of the mass, of the struggle, of the poor and diseased, of the imperfect normal. With this poem, Eileen Myles (who ran a campaign as the first “openly female” presidential write-in campaign the year after this poem was published) empowers the average in the face of the elite, pushes on cracks in persistent political and social structures, and challenges the idea of Americanness itself, all in a style that fosters messy love and honest dialogue rather than nihilism or didacticism. As the actual Kennedy family continues to whet its elite white teeth on our country’s political stage, Myles’ reminder to recognize the whole beautiful, bruised, transforming face of this nation as its truer identity is one that can continue to guide us as we navigate into a more empowered, inclusive, and just image of America. – NR

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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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Issue 6 Authors

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We proudly present our Issue 6 authors!

Prose by:

Irving Greenfield
Helen Grochmal
Thomas Elson
Riley Lalumendre
Reggie Mills
Alison Roland
Ashley Roth

Poetry by:

Emily Allison
Amy Bales
Robert Beveridge
Kersten Christianson
William Doreski
Brian C. Felder
Jonathan Greenhause
Ann Howells
Selina Kyle
Sean J. Mahoney
Christopher McCarthy
David Stevens
John Tustin
Georgette Unis

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Wordsmith Wednesday: Girlpool “Before The World Was Big”

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Our words this week are from Girlpool’s eponymous “Before The World Was Big” off their 2015 album on Wichita Records.

The words are:

“My brain is like a rolling snowball, I’m a firetruck,
Trying not to think of all the ways my mind has changed
Mom and Dad, I love you,
Do I show it enough?”

Harmony Tividad and Cleo Tucker’s co-writing/co-singing approach seems to reach towards something simple/elemental/childlike in me, something indivisible. Blending bright imagery with introspection brings out that emotion that sometimes fills me in the middle of the night when I feel what it was like to hide behind my elementary school at sundown, push against the weight of all my daily responsibilities, and realize that my parents are going to die, all at the same time. This feeling can be overwhelming and comforting simultaneously because it’s undoubtedly my own to process, to project or repress. It’s a thoughtful break by the reservoir, grass on your neck and bike next to you on the bank. These are the words that go through your head just before you dose off for a nap, hidden from the world but not yourself.

– NR

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