Self(ie) Made

“We pass for what we are. Character teaches above our wills. Men imagine that they communicate their virtue or vice only by overt actions, and do not see that virtue or vice emit a breath every moment.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self Reliance” (1841)

“Katy Major! Look at you!” My skin crawls. I know all too well what she is about to say: “You’ve changed!

Jessica, a girl from my graduating class, is in my face gasping, her outer disapproval barely concealing her inner delight. We are both at a birthday party for a mutual friend and former classmate, Michael. In honor of the party’s theme—drag—I am dolled up to rival Ru Paul’s finest (if gangly lesbians served as any competition): black lacy lingerie, heavy makeup, high heels … I notice, in a delayed sort of way, that a cigarette hangs from my hand.

She is genuinely scandalized, and I have to suppress an eye roll. At my liberal arts college outside of Columbus, my classmates wouldn’t bat an eyelash if I walked into a drag-themed party wearing nothing but a feather boa. But although Michael’s party itself is in Akron, tried-and-true tough and ready for anything, the party’s attendees from our high school are small-town Medina stock: conservative and gossipy—or, as I less charitably consider them, uptight.

They all say variations of what Jessica said: You’ve changed . I’m unsettled in spite of myself. After about the third or fourth time someone tells me I’ve “changed”, I find myself wondering if they’re referring to something beyond my appearance. Have they caught wind that I’m gay? A feminist (still a maligned breed where I grew up)? A heavy drinker? Mentally ill? Or maybe, somehow, they’ve heard about the brushes with the law, the pregnancy scares … I start to ruminate on sources of potential scandal, wondering what it is precisely that has set off this reaction.

Regardless, Jessica’s shock is absurd. After all, who hasn’t changed since high school? I’ll tell you one thing: in the halls of our posh, upper-class high school, I never once saw her slinging a bottle of wine the way she is even as she stands before me, smug written all over her flushed face—no surprise, since she was eighteen and we were, you know, at school. In the same way, it’s unsurprising that Jessica hasn’t seen me in lingerie; wearing nothing but underwear to school is the stuff of nightmares.

It’s interesting—sometimes I trick myself into thinking that my graduating class knows me best, because we’ve all spent at least six years in the same classrooms. For some, the full ten years between when I moved into the district and graduated. But, much as I’d like to believe that, especially amid all the unfamiliarity of my still-new college, it just isn’t true. The vast majority of those people didn’t really see me—or anybody beyond their closest friends—except in the form of some hackneyed stereotype: Slut. Jock. White trash. It didn’t occur to anyone back then, how we all move within and beyond those categories, both in high school and outside of it. Maybe this is why facets of who we are, newly risen to the surface from far below, have a tendency to shock, suddenly apparent post-graduation because, for the first time in six years, we’ve escaped the claustrophobic identification system that birthed satires like Freaks & Geeks and Mean Girls. It is then we begin the most radical years of self-formation.

Who we are is a complex matter. The selves of chance and the selves we choose merge haphazardly, unevenly, shaping a fully-fledged adult around the age of twenty-five—far past high school—when the brain reaches full development. Appearances give little away in terms of the story of who we are and how we have become … but, in the limited scope of the selfie, we exhibit who we might like to be in the subtleties of the image we create. This is the twenty-first century and, if we can’t be exactly who we’d like to be—that age-old tragedy—we can at least play pretend in the tiny frames of mobile phones and laptops.

selfie made photo


Before I went to college, the term “selfie” scarcely existed. Instagram was just barely kicking off in popularity, in no way the social media behemoth it would become. This is not to say that, as teenagers, we failed to document our every expression and mood, as today’s teenagers notoriously do. Back then, we pointed digital cameras into mirrors to capture ourselves, ever trying to hide the extended arm bearing the camera and the flash’s telltale rosette—an untidy blur if the mirror happened to be dirty. Around the time I graduated high school, however, the iPhone was gaining traction. Before long, everyone had one. The ubiquity of the front-facing camera made the selfie a near-daily ritual.

This one was taken five years ago—nearly a fifth of my lifetime ago. What stands out to me as I examine this picture is my youth, perhaps transparent to no one but me. My hair is undyed, plain brown, ruddy in the yellow lighting of—you guessed it—the bathroom. (Old habits die hard.) My cheeks are still round. My smile creases my entire face, a contrast to the thin, close-lipped smile I wear on my current driver’s license. My skin, I can’t help but notice, is smooth and pink, not marred by today’s scarring, the remains of years of stress acne and cigarette smoke damage. So much has yet to happen to the girl-woman in the picture, still teetering before the chasm of adult life.

Still, much had already occurred. God’s will, or the plain luck of genetics, had already done its work. I was born fortunate to caring middle-class parents in a safe Ohioan idyll. The face in the picture above bespeaks privilege, no doubt about it—that round and rosy face is the product of never wanting for food, for shelter, for chapter books to devour or Christmas presents to tear open. My father’s Mediterranean features are splayed across my face—leptorrhine nose, broad brow ridge, oval face, wide eyes—while my coloring is a near-perfect match to my mother’s: fair skin, blue eyes, dishwater hair. In a word, I’m average—a forgettable exemplar of the so-called melting pot that Americans proudly lay claim to.

This picture is rather casual in comparison to later selfies; eventually, technology caught up with my generation’s desire to make a self rather than simply reflect one, cropping tools and filters abounding. Instead, in this photo, the posturing is in the details: my smile is a bit too big and my hair is suspiciously neat. Yet, my skin shines with perspiration and I didn’t bother with framing the shot strategically or filtering the final product. Only I can discern, mostly by way of memory, the enormous discomfort of my life at that time, as the new and the old clashed dramatically.


My brother died in 2010, seventeen months before I snapped the selfie above to oh-so-casually send on to a crush via SnapChat, a brand-new phenomenon at the time. His death occurred just before the mobile phone’s transition from the pull-out keyboard to the touchscreen. I, too, was on the cusp of something: adulthood. A little over eight months after he died, I would graduate from high school, never more unsure of who I was—past, present, and future. Every classmate that walked across the stage at E. J. Thomas was engaged in the delicate process of self-formation, no doubt, but—perhaps like every teenager—I couldn’t help but feel terribly alone. In the year following Colin’s death, I drank my first beer, drifted away from old friends and made new ones, chose a college to attend, reluctantly attended prom. My parents divorced. I moved out.

These are all facts—just facts. Who is to say what re-makes a previous self and what cements what was already there? Later, I had a drinking problem, “alcohol dependence” drily noted on my chart when I was hospitalized a month or two before graduating college. It would be absurd to link those two words, penned four and a half years later, to that first half-full Solo cup I slugged back at Ohio State … wouldn’t it? And would it be equally as absurd to see my poor mental health as purely the result of trauma, rather than a destiny of chemical imbalances? Cause and effect, past and present—the distinction between who we have become and who we always have been is difficult to pinpoint.

I obsess over the possibility that who I have become might not necessarily be who I was “meant to be”—a slippery concept cobbled from superstition and faith and doubt and a certain resigned fatalism. I imagine myself, still fresh-faced and young, stumbling upon the proverbial fork in the road and glibly skipping down the wrong path, littered with hangovers and lost sleep and despair—just parallel to the path riddled with landmarks like graduating Summa Cum Laude and publishing a book by twenty-five and marrying young. I try to piece together an alternative self when I’m lying awake at night, imagining who I was “before”—before when? Before Colin died? Before I came out? Before I started drinking?—and trying to place her in my current circumstances, wondering how she’d react. Invariably, the answer is “better.” I imagine her sailing through her college classes, mind so clear from an uncluttered path to adulthood that she knows exactly what she wants and pursues it with a certainty that needs no outside reassurance. The real me stumbled through college, accidentally discovering passions and falling into bad habits and joining causes and abandoning the old for the new, all in an alarmingly haphazard fashion.

In my therapist’s office, I ask—though I know she doesn’t know any more than I do—whether I would be mentally ill if. If Colin hadn’t died. If my parents hadn’t divorced. If my coming-out at nineteen hadn’t been such a disaster.

In her usual calm, neutral tone, she says: “Well. You were born with anxiety, no doubt about that—just like you were born with blue eyes and blonde hair.”

I start to cry—and fail to confess that I’m a bottle blonde—even though her answer contradicts the one I feared I would receive: that the circumstances of my life have altered fate for the worse. Nothing is what I want it to be. “So, you mean I’ve always been fucked up?” I wail.

She shakes her head patiently. “Do you think that people born with diabetes are fucked up?”

“No,” I mutter, but I’m still picturing a smile as bright as the one I wore seven years ago, nine years ago, twelve years ago, plastered across an older face.

“A picture says a thousand words,” we say, intoning the old cliché as if it still holds any real meaning. On the contrary: a picture says little. While essayists are typically experts at wringing photographs for meaning, I find myself at a loss when I eye a selfie. Candids are easier—there’s Mom, harried, at my fifth birthday party, jerked out of comfortable introversion by the obligation to celebrate or Dad, interrupted from the computer’s hypnotic draw a second before a bleary-eyed snap is taken. Even group photos, staged as they are, rarely lack a lapse in order—a crying baby, a blinking uncle, a pair of “bunny ears” gone unnoticed. Selfies, however, are something quite different—an everyday artifice used to create someone new, not the past and present selves which so often disappoint, but an aspirational future self, an ideal. Genetics, luck, fate—they’re all muted by the artful use of strategic angles, filters, and multiple takes for good measure. It takes a keen eye to bypass technology’s disguise and see through to what lies beneath.


When you are young, it seems this simple: pick a job, a spouse, a number of children to bear—these are straightforward constructs that limit or expand your life. Who you are is another matter entirely. When you are a child, you presume that you will be the same forever. That you will always eat a cheese sandwich and watch Blue’s Clues at lunch. That you will always be best friends with the little girl next door—and, if you’re like me, that even if you and that little girl do happen to grow up, you will build conjoining mansions to live in. That you will always have a crystal-clear sense of right or wrong. It never occurs to you that the act of becoming will at times overwhelm you, the dizzying possibilities nearly buckling you under their psychic weight, that the choices you make will leave you wondering what is fundamental and what is evidence of becoming: mistakes, influential social trends, damage sustained through that trick of metamorphosis. Urgent and troubling questions will keep you up at night: What has life made of me? Have I ruined myself in the becoming? Who am I supposed to be?


Consider one of the world’s most famous women … the first “social media mogul,” boasting tens of millions of Instagram and Twitter followers, a mobile game she created and stars in, and a pack of emojis for the iPhone bearing exclusively her face and body. Her daily life televised for more than ten years. She’s the author of a book composed entirely of selfies. She’s a fashion model, a business owner, but mostly, a “celebutante”: famous for being famous. Her image is everywhere.

On May 24, 2006, Kim Kardashian left a Brentwood cinema after seeing a matinee showing of The Da Vinci Code with post-Newlyweds Nick Lachey of 98 Degrees. Midafternoon. Brentwood. Yet Kim’s toes had barely brushed the pavement before the two were swarmed by paparazzi, eager to photograph the latest substitute for America’s sweetheart, Jessica Simpson. There they were, in a quiet LA suburb—in droves.

Strange. What would possess LA paparazzi, typically busy chasing down stars downtown, to schlep their way to a suburban movie theater? Lachey, particularly now that he has all but faded into obscurity—a tombstone marked “98 Degrees” sprouting up in the graveyard of nineties boy bands and more than a decade having elapsed since the finale of Newlyweds—is fond of pointing out the role he played in Kim’s rise to fame. “No one followed us [to the movie],” he told Details magazine in 2013. “Somehow, mysteriously, when we left, there were thirty photographers waiting outside.” He laughed good-naturedly before getting to the heart of the matter: “There are certain ways to play the game, and some people play it well.”

The reaction Kim Kardashian typically evokes is a grudging mixture of exasperation and admiration, resentment and awe. Although many Americans are, perhaps rightfully, quick to point the finger at Kardashian and her ilk for rendering fame meaningless—no longer an indication of exemplary talent or even obscene wealth—no one can quite bring himself to go so far as to deny the astonishing cleverness with which she played the celebrity machine.

Similarly, around the time that Kim was reaching the upper echelons of tabloid ubiquity, a sex tape was “leaked” and later sold as Kim Kardashian: Superstar, a scandal which generated plenty of scorn, but even more media attention. In a coincidence that parallels Kim’s star-crossed encounter with the paparazzi in Brentwood, a little over six months later, Keeping Up With the Kardashians premiered. 1.3 million tuned in. Today, the show has been on the air for fourteen seasons and more than ten years.

The game that Lachey enigmatically refers to is a game that we all play to some extent. Whether we like to admit it or not, self-formation is often forced, at least at first. Remember when you were a teenager and determinedly wore a political t-shirt bearing an eco-friendly message every single day, dead-set on proving yourself a hardcore activist? Or, when you signed your name “Marilyn Monroe” sometimes, in hopes that willing yourself glamorous could make you someone equivalent? Or, when you gave your entire presentation for your elementary French class entirely in French, just to prove that you could?

Maybe you don’t, reader, but I do: because this is my story of self-formation.

Pushing the traits that we most treasure in ourselves to their dramatic extremes is a part of teenage life, a precursor to the young adult years when our most definitive features settle back into their natural state and the adolescent pressure to individuate fades. Today, I volunteer at the local parks to do my part for the environment, though the “Save the World” t-shirts are long since abandoned. I’m not glamorous by any means, but wear Marilyn’s signature red on my lips for special occasions. I don’t need to prove my intelligence, because by this point, I know who I am: maybe not a genius savant with a sky-high IQ, but someone with skill and dedication who laps up knowledge eagerly and occasionally retains it. I’ve settled into myself and, let’s be honest—so has Kim. She scarcely needs to call the paparazzi now—if this is, indeed, what happened in the spring of ’06—for they doggedly follow her wherever she goes. Kim’s experience is magnified by her celebrity, her game played with higher stakes—a potent risk of public humiliation and the shining opportunity to matter in the public eye—yet still she only demonstrates—on a giant, media-swollen scale—what we all practice.


In 2015, Kim published Selfish, an autobiography entirely consisting of photographs of her—not professional shots, but “selfies” previously posted on Instagram, each skillfully rendered glamour shot swollen to a dozen times the size of an iPhone screen on wide, glossy pages. On the surface, it seems as though such a project is doomed to flop: if Kim’s reputation suffers, it is because the public perceives her—and the desire for fame that drives her—as shallow and self-absorbed. A book entirely comprised of selfies seems perfect fodder for such criticisms. Surprisingly, however, critics by and large found Selfish poignantly revealing, despite the crafted artifice of the selfie and the layers of expensive clothing, lingerie, or makeup draped on the subject, intensifying the smoldering gaze with which she so often meets the camera.

The photograph—like the film—is a slanted replica of a person or her life. An artifact that we view as a reflection of reality, but in truth, veers closer to fantasy. The form is fundamentally different from the experience of witnessing someone in motion—not only because the moment frozen in a photograph whizzes by before we can process its meaning, but because even candid shots are staged, arranged in the mind’s eye of the photographer. The selfie, then, is something more altogether: to the subject, it is a skewed funhouse mirror. While, the spectator can’t discern where reality ends and fantasy starts. Psychoanalysts theorize that when a child first looks into a mirror, paradoxically, he perceives the other for the first time. He sees his reflection as a separate object and is presented with the illusion of self as other—and so two others appear to be confined in the looking-glass before him. He identifies with the reflection—a separate object—a not-him—a creation of his own. He’s witnessed his first potential selfie.

Kim Kardashian West’s selfies are crafted reflections of her, canny as her public self-formation. Artfully wrought, each one depicts another angle of Kim’s success. Here she is in 2006, still dark-skinned and visibly Armenian, using the now-archaic mirror and digital camera to capture the shot. Here she is in 2009, cavorting with Kourtney Kardashian, both still twentysomething and baby-free in Mexico. And here, she is in 2014, showing off her resplendent post-baby body in a lavish full bathroom that could only belong to the wife of Kanye West. Her pictures move from apparent carefreeness to the smoldering stare of a successful businesswoman and international sex symbol.

One recent selfie, near the end of Selfish, depicts Kim, hair ocean-tousled, in full makeup—though her eyeliner is artfully smudged, as if to suggest that this is a casual pose—wearing nothing but a towel, barely visible at the bottom edge of the photo. No longer a smiley twentysomething, glib and cutesy, Kim is all sex symbol, all the time, her face carefully arranged into an expression of haughty indifference, her shining visage as glossy and surreal as the sleek coffee table book itself. Since her first pregnancy, her curves are more pronounced than ever, her breasts bulbous and veiny, and it’s hard to tell what the focus is intended to be: the dark eyes which gaze unwavering at the camera lens, or the eye-popping presence of her breasts below. The sweetheart of her family reality TV show, the drool-worthy and busty babe of the likes of Maxim and Playboy … spectators can’t decide and, based on this selfie, maybe Kim can’t, either.

Selfish depicts Kim’s journey from celeb wannabe, cheesing and sticking her tongue out, releasing shot after endearing shot of her hugging Kourtney and Khloé or lounging around LA nightclubs and coastal beaches, to legitimized celebrity, wanted by Vanity Fair and Us Weekly alike. Her older selfies depicted a young woman intent on being fun, carefree, sweet—everything America could want for its next rising starlet, but as the book approaches its end, we find that Kim has attained iconic status.

Perhaps back in 2009, or even as recently as 2011, Kim would have been slammed by the likes of the New York Times and The Telegraph for Selfish, but not in 2015, when her atmospheric fame and status demand a certain measure of respect. The Telegraph concedes that Selfish is “oddly moving” and The Times marvels at the visual progression from celebrity sidekick to superstar: “This is the post-Calabasas Kim, the Kanye West Kim, the Kim who must be deferred to by the world’s greatest photographers and designers.” Whatever Kim may have been, natural-born narcissist or just another rich nobody, today, she is the selfie we see and what was once a pose is now an unconscious gesture.


I am no Kim Kardashian West: at my age, Kim was already appearing regularly in the New York Daily News, peddling designer wares as “kimsaprincess” on eBay, and skillfully turning aspirations of fame into press coverage. What it would be like to live the life of a celebutante, every detail of origin and transformation scrupulously documented for public consumption? Would such attention be liberating—or invite the suffocating pressure I feel when old friends scrutinize me, Jessica’s “You’ve changed” amplified to the voice of a million so-called fans?

Our world is a place where photographs —once considered straightforward depictions of reality—are not captured but crafted, a place where the famous have abandoned the game of chance for one of strategy. Discerning the essential self from the obfuscating effects of trauma—airbrushing tools, Instagram filters, contouring—is a bewildering process and so, in an effort to understand—to wield control over the seemingly uncontrollable act of becoming—I write. It’s not glamorous, but it’s my best chance at self-recognition. Who was I, and what was there to love in her? Would she be proud of who I have become? Words teach me what I suspect Kim Kardashian learns at twice the rate—how story becomes mythology and how those mythologies shape not just a self, but also a world that intimately surrounds her.

Ultimately, it is up to us to craft the story, in a most Kardashian-esque way, whether it ends up a cautionary tale of hitting the bottle too hard or a fairy tale about becoming the author you’ve dreamed of being since girlhood. Writing changes the world—in the smallest of ways—and, in doing so, the person who writes bypasses the empty life we all so fear. Whether or not you believe that life’s destined path is brimming with your essential self or with fate’s obscure plans, what is meant to happen must: whether by God’s design or your own careful construction of each resplendent, artful selfie.

Katy Major is a writer and critic from Medina, Ohio. Previously, her award-winning work has been published in Otterbein University’s Humanities journal, Aegis, and Quiz & Quill Magazine. Most recently, her work was featured in ‘Adelaide Magazine’s summer issue. Katy is currently at work on her first essay collection, Self(ie) Made: American Essays. You can find her on Twitter at @wildthingwriter or visit her website on all things horror at


When Pornhub Had Sex With My Boyfriend Instead Of Me

Nothing will ever alleviate
the chore that is turning
my body over, bird-thin heels
and all, so that my boyfriend
can come at me from a different angle.
At least the cushion on his futon
offers reprieve of the carnal
blunderings television never
bothered to show me when I
was a child. Now I know to have
sex with men who can flip a bitch.
Why is it that eyes close shut
just as balloon-popping pleasure
expands between your legs,
like some sort of window-shade
that falls down after sunset?
They pry open when his fingers
fist in my hair, yanking on
the Latina curls in the way
I sometimes ask him to,
but today is different and it is sad
that he cannot see the tension
building the curve of my scapulas.
You’re my little slut aren’t you he
breathes. My hips smash flat,
forward upon his own and I am choking
on a trachea that wants to rip
itself free of the carotid roommate
it never wanted, just to inflame
destruction. Don’t call me that
is says instead, but I don’t think
he can even hear me through
the animal noises he makes, like sex
is an Olympic sport and he is a gold
medalist in place of the childish
spectator I know him to be. Okay
he answers without hitching the thrusts
of his own hips, because getting some
is the real trophy here, and I know then
that this is not sex and I am not his girlfriend
and I will pretend that this never happened,

because I do not want to remember
what it feels like to be fucked.

Olivia Torres is a senior at Westfield State University in Massachusetts. She is an English major and has a concentration in writing. Olivia has been published in the Merrimack Review and her work has also been accepted by Open Minds Quarterly. Currently, she is working on her first chapbook, which she hopes to publish in the summer of 2018.

Prerna Bakshi


Prerna Bakshi is a writer, poet and activist of Indian origin, currently based in Macao. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee and the author of the recently released full-length poetry collection, Burnt Rotis, With Love, long-listed for the 2015 Erbacce-Press Poetry Award in the UK and cited as one of the ‘9 Poetry Collections That Will Change The Way You See The World’ by Bustle in the US. Her work has been published widely, most recently in The Ofi PressRed Wedge Magazine, TRIVIA: Voices of Feminism and Prachya Review: Literature & Art Without Borders, as well as anthologized in several collections, including America Is Not The World by Pankhearst. Website:

Who is your favorite female identifying written character and why?

My all-time favorite female writer is Amrita Pritam. Everything about her and her work consumes me. She literally paved the way for so many (women) writers, especially those from Punjab. As a Punjabi woman, I believe I owe so much to her; for all the incredible work that she did and for all those beautiful words she wrote. Her work speaks to me; it holds me. She wrote a great deal on Punjab, inter-ethnic relations and politics, experiences of women – all these topics concern me and something that I engage with/write about in my own work.

What literary work by a female identifying writer had the most effect on you as a writer and/or person?

Amrita Pritam’s poetry collection, Khamoshi Se Pehle and her auto-biography, Raseedi Ticket, had quite an effect on me, to such an extent that I began writing poems, after a long hiatus.  Amrita Pritam, who was a prolific writer and poet, mentioned in Raseedi Ticket that when she was suffering from severe depression and as she went into therapy, she was encouraged by her therapist to write. This phenomena, though, as we know is not too uncommon, as Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath too, were told the same, when they found themselves in a similar position. Reading Amrita Pritam, whom I had always admired though, changed me in ways I cannot explain. I was going through some difficult times myself and still am (healing is a journey and never a fixed event) and it was precisely at this moment that I decided to write again. So, from that perspective, she’s been incredibly influential.

How did your work/works in Alyss come about?

This morning” was dedicated to all the victims/survivors of domestic violence. It was written from a perspective of a person who finds themselves entrapped in a violent and abusive relationship and/or marriage. Even to this day, in several parts of the world, our society, for the most part, sees domestic violence as ‘normal’, something that women should put up with, for the sake of their relationship/marriage, for family’s honor etc. Even in cases where domestic violence is seen as a problem, I would argue, the society sees it in terms of a fixed event, something that women should ‘get over’ with, and must get on with their lives, performing their daily chores. Domestic violence is never fully seen as something that goes to on to effect women’s lives, for a long period of time, often in ways that cannot be easily measured.

What has been your greatest writing life moment so far?

My first full-length collection, Burnt Rotis, With Love (Les Éditions du Zaporogue, Denmark), just came out early this year. I made the long-list for this year’s Erbacce Press Poetry Award in the UK (as well as last year – that’s twice in a row!).Whittled down from about 8000 entries (a record entry) from across the world to just 100. To say that I was fairly pleased would be an understatement.

One of the most exciting things to have happened this year was when I learned that my book, Burnt Rotis, With Love, was cited as one of the ‘9 Poetry Collections That Will Change The Way You See The World’ by Bustle magazine in the US. To have my name next to the highly acclaimed and award-winning giants like Margaret Randall (who, incidentally, endorsed my book *still in awe*), Audre Lorde, Marge Piercy, Claudia Rankine and a whole heap of other talented and fine writers and poets (such as Heather Christle, Matt Rasmussen, Olena Kalytiak Davis, Gillian Conoley) was nothing short of a dream come true.

What is your favorite piece by another writer from a previous issue and why?

Date-Rape by Natalie N. Caro in Issue Deux. It was raw, powerful and beautiful.

What are you currently working on?

Nothing exciting, I’m afraid. Right now, I’m working towards my PhD and that’s taking up all my time.

Who/what is your favorite Alice/Alyss?

Alice Herz.

Diego and I

when Frida comes to life via
some prestigious museum

The fat man sits on her forehead
she blinks and peels off his body
Holds him in her fist like Kong
Gazing down like the Aztec god
That she is, she says:

The only reason you here
is because you fucked me
The infidel bloats with pride
He looks like a pig roast.

Frida, she eats him.

Chews him slowly
he pops like a gusher
Beige & black & sienna & firebrick
burst across her lips
part of his overalls get stuck
in her teeth
His third eye gets caught in
the corner of her mouth.

The tears on her face perform a rain
dance in reverse
She swallows him, and gives birth
to the child she always deserved.


Gabrielle L Randall is a writer-filmmaker from Columbia, Maryland and based in New York City. She is a recent graduate of Manhattan’s School of Visual Arts with a BFA in Directing. Gabrielle’s poetry has been published in SVA’s literary journal, WORDS, and her poem, “Angel’s Trumpet,” won first prize in the Fourth Annual SVA Writing Contest. Her poem, “Minty Full of Grace” will be published in Glint Literary Journal issue 9, due for release in Fall/Winter 2018.

The Game of LIFE

For birthdays, my kids are getting old games,
The ones people say are  retro classics.
Flat long faded colored boxes with names
Like this: Trouble, Sorry, Perfection, Risk…
You know the ones I mean. The games you find
Marked “all pieces here” for about a buck
Or so at church rummage sales…Mastermind,
Battleship, each of those great Sears-Roebuck
Christmas Wish-Book giants: Operation
And Life.  Plus both the variations there
Are of checkers—Chinese and the plain one–
(One comes with a round board, one with a square).
I’m not trying to pretend they’re something,
They’re not. We’re poor, so…it’s them or nothing.

Juleigh Howard-Hobson’s writing has appeared in many places, including The Lyric, Mezzo Cammin, Verse Wisconsin, and The Raintown Review. As well as garnering other awards, she has been twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Her fourth and most recent book is Remind Me (Ancient Cypress Press).


It was never a dress, they say
As if a cape were somehow more practical
For fighting than a dress
(Though both are still preferable to heels
I should know – I’ve worn them all
Throughout my various incarnations)

Still, a true warrior
Takes what circumstance
Throws her way
And uses those supposed detriments
To her advantage

A dress? Beguile your enemy
Enchant them
Stash a sword
A cape? Entangle your enemy
Confuse them
Bind them as if with a lasso
Heels? Kick your enemy
Trip them
Make sure they stay down
With your foot at their throat

(Though it’s always better
To first extend a hand in peace
Before raising it in battle)

The fight is not won
By focusing on the costume
Or even the weapons
(Though sometimes those are
One and the same)
The fight is won –
And lost –
In the hearts and minds
Of the warriors
Whatever they may wear

Those who don capes and swords
Those sporting power suits and cell phones
Those in spit up-stained shirts
And a baby on each hip

We all fight the same battle every day
Superhero, executive, stay-at-home mom
Let us not ridicule one another
Over our choice of attire
But join ranks and march forward
Side by side
Facing a world that sees us only
As capes, or dresses, or heels

That is how we win
A skirmish
Then a battle
Then the war
My sisters
Heels and all

Marsheila Rockwell is a multiple Scribe and Rhysling Award nominee and the author of twelve books to date, the most recent being a novel based on the popular video game Mafia III (written with husband/writing partner Jeffrey J. Mariotte). Her work also includes the acclaimed H/SF novel 7 SYKOS (w/Mariotte); a Xena: Warrior Princess trilogy (w/Mariotte); The Shard Axe series, the only official novels for the global MMORPG, Dungeons & Dragons Online; two collections; dozens of short stories and poems; and multiple articles on writing and the writing process. Find out more here:

Chameleon – Penny Montague

PennyMontague photos

Penny Montague writes fiction and poetry. She’s a Londoner who has just completed an MA in Literary Linguistics, during which she gatecrashed the Creative Writing classes and corralled her fellow students into creating an anthology. Her work has been published by Bunbury Magazine and Ink Pantry. She tweets at @pjmontague.

Who is your favorite female identifying written character and why?

I can’t give you an all-time favourite female character, as it changes for me all the time.

At this moment, I’m thinking of Kainene from Half of a Yellow Sun who was regarded as less attractive than her twin sister, but was so resilient and industrious, especially when the civil war began to affect her life and her community. Even though she wasn’t one of the viewpoint characters, I really felt a connection with her.

Another character would be Sookie Stackhouse from the The Southern Vampire Mysteries (depicted in the True Blood TV show). Although she is a mortal human surrounded by supernatural creatures she uses her cunning and wit to stay alive and to protect those that she loves. At the heart each of these novels is a mystery to be solved, which is the main draw beyond the vampire / werewolf / fae conflicts.

And finally, Dr Frieda Klein, a psychotherapist who helps the police to solve murder cases in the crime series by Nicci French. Klein is a bit of a maverick but has great insights which often has her police liaison guy scrambling to keep up with her.

Ask me again tomorrow and I’ll probably give you a few different characters.

What literary work by a female identifying writer had the most effect on you as a writer and/or person?

Another tough question!

Let’s say Bareback by Kit Whitfield. It was the first so-called genre novel that I remember that also asked questions of society. In this fictional universe, the majority of people are werewolves but the few people (the barebacks) that don’t turn furry under the full movie are tasked with policing the mayhem. It’s not just a werewolf story, it’s also a mystery and has a love story too. It proved to me that I can write in the genres that I enjoy (such as fantasy, crime and romance) but with the devices and scope that I admire in literary fiction. So I don’t have to choose just one genre or one way of writing.

Also anything by Valerie Martin, but especially her short story collection The Unfinished Novel and Other Stories. She writes so well about the creative temperament. I think my favourite story in this collection is the first one, ‘His Blue Period’, about a rivalry between two male painters. Our protagonist isn’t as successful as his brash rival, and is also in love with his girlfriend, which becomes a heartbreaking situation. I also adore her novel The Confessions of Edward Day, which is similarly about a rivalry (artistic and romantic) between two actors.

How did your work/works in Alyss come about?

I wrote ‘Predatory Thinking‘ for a creative writing assignment during my master’s degree, but the seed of the idea came from talking to another student in my class. She was originally from Nigeria but had spent several years in the USA and had a strong American accent. She mentioned that she often changed her accent depending on where she was living and joked that she would probably acquire an English accent over the year of her stay.

I started thinking in terms of her being like a chameleon who adapted to her surroundings and sparked the idea of this assassin who could transform at will.

I had feedback on the first draft from an experienced writer, who said that she loved it and encouraged me to make her ‘even more monstrous’. I was a little alarmed at first by that comment, as I felt that I shared some qualities with the protagonist, or rather that she was perhaps a more extreme version of myself. There are many ways to build a character, and I had used a lot of my own dark sense of humour in the creation of this character. I really enjoyed writing this story and letting the protagonist get down to business.

What has been your greatest writing life moment so far?

After I read out one of my poems at a reading group that I used to attend, a woman told me that it had made her want to cry as it had reminded her of her late mother. The poem was more of a reminiscence about old technology, so I was surprised that it had had that reaction, but I was so pleased that it connected with her emotionally.

What is your favorite piece by another writer from a previous issue and why?

As someone who is interested in linguistics and language in general, I was immediately drawn to ‘everytime i speak, my gums bleed‘ by Amber Atiya. The poem really evokes the unacknowledged violence of language and we can feel alienated by our own mother tongue(s). The use of English and other languages of colonialism as a lingua franca is leading to the death of languages spoken in some smaller communities; for this reason, I can see how some might describe English as a ‘pesticide’.  I think the poem also makes the point that verbal language is not the only form of communication that we have, and that the simpler modes in which animals communicate are much truer and more visceral than our words.

What are you currently working on?

I haven’t written much creative work since my MA, but I am hoping to send some more short stories and poetry into the world very soon. I am also planning to write a musical in the near future.

Who/what is your favorite Alice/Alyss?

It would have to be Alice Pieszecki from The L Word, the journalist who kept a chart of the liaisons between the women that she knew in LA. Although another character called Jenny was ostensibly the ‘writer’ in that community of women, Alice was endlessly curious and observant – qualities shared by many writers that I know.


Can You Hear My Ears Bleeding

I first noticed the alien on a stormy night in Amsterdam. Jared bought us a six-pack of Amstel from Sterk Avondverkoop down the street. We stayed in the hostel we called home, watching reruns of Friends until slurred snores were louder than the laugh track after Chandler’s jokes. When everyone else was asleep the alien whispered to me. He told me I was chosen—chosen to be the one to introduce him to the human world. His voice was so quiet then and I’d had enough beers that I didn’t really listen. I let myself fall asleep to the hum of Jared’s slow breaths and figured the alien would be gone with the hangover in the morning.

That morning I heard him in the crackle of my Coco Krispies. My spoon dropped violently to the ground. I screamed at Jared that someone spoke to me through my cereal and begged him to make them stop. Jared cracked up, the milk spurting out his nose as he said, “Are you still drunk? It was just a couple of beers!” I laughed along because he was probably right. Besides Rice Krispies are supposed to talk to you, that’s the whole point.

A week later Jared went to see some Indie Art film with our hipster roommates. Usually I would join them but I’d seen enough teen angst for the week and just wanted to curl up with a book and a mugful of tea. That’s when I heard the alien again. This time he was in the patter of the rain beating on the bay window I had commandeered as my personal oasis, replacing potted plants with pillows when we first got here. His voice was loud and pleading. He needed my help to learn the ways of the world. I was already comfortably struggling through Les Miserables by myself, but began to read out loud so he could hear. If he wanted to be a part of this world he’d need to understand human nature. I preferred reading out loud anyway—so I was really doing this for me not him. At least that’s what I told myself after we got through The Sun Also Rises and the entire Harry Potter series.

Months passed and the alien still spoke to me. By then, this alien’s safe journey to earth had become my mission. Jared began to notice the changes: I spent more time alone reading and listening; I’d drink tea at hole-in-the-wall cafes instead of going barhopping with him; and I didn’t want to finish our trip across Europe. What if we left and I couldn’t hear the alien anymore?

The alien’s power grew. I finally told Jared I was still hearing voices and he said I should see a doctor. I promised I’d go to a psychologist the next day. But I knew a shrink would just give me a pill or strap me to a hospital bed, so when Jared took me to the office I waved from the lounge then walked upstairs and joined a weekly yoga class instead. The deep breathing helped and I could hear the alien better here. In downward dog, the alien’s voice was a gentle purr.

Jared goes out every night now. I think he’s jealous of my alien. He doesn’t know what to do with his arms anymore when we’re together. I think Jared is afraid that touching me is the same as touching the alien, thinking if he rubbed me the wrong way he’d feel the alien’s bony fingers intertwining with his. I tell him he’s crazy, the alien’s fingers are soft not bony.

Sometimes I regret being the chosen one. I throw up when the alien screams into my ear. Jared can’t hear it so he sleeps soundly. Besides he stopped waking up to comfort me months ago. Though yesterday, Jared whispered a hesitant “hello” to the alien. Unsure where to direct his greeting, Jared settled on a blank stare at the ceiling. These days I choose the rocking chair in the kitchen over the bay window when I read to him. Like I am now, alien thoughts pooling. Just when I think I’m alone with the alien, Jared comes for me and drives us somewhere he thinks the alien would like.

But I’d rather show the alien the purple wildflower speckled meadow behind the house I grew up in. I’d take him to the patch of clovers under the swing set and we’d search for four-leafed ones until our fingers turned green. I’d lie beside him on the porch. Smile as his eyes widen to watch the sunset reveal stars and planets, finally looking at them like humans do.

I wake up to the sound of my own screaming. Jared is pale, eyes bulging. He hands me water, but I push it back because he looks like he needs it more than I do. The alien whispers, “It’s time” and I yell until I feel my vocal chords reverberating in my throat, they freeze into place once they pick a pitch for the screech. The alien pokes out his head, which is oozing with slime now collecting on my thigh. I grab unto Jared’s forearm, nails digging until they find a permanent spot in the blue of his veins. Jared’s watery eyes drain months of disbelief in a single tear down his cheek. When he holds the alien he probably only sees the green veins on his forehead or the purple sparkle of his eyes, but the smile on my face eases away the scowl on Jared’s as I name my alien.

Atousa Motameni is a Persian-American writer who recently graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park with degrees in Psychology and English Literature. While there, she was a member of the Jiménez-Porter Writer’s House—a collection of misfit toys that write. She is obsessed with apples, pomegranates and cardamom tea.

Wherever You’ve Gone, Joe DiMaggio

I turn my eyes, in desperation, to you,
because the current situation is simply too much.
Will anyone say of the nation’s 45th president, as was said of you:
He represented the best in America.
It was his character, his generosity, his sensitivity.
He was someone who set a standard every father would want his children to follow.
Will anyone pronounce him, with sincerity and a straight face,
to be among our most beloved heroes?
Who will think of him as someone who
gave every American something to believe in,
representing the very symbol of American grace, power and skill?
How many can believe, for even a fractured moment, that
when future generations look back at the best of America
his will be among the faces that surface?

With appreciation to

Erika Dreifus writes poetry and prose in New York City. She is the author of QUIET AMERICANS: STORIES and is currently at work on a full-length poetry collection. Visit her online at

This poem wants to be an ode

As a Jewish child who was also female I loved Portia
—and, like every other Shakespearean heroine,
she proved a treacherous role model
. —Adrienne Rich

This poem wants to be an ode, to sing. Sing how you master each scene, praise how you arrange your own marriage despite a dead father’s constraint, how you tip off your love with a musical clue so he picks the right chest and chooses: you, a prize. This poem wants to applaud your clever court disguise, your elegant plea for mercy—though you show none, a bloodless stone. This poem aches to appreciate your power, you the dead man’s savior, and regard your ring trick with delight, the way you trap your love into giving the ring he promised never to part with. It wants to say, Quick-wit wife! This poem longs to pour wine libations at your feet and cap your crown with laurels, sprinkle pale petals where you pass. But your temple’s defiled with ash. This poem itches but cannot scratch. It ends with holocaust and a cordial of tears. A net with a lamprey catch.

Dayna Patterson is the Managing Editor of Bellingham Review, Poetry Editor for Exponent II Magazine, and Editor-in-Chief of Psaltery & Lyre. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in The American Journal of Poetry, Hotel Amerika, North American Review, The Fourth River, Literary Mama, Weave, and others.