In Reclamation

I exist as a product of my experiences. As a queer person, I’m forced to consider how I occupy spaces which are inherently heteronormative and how I’ve thereby internalized the standards of heteronormative institutions. This intrinsically defines how I understand intimacy and closeness. I created this series as a reclamation of intimacy by recreating an archival wedding photo through a queer lens. The process of creating the images was equally as important as the images themselves. It allowed me to create an unapologetically vulnerable space, helping me to genuinely connect to the models with whom I was working. In this way my work gives me space to learn how to feel vulnerable, and reclaim space which I feel has been taken from me.

By Callahan Bracken

Mother Nature

The first piece is entitled “Girl Gang.” I wanted to portray women as strong, bad-ass beings to show that girls are not weak; we are a force to be reckoned with. I aimed for a sort of spooky Powerpuff Girl kind of vibe. 

The second piece is entitled “Being Trans,” and it was a commission for a trans friend of mine. I wanted to highlight the sentiment that come with gender dysmorphia: not feeling connected with the physical sex given to you at birth. 

The third piece is untitled, but demonstrates a motif that I use often in my artwork. I use flowers growing out of a decapitated head or body to demonstrate the idea that what’s on the inside—the mind, emotions, and ideas—can show as much beauty as someone’s exterior features. 

The fourth piece is entitled “Mother Nature.” I am trying to celebrate women as a source of life. Women help the world grow. Without women, none of us would be here. Without women, none of us would blossom. 

By Maya Cardinali


In creating this series, I felt called upon to provide a visual registry of other people’s inner processes. At the same time, I wanted to relate this artistic composition to situations of my own. This is not a series about love or infatuation—this is a series about deep connection and freedom. It’s a reverent acknowledgment of the divine essences inside each person’s souls. I wanted to portray purity of heart, honesty as a lifestyle, and the deep affection that each person in these photographs has for the others.

This series is an invitation to rethink ourselves as individuals, to instead consider ourselves as part of something bigger: the universe. I want to ask the spectator to observe their own personality and vulnerability. Loving freely is not a dare—it is the simplest thing in existence.

By Hellen Rodel

Valedictory Address

My mom was really proud of me when I told her I was graduating high school with honors. She didn’t seem as thrilled when the ceremony came and she found out sixteen other people in my batch were graduating with high honors.

I can’t blame her though. From first grade until halfway through high school, I was the class valedictorian. I’m not, anymore, and she’s obviously disappointed. I, on the other hand, have never been happier.

I mean, sure, growing up a valedictorian meant praise. People told me I had a bright future, that I could be anything I dreamed to be, and of course I believed them. When you’re young you believe everything adults say. 

But growing up a valedictorian also meant growing up in a box. People believed I had a bright future, so I had to have a bright future. Family dinners became discussion groups centered on my career path, and I was never invited to the table. Everyone was making the decisions for me, as if my intelligence was a resource that I, at my young age, had no right to manage. 

It meant being put on a pedestal for most of my childhood. Everyone expected me to have all the answers at a time when I was supposed to be asking questions; I had no room for error at an age when I was supposed to make mistakes. For most of my adolescence, I saw asking for help as a sign of defeat, as my admission that I wasn’t as smart as people thought I was.

Growing up a valedictorian meant I was subjected to a decade-long competition with my peers. My parents would ask me how I was doing at school—you know, like parents do. But then they would ask me how my friends were doing, how the other smart kids were doing. Whenever one of my classmates would achieve something, I never knew how to act. I always felt like all eyes were on me, waiting to see how I’d react, to see if I was playing the part of graceful loser. I don’t think I’ve ever been truly, unconditionally proud of a peer’s achievement, because there’s always that tinge of envy or dread—how will I explain this to my parents? How will I explain that someone else received the award? I experienced an omnipresent sense of guilt, which enabled dark thoughts: I’m not good enough; my parents are disappointed in me; I’m always doing something wrong. I started taking long naps before dinnertime because I always had an anxiety attack when my mom came home from work. She said I slept too much. I was always too much, but also somehow never enough.

Growing up a valedictorian meant always questioning what my parents thought of me. Did they really love me, or did they love their little trophy daughter they could show off to their friends? Would they still love me if I was no longer what they dreamed me to be? 

Losing my title was a huge sigh of relief. I’m happy partly because this immense pressure is off me; the label “valedictorian” has been lifted off my shoulders. But mostly it’s because growing up valedictorian meant getting things handed to me. I was elected student council president even though I was underqualified. I was invited to write in the school paper without going through auditions. I was always the group leader, and I was always getting my way. I didn’t have to listen to others’ suggestions because no one dared to say anything after I spoke. 

Growing up valedictorian meant being on the verge of tears whenever someone offered me criticism, even if it was healthy or constructive. I experienced spurts of irrational anger when someone other than a teacher told me what to do.

Growing up valedictorian meant growing up arrogant. Condescending. Self-aggrandizing. Lazy. I bullshitted my way through oral presentations and book reports, and I was always sure I would get away with it. I could write an essay in ten minutes and still receive the highest marks. I could memorize a passage in half the time it took my classmates to do it. And I wanted everyone to know that. Sure, I was growing tired of all the expectations. I didn’t want anyone to know that I was the smart kid and start treating me differently. But then another part of me wanted everyone to know that I was the smart kid. I wanted them to know I got into the Top 50 of the regional spelling bee. I wanted them to know I’d been the best sixth-grade editorial writer in the whole city. I wanted to brag, because growing up valedictorian meant growing up being defined by my academic achievements. If I wasn’t the resident prodigy, then who was I? 

Growing up valedictorian meant learning to be a good student, but not a good person. In the process of focusing all my energy on being the best, I forgot to be good. I always felt angry, sad, tired, and overall just miserable because I was constantly rattled with anxiety. In ninth grade, I was beginning to burn out and my grades started to drop. My rank fell to third, and everyone took it harshly. My parents whispered about it in the living room the day they got my report card. Teachers and guidance counselors asked me what was happening—was something wrong at home? Was there anything they could do to help? I took it hard at first too: I cried about it for days, and I started feeling anxious about my work. 

It took a few weeks to get over it, but once I did, it was completely, overwhelmingly liberating. I suddenly had room to mess up, to grow. I wasn’t carrying the weight of being the top of my class anymore; I no longer felt like the world was watching me, waiting for me to make a mistake. I felt less guilty about having downtime. I took my time resting. I looked for things to be passionate about. Less of my energy was spent being frustrated with myself, so I poured more into being kind and empathetic. It’s been really difficult to practice values I only started to apply when I got older, but I’m trying every day. I try not to beat myself up for my slow progress.

It’s been four years since I’ve been the top of the class. I’m at my high school graduation, and I don’t know what my class rank is; I never bothered to check. And I’m happy, because growing up valedictorian meant growing up quantifying myself, ranking myself among my peers, grading my worth. It meant having no passions because I only found joy in the validation of my teachers and parents. It meant growing up in a cycle of anxiety and arrogance.

And now that I’ve finally stopped growing up a valedictorian, I can actually grow as a person, in my own terms, in my own ways. It doesn’t matter if not everyone is proud of me; for the first time, I’m truly, wholeheartedly proud of myself. 

By Andrea Panaligan

Neo-N Identity

My work acts as a reflection of my self and the world around me. Text, video, photo, and animation are some of the mediums I use to convey my thoughts and ideas to the public. I am deeply influenced by the moving world—the speed at which people talk and walk, how cars move and beep, the industrial sounds on the streets. This speed is what inspires me and my work. I started my first project in September, 2016; above are a collection of photographs I’ve taken between then and now. I project this speed indirectly by creating animations and vibrant imagery which compose a series of random self-created images and colors that change rapidly. These shifting images are a projection of my incoherent thoughts of the world, due to its rapid growth and lack of time to understand its process. 


Gotta Love, Gotta Hate

Let's cut to the chase: the political climate we live in today is all over the place. I mean, there are pros and cons. Rhandi and I are two young black women, and the world is constantly changing in ways that will determine our future. These are our thoughts on what we’ve been witnessing.

Miah: I recently did an interview with Medium and explained the exact same thing I’m going to explain to you all. The society we live in today relies too much on hashtags to do the job for us. For example, a young black man gets killed, becomes a hashtag, and is talked about for two weeks before he’s forgotten. We are too worried about fashion, music, and even art to realize and acknowledge that this world is falling apart. Don’t get me wrong, I love all three of those subjects, but we need to do more than just use hashtags. It reminds me a lot of Childish Gambino's music video ​for “This Is America.” ​If you take a closer look at the background, there's chaos—but if you look at Childish Gambino and his dancers, it’s clear they’re distracted and oblivious to the horrible things happening around them. 

Honestie Smith: Political figures who we choose to support come from rich backgrounds or some sort of high standing and work to make the wealthy more wealthy while shaming the country for being poor and not allowing a process that could ultimately make America’s economy much greater by creating resources for lower class citizens who also contribute to American society. 
Also, black people don’t just wake up one day and decide to sell drugs—we’re racially profiled almost everywhere we go, which makes it harder for most of us to obtain better jobs and a better education. And as college tuition and scholarships are getting higher, it’s becoming more difficult for people in poverty in general.

Rhandi: We are fortunate enough to live in a time that’s more accepting of change and difference, especially for Generation Z. My generation is rising in the work force and has a lot of opportunities due to technology! Thanks to social media, anything and everything can be broadcasted and shared. For some that may not sound like much, but it gives us creatives and entrepreneurs a voice and a platform to share our opinions and art. People are being found, scouted, recruited, and signed, all from these pages and websites. We’re being given this space to voice our opinions, our thoughts. 

The world is slowly becoming more accepting of fluid gender roles, more cautious towards mental health, and better at listening. Everywhere you look, there’s a magazine, public figure, or some kind of blog addressing and speaking on crucial issues. We are on the rise to building something that’s bigger and greater than all of us. Freedom of speech through social media is allowing the world to speak on what we believe.

Written by Somiah Nettles, Rhandi Purnell, and Honestie Smith
Photos and direction by Somiah Nettles

Modeled by Rhandi Purnell

I’m Taking a Gap Semester by Accident and It’s Not the End of the World

I was going to be the first person in my family to do college “the right way,” meaning straight out of high school with a declared major and no breaks. Deciding to take this semester off and afterwards return to community college instead of the four-year institution I’d committed to felt like taking ten steps back and losing three turns in a real game of Life. 

The road to that decision was made up entirely of mistakes. I’m not taking a gap semester because I hate school or am experiencing an existential crisis—I’m taking a gap semester because I took too long to figure out when my registration date was and then couldn’t nab good required classes before they filled up, and I also realized that having two different names is a pretty major life setback. It’s a long story. So my parents and I decided I’d take this semester to sort out bigger priorities instead, and then I suggested that when I do continue school it should be at community college. I’ll get an associate degree for a quarter of the cost while simultaneously bypassing all the core requirements of my original university. 

They were fans of this new plan, and generally have never failed to be my biggest cheerleaders. I grew up wanting the be a fashion designer, an astronaut, a singer, a nurse, a detective, an A&R agent, a marine biologist, and an English professor before discovering that journalism is where my heart is. Even through all the doubt and existentialism, I never once thought there was something I was supposed to be doing to make them proud. “As long as you’re happy and can support yourself.” When I reflect, I know this gap isn’t the end of the world. I have my parents behind me, I miraculously landed an internship at a print music magazine, and I’ll still graduate a year early. 

That didn’t stop me from keeping it a secret from everyone else until they asked, though.
We live in monochromatic America. Our society thrives off calendars, schedules, and timelines. It’s been collectively accepted that we have one life, and the time we have in it stops for no person and no slip-up. That’s why teetering off the track designed for young women with a dream absolutely plagued me. In retrospect, what harm could these six months do? I knew in my mind I was making the right choice, I knew that I was definitely going back to school, and even before I got my internship I was determined to use my time productively. All in all, I knew this was a temporary halt and that I refused to be lazy with it, but I still felt like I was disappointing someone. 

Terms like “community college” and “gap semester” don’t initially produce images in our minds of people with drive and goals, and I think that’s where the weariness in being open about it came from. When I was in high school, a list of where everyone was going to school was emailed to us, and I remember comments like “Of course he’s going to community college” being made. When I told a friend about what was going on, she said “You’re going to be the smartest person at a dumb-people school.” 

To be clear, it’s not so much about doubting people that come from less established schools—it’s more the fact that we have predetermined ideas of what a valuable or successful repertoire looks like. A competitive candidate can be so easily overlooked because they’re missing a degree on the education section of their resume. However, I still don’t think that means we should allow ourselves to be entrapped in what seems like the designated life sequence. Admittedly, being on a gap—whether it was by accident or not—ate me alive until I secured my internship. But the point is, it shouldn’t have. What I had to do was what was physically and spiritually right for me at the very moment. When I’m done with community college, the school I’m going back to is no NYU because I know that wouldn’t be right for me either. I used to feel guilty about that, like I could be doing more, but that guilt wasn’t coming from me. It was coming from being scared that I would be one of those people that you couldn’t see had drive and goals from the name of their school. 

But talent is undeniable. Skill is undeniable. Individuality is undeniable. Most importantly, passion is undeniable. Guidelines are a convenient blueprint, but sometimes the best experiences are out of the way of them. 

By Angelica Crisostomo


There is meaning and optimism in Amelia’s color and fabric choices—pink being delicate, sweet, and playful, and orange a combination of passion-driven red and happy yellow. There is an intention to create a joyful atmosphere surrounding the work. Today, there isn’t much positivity around love anymore; true love is thought to only exist within movies, for example. By creating a design that portrays a female in her most feminine form, the clothing communicates that love is, or at least should be, fun and joyful. The colors are just as energetic and playful as love should be.

Amelia also injects her personality into her designs. Therefore, there is a duality in how viewers may interpret the work. The hand-painted face adorning the leather jacket could be seen as miserable, though that was not the intention—again, it came from a personal place of love, attention, and dedication. There are two sides to everything—two sides to life, and two sides to love. Darkness and light are co-dependent, and such is life.

Photos by Connor Walker 
Modeled by Amy McCranor
Designs by Amelia De Kauwe

The Gender Revolution in Fashion

Gender fluidity is a current hot-button topic in media culture, but what does it mean for fashion?  The concept has been toyed with by many designers, new and established, but recently it seems to be becoming the norm for runways.

The pioneers of gender fluidity in mainstream fashion have been here for what seems like forever now, the most well known being John Galliano for Maison Margiela, and the smash hit Alessandro Michele for Gucci. Both designers are drawn to ungendered garments, as well as the concept of cross-dressing in their shows. With these two brands being some of the biggest creative names in the industry, other designers seem to be following suit. In recent seasons, brands have begun eliminating the ideas of “womenswear” and “menswear” completely, and just designing for everyone all at once. (Hooray!)  

This philosophy was put on full display this year with major brands like Louis Vuitton, Calvin Klein, and Givenchy adding male-identifying models to their “womenswear” collections, or just scratching gender-labelled collections altogether. Ungendered collections were also released by up-and-coming New York favorites such as Eckhaus Latta, Pyer Moss, and Sies Marjan.  The main theme throughout all of these shows appeared to be clothes that could be sold to either gender, and the use of boxy silhouettes that could adapt to all bodies.

These great strides have changed fashion into a much more relevant industry within the course of just two years, and the diversifying will only increase as time goes by. These actions are most likely the result of a dying fashion industry, with luxury brands finding it harder and harder to market their products to the younger generations. As Gen Z enters its twenties, its members have become the target market for brands, not millenials. The only problem is that Gen Z is vastly different from Millennials, and therefore cannot be marketed to in the same way, resulting in mass crisis for the fashion industry and its designers.  

Because Gen Z is the first generation to grow up with social media and smartphones, it is the first to experience such a constant stream of information during its youth. This has resulted in strongly opinionated young people, something that marketers are not used to, and the fashion industry has had to adapt. The generation’s desire for individuality and equality has forced the industry to respond with genderless collections and more wearable designs for the consumer.

This targets men specifically, because it aims to normalize the idea of something other than dark colors and suits being appropriate for them to wear. Whether women realize it or not, fashion is the one area where we really do have the upper hand. Women fought for their right to wear “male-specific” items like pants and blazers, and thankfully we won. However, it is not fair that we are granted the options to dress in a masculine or feminine manner while men aren’t. 

Now, I don’t think that we will see lots of straight men walking around in dresses anytime soon, but we are headed towards positive, progressive change. The industry is beginning to listen to its consumers, and it’s becoming clear that Gen Z craves an unprecedented wholeness because we’ve grown up in the heat of division. Generally speaking, eliminating separation is key; our lack of communication only promotes the ignorance and further interpersonal divide. Clothes may just be the one thing that can bring us together to allow for more open communication and understanding between genders…who knew?  Apparently, we did.

By Lindsey Rogers

It's a Growing Affair

“It’s a Growing Affair” revolves around how, by building each other up, all relationships are strengthened.

Observing the relationships around me, I came to the conclusion that an ideal relationship is a healthy relationship where nobody brings anybody down, but only lifts each other up to bigger heights. After all, love isn’t love if it’s hurting you, or instead of being the cure for depression that it is, you cry yourself to sleep every night.

I know it sounds like I believe in helping your significant other grow too much, but it’s only because all the relationships that I’ve seen around me, read about, and the one that I live right now have survived only because of the uplifting-each-other quality upon which I have based my love.

One reason I made this comic is because I wanted to share with our readers what I believed made the intimate bond between two individuals stronger.

In the story, Sara helps her partner grow through stacking metaphorical building blocks. Her continued love and support pushed her partner to grow, becoming a better version of himself. Similarly, in the end, they live happily only because they keep making each other stronger throughout their lives.

Taking inspiration from my Instagram explore feed’s digital comics, I chose digital illustration to tell Sara’s story, and also because diving into new mediums is a thrilling ride and what better audience than the one of Lithium.

In just five slides, this comic teaches lovebirds a waywhich has zero cons and a million pros—to create a healthy and fulfilling relationship for themselves.

Also, I hope to lend a helping hand to the questions of those who are in a bad stage, and are struggling with defining love and its whys and hows.

By Arwa Halai

Squeeze Me In

I don’t think there is a good-enough way to put into words what exactly a long distance relationship is. Because until you are in one, there isn’t really a way to fully grasp all of the feelings that it brings, and every little part of it that makes it work. There are two ways you can think of it. Some may say “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” while others will say “out of sight, out of mind.” And I am here to say: it’s honestly a little bit of both. Depending on the type of person you are, and the type of relationship you and your partner have, a long-distance relationship can essentially work for anyone. There is no right or wrong way to do it, but there are a few things I have learned.

There are two types of distance. 
When someone hears the word distance, the obvious meaning that first comes to mind is physical distance. You aren’t able to obtain what I believe to be the simplest part of any relationship, which is just being with each other. There are simple things that are so small, and usually don’t require you to do a whole lot, that until distance takes them away, you forget just how important they really are—things like being able to hold their hand, or looking at their face independent from a screen. Or having long conversations without the static behind a phone call, and being able to kiss them goodnight to end your day. These simple things are what become so much more special, because when it feels like something is missing, you pay a lot more attention to what exactly used to fill that place.

The biggest thing I have realized, though, is that it’s not only physical distance. There’s this sense of emotional distance that is the hardest thing you may have to deal with. Physical distance is hard, but it is the emotions that come with the distance that become nearly unbearable. Those simple things, that require little to no effort at all, are all things you can just feel: laying next to each other, sitting with each other while the other is doing homework, or going to work and knowing you will have them to come home to. There’s a lot that you never really pay attention to because you don’t have to. Oftentimes, it is just their presence that gives you that feeling of doing something together, even when you aren’t doing anything at all. It’s hard to have that when you are long distance, because you have to work ten times harder to make it feel like you are together.

That sense of emotional distance comes from the fact that your lives become nearly completely separate. It’s almost like having to make sure you can find a place to squeeze yourself in wherever there is enough room so you don’t completely disappear. On a good day, it works. You text each other throughout the day, send each other photos, and maybe even a phone call in between classes. For a second, it almost feels like you are a part of their day. But on a bad day, maybe that phone call before work ends in tears, or you start to crave attention when their attention isn’t available to you. The emotional distance then becomes overwhelming and sometimes makes it all feel impossible.

Sometimes, it will feel like the end.
Long distance is especially hard because there will be really good days, or there will be days that feel impossible. The good days are where the balance is just right, and you feel like you are doing enough for each other. These days typically have the longer phone calls, the best conversations, and you’re reminded of why you both decided to make long distance work in the first place. These are the days that you want to remember, but they will tend to fall to a blur when a bad day comes. The bad days feel like the worst. It’s a pain I cannot even fully describe because it’s one thing to fight with the person you lovethat’s already painful enough as isbut fighting with them and not being able to physically be with them, too, makes fighting feel like you are fighting towards something unattainable.

There will be fights that feel a lot worse than they actually are. You have to remember, you are fighting with them hundreds of miles away, and behind a screen. There will be fights that come from frustration, and out of simply just missing them. You never, and I mean never, should take it out on them, but sometimes you do. And essentially, you learn that you never mean to, and you will work a thousand times harder to remind yourself of that. There is a different level of understanding that is needed in a long distance relationship. A lot of times, the feelings of frustration because things aren’t easier, they are feeling, too. The overwhelming amount of feelings you have towards missing everything about them and the relationship you share with them in person, they are also feeling. Distance is hard enough as is, so sometimes you have to pick and choose your battles.

You’ll sometimes ask yourself if it’s worth it. And you’ll come to realize that distance is not what decides if it’s worth it or not; it’s the relationship you and your partner have that does. A lot of the times, it is worth it, but depending on your current state of mind, it’s hard to remind yourself of that. There is a reason you two are together, and a reason why you believed long distance could work in the first place. But like I said, the bad days feel like the worst, so it is hard to remember these kinds of things. So, I’ve found that you have to communicate your feelings more than you ever have before. When you have a petty fight with your partner, often times a quick silent treatment and swerving of a kiss could be enough to tell that one of you is upset. But the beauty of distance is, you don’t have any room for pettiness. You absolutely have to communicate everything or, I mean, how else are they supposed to know?

Communicate like you have never communicated before.
A lot of the times when you fight with your significant other, the one thing that the both of you will really need is reassurance—whether that be reassurance that everything will be okay after a poor mental health day, or reassurance that the two of you are going to be okay when you are feeling a little insecure. One thing I have learned and take full pride in is that it is okay to be needy. We are all human and humans generally need attention. But you have to communicate when you are, because shutting down and lashing out only causes a bigger problem that the both of you cannot control. So you learn that it’s okay to want attention, it’s okay to want to feel wanted, and it’s okay to express these kinds of things. I’ve found that it’s important to establish this in a long distance relationship early on, because it’s a feeling that reoccurs a lot. It’s hard to feel wanted, or to receive the attention you crave, when you are so far apart. It’s a constant feeling of needing to be squeezed in so you don’t disappear.

Sometimes, you will also feel like it is hard to communicate. Sometimes, the situations you find yourself in and the things you think about too much seem like fights waiting to happen. Being away is significantly hard because you spend a lot of time physically out of each other’s lives that it becomes really easy to feel like there isn’t a whole lot of room for you. Usually, that isn’t even the case because you and your partner tend to keep each other in mind no matter what, and begin to see each other in everything you do. It’s just hard to remind yourself of that when you get stuck in a feeling.

The hardest things that I have found to communicate are the things that are typically hard for you yourself to even swallow. Communicating about the things that are painful, and the things that make your world a little scarier, are always hard to talk about. But there’s a hole that’s easy to fall into when you don’t say these things out loud to the person that makes these kinds of things feel a little less lonely. As they become harder to handle, you might even notice it begins to affect how you act in your relationship. So at this point, it’s even more necessary to talk about it.
Things like mental health are hard to discuss because there is a lot of baggage you are both carrying, and giving, to another person. It’s harder to convey just how bad your mental health situation is over a text or a short phone call. Being apart from each other in these situations are the hardest because it feels like you are then at two completely different points of your lives. On one end, one of you is doing just fine, while the other...not so much. There’s this sense of feeling guilty for placing this burden on your partner because you aren’t there in person with them to have to deal with it, so you feel like they shouldn’t have to. But you tell them and it becomes something they now have to deal with from afar, which makes it hard on both of you. I think through this, though, you sort of learn that it isn’t your intention to make things harder, although sometimes, that’s just exactly what happens. It, too, isn’t their intention to make you feel like you are too much to handle; it is just a situation bigger than the both of you. It’s in communication like this your relationship grows. You are meant to be each other’s person, so it’s important to feel like you can talk to each other about everything that makes up your life together.

Always, and I mean always, try to see things from their perspective. It is absolutely essential that you understand the situation before you enhance the situation. I’ve learned that not being able to understand where the other person is coming from makes an already painful situation even more painful.
I could go on forever about how essential communication is in any relationship, especially a long distance one, but there’s just too many areas to cover considering communication is all you really have. I mean, you talk about your plans, you talk about each other, you even talk to each other in a way that makes up for the fact that you can’t physically hold them. Your words are essentially what keep you together when you are apart. You learn to talk about everything, and I mean everything! It doesn’t even necessarily have to be deep. It’s important to discuss what you need and what exactly you are feeling, but it’s also important to talk about everything that makes up your days to keep things normal. Some days it can feel super dramatic, but other days, you are just happy to have had time to text throughout the day. Something even as simple as a winky face emoji can mean the world because they snuck it to you during their shift at work. It makes you feel like you are a part of them again.

Everything is different from before. (It’s good!)
You learn to trust each other more intensely. You have to. You have to trust that they are still going to go out and live their lives and that you will still be in their mind while that’s all happening. Even when it doesn’t feel that way, you have to trust that it is that way. Some days are harder than others but there’s a balance. When you trust them to live their lives, you are establishing each other’s independence. And I have found that it is most important to keep your independence. It is the one thing you will always have while you are away from them, and what will make you better, when you are with them again. 

With communication comes a new sense of maturity that shapes your little love story. When being apart, you are forced to establish a different kind of connection that works for the both of you. Maybe you plan date nights every week that involve watching a movie together while FaceTiming, or ordering in from the same restaurant to eat while spending time together coloring and talking and just trying to create a space where you feel like you are in each other’s presence again. Maybe you even call each other every night to fall asleep “next to each other.” Whatever it may be, it’s effort. A different type of effort that I think makes your time together even more special. Suddenly all the fights you thought were going to end you actually shaped you.

You’ll notice that the short time you do get to be with each other after a while feels like the clock is constantly ticking. There is also an insane amount of pressure to make everything perfect, because you expect it to be. Distance is what was making things so hard, so now that we are together everything should be fine, right? You try to fit in everything that you have missed about your physical relationship for so long. (Believe me, I have had things planned two months out for the next time I see my girlfriend.) There will be lots of kisses and cuddles and tons of things to talk about that you couldn’t fit in during those phone calls or texts. You appreciate everything that makes up the two of you together. It kind of feels like each time you see each other after not seeing each other for a long time, feels like the beginning all over again. There’s always that first kiss you share when you finally get to see them, and it’s like learning how to kiss all over again. And as cheesy as it may sound, it’ll give you those same stupid butterflies, and you’ll both remember why there are just some things worth holding onto.

By Alana Rose Marcelino

You on Your Best Day: Tinder, Self, and Depression

“It was too much effort. To look passable. To look pretty enough. To make sure all the seams lined up and everything matched and she looked as much the her in her mind’s eye as she possibly could. She did not know even who she was dressing up for. So much effort to go through to smile smugly at her mirror reflection. Saying yes, this is you on your best day.”
-Kate Zambreno, Green Girl

It starts at a high school party, as so many regrets do, slung across someone’s leather couch like a ragdoll, sleepless brain-fried me. My friends know how to convince me to do stupid things. They know how to embolden my wanting into doing, even if daytime me cringes, nauseated, would never. They write my boldness into beingnot coercion, but confidence. Or so they say.

“You should get on Tinder!” Oh, no. “Yes, yes yes. You have to.” Do I really? “C’mon, it’s not a big deal. Do it for the memes. You don’t have to actually meet up with anyone.”
Okay, fine. I’ll do it for the memesas adequate a reason as any nowadays. To me, the app epitomizes contemporary hookup culture in all its disorientation. The app epitomizes casualness, effortlessness, painless connection. As if there is such a thing.

In high school, my teachers all offered the same criticism: Sofia’s writing tends to be too convoluted. Let the ideas speak for themselves, not the sentences. I have a tendency to marble big thoughts in superfluity, intricacy, wordiness. Maybe because I have so little faith in the quality of my ideas that my sentences must overcompensate. I can make words sing so that they resound with that quality of euphony. Trusty Wikipedia defines a euphony as “a word or phrase which is beautiful purely in terms of its sound, without regard for semantics (i.e. meaning.)” A good example: the phrase “cellar door.” The meaning meaningless, but the sound of the phrase, gorgeous. I littered my essays with cellar doors. Not to say, Look what I can do, look what adjectives I can glaze these paragraphs with, look what stylistic illusions I can make out of nothing. No: arrogance, show-offiness wasn’t my problem. Maybe at first glance, but really, I overwrote so consistently because I didn’t think there was anything underneath those cellar doors. I thought myself capable only of hollow undergrounds, of garnished echoes.

Depression as desert: hollow, droughted, rocky succubus of quiet and solipsism. Depression as a windowless room: mausoleum-like, monotonous, The Shining-esque cabin fever within oneself. Depression as a word problem: something I most definitely cannot solve, layered in red herrings and off-map attractions to derail your grasps at the answer, to distract you from this business of living. Depression as this, as that, as anything but what it actually is. I try and try and try, but I cannot analogize it away.

So the mess of Tinder: to somehow “put myself out there,” to gloss myself into something easily comprehended, easily liked, undoes me. I cannot stand the cruelty of making ourselves vulnerable, weeding out desire through swipes, through a handful of selfies and carefully selected photos, the brutal rumination over our mini-biographies, condensing these amorphous prickly selves into a concise, flirty-but-not-too-flirty, bold-but-not-too-bold, witty, likable paragraph. I cannot stand such self-cruelty.

Being on Tinder as a person with…mental health kerfluffles. Being on Tinder as a person with malfunctioning brain chemistry, in other words, is not so easy. With a head like this, “connection” is scary as shit. For everyone, probably, but especially so for those of us with histories superimposed upon histories, traumas scaffolded upon traumas. Those of us with panic in our blood. Maybe I should be honest. Maybe I should tell the truth in my Tinder profile: Will probably disappear now and then, but expect you not to. Will probablylikelyinexplicably retreat from the world sometimes, crawl under covers and lock myself into silence. Will have bad days where I cannot speak to you or anyone. May experience random panic attacks in the bathroom of a party, so that we’ll have to leave early and you’ll be irritated and I’ll be shaky-silent. Probably won’t want to socialize as much as I should. Would prefer to watch horror movies all night which ironically tend to alleviate my existential dread while eating sushi. Probably wants too much aloneness. Might drive you insane with my moodiness, my silence, my disrepair. Aren’t I the complete package? Aren’t I the quintessence of the word “lovable?”

Tinder, incompatible with anonymity, and so, the knots in my brain cannot be sewn pretty in namelessness. Talking to people. Talking to strangers. Talking to men. Talking online, one thing, but then, in person? Slow down there. With Tinder comes expectations of romantic intentions, and, frequently, of physical intimacy. Maybe without the emotional intimacy. I’m not degrading that type of relationship; I myself am not cut out for it. I care I care I care so dreadfully much.

I try hard to embody sex positivity, to destigmatize sex in our wonky puritanical culture. Sometimes, though, sex positivity can tread into that queasy space of “gameness.” If I am not embracing my sexuality, I am doing something wrong, it feels. If I am not acting on it, I am doing something wrong.

This approach can erase those who identify as asexual, though, and can also murk the freedom to not be sexually active, to require emotional connection before physical connection. Sex positivity must include asexuality. Sex positivity must also recognize those of us with triggers, with a deep and complicated need for breathing room, for perhaps extreme slowness, for emotional intimacy preceding anything else. Yes, Tinder absolutely works for many of its users. I know how incredibly liberating access to a (relatively) self-directed sexuality can be. It often transcends romantic relationships and can become a friend-making tool in a new city. Tinder can undoubtedly put some goodness out there. But. 

In me, it amplifies an identity crisis. I want to somehow connect with more honesty, with vulnerability that springs from sharing my “crazy.” We can gloss ourselves away, detach ourselves from the turbulence of personhood in the free-fall of internet “dating.” Our edges flatten, the screen-self less a mirror than a “final draft” of our best selves…we self-edit so much that any “realness” is cut and mended. Until we retreat into the simplest holographs of ourselves, and the living, hurting, blood-running person behind our screens becomes unknowable. Because she is too much.

Roxane Gay, writing about Kate Zambreno’s novel Green Girl, says, “Throughout the novel, there is also an awareness of how sometimes, women perform their roles. They play the part of girl. The performance, at times, overshadows a woman’s identity and stands in place of her identity. As Ruth realizes, 'Sometimes she is struck by the sense that she is someone else’s character, that she is saying someone else’s line.' The green girl also does one thing and feels another because the passivity of the green girl masquerades as politeness. She wants to put her fist through a window but doesn’t because she knows that’s not what expected of a green girl.”

The suffering of a pretty white girl, the stuff of (male-authored) poetry. The term “green girl” is taken from Hamlet, a phrase used by Polonius regarding Ophelia. Green girl: ruined, lovely, indecipherable. Green girl: madness coated in romance. What we know of green girls comes from the male viewpoint, mainly, and what blisters underneath those eyes usually goes unrecovered. We criticize these green girls as difficult, frustrating, annoying, self-absorbed, overdramatic, periled with vanity. Indeed, when we refer to “green girls,” there usually comes a certain tundra of privilege: whiteness? Prettiness? What kind of problems are those? But rarely does critique of the green girl talk about thatit’s usually about how damn irritating the heroine is. Because for a girl, for a woman, likability trumps all else. For a girl, to be liked is to be lauded as a character worth getting to know.

Online, I glimpse the green girl sprout alive in the form of Tinder. I watch myself want to be liked so so so so badly. I watch myself afraid of my own suffering, afraid to claim myself as anything other than damaged.

Maybe, though, my desire to annihilate all traces of my moodiness, imperfection, self-loathing, isn’t only a symptom of mental illness. Maybe my need to cleanse the digital Sofia of all grime comes from what Zambreno refers to in Heroines: “ANXIETY: When she experiences it, it’s pathological. When he does, it’s existential.” I want to wipe myself not only of the grime of a difficult brain, but really, of being itself. Maybe I pathologize personhood.

Nomaybe culture pathologizes womanhood.

I must come to terms with the fact that people in relationships are evolving, too. Intimacy does not require a “finished” or “completed” self; a final-draft selfbecause, really, is there such a thing? My brain bludgeons me into believing that my fluidity, my fluxing, complicated self, is not ubiquitous. That I am unique in feeling unfinished, redrafting over and over, ever-recreated. I confuse my mental health issues, which are very real, with my person issues. I am a person, I am messy and changing and unpredictable and I must not feel guilty for that.

Eighteen years spent tidying myself into binaries. Eighteen years spent nudging myself away from one box into another, never considering the possibility of not having to choose. Maybe this essay has turned more into a meditation on my girlness than my mental health. We push teenage girls to choose between selves. Being many things, holding many selves, holding multiverses, is not an option we usually offer. And so when it comes to thinking of myself as a wantable person, as a woman deserving of want, I cannot help but feel shame crowding my complexity, my complicatedness, my ever-messiness. I cannot help but feel aghast at my own cluttered self. We teach girls to like this or that, never this and that. Sexuality is this or that. Gender is this or that. Until our heads cloud with binaries, and the spiderweb of human experience is tugged into a single thread.

Let me be everything. Let me be fragmented, discomforting, weird, messy. Let me not feel ashamed of my knotty brainwho is to say what a clean-framed brain looks like? Let me manage my mental health, take care of myself without that tremulous obligation to love and cherish and ever-believe-in myself.

I want an online space that abhors limitations and functions as, perhaps, philosopher Alain de Botton suggests: "One of the first things couples should do is rather than saying how perfect they are, they should say 'I'm crazy like this, how are you crazy?' Most of the time we make discoveries about how difficult people are at the moment when the difficulties have actually hurt us, therefore, we are not likely to be forgiving or sympathetic."

A meeting point for my crazy to greet yours.

Bitch. Perhaps the universal song of TinderBoys: bitch. As a mournful chanting to accent their being deprived of nudes. Or the rejection of grotesque “pickup lines” usually referring to how badly they want to “bang” “screw” “fuck”insert otherwise aggressive verbsyou. How we allow men to behave. Even on Tinder, I don’t believe that anyone should expect to be harassed. Flirting seems very distinguishable to me, and it’s certainly not the same thing as verbal violence. Or, the very best, unsolicited dick pics: harassment. Amongst the ever-growing list of things we never asked for but get from men anyways, because apparently they know what we want better than we ourselves do.

Who, then, is the girl capable of liberation and self-loathing? Who, then, is the marvelous creature able to believe in her self-worth enough to seek intimacy, and yet feel like an incurable burden all at once? The contradictions that live within us, I don’t know how to mold.

By Sofia Sears
Photo from Girl Gaze exhibition at Annenberg Center for Photography