"Our Synonyms: An Epic" by Yena Sharma Purmasir showcases the adventures and complexities of womanhood
Our Synonyms: An Epic, a poetry collection written by Yena Sharma Purmasir, is a brilliant work of art that showcases the captivating complexities of womanhood through women of religious mythology. The book carries five iconic characters through their journey of discovery in a thought-provoking book of alternate perspectives.
Purmasir was inspired by the false, sometimes metaphorical portrayal of women in religious traditions, and wanted to retell their story. Classic concepts in religion, like forgiveness and redemption, seemed different for the women in the stories. Purmasir says that, “the subjugation and violence of women is this awful timeless thing. And to think about these characters as real women meant thinking about the real possibility of their rage, their pain.”
In the opening poem, Purmasir writes: “the summer i learned the word rape / was the summer my dolls learned to jog, / like that woman in central park.” Purmasir alludes to the 1989 Central Park jogger rape case in a powerful way: from the perspective of a young girl, still learning to navigate the world.
Throughout the work, she makes various other hints to pop culture and also to religious characters and scenarios. Some characters, she knew she would include right away, like Draupadi of the Hindu tradition. Others, she decided to use when thinking specifically about other religions: “...it made sense to think about Salome, who is sort of the inverse of Draupadi. Where Draupadi remains hidden, Salome is revealed.”
She wanted to include Mary, considering her story as the mother of Christ. “And in thinking about Mary, I also thought about Yashodhara from the Buddhist tradition, the wife of the Buddha before he gave everything up…There are so many of these women across time and religion who lose this precious holy thing: a child, a marriage, a life.”
Although most of the characters in the book are from religious traditions, Grace is not. In “O Grace,” Purmasir writes to Grace, who is a character in the book. However, this character also represents a real young woman who wrote under that name in an anonymous account of sexual assault in 2018. She writes, “That’s the name we give you,” and “...Almost is one of those words, Grace. / No one knows why we need it, / until we need it.” She addresses both the pseudonym and the account in a free-verse poem that highlights the importance of coming forward in its beautiful, stream-of-consciousness style.
“I included Grace, the woman who was sexually assaulted by Aziz Ansari—because she’s of this time, we know her story, and we know she’s real. And still what happened to her feels deeply familiar and relevant in the context of these mythologies,” Purmasir says. The separate settings in the story only enhance the real hidden pain of these women, that is so often hidden in their original texts. It is enlightening to feel what these women could have felt, to see how they see. There is a new, heartfelt connection formed between ancient iconic characters and readers in this century.
The format of the book sets it apart from other poetry collections. “Because I was working with different religious traditions, I didn’t want this book to feel like a collection of random, stand-alone poems. That doesn’t mean you can’t read it that way—but I thought about how in the world of epics, of The Odyssey or The Ramayana, characters come back,” she explains. An epic is a long work of poetry, generally narrating the deeds and adventures of heroic figures.
Purmasir honored these women, in their realest form, for their personal adventures and victories. In writing this epic, she has told the story of womanhood in such an empowering, uplifting way.
I especially enjoyed the imagery, rhetorical questions, fact interludes and illustrations that were included in the book. They not only worked well beside the verse, but made me reflect on my experiences as a woman in our society.
“I hope readers come away thinking critically about the subjugation and dehumanization of women. It is everywhere, in our personal lives, in our media, in our classics. And we can’t possibly create a just, safe world for all people if we don’t look at all the inequity and name it for what it is.”
Our Synonyms: An Epic is a must-have for anyone because it is not just a thought-provoking story—it encourages, empowers and unifies. It is now available at Party Trick Press as a piece of e-literature.
Em, well-known as Emma Blue Jeans within musical spheres, just released their EP, TV People, on Friday, August 19th. I had the joy of speaking with them about writing songs that 'cradle your childhood,’ the growing pains and pleasures of growing up, and their favorite brand of blue jeans. Em’s feelings toward the suburbs are nuanced—they believe that it contains many hidden flaws, but they also widely associate the suburban lifestyle with warm memories with their mom, one of their best friends. They believe it’s important to give into your wants when you sing, and that you can hold space for your own unique experiences whilst feeling the same as others. TV People is a beautiful reflection of the heart, and everyone should give it a listen.
Listen to the full interview here:
My first question is how are you feeling these days with the upcoming release of your EP?
Emma Blue Jeans:
Yeah. It feels kind of surreal in a way because it's like just normal days…I think I always imagined that it would feel really intense or something like because I’ve put music out before, but never anything I've like really put a lot into or gotten produced or have like a full band. But I feel just truly, very excited.
I was wondering what the story is behind your songwriter name, because I really love it. I think it's super endearing. I was wondering if there's any story behind it?
Emma Blue Jeans:
Yeah. Well, that's such a great question. My name is Emma Jean. My middle name is Jean, and I was always obsessed with that, and I always wanted people to like call me Emma Jean instead of Emma, because I really resented my name as a kid because it was the most popular name…I tried to get people to call me Emma Jean, but the only time it would happen is if my parents were mad at me and were telling me to come down the stairs or something. And then I think that most of my songs are pretty sad or have like some sort of angsty angle, so I thought that putting Blue is a little bit sad, and it's a play on words. So it's—Emma Blue Jeans. I kind of like that it can be like a separate character, like a lot of my friends as a joke, we refer to when I'm doing music as—EBJ. So it kind of feels like it's all me, but I like to pretend I can go into this character that really knows what they're doing.
I love that. Yeah. And when I think of the name as well…there's definitely such a rich story behind that. I'm glad to hear it. And I think that another thing that's cool, you know, is that it kind of does also feel like playful and nostalgic, which I feel like your music, there’s this nostalgic feeling to it. I feel like you channel memories from your past. And then also, you know, you're talking about how as a kid, your parents would call you Emma Jean when they were telling you to come down the stairs.
I was also wondering where you're currently living because I did notice that there were a lot of references to your childhood home in your EP. So in the suburbs, especially. What prompted you to write about this subject? Is it because you were in that area a lot or were you just thinking about it?
Emma Blue Jeans:
I'm from New Jersey, born and raised. I only moved to Brooklyn in 2020, but I ended up spending a lot more time in New Jersey than I ever anticipated. So I feel like it's kind of a shift between New Jersey and Brooklyn daily because I work there part-time and I’m with my family a lot…I like the song Suburbia, which is like really about a specific phrase that I feel like is representational of other things. I wrote that when I was still living in New Jersey, but I feel like it matters now because it still really resonates, and I still have those feelings going back. My mom is one of my best friends, so I’m around her a lot, which yeah—my mom is suburbia, and I have to be there.
So just interacting with her reminds you of your childhood home, of course. And then physically, it sounds like you were there a fair amount of the time, too. When you write about these things—because it sounds like in some ways you think, you feel a lot of loving feelings and affection— what would you say the predominant feelings are for you when you're writing about these things, including suburbia? Because I did notice there's some less pleasant feelings associated, as well addressed in the album.
Emma Blue Jeans:
I definitely think it's easier to, in some ways, talk about the hard things, or I also think if you describe something, kinda like if you stare at something long enough, you'll see something wrong with it. So it's like, if you're writing about an experience, you start to remember things or you'll be like—why did that happen? That was weird. I am a generally positive person, but I think that you can find the bad in everything. What I struggle to just talk about day to day and stuff—that's what songwriting has been, kind of my outlet for those negative feelings and it's like, I'd say the prominent feeling is probably nostalgia or I guess it's like, tinted. One of the things I know I'm good at is—memory. I can imagine a room that I grew up in, and I can remember the feelings and stuff, but it's rare that I put myself there.
Listen to "T.V. People" now by clicking here or Emma Blue Jean's EP cover below.
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Noreen Ocampo’s contest winning micro-chap Not Flowers is a striking bouquet of sixteen exquisite poems swaying on the winds of quotidian magic. This collection came to me as a breath of fresh air, amidst “trees whispering in forbidden corners of the wood,” “meadow of neon dandelions,” “rickety mountain roads,” and “cherry blossoms & afternoon light,” this collection offers you quiet space to reflect on all that life has to bestow. The simple beauty of the ordinary that comes with being alive and human; to plant and gift flowers, or buy yourself “not-flowers”. It reframes the importance of little moments of laughter and fleeting friendships, of buying yourself the last bag of sour gummy bears, and making sandwiches.
Ocampo’s poems are airbrushed with childhood nostalgia and the romance of faded memories that plead us to hold them, not rigid, but with the fragility of dried flowers. They resonate with those certain specific memories most of us have of places and food and faint Sunday morning scenes and quarrels when love was not yet recognizable or marvelous because it was easy and as natural as breathing or eating together: “I see my mother, sitting at the old family computer, sunshine laughing through the blinds.”
Poems like “Peachtree,” “fool’s gold,” “Dear,” and “Lullabies” are completely honest in their rendering of the ephemeral innocence & exuberance of childhood & young love, and just so as in life, before we may brace for it we are met with the undesirable reality of “silent sudden goodbyes,” that “I can never return to these places” and “the pretend goodbyes, the congratulations that never feel quite right.”
Yes, there is sorrow & unfamiliarity accompanying growth but Ocampo shows us that if you are “translating people’s faces with kindness” and you “buy the not-flowers” there might yet be hope & softness and a “sunny place to survive” for you in the world. This is precisely why this collection is to be treasured, it is a gentle gift of hope and optimism in dire times.
One of my favorites in the book is “crane game,” dreamlike & uniquely fantastical this prose poem evokes feelings of belonging towards a makeshift home, of being surrounded by softness & the fluff of tenderness accepted warmly, as Ocampo says:“softness would be the most desirable way to lack.” It paints the shared dream of a friendly place to rest and be held with kindness before the next tumble or goodbye:“& if the time really came, we would celebrate that our friend was going home to someone with steady hands & conviction.”
Ocampo takes us on a personal yet relatable journey where everlasting Limonium stands for fondness & remembrance, for the odd everyday magic of sibling intimacy in “Kitchen,” and “how I became indebted to a fourteen year old” in which she says “I taught him how to smile at sriracha despite our sweet toothed ancestry and there are things we can’t unlearn but I want him to know what love looks like.”
And she shows us how to extend yellow roses in friendly gestures, love pouring out of every sun-kissed petal and word: “when we were softer, you slipped your hand into my hands whenever someone else was driving.” Then at the delicate joyous pink touch of Dianthus we experience hopefulness, softness and ambition, and that is the note she leaves us on.
“I cannot believe
How happy I am. I believe how happy I am
I fall asleep so easily & even in every dream I survive.”
On the Crossroads of Personal & Playful, Diners’ Four Wheels and the Truth Optimistically Rolls Along
Blue (she/they) is a musician who resembles sheer sunshine in both her personal and musical nature. She believes in the power of the whimsical tune, and she finds a deep joy in planting small references, or ‘winks,’ at loved friends, places, and memories in her songs. Don’t be fooled, the most important lyrics are sometimes contained within the most fun melodies - her songs and journal entries are written down on the same pages, woven into the same book.
I had the pleasure of virtually meeting Blue a few weeks before the release of her new album, Four Wheels and the Truth. We not only discussed all of the wonderful elements of her songwriting, but also talked about whether boomer rockstars truly enjoy their social media forays, the unwavering need of DIY musical spaces for blossoming songwriters, the indescribable charm of McCartney’s RAM, and the culinary versatilities of pancakes vs. waffles. Blue taught me that the sun doesn’t have to set if you are the one behind the wheel, and I believe hopping onto the sonic journey that is Four Wheels and the Truth is the perfect medicine on a cloudy day.
So starting off, I just want to ask you how you're doing - how has it been leading up to the album release? What are your thoughts on how it’s been going so far?
I'd say I'm doing well. Albums can take so long to make from the first studio session to actually releasing. So there are so many different phases like “oh, this is so much fun” …“this is taking too long” … “this is fun again” … “this is taking too long.” Then, there are even those times of being less interested because that's how artists are - you're always kind of wanting to be onto the next thing. So, I’m definitely excited to release it because I have all these new songs that I can't wait to record and start over. To do this whole thing over again. But yeah, so far, so good. I really just love to get reviews from my friends. If I get a text from a friend that says, “Hey, your new song is good. It's really catchy, it's stuck in my head.” That's what it's all about.
Mhm. That's what keeps you going in what can feel like sometimes a tedious process?
Yeah, totally. To me, those are the only reviews that I even really put stock in. I just like my friends, that's always how it's been. If I write a song, and I include a line that I think is a wink at a friend or someone close to me. I like that, if they catch it. Sometimes they don’t, and then I forget. [Then, I remember and think] “oh, yeah, that was supposed to be a reference to this thing,” and of course, we all forgot, but whatever. That's just how it is.
I love that it's immortalizing some memories like stories or jokes that you may have with people you care about. Like all art and all forms of record-keeping, it's another way to feel like you're journaling your life, in a way. Even though it sometimes becomes more difficult in the recording process when you're like, “Oh my God, when am I gonna get the song the way I want it to be,” once you really get into the heart of why you're doing it, you remember that it's all worth it. That's really exciting, I really liked that perspective on providing little hints or winks at different people in your lives and including fun and important memories as well.
Oh, totally. Yeah.
Alright, so delving into the album itself now - is there a backstory behind the name four wheels and the truth? I really like it, but I feel like it can be interpreted in different ways, and I'd like to hear your interpretation on that.
The name for four wheels and the truth is a reference to an old saying about country music, and I think there's even a bunch of songs about it. I should probably should know for sure, but [I know it] as a saying - country music is three chords and the truth. I just really liked that. I just really love that phrase so much. When I heard it, the first thing that came to mind was ‘four wheels and the truth,’ as a reaction, so I was like, “oh, I gotta include that for a song.” Sure enough, it just became the album title, and there's also a song on the album called “four wheels and the truth” that I'm very proud of. So, it feels very appropriate to have that be the name.
Yeah, it's kind of a reference to other influences of yours and different styles of music too, cool! That's actually the perfect segue. Who and What would you say your inspirations were for channeling this album? I saw that in a prior interview for one of your other albums, three, you mentioned McCartney's RAM as a major inspiration. Do you feel as if that kind of music is still just as important to you now with this album and the production of this album? Or have things changed a bit since then?
Oh yeah, it's still the same. I am such a fool for solo Paul McCartney stuff. Particularly that RAM and early wings - or even late wings - era, too. But yeah, that type of almost power pop. That type of music, I don't even know how to describe it!
It’s very distinct!
Yeah, it's kind of funny. It feels like it's in its own world a little bit, especially RAM, and so I love RAM. That's an album that I can listen to forever, over and over and over again. But definitely is an influence for this, the way that I didn't want the album to feel overly produced, I wanted it to feel like it's a band playing it. It’s not as produced as the last record that I made, but more a step in having a band-in-a-room type sound.
That's cool, too, because it also goes back to the three chords and the truth type idea where, with folk and country music - folk, especially - it does have that raw sound to it. [That sound] that's very profound and emotional. When you overproduce something, some of that can be lost sometimes. Other things can be added of course, but that emotional quality [can be lost]. Sometimes it feels less intimate because it doesn't necessarily feel like you're just next to the person in the room, right? There's not that feeling of being there with them.
Totally, yeah. It's always difficult for artists - most artists I know are having to work a couple jobs in order to afford recording their music, and some people record it all themselves. But, how long you work on a record makes a big impact on the way it sounds, so I really wanted to record the record as fast as I could. I wouldn't say at all that I recorded it quickly - I think it took about 10 days to record most of it, and then I think I spent another couple of weeks just in my room occasionally recording a guitar or a vocal take, but I really wanted the record to feel like it was done faster and was more of like a snapshot of where I was. I think when we work on it for so long, it's no longer a snapshot. It's something else, and it can be a little less intimate.
For sure. I think that it’s the same with writing. When you have too many people look over your writing and edit it, provide feedback, or even just going back over it yourself when you're at a different point in your life and changing it - it just becomes something that’s totally different from what it used to be. Maybe it's just as good, but it's not as authentic to where you were at the moment. That's really cool, and I do really feel that Paul McCartney-quality in your music. It's hard to explain as you're saying, but it does feel like a very different world. I love that album as well, and the instruments he uses, his voice - it just creates this type of music that I have never really heard [anywhere else]. It's not a prevalent genre, it's just him and people influenced by him - and maybe some other people around that time. I don't know, it feels very unique to him, and I hear that in your music as well. It has a whimsical quality to it as well. Also, an airy quality. Not airy in that it's lacking substance, but in an exciting, playful way. It's so hard to explain!
It’s very playful, and that's a word that I will use often when I'm working on something. That's what I love about music; when it's playful. I mean, I love all kinds of music, but when music is being playful, that is when I feel the most engaged in it. It might not be the coolest kind of music - it doesn't always lend to what is necessarily cool all the time, but I just love it. I love people having fun with music and celebrating music.
Yeah, it's an instant mood booster too. I also think that in a world like this, these days, sometimes it's all you really want to listen to! You don't want to listen to something that is completely depressing and complex, even though there's a place for that music as well. Sometimes you just want to have an escape where you can just feel like you're in a daydream of sorts, so I love that.
Thank you, yeah.
So now, going to your album cover - I want to hear your opinions on the story behind the album cover. From what I can remember, it's a photo of the sky. Would you say it lends to the idea of the daydreaming, head-in-the-clouds type sentiment?
Hmm… now that you say that, yeah! It's so funny because my best friend, Patrick, made the album art, and it's just a photo that he took. I just responded to the photo when I saw it - I really, really loved it. His photography is pretty cool. He does all kinds of art, and I'd say that photography is his new thing. When I see the photo, I feel something more than I see something, which is a weird way to say it. But yeah, it's sentimental to me because my friend made it too. I kind of pick things without thinking about them too much, honestly.
It's nice to be able to do that - [choosing] by the feelings that are evoked from it - because then every time you see it, you're just gonna be happy that it's out there. Now that it's being released, every time you see the album cover on a different platform, it’ll be a reminder of that relationship, so that's really nice.
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She was the most beautiful storm I’d ever seen, so full of rage, emotion, and yet nurturing. Her smile was electric, her laughter contagious but her cries were lethal. I’ve never met someone who felt as much as she did. When she loved, oh, she loved to the edge of the world and when she hated—well, you can imagine it was catatonic.
I loved many things about her but I was never able to love her properly, not in the way she deserved. She had a sparkle to her, an unexplainable one, even after all that had happened to her. I loved the way she’d throw on her headphones and dance under the pink colored lights of her bedroom. I loved the way she changed her hair from blue to pink to blonde and how long she’d grown it. But most importantly, I loved the way she loved people. She was reserved and quiet but the moment her eyes locked on a certain someone, a flame lit within her. She became fiery and comforting, swallowing them whole until they became a part of her very being.
It was touching at first but then I realized that was the calm before the storm, before the first wave. She lost herself within these temporary people, and felt like she couldn’t live without them. It didn’t matter if the relationship was platonic, romantic, or strictly sexual, she needed these people. The moment she felt the first tear, she became dreary, in so much heartache, and as the rips grew larger and deeper, she roared. Her screams would shake one down to their core, and that's when she was determined to destroy everyone and everything, including herself.
Still here, I stand. I can’t get enough of her. I miss her so.
What hurts me most is that I didn’t notice her disappearing into the wind, little by little. She grew quieter than ever, she stopped everything she adored and stayed with people who did not love her. She drank and smoked more than she noticed, she craved it even. The feelings of numbness and the freedom of floating in and out of consciousness. I’m sorry to say that I didn’t notice when she died, I only remember the moment I was born. Born into this empty vessel full of opportunity yet covered in wounds that need more than a bandage. I’ve mourned her for enough time now and through my grieving I have learned what it means to love oneself. My love this time will be abundant enough for the both of us.
From insanely elegant odes to mundane objects to incredibly descriptive reflections about life and acceptance, Light Spun has it all, and has quickly become a collection I return to read again and again. The book takes place over a three-year period and carries the reader through the poet’s experiences with xir mental health, body image, love, and xir gender and identity as a Black American. The verse details the many highs and lows of life in an extravagantly classic yet nuanced way. Anyone can tell that Kwame Sound Daniels, the brilliant poet responsible for the masterpiece, has put a great deal of time, thought, and soul into every piece within the collection.
A poem titled “Cold parts” opens the collection, and is one of my personal favorites. Daniels writes, “Tight, like a muscle strained, like a knot far / beyond undoing. Tendons taut, snapping. / Achilles’ weakness speaks to me, tells me / all the ways in which I have failed. And yet, / I wake and breathe. I live in quiet strength.”
Daniels brings such beauty to verse and encapsulates readers, immersing them in the poet’s emotions as they travel with xem on a journey to xir own strength. There are many moments in this collection that are subtle and simultaneously jarring. Some failures and thoughts haunt us in moments of both peace and pain. There are moments of agony that stick with us but at the end of the day, we are still breathing, and that is our strength.
Following “Cold parts,” the collection is divided into several sub-sections, serving as chapters in both Daniels’ life and the book. The first is “Conversations,” a collection of conversations between the poet, friends, objects, and moments that exist in brilliant free verse in these pages. The poet personifies things, even emotions, giving them dialogue to tell a story of a personal journey. “Lineage,” to me, feels like a conversation between friends about past and acceptance. Daniels writes, “...I am finding new ways to be. I am / a million souls. I house spirits and visions in my bones.”
The chapters each have their own topics—some are filled with love, and some with pain. Trauma and history are displayed through stories and odes. Although there are moments, like the poet’s childhood reflections, that are deeply personal, Light Spun has themes that will surely resonate with a variety of readers.
My favorite thing about this entire collection is the small details included. Upon my first read, I did not notice the poet’s attention to capitalization and punctuation because xir subtle choices didn’t obstruct clarity. There are pieces left without traditional capitalization and some include unique punctuation. Some poems contain no punctuation at all. In my interpretation, the nuanced technique is stylistic and symbolic of the poet’s experience. For example, in an ode “To Home,” Daniels ends the poem with a short stanza: “inside I am safe / I am cold / I lie in bed” which lacks traditional punctuation and capitalization. Some of the poems, like “To Home” may represent moments of closure, which others may speak to the open, continuing moments of ambiguity.
There is also attention to detail in terms of space. In the fourth section, titled “Sojourn,” Daniels uses visual space on a page to emphasize time. The chapter takes note of a week of xir life after a loss or abandonment. The first four pages of the section have verse, and the fifth and sixth have no words at all. The poem titled “Day Seven” has one word: “home.” Even without verse, the chapter is filled with emotion―the absence says everything.
Every selection in the book holds so much emotion and power that can make every reader gasp, cry, and smile. Light Spun is a collection that every poetry-lover should read, because it is a deep, emotionally immersive experience that leaves the reader with insight about life and living.
In Times of Insurmountable Doom, I Hope You Dance: Why Mothé Doesn't Want You to Worry Anymore and Much More
On a calm, rainy day, I had the pleasure of engaging in merry banter with Spencer Fort of Mothé about their love for listening to CDs while road tripping on desolate roads, throwing ass amid doomed days, and creating an indie subtype that is less insufferably ‘cerebral’ and more danceable. Fort’s album “I Don’t Want You To Worry Anymore” was released on April 8th, and they will be touring with The Wrecks this summer. One of Spencer’s main goals in life is to become the role model they used to idolize on the big stage, and I know they will do just that.
Listen to the full interview here:
So, delving into the album, I have a few different segments that have similar themes to each other. Before delving into the nitty gritty, I wanted to ask you some more playful, conceptual questions. The first question I had in that realm is when you imagine the essence of your album, any visions and themes you've captured, I'm just curious, where do you most envision it being listened to? Is there a specific place that comes to mind, in your head, abstractly? When painting the scene?
I guess it's just meant for wherever people want to consume it, but I do listen to music mostly in the home…there's a very specific feeling when you're driving through the desert, or on a long road trip, and you finally have a chance to listen to a full record. Not to be in playlist mode and skip mode because you're driving for, you know, five plus hours. I like the idea of it being consumed in desolate areas, with not a lot of attention to be given to anything else.
I do really like that idea because there is something there… especially when there's no service or any way to really even use a streaming site. It's so nice to just pull out a CD and listen to it all the way through. To really, really dedicate your energy to just that, knowing that you're going to experience it in its full nature. That's a really cool answer. So, delving into the cover as well, I really like it. I see that in it, the vinyl pressing at least, you're posing firmly in front of an ablaze painting, it looks like. There's also a lot of commonalities between the color palette in the actual album cover and in the singles - there are a lot of the same colors prevalent. I was wondering, would you consider all these panels to be part of a common series? How in your head do you think they interact if they do?
They definitely all interact because Celia Jacobs does all of our art direction for this album cycle. She and I sat down and started planning out visions for the feeling of the record. There was this impending doom that the record touches on, but it always touches on it in a sort of light-hearted way. It’s like, “hey, it's gonna be fine, you can't really control these things!” The impending doom is just out of your hands. That is kind of the theme of the record, where it's like, “the world's ending, holy shit!” All of this stuff is happening, and then, lo and behold, the world was gonna end a lot more after I wrote it. It has continued to get worse and worse! But you can't freak out about all this stuff forever because you don't have the capacity to, and you can't change these things, and you have to enjoy what you have, and accept that…doom is just gonna happen. It's on its way, so it's always gonna feel weird. So, when we were talking about that concept, we wanted to touch on a light-hearted approach to the apocalypse. [When she brought that really vibrant, stunning red in], it felt completely right. Then, the lighter blues to, sort of, soften it? It was always gonna have this really vibrant red, so we designed the color palette first after the concept. Then, she did all the illustrations for all the singles leading up to the ending where there's finally this giant painting of the fire behind me. She did draw it, it’s a really large painting in my house. Then, Kylie Shafter took the photo under that direction. That was the theme of the whole thing, the colors were supposed to bring in that mood of intensity, but you soften the blow.
Hmm…yeah, I really like that, especially in the actual album cover. Just [you] being in front of it rather than next to it, not interacting with the painting as much, is much showing more of an acknowledgement that it's there but not really getting too enraptured by the doom itself. Knowing that there's some closure in the fact that it's going to come and it's inevitable, unfortunately.
Yeah, I really like that. So then, I wanted to ask a few similar questions just going into which songs, or maybe one or two songs, specifically come to mind first when I ask each of these. In general, which song would you say on the album was the hardest for you to write, and that could be in any way - whether it’s just mentally difficult to write down, or the hardest for you in a personal way.
“Breathe the Air on the Moon” went through three or four renditions before we finally found something that felt right for it. The writing itself was not necessarily the hardest, but as somebody who co-produces their own work, I'm very involved in the arrangement as well. I just could not unlock that arrangement….could not unlock that arrangement. Robert Stevenson, who co-produces all my work with me - he and I work very closely together in general- he and I just sat there and tweaked and tweaked, and then scratched… got completely rid of everything, put everything back in, redesigned the drums. That song was just a nightmare. Whereas we both tend to be a little more committal…like when we're recording and writing and producing, it's kind of the first thing that feels good, that strikes an emotion, an “aha.” We tend to commit, to put it down, and not touch it after that, and it works most of the time. But, for some reason, “Breathe the Air on the Moon” was just this impossible song.
Which song feels the most personal to you? Which one do you think strikes a chord the most, I guess? I'm sure they all do to an extent, but is there one that sticks out the most, do you think?
It's hard because they all kind of touch on personal concepts. I think that “dancing on an empty floor” is literally the most personal in the sense that it's about…the whole song is accounting for this really wild woman I'm chasing and following and seeing and watching and observing. I think she's beautiful, but she's very dangerous, and I can't get too close to her. After putting it down on paper, I realized that I was writing about my experience with my own gender - I was observing the woman that was too dangerous for me to become. So that one, for that reason, is obviously incredibly personal because about this relationship with feeling like a woman but not not feeling ready to do anything about it, you know what I’m saying?
That one was extremely personal for that reason, though, it's quite hidden in metaphor. The other one that comes to mind would be “everyone is everything.” That song, to me, really sums up the sentiment of the album, and where I was coming from with the more vague concepts. There's concepts of gender, there's concepts of these impending doom, there's concepts of just waking up, struggling with depression. “Everyone is Everything” is the song where it's like, as a human race, we grieve collectively. I am a part of this experience, because we are a part of this experience, and tracing it back to the full concept of being alive as a species ends up feeling the most personal. I think, for me, that really summed up the sentiment I was really trying to get out for the record. That’s why it was the last song on it.
Yeah, so it seems like there can't just be one [choice] because one [song] is more macro, and one is more micro, but they're both just as personal in very different ways. Different scopes, for sure. Going into doom and the catastrophic changes in our all of our lives in the last few years: I had seen [you mention] in prior interviews that you didn't get to perform a lot of the songs on the album live for a while because of COVID. [It seems there was] a time period of waiting, and then finally performing after a while of settling with the songs. Would you say that your perception of these songs have changed at all? Once you performed them in front of people? Have their reactions to the songs changed or opened your eyes to anything that you might have not experienced while creating and keeping it in your own personal space?
Oh, yeah, it's very different. It changes my relationship with the songs quite a bit. I've only gotten the chance to play, I think, three full band shows. I've done a few spur-of-the-moment solo sets where it’s just me. No, maybe two. I think I've only played two full dance shows.
Which is really exciting. I used to play live all the time. I think my favorite part of music is playing live because there's this really wonderful tangible connection that you get with the other person that's in the room with you. You don't necessarily get it when you're just releasing music to the internet and it comes back to you in the form of numbers. I prefer it when it comes back to you in the form of people dancing, or people smiling or enjoying themselves. It's something I can actually understand. So, it definitely changes the meaning of the song for that reason; to see it interact with a real human. The other thing that happens, I’ve found, is that it makes me more self conscious of the song than I ever was while I was recording it because I'm like, “Oh, this song! Ooh, this one should have been a little faster” now that I'm standing here in front of these people [and I’m] like, “ooh, like, are they dancing enough?” It becomes this thing where I’m like, “is that line stupid?” I sort of get into this really weird headspace with it sometimes where it makes me second guess the song because I'm performing it in real time, live in a unique way every single night with no real ability to change anything that I committed to years ago when I wrote it, so it definitely changes the relationship. It feels like it digs up old bones a bit.
That’s a super interesting way to compare the process of being alone with your music versus being with others with your music. I'm sure for you, there's always this small part of your brain that's always thinking, when you're creating this music, “what are other people gonna think of this?” “Do I want people to dance to this song? Do I want them to cry to this song?” A bunch of different ideas as to how people will perceive it. Once you actually experience it, [and] maybe it's dissonant what you initially thought it would be, it feels like what are you going to do about it, and maybe that’s a good thing. I think it's always great to be questioning outcomes and changing perceptions of your own music and your own, I guess, image and everything. But, that's the scariest thing about performing for me, just seeing how other people are reacting and even for smallest things [I think], “Oh! Was that what I wanted out of that?”
Yeah, it makes it so much more real. It makes it feel more tangible as well - other people are listening, and like you've actually really, really done it. I think that definitely makes a lot of sense.
Things are looking a little bit better now. There's another wave coming, but I'm excited to hear of any upcoming performances you have for this album because I feel like it's gonna be a real hit. I loved listening to it - I've listened to it a few times now, and I'm a huge fan.
What would you say your inspirations for this album were, do you have specific styles and musicians you have been inspired by specifically in this album? As a second question, over time, do you think that your inspirations have changed?
Yes. I'm basically caught in this weird thing as a consumer. I listen to so much music, just anything, I love it. I found myself in this world where I just naturally write pop songs. I love Lorde, I love Charli xcx, I love a good pop record. I fucking love the people I just referenced, but a lot of pop music, for me, is very clean and stale. It has this emphasis on high fidelity that doesn't entirely interest me because I also listen to a lot of underground music and a lot of experimental music. My whole vision for this project is to take these extremely alternative genres that I do love and package them in a way where these alternative genres can reinforce a chorus that Lorde would have written. To just say we're going to use things from harsh noise music, we're going to use things from ambient music, we're going to throw this really weird pop beat on it, and we're going to do the Lorde thing. But we're [also] gonna have these textural elements that most pop artists don't have access to because they don't listen to these types of music. That was kind of the approach. The other thing is that Robert and I are both very big fans of analog recording, which is just expensive. Luckily, I have people who allow me to do that on the label. They will let me do an analog recording, and they prefer it that I do. I'm really, really appreciative of that. That is another thing. I'm just a lot more interested in capturing moments that actually happened because then making a record is a lot more like documenting a sound in a room than it is crafting something digitally within the computer - trying to feign a moment that never happened. I love all kinds of production, so it's not to throw any shade to that. I do also find myself doing those moves here and there, but I think that there's a thoughtfulness that we have to keep in mind when we choose to do these things. So having just a deep love for analog recording and underground music has been the kind of thing that has inspired me to be like, “what can we do?” “How far can we take pop, how dirty can we make it?” Also, between writing the album and now, there has been quite a shift because I'm not as interested anymore in being so ‘thinky’ or too profound in any messages or the music. I don't find myself wanting to go to indie shows anymore because I want to dance! I want to go to the gay bar, and I want to dance to some insane beat. I don't find it as fun to be listening to people with guitars, strumming them, singing songs anymore. So now, I'm trying to take the songs that I've already made and translate them into a live show where I can say “how do I make these indie songs make people want to dance?” Now I've already done the thoughtfulness at the front half. I would love to be like, “yeah, we're a band, but we're a party too.” You're not just coming here to see some fucking self-absorbed person play guitar, let's fucking dance, you know, let's do the whole thing.
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CW: Discussion of depression, mental health, mention of suicide
Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar has probably sat in my hands for days on end—days on end including my time reading it, reading it again, and then giving it to friends. I first read the book when I was trying to get out of a reading slump amidst lockdown.
I rode my bike to the bookstore and spontaneously picked three novels: The Picture of Dorian Gray, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and then The Bell Jar. I didn’t know why I was so attracted to the book. I didn’t even know what it was about. Because of the uninformed nature of my choice, I had just given myself, by accident, the best gift. The Bell Jar quickly became my favorite book. It is a story that should be read and over-analyzed. It should be shared and discussed and lent to friends. It is a powerful story that deserves to be loved and bonded over.
The novel opens with a setting descriptor. The narrator reports that “it was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.”
“I’m stupid about executions,” she notes. The honesty in the beginning of the novel sets an unlikely friendship between the narrator and the reader. She goes on to say that “the idea of being electrocuted makes me sick, and that’s all there was to read about in the papers…It had nothing to do with me, but I couldn’t help wondering what it would be like, being burned alive all along your nerves.”
‘This is more depressing than I thought,’ I wrote in an annotation during my first read. At first the descriptions felt concerning, overwhelming my senses with their intensity. I’d had one warning that the novel was going to be depressing, but I’d taken it lightly.
It’s no secret to any literature lover that this novel is supposed to be depressing. And it is, to an almost overwhelming extent. But it also shines a light of hope to those in recovery. The novel follows Esther Greenwood through so much. The reader gets to know Esther as she interns in New York, reflects upon college, and goes on bad dates. While Esther’s life becomes a bit of a chaotic whirlwind, a deep sadness develops within her—the novel then follows her journey to sanity. Esther’s recovery is inspiring and can teach every human a lesson, especially in terms of mental illness and suicide.
The Bell Jar is different from most novels I’ve read. A fair amount of mental health novels begin with a perfectly happy character who has just experienced a life-altering event. Something interesting I’ve found in this novel is that Esther never seemed to be content; there was always a quiet voice that seemed to be crying for help. I didn’t even notice the obvious signs of Esther’s breakdown until I was halfway through the novel. In the beginning, it was subtle things like, “I was supposed to be having the time of my life,” and slowly progressed to become much more concerning—horrifying, even.
Besides its vital, inspirational lessons, it is striking how poetic the novel is. Plath is a poet, so this makes sense. This sets the novel apart from others. It is, in terms of imagery specifically, a real masterpiece. Plath’s words bring Esther’s experiences to life in the most beautiful yet disturbing ways. Like when Esther lays in bed and watches the “faint outlines of an unfamiliar window. Every so often a beam of light appeared out of thin air, traversed the wall like a ghostly, exploratory finger, and slid off into nothing again.”
Plath’s symbols in the novel leave readers closing their eyes and furrowing their brows in thought. Through Esther’s breakdown, Plath can connect a reader with the world and the story in such interesting ways. The novel itself is a symbol—the title is, anyway. The Bell Jar refers to the way Esther felt confined and stuck. Throughout the story, it seemed as if Esther was placed in a jar. As the lid slowly trapped her inside, the glass and tainted air distorted her mind.
In the beginning of the novel, Esther had received a book of short stories as a get-well-soon gift. She read a story about a fig tree that she loved. Later, Esther thinks about it again and says, “I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story…I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose.”
‘Do the figs represent potential?’ I wrote in an annotation. This story pulled my deepest thoughts to the surface. It added hours to my attention span and forced me to only focus on it—scratch that, it added months to my attention span, because to this day, I still think about it. Every few days I pick it back up again to read my favorite passages, which have been, without a doubt, destroyed by pencil marks or water damage from my reads in the rain. I read this story again and again and I don’t think it will ever get old.
Esther brought me to tears so many times in her journey. The most memorable passage follows. “The silence drew off, baring the pebbles and shells and all the tatty wreckage of my life. Then, at the rim of vision, it gathered itself, and in one sweeping tide, rushed me to sleep.” I remember closing the book and then my eyes, longing for breath. Plath’s writing had brought me close to the character and then so far away from her.
“The eyes and the faces all turned themselves toward me, and guiding myself by them, as by a magical thread, I stepped into the room,” closes the novel, leaving room for interpretation. It also leaves readers longing for updates from the beloved character. What happens to Esther? Where does she go?
Many tears, laughs, and frustrated groans were let out during my time reading The Bell Jar. Upon finishing it, I felt the need to express gratitude. The novel and its author are unique and inspiring; both, I am extremely grateful for. But, I also felt that I needed to thank the characters for their stories and their bravery.
“I was perfectly free,” Esther says as the lid of the bell jar lifts from above her, later saying, “I am, I am, I am,” representing a beating heart, something so full of life. On my worst days, Esther’s words become an accidental mantra. I am, I am, I am. The story fuels and gives hope despite its initial tone.
In a final annotation, I expressed gratitude again. I thanked Esther for holding on and being brave enough to do what so many people can’t do. She found the light switch in a dark room.
The first few moments were the closest to oblivion I’ve ever been in my life. It was cold, the type of cold that would make your skin burn, except I didn’t have any skin. I didn’t have a body, only a mind, and yet I was able to hear the sound of my own breathing— at least I told myself it was my own. The darkness began to fade out and I became aware of my physical body.
I found myself in a room I did not recognize yet I knew it was my own, and while I could not see the rest of the house, I knew it was a big house. My room is painted a dark, muted blue with white trimming. There is a mid-sized mahogany dresser right next to the door across from me, while I sit on my full sized bed with the same muted colored sheets. Behind me is a window that I never look out of— all I know is the ocean is behind its glass seal and I should never look out. I don’t leave my room, mother doesn’t let me, but sometimes she’ll leave the door open for me while she’s away. Across from me my dark wood door is open and I see the same muted blue color with white trimming surrounding the house walls. The staircase is a few feet to the right of my door, and the wood is stained with the same kind of mahogany. The house is silent, there are no creaks, no steps, and no squeaking of the beds. I never leave my bed.
Time passes and mother paces past my door, back and forth, back and forth. She’s tall with a cartoonishly slim upper body with wide hips and skinny legs. She wears a dark, victorian-like dress with a white frilly shirt peeking from under it. She is barefoot. I do not dare to look past her shoulders but I felt the urge to creep my eyes past her pale, frail neck only to feel my heart beat faster, harder. A faceless head with a straight, jet-black bob now has its attention on me, making it equivalent to eye contact. The silence grows thicker and all I am able to hear is the heavy breathing of my mother.
Mother looks different now— more human. Her face presently features small dark eyes, a narrow nose, and thin, pink lips. Her hair is deep brown, long and wet like her white dress. She sits on the right corner of my bed, soaking the sheets as she stares past me to the open window. The window was to never be opened. I notice her eyes are red from salty tears as she stares at me with quivering lips, making noiseless cries. Mother lifts her left hand to her face, placing first her index finger into her mouth, ripping it off her pale hands with her rotting teeth. The finger drops onto my muted sheets and I am paralyzed. My body is warm and shaky as I watch mother rip finger by finger off her left hand, leaving only the middle.
Without a thought, my scratchy voice is the first sound to pierce the silence of the house.
Mother, did you do it again?”
Silence. Dead silence. My eyes are locked with my mother’s as her lips drip black liquid and her hands are held up. Slowly, she points past me to the open window with her singular finger, fear penetrating her gaze. Mother’s deafening scream fills the house, shaking the foundation of the silent home. She stands and runs to the dresser in my room and turns into the mother I’ve known before, faceless, tall, dark and reeks of mildew. Behind me are more screams from the waves, sounding like children. I am still until mother runs towards me.
My body launches itself forward toward the door, dodging my mother's murderous embrace. For the first time I have left my room, having no thought but survival. I run for the stairs, making it halfway until mother appears before me. Her screams grow to sound more monstrous along with banging in the walls. My body stops and turns back up the stairs before my brain can comprehend what is going on. As I run back to my room, mother stops me in the doorway, attacking me with her fists sinking in what feels like claws. Staring at my now faceless mother, my arms are stretched out in front of me pointed at her, my body moving on its own. I see myself now, from the outside as if I’ve astral projected out of fear. I am only a consciousness now just like in the beginning and I watch my body chant words I do not know at her and her attacks grow weak, hurting less. I look into my eyes and see nothing but a whitecast over my once brown eyes. The noise starts to fade and the house grows silent again as one last scream echoes through the muted walls of the house. It is dead silent as I watch the scene crumble into nothing but darkness, leaving me in the void yet again. In the distance I hear a familiar motherly voice calling to me.
“Wake up. Wake up,” whispers Mother.
I wander through the icey darkness following the soft words but I can’t find my way to the echoing voice of my Mother.
About the Author
Ariel (she/her) is a latinx second generation American writer. As a witchcraft practitioner and spiritualist she focuses on diving into the world of the occult and sharing their stories. Along with that, she enjoys writing personal essays and short story fiction. Ariel is a certified bookworm, tree-hugger, and anime lover.
It was quite the scene, the day the posters came out. There were only two— two unboasting little fliers, on regular eight by eleven printer paper, incredibly slight in comparison to the huge laminated pieces of posterboard advertising cheer tryouts or student council elections. I’d been thrown off guard walking into the crowded sixth-grade hallway that morning, finding my classmates gathered in one big clump by a wall, snickering and whispering amongst themselves, pointing at whatever was hung up that had caused such a commotion. I shoved through the wall of students, craning my neck until I finally saw what all the fuss was about— the paper, posted with scotch tape, reading Gay Straight Alliance, Wednesdays, Room 215, 2:00-3:15 PM. Underneath was a small icon of a rainbow flag.
By second period, both posters were torn down.
By that point, I’d started to understand how things worked. Kids like me were different, and there are a lot of people who don’t like that. I’d seen conservative billboards along interstates demanding people like me repent. I’d heard the talk of not supporting such “alternative lifestyles.” I caught some of what the politicians said about us in the news, and some of it was really, really nasty. Whoever made those billboards didn’t like us, those politicians didn’t like us, and God knows my parents didn’t like us.
My classmates’ reactions aligned with what I’d seen in the world, though it disappointed me. They mocked and scorned us, laughed when the club was announced over the intercom, tore down and shredded the fliers. But the club’s existence— even though it was off to a rocky start— had planted within me a fresh seed of optimism. My entire life, the word “gay” had been treated with such hush and taboo that I didn’t know it was the kind of thing you could talk about at school. To see it displayed, out for everyone, to know that kind of club had been allowed to start, was a breath of fresh air.
I came to the first meeting that Wednesday while my parents thought I was at “Craft Club.”It was held in an abandoned, cramped little classroom, one that had once been home to History of Pop Music or something of the sort. The room, though once barren, came alive that day. The turnout was wonderful; there had to have been over thirty of us bustling little preteens there for the very first time. All around me, desks and tables were covered by different pride flags of every color. The people around me all dressed like I did, all in flannels and short hair, regardless of gender identity. I was welcomed with grins and handshakes and pointing to pronoun pins. Sure, we were awkward, naive, sheltered, but we were with our community. For the first time, I felt whole and completely at home with who I was.
I bonded quickly with the group. That little middle school GSA swooped in to fill the hole that had been left in my life when church stopped meaning family to me. We stuck together, even if numbers dwindled at times. We were brought even closer (forced to be, really) by the fact that the adversity never stopped. Our classmates, I hate to say, never let up. The very first meeting, in the midst of introductions and club mission statements, a group of boys opened the door to sneer a few colorful words (see: slurs) at us before running away.
They’d repeat this throughout the year, our regular reminder that though we’d gotten away with the creation of the club, they’d never make things easy for us. Every Wednesday, when our club announced itself over the Student News, my first-period class would erupt into mocking laughter. I kept my head down during these times and just listened. I learned what people were safe, learned how to gauge who in my generation would learn to accept us and who would be clinging to the beliefs of our traditional-oriented parents.
As I became a more core member of the group, I took to coming to school early every morning to print out a sizable stack of posters in the library. I made my rounds through each hallway before the first bell rang, disappointed every time to see the ripped scraps of the one I’d put up yesterday. I put up a new poster, prayed it survived through that day, rinse and repeat. I had to grow accustomed to seeing groups of people gathered around to point and laugh at each new addition. Nobody knew I was the one putting the posters up; in the club, I was out and proud, but the regular world was a different story. Nobody would know I was part of GSA except for my GSA friends themselves.
Then came time for club pictures. When the sign up sheet came around to me, I froze. Was I willing to give up my anonymity here? I thought about what it would entail, thought about the day yearbooks would come out and everyone I knew would see me there, clear as day, surrounded by my friends with Gay Straight Alliance printed below. Once that photo was released, the secret would be out.
I don’t know, really, what convinced me, what random surge of courage or streak of strength made itself known that day. All I know is I signed the sheet, passed it along, and was committed. I arrived dutifully on picture day, and though my heart was racing, and I could hear roaring in my ears, I sat in the front row and held the flag. Click— we were through. My fate was sealed.
And when yearbooks finally were released, when confused peers walked up to me with their books opened to the picture and demanded, “Is this you?,” I glowed with pride. I’d done it: I’d bitten the bullet. With the help of my friends, with the help of a tiny middle school GSA, I’d made the first step in my long journey to total self-acceptance. So even though they narrowed their eyes and recoiled a bit, I was happy to point myself out in the front row of that photo. Our little club had endured a lot, and still we’d fought to exist, to hang our heads in shame. In that moment, more than the cross or the American flag ever had, that symbol— that rainbow cloth— felt like me.
Me, circa 2016
About the Author
Samantha is a Filipino-American high school student writing from Las Vegas, Nevada. Her work focuses on feminist and queer issues, social media, and pop culture. An avid reader, her favorite authors include Mary Shelley, E.M. Forster, Gillian Flynn, and Sylvia Plath. She hopes to one day attend Vassar College to study political science. In her spare time, she finds joy in drawing, writing letters, and cooking vegetarian cuisine.