We Want Candy

One of us is pretending to chat up the hot checkout chick tonight, pointing at the rows of cigarettes behind her while two of us linger in the candy aisle. She seems uninterested but distracted by the chatter. Her focus flicks between the cigarette shelves and us.
We peer up at all the bright pinks, greens, reds, blues, and yellows lined up in their plastic containers. Killer Pythons, Pink Clouds, Peppermint Leaves, and Red Frogs, all ripe for the picking. Flipping open the sticky lids, we take our chance while the checkout babe is bent over.
We shovel fistfuls of sweets into our pockets. Our mate keeps lookout at the counter, peering down at her tight skirt. Talking keeps her occupied, crouched and looking for a cigarette brand that does not exist. When she gives up on looking and turns around, we are already out the door. We sprint as fast as we can around the block to our usual hangout.
We pick pieces of candy from our pockets, out of breath but chewing them anyway. The three of us jump the waist-high fence and start wandering down the hill to our school oval. It is well after dark and our parents do not know where we are. They never do. We have come here to smoke, eat our guts full, and feel dangerous.
In the distance, we can see something sitting on the tattered cricket pitch.
It looks almost like a girl.
We edge closer to her and see she is not moving, still as the gum trees looming in the distance. A dead branch sometimes falls to the grass. Nothing else.
We sit down in a loose circle around her. She does not turn to us but stares forward, unblinking. She does not breathe like us. Her skin is not tan and her hair is not blonde, not like the checkout chick. Her lips are a rich red and closed tight. She does not breathe a word.
We have never seen a girl pinker or fluffier. She smells like school fêtes and circus carnivals. We forget our pockets are fat with candy. Someone pulls out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter, flicks the flint, and lights up. Her skin glows pastel as we pass the cig around.
One of us holds it out to her, gesturing for her to take a drag. She does not turn her head or look at the cigarette. Her eyes move slightly over each of us. They are a deep peppermint green. They seem to look not at us, but through us.
Her hand glides up and takes the lit cigarette. She pulls it toward her mouth but does not inhale. The heat sizzles and melts her lips, shriveling her face into itself. We can see she is not made of flesh and blood. She smells and looks just like cotton candy.
Her hand falls to her lap. We take the cig back. She does not know how to smoke. We do not think she knows anything. She looks pretty and smells delicious.
One of us reaches out to touch her. Then another. Then all three of us. She clings to our hands like spider webs. We rub her between our fingertips.
We lean in closer. One of us drops the cigarette. The tiny embers croak and die in the dewy grass. Someone pulls her hand close and holds it to their lips. They bite down and a piece of her comes away in their mouth. She tastes so sweet.
We pull at another part of her, bigger this time. Chewing the fluffy candy, the skin gently fizzles, and disappears on our tongues. This is way better than anything you can nick from a convenience store. We barely even have to swallow.
She does not seem to be in any pain. Her green eyes look into us without fear or anger. She only stares and does not say a thing as we peel more pieces from her. Slide them over our tongues, pick them apart in our hands.
Then someone reaches for her eyes. We pluck one softly from her face, split it in three, and share it around our group. It is sour like a green apple rotting in the Brisbane sun. We do not like it. Spit it out in the dirt.
She looks at us through her one good eye. There is not much left of her now. We keep scooping away, wrapping our whole hands in pink clouds. Sucking her off the backs of our hands, licking the sweet syrup from between our hairs.
We feel her stuck to our faces, rub her from around our mouths. The last few parts are the sweetest. We crave more of the fluffy cotton candy.
But the only piece left now is that second green eye, bitter and sour by comparison. None of us are game enough to try it again after the first. We hesitate to even pick it up.

Someone suggests we take it home. Another says we should trade it for more cigarettes at school. But instead we agree to throw it into the night, further than the line of gum trees, farther than the empty parking lot. We do not see where it lands. Probably in the nearby creek.
Who would ever want to eat that?

By Sean West
Photo by Krista Schlueter for The New Yorker

A Love Letter to Life Partners

I am in love with my best friend. You might think you’ve heard this story before, but it’s not romantic—we did try dating, but after we realized it wasn’t working, we spent years confused about what we meant to each other. We weren’t lovers, but our connection ran deeper than friendship. If there’s one person who knows me the way I long to be known, it’s her. There’s a comfort in having someone to whom you don’t need to explain yourself. That way, when the world asks questions and demands labels from you, you have someone who sees you. I don’t have to translate my rambling thoughts to her because she knows the layout of my brain. She is my friend, but she is also my life partner—a steady, reassuring presence. 

There needs to be more discussion about these undefinable relationships. When I looked to the internet for help, I couldn’t find anything about platonic partnerships; all I could find were more boxes. Same went for fluid romances. Where were the appreciation posts for ace couples, for aro partners, for the people who float in and out of love with ease? After years of searching for information on polyamory, I still know next to nothing about it. How many more people are out there desperately searching for a label that fits them? Society demands identities that can be summed up neatly in an Instagram bio; the more specific, the better, but I don’t just want a sentence below my profile picture. I don’t want people to put me or my emotions in a predefined box. I want to express the different layers of calm and love I feel when I’m with my special person. I can’t sum up a lifetime of conflict and change and understanding in a few words. Knowing glances, casual assumptions, the pressure to be in a paint-by-numbers relationship—these are all things people in non-traditional partnerships deal with on the regular. 

So much of that stigma hurts ace and aromantic people in particular. Sex and love will never be mutually exclusive. If a person is unable to feel romantic and/or sexual attraction, their relationships are constantly invalidated. “Sex is shoved down my throat when all I want is a connection,” an ace friend once explained to me. “There are all these expectations for what love should look like. I’m just not interested in that.” 

It’s limiting to confine certain kinds of affection to certain kinds of relationships. Sometimes we don’t get to decide what we feel for someone, or how that will translate into societal standards. Love in any form is not a box which can be checked off with “yes” or “no.” Every time we enter a new beginning, we’re constantly thinking of the end: ex, summer fling, sort-of-friend, faded away, no longer on speaking terms. 

My best friend and I tried a million different labels—lovers, rivals, acquaintances—and we still think “partners in crime” fits us best. Ours is the kind of love that can survive when a label no longer applies. When people are comfortable following their hearts, they worry less about what outsiders will think or how they’ll frame their special person in their mind. They let themselves breathe and take love as it comes. 

A relationship is a process, not a product or a title. Entering while already dreading the aftermath, while forcing yourself to adopt a label—it hurts more than it helps. Despite our struggles, my best friend and I have had the longest, most fulfilling relationship I’ve ever been a part of. Life partners don’t require the pressure of permanence. The only true love that exists is the kind that sustains both people involved, no matter if it lasts a few weeks or a lifetime. I’ve accepted the fluidity of my life and my feelings, and I’m so much better for it. Now that my friend and I have discarded the need for labels, we can invest in our relationship without second-guessing ourselves. It’s an equal partnership, no longer plagued by preconceived standards of what a friendship “should” look like. I feel so much more free to express my love for others without categorizing it. Whether it’s a ten-year connection or one that lasts a couple of weeks, I put myself all in. I don’t worry about what kind of name to give it, because love is a feeling that moves and bends with me. I am in love with my best friend. It’s not romantic; I no longer feel that I love her in the wrong way, or that I need to use labels to define my feelings. I’m alright with the fluidity, the uncertainty of it all—because it still comes naturally.

By MJ Brown

Masculine Glamour

Masculine Glamour explores inherently gendered clothing and the result of crossing these traditional yet arbitrary boundaries. These boundaries have developed through decades of advertising and media designating suits for men and makeup for women. The message is that suits are reserved for strong, successful men and makeup is reserved for women attempting to improve their appearance.

A quick internet search of 1950s makeup ads yields an array of female models and slogans associating product use with immediate beauty. According to this Glamour article, the first man to star in a Maybelline campaign came only in 2017. The lack of representation across the industry places a strong gender designation on a product that can be used on any person of any gender.

Using vibrant makeup on a masculine, male-performing model comments on the lack of male representation in the beauty industry, attempting to blur the arbitrary line drawn between these gendered items. Suits and makeup shouldn't be reserved for a specific gender, and freedom in appearance shouldn’t be reliant on traditional norms.

Photos by Gavin Aleshire
Modeled by Michael Palermo and Jorge Escobar
Makeup by Lydia Sears

Me or Him

When creating this series, I knew I wanted to play with the rhyme, “He loves me, He loves me not” as a way to begin the story. This was really a way for me to intentionally bring in themes of innocence and youth, showing the audience that this fictional character is torn between two paths. We follow her on a journey of the love she has for someone and her beginning to accept love for herself, and we see her not knowing who to choose.

Having prepared my story before the shoot, I very carefully chose how I wanted to visually portray everything to emphasize the storytelling. I knew I wanted to capture intimacy, fragility, and the illusion of perfection. That’s why I chose to finalize the images by hand-writing the subtitles, as it allowed me to make them more personal and forced the audience to visualize the idea that the fictional character wrote the extracts herself.

By Sophie Allsop

Science Friction / Trouble Creature

Science Friction / Trouble Creature is a poetry collage appropriating images from bikini and art magazines to make a critical statement about U.S. gun control in the wake of recent school shootings. There are also allusions to foreign child exploitation, the global refugee crisis, and the commodification of women worldwide. The primary concern of this triptych is in exploring these modern First and Third World issues through the vintage pop culture lense of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Through this trio of collages, we see women's bodies amalgamated with alien heads, skulls, lucha libre masks, and other oddities. The faces are never clear or original while we see their bodies commodified relentlessly, fought over, consumed, and digested by the characters around them. We never see their real faces or their true selves. We're undeserving of their autonomous identities.

My poem is divided into three parts and uses the vehicle of a beloved cult classic film like Rocky Horror to cover a diverse scope of issues I’ve not previously been able to explore in my visual or written work. The language is playful and cutting, exposing sincere problems in a satirical, jovial light. This tone is borrowed from the original 1975 film, which showcased a light-hearted critique of heterosexuality and modern masculinity.

The driving metaphor is the image of the laser beams, serving as an abstraction of assault weapons. In this sense, the work satirizes there is "no hope / for laser beam control." This message carries the weight of the poem while allowing room for the work to criticize other societal issues along the way. In this piece, laser beams and women's bodies are presented as the perceived glorified objects, tokens or prizes of men.

I felt this collage medium provided a perfect home for the written content, as my poem and collage could appropriate separate visual or written forms to create a harmonious body of work. I expect readers will be both amused and horrified by the weird and mutilated images and words at play in this work. I hope they are.

By Sean West

The Issue With Asian Female Representation

When I see true representation of an Asian woman on screen, it fills me with hope and recognition. It feels as if one person is representing all of me; I feel seen. But as a Canadian-born Chinese woman, this happens rarely, if at all. Stereotypes plague the representation of Asians; ingrained racism and prejudices are apparent in all of us, even those who are targeted by said prejudices. 

Truth is scattered, pixelated. Women’s bodies are censored. Our voices seem hushed by the onslaught of assumptions, and assimilation threatens to affect us.

I want to show women, especially women of color, as they are—without shadow-banning or manipulation, bearing in mind the thousands of posts which are deleted or reported for no justifiable reason every day. I want to show what true diversity is. The push for political correctness and diversity force companies and films to cast “token” black, brown, Latina, and Asian people, and almost always in supporting roles. So my photo series hopes to add a new voice to the discussion, and a new lens into the chaos of photography in the post-internet age.

Each image is a self-portrait, depicting a movie scene as if I’m the sole actor. I chose to leave the camera’s shadow in the shot as a constant reminder of the media and the Western male gaze that is forever following us. The digital processing of my eyes and face speak to censorship; photos were taken at a slow shutter speed to depict the passing of time, as the fight for true representation has been going on for years. Hints of double exposure serve as a way to portray an instability of identity, and the complex layering of modern femininity.

By Anova Hou

A High School Junior’s Take on College Admissions

“Hi! How are you, it’s been forever!” A hug ensues.

“I’m so great, school is crazy, but I’m hanging in there.”
“I totally understand that.” A pause, the question bubbles in my throat. Suddenly, I can’t resist. 

“How are your college apps going?” A wave of anger, sadness, stress, flashes over the eyes.

Then, a smile. “They’re going…great.” Sigh. 

I’m no stranger to this conversation. As a high school junior with a ton of senior (and recently graduated) friends, I can’t help but have college on my mind. After all, junior year counts the most, right? The only catch is that those who are actually applying to college are those who want to talk about it the least, in my experience. And still, college applications seem to be the only thing I want to talk about, an eager, wide-eyed junior, chomping at the bit to get a slice of the action. Nerdy, to be sure, but addictive. 

The real question is: have I learned anything valuable from asking this question, other than knowing it scares my friends? The answer is kind of. Extensive research and conversations over Starbucks have led me to think I know what I’m doing when it comes to college applications. After all, the countless to-do lists, advice articles, and wisdom imparted on me have to count for something, right? (I’m sure I’ll later find out how much more complicated the process is—there’s no way it’s all as easy as it sounds). 

My friends have told me I’m doing the right thing by taking my standardized tests during my first semester. Even so, my mind flutters to the possibility of taking the SAT or ACT early, expecting to do well, and utterly bombing it. And then what if I retake it again, and again, and again, and never get a better score? And then what if I can’t get into college? The stress standardized tests put students through seems so unnecessary, especially considering how little the score ultimately matters. Yes, I won’t deny it’s important to do well on the test, but is a 1600 really worth all the stress? The cost of prep sessions and textbooks? Ridiculous! It feels so impractical to encourage thousands of students to purchase study materials for a score they might never reach, no matter how many times they take it. I want to find the silver lining in taking these tests, but I can’t recall ever hearing anyone say they loved taking the SAT or adored every moment of their ACT prep—especially considering the cost. 

As if grades and scores and essays weren’t enough, admissions officers will soon scrutinize my extracurriculars. When I tell my friends and family about all the things I’m involved in and how much I love what I do, one of the comments that always arises is how impressive it’s going to look on my applications. That’s not why I do it, obviously, but it’s starting to feel like it. It’s an alarming comment to hear, time and time again, and it makes me wonder: what’s going to happen once I graduate? What if I lose the passion to volunteer my time for other people? What if I no longer want to write for fun or for magazines? What if I disengage myself from serving in leadership roles? Yes, I love what I do now, but is that only out of necessity? Does my passion for volunteering come from the fact that I need a certain amount of volunteer hours to graduate? Does my pursuit of publications stem from a want for more impressive things to put on a brag sheet or application? To be completely honest, I don’t know. I want to hope that once I graduate, I’ll keep it all up (because I really have found a home in all the extra things I do on top of academics). Perhaps it’s that these habits are built in high school and retained in college, but that goes back to the not-knowing-if-I-can-even-get-in-because-of-test-scores and it all snowballs into a big pit of unknowing. 

My conclusion, therefore, is that college applications contribute excessive stress to an already stressful year with their laundry list of requirements. Top colleges seem to ask students to do so much more than is humanly possible. There are not enough hours in a day for every applicant to cure cancer and write a novel and serve as the varsity team captain and maintain a 4.5 GPA! Am I to believe that the sleepless nights spent shedding tears while working on applications compensate for all the hard work put in over the last three years? The aching need to get a higher SAT score and take more APs and better understand yourself in order to write about it for a bunch of strangers is heartbreaking to watch, and even more difficult to experience. I’ve been watching a lot of college acceptance videos recently, dreaming of the day an Ivy-sealed letter will arrive at my door (or in my inbox, I suppose). The dream is crushed when I remember my friends struggling to balance it all because it’s so difficult to apply to college and be a good student and hold a job and extracurriculars and volunteer hours and it’s all too much. 

So what exactly is this high school junior’s take on college admissions? Yes, I’ve bagged on admissions for the past four paragraphs, but really, that’s because I don’t know how to perceive the process. Applications are looming over my head and I hate that, and I think until I go through it myself, I won’t be able to really let that fear and judgment go. But until then, I’m proud of the seniors who are getting through them and I’m proud of the seniors who’ve decided it’s okay to not know what they’re doing after high school. 

In the end, it seems, this is all just another moment within our lives, something that is big and scary and important now that may lose its meaning down the line. But because it’s still so important to my life, college admissions and the choices I make are constantly on my mind. I hate that everything I do feels like it’s part of a scheme to get Harvard or Brown to accept me, but I’m grateful that at the very least, I’ve discovered things I love to do. I’m glad I’ve retaught myself math problems that I never thought I’d be good at, thanks to the SAT. I cherish the moments I’ve spent talking to my senior friends because I know it can’t be easy to put everything aside to chat with a little junior. For my friends to advise me on what I should do to prepare for next year is incredible and gratifying. It’s also a scary reminder of what’s to come in the near future, but I hope I can do the same for my underclassmen friends when the time comes. With all that being said, the lurking, ever-pressing institution of higher education will weigh tirelessly on my life from now until graduation, sucking me into the labyrinth of school supplements and test scores and essays. The silver lining of it all, though, is that at least the hope of getting into one of my top schools will accompany me the whole way through. 

By Sophia Moore

Regal Illusion

Hong Kong is one of the most expensive cities to live in, with the dichotomy between the poverty line, the middle class, and the significantly rich. It begs the question: being born a woman in a world where patriarchy is fixed, is there a level of empowerment in this greed? A selfish but justified indulgence in luxury?

This photo story centers on the affluence. It features a sample of young women representing the kinds of female beauty in Hong Kong. With the concentration on women, it was important to us that we emphasized their beauty and their sense of alluring, liturgic power that we believe can only be found in women. Class is implicated in the styling—the furs, mini purses, preppy clothing, and rich colors. The romanticization and appreciation of women, the power in their indulgence—is it productive?"

Creative Direction by Tiffany Tong (@official_tong) and Myu Inoue (@myu.inoue)
Photos by Myu Inoue
Styling by Tiffany Tong
Modeled by Flora Chen (@floorachen), Audrey Lee(@kidaudrey), Hunter-Lee White (@whitemaggotsss), and Bryony Morgan (@brynoy)

Jhumpa Lahiri’s “The Namesake” and Defining Love


The word itself evokes thoughts of uncontrollable stomach butterflies, kissing in the rain, the foot pop, bliss and passion. At least, that’s what The Princess Diaries taught me, before Mia and Michael broke up and she fell in love in the sequel all over again. 

I spent the better part of my childhood watching movies like Notting Hill and 27 Dresses and reading books that idealized notions of “love at first sight” and a “one true soulmate.” They gave me a whimsical standard for what romantic relationships were supposed to be like, and I longed to apply that to my own experience. But what I had to look up to—the relationship between my own parents—had none of the Western fantasy. The idea of an arranged marriage had no fantasy at all. Transactional nods. Straight faces. Silence. 

I resented that about them. Why didn’t they kiss each other, laugh with each other, do more on anniversaries than go to the temple? Why wasn’t the most important romantic relationship I could see in my life that of glamour, whirlwind attachment—love? I didn’t understand it, and so I grew to believe that what they had couldn’t be love. It couldn’t be. 

Yet as I flipped through the worn pages of a library check-out over the summer, something deep—something I didn’t want to admit—forced me to acknowledge the strength of my perceptions. The Namesake was a brutally honest look at my roots, at what it’s like to be born out of a relationship whose participants didn’t speak till they were married. Gogol’s actions are as equally frustrating as they are fathomable: he seeks a world different from that of his parents, a world where he has the chance to live his own American Dream. When I read of Gogol spending months with Maxine and her luxurious WASP-y family, prioritizing trips to New Jersey over calls from his mom, I internally screamed. Screamed because I wanted him to pick up the phone, to reassure his mom. But I also screamed because I understood why he wanted to leave his mom and his family behind for what every American rom-com proclaims as the zenith of love. An exciting, fast-paced, breathless romance. 

Of course, The Namesake isn’t a rom-com, and this love doesn’t last. Gogol’s father dies, and he re-evaluates what he’s been looking for. Perhaps now all he needs is comfort in the familiar and a return to his original culture. He looks for that in Moushumi, another Bengali with an intense desire to break free of her parents’ insistence on marriage and a settled-down lifestyle—a sentiment that resonated so deeply with me that I had to put the book down for a second and breathe. They bond over their shared experience as cultural outsiders in a land both their own and not, and eventually, they get married. But it isn’t a marriage borne from any real connection; it’s a marriage of convenience, of ease. They have those things in common solely because of their location and skin color. I didn’t root for Moushumi and Gogol, not like I rooted for Anna and William or Jane and Kevin. When they got together, I didn’t feel triumphant—I felt disappointed. 

Ironically, as I got further into the story, I came to appreciate Ashima and Ashoke’s relationship more than any of Gogol’s. Sure, they’re as seemingly stiff to each other as my own parents, but the small details that Lahiri sprinkled in—how Ashima makes him food, how Ashoke takes care of her when she gives birth, how Ashima reacts when Ashoke moves for his job—gave me a whole new definition of love. To my parents’ cultural generation, nods are not signs of coldness or indifference; they convey a world of meaning. They mean “I love you.”

It’s hard for us, the first-gen Americans of traditionality, to live up to the speed and giddiness of a largely white Western ideal. It’s even harder to communicate only through nods with our significant others. But if The Namesake taught me anything, it’s that what other people expect you to take from your romantic relationships, or what other people portray as a romantic relationship, means fuck all to your own unique experience. I’m not Gogol, or Ashima, or my parents. I sure as hell am not Anne Hathaway. I’m Sruthi, and I don’t have to live up to a standard or fight against one. I just need to be here for the ride. 

By Sruthi Srinivas
Photo from Getty Images