Boilerplate: /ˈboilərˌplāt/ (n.) writing that expresses a generally accepted opinion or belief.

“boilerplate” refers to the hot metal printing plates used in the typesetting of “readymade” texts, the machine that churns out standardized advertisements and ready-to-print stories. It also means computer code included in many places with little or no alteration. boilerplates are smooth, overlapping, and undercut slabs of rock. For convenience’s sake, boilerplate is many, and same.

In 2014, we took boilerplate as the name of our online and print publication. Based at Vassar College, but run independently of the administration, boilerplate was originally a space where survivors could freely share their stories. Drawing from the various definitions of the word itself, boilerplate magazine now has many permeable borders. We accept submissions of all forms. Tracing currents between human, natural and digital ecologies, boilerplate searches for that unstable ground where the what-is and the what-will-be are questioned. Our model seeks a restless mode of entanglements to uncover various intimacies; our boats are open, and we sail them for everyone.         /            @boilerplatemag

current editors:

arts & culture: simon locker and caleb mitchell (,

climate crisis: fiona bruckman (

creative: isabel drake and zaafir hasan ( ,

humor & satire: hannah witts and jake silva ( ,

politics: arham choudhry (

sex & health: keira seyd (

graphic design: harrison gable (

This Can Be Funny
By Keira Seyd

“Tell me about it.” Tell you what? “Has it gotten worse?” It’s really difficult to tell. “Do you notice new symptoms?” Yes, well, I think so. “Can you describe it to me?”

“Can you describe it to me?” What a funny little question, what a set-up.

I know she won’t like my answer. No one ever does. They want me to describe what I can’t see, and in that, describe what I can see. It’s hilarious to wrap my mind around it, especially when I do try to answer, all they respond with is “Interesting.” They aren’t legally allowed to give me much more than that. It’s a niche experience, having someone look into your eyes and have them only respond with a monotone “Interesting.” I have to stop myself from saying I’m sure it is buddy. They never get the punchline, I wish they would.

Mmmm I want a cig.

“Miss?”  The doctor interjects my funny little spiel and stares at me with eyes trained to convey patience. Have I fallen silent? “Can you describe it to me?”  Well, I say hesitantly. “That’s okay.” I mean, there are more floaters-- “Mmmhmm,” she nods sympathetically, scribbling notes on the back of her folder -- and the snow is hard for me, in terms of the reflection, I can’t see in the snow. I think it’s getting more difficult to recognize people and things from far away? Can’t really tell. And then the night is the same as it has always been. “And by that you mean…” I still can’t see at night. “Interesting.” Bingo.

“Are you ~dazzled~ when you walk into a bright room?” This one is my favorite question. Razzle-dazzled, I respond with jazz hands and a grin, waiting for her to burst out into laughter.

“Excuse me?” With a sigh of boredom, I give her what she wants.
Yes, I feel dazzled.
“Okay, excellent.”
Excellent, I think to myself, stifling a laugh.

Whenever I come here, the technicians always compliment me. There’s this one technician I like to flirt with sometimes. He’s 24 and I can already see him as a successful doctor living in Westwood or Brentwood or one of the other “woods” with a family and like, six Goldendoodles -- hypoallergenic, of course. He does my dark adaptation tests and calls me a trooper, tells me if there was such a thing as acing a dark adaptation test, I would be doing it. I know he’s lying because I suck at dark adaptation tests per my genetic inability to adapt to the dark, but I appreciate it nonetheless.

They tell me “It’s such a relief to work with a patient who can sit still and not complain.” At first, I didn’t understand what they meant by this. After a couple of times going in, I soon realized that they just meant it was nice to work with a young patient and not some seventy-five-year-old who has a small bladder or is in every right angry at life. They’ve lived too long and just as they’re starting to relax and enjoy the golden years, they can’t even watch their favorite TV show. I don’t love when they tell me how great I am, what a dutiful patient I am compared to the others. It’s a reminder that this might happen to me fifty years too early.

After six hours, I collect my mom from the conference room and fight the urge to rub my eyes. They’re numbed from the test where they tape my lids open and hook me up to what I can only describe as plastic robot contact lenses. If I rub them too hard, I could pop my eyeball in and barely even feel it.

On my way out, I spot a frail old woman in post-dilation glasses smoking a cigarette in the parking lot, refusing to sit in her wheelchair and waving her attendant off of her. I laugh, really laugh, for the first time today. My mother smiles at me, not in on the joke, but happy to bear witness.

“What is it?” She asks me with a hint of a smile. 

Nothing, I reassure her. It’s just -- Like staring into a warped mirror-- it’s nothing, just tired and delirious.

I’ve written numerous pieces about my eyes -- it’s one of the only concrete forms of processing I can engage in freely. As I grow with this diagnosis, I have found the humor in my condition. My sister and I joke about our experiences with our doctors, the way that people react when we tell them, what we will be like when we are older, etc. I want to joke about it. I want to be able to laugh at my diagnosis because finding humor in pain is a necessary aspect of coping, growing, and simply existing. My disease is not this dark looming depressing feature in my life. When I joke about it, it is not a haphazard attempt to cover my grief with forced laughter. I especially don’t want sympathy in those moments because when I am unable to share the humor in my condition, it’s a reminder that it is a disease and that its valence is more often than not viewed as tragic. It is and it isn’t because it just is what it is. There are moments where it is loaded and upsetting, of course, but within those are funny and joyous moments too. It is okay to laugh with me, in fact, it makes me feel better.

Anonymous Thoughts on Title IX
Content Warning: Sexual Assault/Rape/Title IX

I got into an abusive relationship my first year at Vassar. I tried to leave him (Y) seven times but he would stalk me on campus or blow up my phone until I got back together with him. It was also my first year at Vassar and Y’s last year. The power dynamics were horrifying. Another survivor and I reported our abuser to Title IX last year. The process ended up lasting over five months. More than 15 people got dragged in to testify for either Y or the survivors. Throughout the process Y filed multiple complaints of harassment against me and others.

The resource that was supposed to be a justice attaining healing source so easily became weaponized against the survivors. I thought Y was the exception for abusers/rapists that have the audacity to file Title IXs against survivors, but I was wrong. As I joined multiple healing spaces for survivors of SA at Vassar, I heard more about how traumatizing the Title IX process was for the survivors that filed. I heard about instances of the abuser filing complaints against the survivor, of rich abusers bringing in lawyers with lawsuits, and more.

An abuser can easily turn Title IX into a “game.” “Game” because any person can file a complaint, and the office will have to investigate. An abuser can easily claim Malicious Intent or Harassment for the survivor speaking out about their experience. And then what? It’s almost as if the Title IX Office expects the survivor to file a Retaliation claim back at the abuser. A “game” emerges of who can file the most claims and stand through the process the longest.  These dirty tricks happen because there simply is no rule against it.

I am not writing this to show abusers a way out of a Title IX–they have already been doing this. My point is to expose the corruptness of the Title IX process and to explain how this process ultimately ends up serving people who abuse and manipulate systems/people.

People don’t understand how traumatizing the Title IX process is. The process goes on for months, and the survivor is forced to relive and explain why their experience is valid. In instances where the abuser denies the allegations (which is the majority of the time), the abuser jumps at the chance to twist the words in the survivor’s testimony. Even if the abuser doesn’t file a case against the survivor, the system becomes an accessible way for the abuser to further abuse and gaslight the survivor.

This relates to a more extensive conversation on how society views/treats sexual assault, justice, and education. However, now, on the Vassar campus, we need to recognize this problem. Why is it all hush-hush when you see the rapist walking around campus? Why is the rapist still walking on this campus? Why does the survivor have to relive trauma every time they see the rapist? Why are people immediately kicked off campus for breaking COVID-19 rules while rapists are allowed to stay? What are the priorities of this school?

There needs to be a new way we view these harms. A way that fully supports the survivor and applies justice to the perpetrator in a transformative way. One that ensures the perpetrator genuinely acknowledges the harm they caused, and ensures they commit to change in a way that does not burden the survivor. If we allow these abusers and rapists to continue walking around campus, then they should be going through intensive therapy and discussions that lead them to recognize how they have harmed another person, but ultimately, they must want to change.

College Regulations Handbook

Sexual Assault and Rape on College Campuses Statistics/Info

Proper Health

When I think of health, and what health means to me, I think immediately of fear. Health, rather than being a word that fills me with gratitude, relief, and thankfulness, feels fragile, delicate. I believe I am wrong for thinking like this.

I was born into a bloodline of hypochondriacs. Father’s side. His mother’s side. Too many times I have called my mother urgently, asking her if the pain in my leg was from blood clotting, if my horrible migraines were actually the result of a brain tumor. Unnecessary stress. I’d stay up all night feeling my neck glands; throat cancer. “Let’s just chop the whole leg off,” my mother learned to respond to me.

Of course, it isn’t completely genetic. When I was fifteen my body shut down. It started with headaches, moving my eyes a certain way brought pain. Then it was joint pain. And then one morning I woke up and couldn’t pee. I couldn’t do anything to fix it. My bladder was full, I had to use the bathroom, but once I sat down on the toilet… nothing. It was such a basic human function to have suddenly ripped away from me. This was followed by a twelve hour visit to the emergency room and a remarkable amount of prodding and poking over the subsequent weeks. I underwent MRIs, CT scans, ultrasounds, dozens of blood tests, a test examining my brain activity, and countless extremely–and I mean extremely–intrusive tests at the urologist that I do not wish to share the details of. The doctors were concerned. I remember sitting with my parents in these random offices awaiting more results, the doctors coming in throwing their hands up in the air, their brows furrowed. Nothing. I was in perfect health. “You’re stumping New York City’s entire medical community!” One doctor joked. I wanted to punch him in the face.

I had to learn how to use disposable catheters. I carried dozens of them everywhere I went. I was used to the fear of having a hidden tampon in my pocket when leaving my High School Spanish class to go the bathroom, but hiding a catheter was something else. I would take deep breaths in the stalls before using them, wincing but remaining silent, lest someone washing their hands would hear me. Soon I was able to do it without the deep breaths, numb to the pain, my routine taking under two minutes. My head hurt. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. Outside my family, I only told two people.

The doctors never figured out why my body’s basic system shut down. All I was left with was a doctor saying, “Maybe it was anxiety.” Slowly, things started to go back to normal. Sitting on the toilet, I learned to count up and down from ten before I could pee. Deep breaths. My body healed all on its own.

I tried so hard to get something beautiful out of my months as a healthy sick person; I tried to feel gratitude or appreciation for my body’s resilience (it had resolved its ailments all on its own!). Impossible. I was simply left plagued with a wariness of doctors, a mistrust of my own body, and an incredibly annoying, and sometimes debilitating habit of torturing myself on WebMD. Hypochondria was the secret friend that would pull me away from my friends and family, sitting on the ground of a bathroom, recognizing the headache, the painful movement of the eye. The repeating voice in my head, it’s happening again. Hard to shake.

Over the years I’ve made visits to doctors and specialists who would shake their heads and ask me what exactly I was doing there. You seem fine. I’d shrug. Chest pain?

This year suddenly hypochondria became everyone’s friend – and no one was secretive about it. It has not made me feel less alone in my worries, it has not made my anxieties feel heard or seen in any way. Frankly, it was disturbing to see people I had known to be completely unfazed by a doctor’s visit now in daily duress. It made me feel worse to see my own neurosis manifest itself in everyone around me.

I am not sure if I will ever learn how to think of health properly. I am aware of the privilege I have to be speaking of health in such abstract terms, void of any urgency or real danger. I simply have to remind myself that my body is doing everything in its power to work for, and not against, me. I need to learn how to be kind to my body, to forgive my body. I am not made of stone.

By Brynn Gauthier

Content Warning: Eating disorders, hospitals, self-harm, death.
Author’s Note: Names have been changed for the privacy of other patients.

On October 1, 2020, I was sent home from Vassar College at the recommendation of  Health Services. I was a senior for the month of September, and then I was a patient. 

I would learn that my home, Denver, Colorado, is the eating disorder capital of the  world, and that Oreos cannot be dipped in milk. I would learn to earn my butterfly clips from  my Sharps Bucket with good behavior and I would learn how ungentle I had really been: making  a paperclip, economy, police-precinct-sketch of myself.

For the next two months, I live in a bedroom on the second floor. My roommate is named  Tonya. She is 58-years-old, from Oregon, and her fingernails were flaky, like mine. She gives me  a sand dollar when she leaves. I am very afraid of it crumbling.

Each day, I disclaim to the nurse that my veins are rolly, unreliable. The needle loses me,  and so I am relegated to the butterfly needles, the ones used for infants. 

I watch my friends cry over maple syrup rivers and rip out endless National Geographic pages. Yolky and blue, we wish upon saloon doors and construction paper. We drink milk and put our feet above our heads: it helps with the swelling. Some days, we are spoon-shaped and some days we are lighthouses. Other days, we are endless apologies. At 7pm, we wait for mail. Staff watches us open and read long letters from far away people, and then they keep the envelopes. In the bathroom, we share Q-tips and wonder if the morning will come again.

I give my eating disorder a name, Gloria, and explain that she is the friend I am friends  with at college because my mom probably wouldn’t like her. I liked that she was interested in  me, and when her love hurt, it seemed like you were just learning what everyone else already  knew. We laugh, and I stink of half-truths.

On Christmas, we make a tree out of pipe cleaners. On New Year’s Day, we miss house  parties we never went to, upstairs neighbors we never had. While rioters storm the Capitol  Building in January, we are waiting in front of a thermometer, hoping that the temperature goes above 32 degrees so we can get 10 minutes of Fresh Air Time instead of five. 

On our second floor, our world is narrowed to murky voicemails. Our gravity lies in lukewarm Ensure bottles while the Earth’s gravity lies in vaccines and impeachment processes. My extinction was charming until it wasn’t. My decay was organized until it wasn’t. 

Eating disorders are the entanglement of someone constrained to pay attention. I was  so sick of being itched by the world, and so I began investing in a new geometry.

But this is the math as I remember: I remember tiny, spider Brynn who was cold on her  21st birthday and her dad had to hold her. I remember clumps of hair. I remember the evil joy of  eating on my own and the pain of snack time. I remember being sunken and alone.

I don’t know if I should be ashamed or angry. I am ashamed that people I love saw me  like this, I am ashamed I scared those people, I am ashamed that I still mourn the control my  eating disorder gave me every day. I am ashamed that I am exhausted by and infatuated with  the very thing that almost killed me. I am ashamed that I could so easily forget what my life was  without it, and struggle each day to choose not to live the way I had become so comfortable  living. I am angry that I have this shame, I am angry I couldn’t handle the world as I was starting  to know it to be, and I am angry that I still struggle to deserve anger.

When I dutifully write down my shame and my anger, therapized and still, I realize it is  about others. It has very little actually to do with me. My eating disorder preyed upon my  pursuit of Goodness, tempered my actuality in pursuit of the Brynn that wanted to be whatever  other people wanted her to be. In her false compassion, I felt like I was doing the best thing I  could for myself and for others: I was making my bigness smaller. I was making my cheeks less  red. I was making my heart more palatable. 

Treatment has been a pilgrimage to the lives I thought I was supposed to be living while avoiding the life that I feared was too confrontational, too much. My college experience, in a way, simulated its own Second Floor Narrowness. Believing in Gloria felt, at first, like believing  in the hierarchy of the sides of the Deece. Your world gets comfortable, small, then suffocating. I came to Vassar a romantic and am leaving symptomatic.

I don’t want my senior year back. I don’t even want the fantasy of my freshman year.  I’m done with Vassar, I think: grateful, but done. I just want a second chance and to never see a  Mandala coloring book ever again.

I can’t help but still hold my patienthood. There is still a part of me standing on cold tiles  in a paper gown in front of eggshell walls with a Dixie cup of my own urine. In my new  saturation, I know I am also flimsier. I have neither the steady hollowness of Anorexia, nor the  bouncy tumble of someone who has never known addiction. I still keep my hands above the  table when I eat, and have to be reminded to put my napkin in my lap. I sometimes wait for  someone to tell me to sit down when I am standing, and anticipate being yelled at for not  eating a mushy grape.

Why am I writing this? Who am I writing this to? I guess the hope is that by saying that  at one point I was a senior, that I can still be a senior, that I can then also be a graduate. I left Vassar on October 1st a popsicle-stick of a human being, horseradish on bread you wish was buttered. I am trying to believe that I have been more than a patient before and that I will be  again. I don’t have to be what I have been, but I can, and maybe I already am.

Perhaps you knew me as headstrong shopping cart wheels, or Silly String matted on wet  grass. Perhaps I am a stranger writing nonsense about mainlining hard boiled eggs in a hospital. Perhaps you know Gloria, perhaps you have liked her, too. Maybe I write this because popsicle sticks can make great castles, when all put together. Maybe I write this because I want to be  told that I have been Silly String, so I can say back that I want to be Silly String again, maybe even the biodegradable kind. I was so lonely. I simply don’t want to be anymore.

By putting words on paper, I am calling out the Brynn I had shown you and the Brynn I  have chalked myself up to being, calling on both to make room for a not-yet-defined  seasonality. I do not know what is next, but silence and isolation is not it, and so here is my last  five months. Here is the room with the frosted windows I lived in on that second-floor. Here is my microwaved heart. Here lies the person you thought I was and the person I thought I was and the person I am thinking about being next.

So once again, here I am, investing my narrative in other people: needing a recipient to  validate my smallness, my bigness, the fact that I am trying, the fact that I was once something  more than I am now. I am struggling with the need to justify myself, the need to let you know  what I was thinking and how I was thinking. If I don’t, I am destined to be irrational and Gloria  would have been right. I was waxy and susceptible and taken by something. But it wasn’t me.  Do you believe me? I want you to, so I can believe myself.

This is a story of custodianship. I don’t intend to romanticize what it is to not want to  feed yourself, to be afraid of hunger. It was the least romantic thing in the world. This is a story  of how, at 21-years-old, I learned to want to take care of myself again. In the past, that meant  talking to others, sharing campfires, holding hands. It meant telling the truth. That is what I am  trying to do again. My tongue is finding new caverns in brownie batter barns. Some days I  blossom and some days I bellow. Some days I write frantic letters that I can hang my marbles on. 

Learning to take up space again is the hardest thing I have ever done. I am done trying  to fit into hands, asking how I can be different from exactly what I am. When you see me next, I  hope to be vulgar. I hope to have cold, soft-serve ice cream teeth and sweaty palms. I hope to  have infinite Fresh Air time and triumphantly dip Oreos in milk. I hope to be full and foul and  sagging with joy. 

But most of all, when you see me next, I hope to be alive.

Our Tiny Villages

“Is that something I should get checked for?” My boyfriend asked when I told him I had a yeast infection.

I suppressed the urge to laugh before reassuring him that yeast infections tend to be a routine—albeit extremely irritating—part of having a vagina. That being said, I had never had one before and was more than a little freaked out by the itchy, chaffe-y feeling and weird, clumpy discharge. Still, I was amused by my boyfriend’s lack of understanding regarding the subject, having dealt with vagina-issues-by-proxy for years as various friends came down with infections. As I explained to him the ins and outs of the vagina (pH levels, good vs. bad bacteria, etc.), it occurred to me just how much work this particular body part can be. It’s like your own little world: a private ecosystem that relies on you to care for and nurture it. All the actors need to be accounted for—there can’t be too little bacteria, because then you’ll get yeast, but there can’t be too much of certain types of bacteria, because then you’ll get bacterial vaginosis. There’s flora and pH and good discharge and bad discharge and birth control and 100,000 ways to deal with your period. Suddenly, I was less entertained by my boyfriend’s dearth of knowledge and more intrigued by my own wealth of such.

“Intrigued” here is a complicated word: I was simultaneously impressed with myself and infuriated by the necessity of knowing all this. My boyfriend was pretty perfect throughout this process—he listened actively and comforted me when appropriate. But I couldn’t shake the feeling of jealousy. He will never understand what it’s like to deal with vulvar drama firsthand. He will never wake up randomly itchy and wonder which aspect of the careful balance was out of whack. He will never lie in a chair with his legs spread apart while a doctor cranks tools open inside his body. He will never fight with a pharmacist about the date of his birth control refill because he decided to skip his period one month; he will never panic about being unable to remove his menstrual cup; he will never fake an orgasm. The act of explaining the amount of work that goes into having a vagina made me both appreciative and resentful of myself.

This accidental anatomy lesson had another adverse effect: I began to panic about my yeast infection. Vaginas are so delicate (and in other ways unbelievably tough and resilient—babies fit through there?!) that it seemed at once both inevitable that issues like yeast would come up and also impossible to adequately address them without inadvertently causing more problems. I began to envision a never-ending cycle of infections and treatments that caused other infections followed by infections whose treatments caused the original infection again.

This proved true, to an extent. After treating for yeast, I still felt symptoms. I went to the doctor, who told me nothing was wrong. A week later, when I was still feeling symptoms, the same doctor prescribed antibiotics to treat for bacterial vaginosis (which she was certain I didn’t have) and, warning me that the antibiotics were more than likely to cause another yeast infection, a Diflucan pill to be taken on the last day of the course. I was panicking by this point, spending hours on WebMD and Mayo Clinic’s websites searching every possible iteration of “vulvar discomfort.” Feeling the stress mount, I reached out to an absurd number of vagina-having friends for advice.

Every single person had a story. Some accounts I remembered from when they happened; others had been suffered in relative silence. One friend in particular had been through a months-long process of unidentifiable vulvar discomfort, culminating in her parents’ anger as expensive lab test after expensive lab test (not covered by insurance) came back negative. Her gynecologist eventually insisted that the whole thing was somatic. The itching finally ended five months after it began, when she went off birth control and learned to manage her anxiety. “It was all-consuming,” she empathized as I described what I was going through.

Other people had recurring post-sex UTIs no matter how quickly after they peed, or yeast infections that cleared up quickly upon treatment before coming back less than a month later. We all had one shared observation: vulvar discomfort is horrible on more than just the physical level. There isn’t a perfect equivalent of the word “emasculate” for people who identify as women (a fact that is in itself telling about the stigma of this issue), but that’s what it feels like. Like the part of you that provides pleasure—a powerhouse of femininity—is turning against you, stealing your comfort and your sanity along with an aspect of your identity.

My mom, who is a practicing therapist, was vital in helping me identify that addressing such emotional pain would be a central part of my treatment plan. She instructed me to separate the sensation from the pain: “The pain of feeling scared and inadequate is not equivalent to the sensation of itching or burning. Unpleasant sensation can be managed with medication and with non-pharmacological approaches. One non-pharmacological approach is deciding where to place your focus. Which is another hugely valuable life skill,” she texted me in the middle of one of my anxiety attacks.

This advice proved helpful, if not curative. Several times I called her crying from the staircase of my boyfriend’s apartment at 3am (he told me to wake him but nothing compares to my mom’s voice when I’m sad) and she would talk to me for hours, sometimes sympathetic and soothing, sometimes tough and firm, reminding me how fortunate I am that this is my primary health concern. Overall, she served as a wealth of knowledge regarding both vaginal health (she’s had decades more to hear friends’ stories) and anxiety management, reminding me that people have lived through this and that the pain and shame is something I can control even when the sensation isn’t. 

My dad is equally loving and supportive, but in terms of knowledge…not quite so much. I told him about my discomfort only when I needed his help with the logistics of scheduling a doctor’s appointment. At the time, I hadn’t gone to my dad with a vagina issue since one fateful day shortly after my parents’ divorce when I asked if he could pick up a box of tampons to keep at his new apartment.

“Of course!” he answered in an overly enthusiastic attempt to quell any possible awkwardness. “What size?”

“Just get a variety pack,” I replied.

“Okay, but what size are you?”

I looked at him for a beat. “What size am I?” It slowly dawned on me that my dad, a 58-year-old father of two post-adolescent daughters and who had spent nearly 30 years in a relationship with their cis-gendered mother, was under the impression that vaginas have tampon sizes. After processing this surreal development in my life, I realized that it fell to me to explain basic vulvar anatomy to my dad. “Vaginas don’t have tampon sizes, but different people have different period flows, which also change throughout the week. For example, at the beginning of the period you might need a bigger tampon because your flow is heavier, whereas right before your period ends you’d probably use a smaller one.” He soaked this in (no pun intended) and obediently bought a variety pack of tampons for his apartment. Thus ended any lingering illusions I might have clung to that my parents were all-knowing.

This stayed in the back of my mind as I explained to him my new vagina problems. He listened non-judgmentally and then advised me to lay off the Google searches. This was probably sound advice: as we all know, the Internet is full of horror stories regarding every possible medical condition, and vaginal pain is no exception. People write of years long battles with recurring yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis, the medication for which often causes yeast infections, starting the cycle again. Every over the counter treatment I found came with at least a handful of stories about how it had worsened the situation rather than bettering it, sprinkled between a couple “miracle cure” reviews, the authorships of which are questionable at best. This rabbit hole of problematic vaginas is enough to send one into full-on panic, which is  exactly what it did to me, and more than once.

And yet there were true success stories. There were women and people with vaginas more generally who had found peace by learning how to work with their bodies. I began to see my vagina as a small but powerful village, one which needed my help to stay healthy, but to which I also needed to listen. It’s a process that I’m not done with yet—my vagina and I have some conflict resolution left to do, but I love her and myself unconditionally and am determined to find what works for both of us.

As for the women in my life and the anonymous vagina-havers on the Internet, I love them too. In this uncomfortable, anxiety-provoking, self-esteem-threatening realm of vulvar insecurity, I have found yet another example of resilience within this community.

I have also discovered how woefully uneducated people with penises can be about the bodies of those they love and care for. This is detrimental to all of us: I know how much my boyfriend and my dad want to be there for me, but no one took the time to teach them how. Instead, we stigmatize, silence, and shame people out of discussing their vaginas and reaching out for support. We develop and prescribe medications that are so harsh they upset the vaginal ecosystem in an effort to fix it. We use language that causes insecurity about the ways vaginas look, smell, and feel. In short, we are afraid of vaginas. Those of us who have them worry that ours will fail us or that they aren’t similar enough to other people’s; those without don’t know enough about them to appreciate their fragile might. This journey through vagina itching and burning and chafing ultimately deepened my relationships with both my body and the people I love, and despite all the pain (and sensations, as my mother would have me add) I am grateful.

Let this be a call to love the tiny ecosystem between your legs or the legs of someone you love. They are volatile, but so very worth the time and effort it takes to get to know them. And if you have struggled, or are currently struggling, with something similar, know that you are not alone and that you will survive. Reach out to those around you—I guarantee you will find empathy within the massive community of people learning to understand their tiny villages.

My Father’s Garden by Adam Benamram

Peace was intermittent in that time. More often than not we could hear missiles trailing through the air or bombs going off. Nowhere was safe and we lived with the knowledge that at any moment our small house, made of rough white rocks bridged by a thick mortar, could soon become our tomb. I was a young boy then and so the knowledge never gave way to fear. It was the only life I knew.

We were among the lucky, we had a garden. It was my father’s garden and he showed it intense care. He kept the arid soil watered, red peppers neatly placed, never intermingling with the cucumbers. The grapes he allowed to grow up the back of the house and we would eat them one-by-one in the summertime, spitting out the large seeds that could ruin a bite if you weren’t careful. He sometimes grew jasmine flowers for my mother, the seeds of which he collected on short walks he took alone when the fighting died down, briefly. His pride, however, rested on the thick-branched fig tree that grew in the center of the garden with its smooth trunk and plump fruit, consistent in the puzzle-patterned shape of its leaves and protected by the patchwork of wire and wooden slats he had repurposed into a tall-enough fence. I would often peer out through the holes in that fence, a good way to watch the world without truly stepping into it.

The garden was my father’s safe haven. Anything important sent him out to the garden, and usually us with him. At his most worried he worked the soil, he brought us out there for holidays, he spent an hour there just looking over what he had grown when he learned my sister would be born, and most of his prayer he did facing the Western wall of that makeshift fence.

By the time I was twelve years old, I was praying daily out in the garden with my father. It was a meditative experience in peaceful moments. You could hear both near and far, the sound of bees buzzing among the flowers, birds in the fig tree, as well as trucks rolling down the street and the ezan phasing in and out from the speaker at the top of the minaret that was so tall, it even overlooked our little garden from so far away. The smells were pushed by a gentle breeze, soft thyme mixing with the sharp mint and the sweetness of fallen figs. In the middle of the day the sun shone down powerfully and you saw the dull red of your eyelids, even as you put your head to the ground.

We laid on our mats as we always did—not a monotonous task, but a grounding one—when we heard the high-pitched whine of a missile. I continued to pray; in a situation such as this there are always three options. The first is prayer and the missile passes you by. The second is again prayer and the missile strikes you and you die closer to God than at any other time. The third is the revocation of prayer in which case I do not think it matters whether the missile misses or not. And so I continued to pray.

The whine grew louder and seconds later I heard a swish and a thump. I was compelled to look up to see that the branches of the fig tree were swaying, jostled by a huge gust of wind. I looked down at the earth below it and there in the soft soil that my father had only just hoed and aerated was a large hole. Neither of us moved. I turned to my father for what to do next but he was fixated on that hole. For entire minutes we sat in this posture, my eyes fixated on my father’s, his on the indication that, no matter whether we were actually in imminent danger, something important occupied that hole in our garden. Years later at an American university I attended an introductory philosophy class in which we discussed Shcrödinger’s cat. Placed in a box with a poisonous gas released at an unknown and random time, the cat could be said to be both alive and dead at the same time. Only the observation of the cat released it from its prison. Sitting under the bright fluorescent lights I could think only of this moment where, without moving, without reacting, my father and I could remain both alive and dead—could remain unaffected by that aftermath—and my eyes never wavered.

Finally he looked up from that hole, then down at his mat, and began to roll it up. I was still rooted in place but I watched as he walked inside the house, leaving the door open behind him. He walked back out, holding a filled watering-can which he brought over to the hole and immediately emptied into it. The circuits, he explained, Like the hot plate. He spoke in reference to the hot plate my mother used for cooking which I had ruined the month before when I spilled a bottle of water, sending sparks flying and earning a curt, well-deserved slap across the face. With that I was freed. My father understood the situation fully, its inner machinations and exactly how to deal with the problem. I rolled up my prayer mat and followed him back inside.

*  *  *  *  *

We never called anyone to remove the missile. There was no police and no bomb squad and, even if there were, they would have had much more important bombs to worry about. My father continued to love his garden. He watered his peppers and his cucumbers, the grapes and the flowers and the fig tree, and he began to water the dormant projectile, too. After a few days the hole fell into itself and closed up, but he continued to soak the area in hopes that it would rust and eventually break down into just a memory.

Slowly, the bomb became a part of the garden. On days when my father was sick or could find work, someone else had to take care of the watering and weeding, and we all knew that this empty spot was a stop that had to be made. Years passed and, though we did not forget about it, we no longer worried about it. It was our unspoken secret, no longer recognized as a threat, only as a responsibility.

The fighting ended at around the same time. It took months, trickling out of the suburban areas first and then slowly, at last, receding from the bigger cities. But peace came with a price. You could no longer watch television, listen to music, keep family pictures. There was only one channel now that played and I found it exceedingly boring. The adult programming we watched on our little black-and-white TV was dull and one-note (propaganda as I later learned) and the children’s programming which generally involved a rabbit chasing a carrot, I found too immature. We didn’t have many pictures of the family. Those we did, we hid behind paintings on a thin canvas, stuck between the glass, the paper, and the frame. Our family sat safely behind these perfect patterns, blossoming from singular points and rapidly expanding into colliding hexagons, squares, and triangles that eventually made every shape imaginable, only infinitesimally small. We watched over our own lives through that infinity of shapes.

The music ban hit my father especially hard. He had a large plastic bin of cassettes—Ahmad Zahir, Mehri Maftun, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan—that he often pulled from at random and dropped into our tape player, another luxury of ours. When general peace began, however, personal peace disappeared. Anyone could expect a raid at all hours of the day and, fearing for our lives, my father sealed the bin, making sure it was watertight, and buried it in the garden, not far from the bomb. The tapes, too, entered our routine, only now we knew where not to water so as to preserve them. We never ended up unearthing them.

The other big change was in our schooling. I was permitted to attend the same school, but we now studied more religious texts and many of my teachers left or had disappeared. Women were not allowed to study, however, and my sister who had recently completed her sixth grade was relegated to secret study in our garden with my mother or my father, whoever had more time available to spend with her that day. This worked for a while, a few months even, but they found us out as they always seemed to find out. Perhaps it was a neighbor, or someone walking by who happened to peer through one of the many holes in our fence but it does not matter how, only that they knew.

On a late Thursday afternoon, two men walked through our open front door, both carrying large assault rifles. These I had seen only on the adult TV programming, but I associated them with a familiar sound—a sound that was supposed to be heard exclusively from far away. I was in the kitchen, making myself something to eat and as they walked by I was unable to move. In my memory I believe I was cordial, greeting the men with a, Good afternoon, but I forgot to ask them if they wanted something to drink.

They asked if my sister lived here. She does. They asked me if my parents were home. They are not. One of them asked me if I had prayed this morning. Of course. The other asked me if I was scared of them. I did not know. I said nothing. They asked me where my sister was and I could think of nothing but to point to the sliding-glass doors.

They walked out to the garden where my sister was watering the jasmine flowers and, wordlessly, one of them pulled out a knife and killed her with a cut across the throat. Then they stood there, enjoying the garden, enjoying the smells and the shade and the beautiful sights that we so lovingly tended to and created in our haven of a backyard. Then they left as quickly as they had come, causing no real disturbance in the daily routine. I never even thought to shout for help.

We buried my sister in the garden, beside the cassette tapes, beside the missile. Above her body, my father planted more jasmine, shaded by our enduring fig tree. She too became a part of the gardening routine.

*  *  *  *  * 
I spoke of this incident in an English class I attended at the American university where I discovered living-dead cats. I found it relevant to the conversation, but my classmates simply stared at me and, after a quick aside from the professor that truly meant nothing, no one responded to what I had said. They felt no need to engage with my life—indeed they felt an internal pressure, I believe, not to engage—because if you don’t give thought to something, you don’t have to make a moral judgement. And so my sister’s death passed for them as fact, not something good or evil, rather something that simply was. Or maybe that made it both; in their minds I think she might have been both dead and alive.

In my second year at university I lived with my friend Jason, a tall blonde man from Arizona. I brought up this moment from my English class, marveling at my peers’ inability to even briefly ponder an event that was so integral to my life. We’re at war with you, he said. I had no response to this. It struck me as quite reductive, placing me with “them” and him with “us,” even as we slept and ate and studied under the same roof. We were pursuing the same major, we often pined after the same women, we enjoyed watching the same television shows together. I began praying in my room rather than next to the couch in the living room where there was more space.

Still, Jason became one of my very best friends and we travelled together during breaks in our schooling. On a trip to Germany I was detained at the gate. I was asked to step aside as Jason made his way helplessly onto the plane. Two security officers brought me to a nearby windowless room where they asked me the normal questions. Did you pack your own items? Did anyone give you anything to take on your flight? Why do you grow your beard? A woman on the same flight believed that she recognized me from a list of terrorists she had seen on television. I missed the plane and the airline paid for me to take the next two hours later. They’re even upgrading you to business class, said the woman who printed my new ticket. Thrilling. Now when I travel I build an extra two or three hours into my itinerary. This is a product of fear.

When I arrived in Germany, Jason was waiting in a black taxicab. He lamented my treatment by the airport staff so profusely that by the time we reached our hotel I was apologizing to him for the worry he had felt. He eventually got over it and we went to bed as the sun peeked over the horizon. We had a wonderful time in Germany.

*  *  *  *  * 

I was hired as an associate professor of anthropology at Iowa State University: Iowa State’s first Middle Eastern, Muslim, non-American, associate professor in the Anthropology Department, that’s how they introduced me. My mother passed away of tuberculosis a little while before that as I was earning my Ph.D. and she wouldn’t let me come home to see her—or rather I could not leave the United States and be readmitted due to my stupid oversight and my unrenewed visa. I said goodbye to her by phone. I felt so alone.

A year later, visa successfully renewed, I travelled home to see my father. We had horrifyingly little to talk about. I told him about my work, the wide berth people gave my academic interests due to my Islamic background. I was never questioned when I proposed the study of Middle Eastern relations because why should I not be interested in the one thing they felt defined me?

My father spoke of the garden. It was wholly the same as when I had visited some three years before. The routine was unchanged: water the bomb, skip the tapes, tend to the jasmine. There was now also a small headstone in my mother’s memory. On the flight over I had had a premonition that I would reach my childhood home, walk through the kitchen to the garden, and find that the missile had finally exploded. It never did and it still has not.

We still prayed together, outside among the fruits and the flowers, shaded by the fig tree. Its branches had continued to lengthen since I’d left for university more than a decade before, and it now covered that entire area, with patches of sunlight shining through. We prayed there with my sister and my mother, with the growing plants and the memory of flowing music, we prayed with the bees and the ants and the snakes and the birds, and we prayed with the missile, whose sharp whine had long diminished to a dull trill: the trill of the garden.


by Austen Juul-Hansen

In the fall I grew my hair out
Past my shoulders but no one believed me
The room was bleak
Filled with false intimacies,
Tenderness by which I was blinded
Until the walls spun out like those teacups
And people spoke to me in the quiet
Some things external
Now silenced by the privacy of this lonely moment
She said we would not repeat ourselves
September not marked as it was before
I knew things would reset
I knew it would be fresh
Like the smell of my sheets, and her skin
I was naive of seasonal change
I let magic take me, once again
How do I trade truth for last fall
I know nothing of September this time

words and images by Simon Locker

An image of city and sky assembles before me. Wasn’t this the swooping drama I had yearned for when I left this morning with the camera? It was a clunky Sony thing from the ‘90s or early two-thousands, but what’s the difference—decades are a poor way to organize history anyway. Ten years don’t hug the contours of upheaval and repression and mutation.

I found it at a garage sale and biked home with it perched on my handlebars. Then I brought it with me today. I don’t know what I wanted to do with it. There was already a tape in the machine, a yellow and black eight millimeter labeled O’DONOVAN 1999 in neat black capitals. It was full of old family movies, the kind that doesn’t age well because it contains laughter, or the strange piano recitals of cousins who no longer play piano but spend eighty percent of their paychecks on fentanyl, or the belabored birthday party interviews with members of the family who are no longer members of the family and never should have been.

I was drawn to the camera because it could emit the fabric of that moment towards the end of the twentieth-century that I would never live, but that I would always know through symbols, projections, intimations. The machine’s bent colors, the grain of its image, its cracked audio forever revealed the years when it was used, when it was advertised in profane consumer reports and carted to turn-of-the-century reunions. History hung on its every frame.

In some doomed way I longed to see my world through the lenses of the past, to translate the material of today into the pixelated and distorted shapes of history. It was the only reason I wanted to record anything at all. If I rewrote Miranda in the image of the camera, would she stay with me? Could I help her? Would our story belong to the past?

I took my truck west on 6th and down to where the creek cuts a gash through the city. I parked and locked the doors, took a path down to the edge of the waterway pulled myself over a rusted fence, straddling the cold bar at the top and twice nearly dropping the camera into the gutters of used bikes and used syringes and used glossy packages of blunt wraps.

That 2002 pickup, white and rust-brown where it was dinged up, had carried me and Miranda across the country spitting and sputtering.

I jumped down from the top of the fence and my ankles stung, the tight, coiled pain briefly spreading up my heels. I had practiced these motions countless times, at night and in the hellscape late afternoon. Laughter would ricochet through the damp freeway overpasses and I would know the eroding concrete monuments of a failed and forgotten future.

Miranda had four gold hoops of identical size. Two around the edge of her left nostril and two on the upper cartilage of her left ear, each ring of each pair equidistant from the center of their respective body parts. We drove with no map, miraculously illuminating a path through sagebrush and lavender. Somehow, we oriented ourselves in the grid of interstates and back roads that bind the flesh of a country. We would see how far we could drive without sleeping and sometimes at night we would smoke too much to stay up and blast through entire states, and every time Miranda lit one up, she would pass it to me first. This was not for my benefit, not to give me the first drag, but to offload some of the guilt of each new cigarette, as if it diminished her responsibility in the act or transferred some of its weight across the center console.

It was the middle of the summer and she wore knee-length carpenter shorts and white socks and dark leather shoes, and just before sunset we’d always, and I mean without fail, pull off the road to sit in the bed of my truck, or climb some tragic water tank indelibly marked with a ‘50s motor oil logo, rust eating into the color and line of history. Sweat would weigh down our shirts and hang on the hair behind our ears, and we’d watch the blood ball sun burst over wheat and cattle and red clay canyons and endless oceans of sage. Then there was usually no talk, because there was already an infinite conversation contained in the most minute motions of our hands and our eyes.

The name Miranda might come from Latin. Mirandus: to be marvelled at. But I like the theory that it was produced by Shakespeare for The Tempest. That it erupted into the realm of language because a writer sat at a desk and wrote something that was wrong, thus inventing a word, a world. Miranda shared with me this origin. She felt that it was a falsehood, a lie from which other parts of her radiated. She meant nothing, three syllables randomly fused together. But for me the solidification of Miranda out of the wisps and mists of language meant everything. It allowed for a kind of liberation where wrong sounds were not wrong, but that they butted up against the flesh of speech and ruptured the folds of a fortified tongue.

As we drove, finally approaching Miranda’s city across the sea, she spoke. We had been on the road for a few months and our arrival at her house in Brooklyn had been methodically delayed.

“You do know that you can’t come in,” she said.
“My house. You can’t come in when we get there. I just need to pay my dues, you know, say hi to the dog and kiss my mom or whatever, then we can go upstate or to Vermont or Maine.”
“Okay,” I said. “I thought we were gonna see the city.”
“We can see the city, but you can’t come in,” she said.
“Okay, I get it. But why? Why would it be so awful.”
“It’s not that it would be awful. It’s that I don’t want you to meet her. I don’t want my family to invade us. I want to tell you things like you are untouched by the past.”
“But I already know everything. So what’s the difference if I meet your mom?”

She popped a paper match with one hand and lit a cigarette.

“Because then in your mind there’ll be a voice and an eye color to my stories, and it will all become too real, and you’ll leave, won’t you?” The static jumped and cracked. The colors bent in and out of crude four sided pixels. Her voice was stretched and restitched, fried almost beyond recognition. Smoke filled the screen.

Before the trip we had both been pleasantly lost for a few months, drifting from the grids of command and behavior that hang in the air. But we were also swimming through hysteria—citywide benders and little blue pills and each week we were further from any kind of salvation. And that was both a wild screaming freedom and a horrifying freefall, our stomachs crawling up our throats.

Our trip, which was really more of a departure with no end date, felt like a series of impulsive decisions, motions that cannot have consequences or implications because nothing comes after them. They exist pure and clean and untouched by guilt. And since we knew that nothing did come after one’s actions, no final culmination nor moment of exalted clarity, this was exactly how we aimed to live. In that way we were ecstatic and in that way we mourned the dead.

Soon thick smoke would choke the arches of glass that bent through the city, and it would hang low in the sterile corridors, those places where the mirrored buildings watched and judged, and where well-hidden klaxons could at any moment announce the start of curfew.

As we approached Texarkana, Texas I watched rusting transmission towers fan out into yellow brush. They were placed perpendicular to the road so that every forty miles I would look out the window and they would snap into alignment, forming for a second a straight line of infinite structures stretching out to the horizon.

When we reached Texarkana we walked into a bar full of men in ‘70s shirts leaning heavily over their drinks. And it was the ‘70s. Framed pictures plastered the wall, but they weren’t of celebrities, like in Hollywood restaurants and Connecticut pizza places. These pictures buzzed with the grain of sixty millimeter film, sons and fathers next to bloated trout, farm girls and tractors and leagues of wheat, cows and clapboard houses and dogs caked in mud.

Miranda and I sat in a dark booth, staring down a pitcher of beer, the room smoky and tepid. A mother and three small children entered the bar and the high squeals of siblings filled the booths and dark corners of the room. I looked at the faces of the children, towheaded and streaked with traces of red dirt, and they echoed those local faces on the wall, and then I suddenly knew they were the same people, some of the same children. Soon I could see most of the men in the bar reflected on the walls, bordered by slim pieces of homemade frame; they drank and watched themselves stretched through time, their faces levitating above bottles of bourbon.

We paid our bill and left. It was 97 degrees out and as soon as we stepped out the door we were wading through viscous, swampy tar. A sweet apocalypse of cicadas enclosed around us, and neon weeds sprouted from crumbling, heat-stressed brick.

What did it mean for flora to reclaim what humans had forged? Heaven bent to our methods, supersonic booms and empty coiled towers on Park, and still everything returning to dust and wet. This is our mid-century epoch. Writing it is mere archaeology.

We drove to the edge of Texarkana, beery and laughing, where the little grid of streets stopped pretending and trailed directly off into dirt. Miranda parked behind an abandoned gas station right out of an Ed Ruscha photograph, except the whole building was completely consumed by kudzu. The stuff sprouted through gaps in the patchwork tin roof and rushed through the door frames, bright dense green vines against postwar reds and yellows.

The two old gas pumps stood ten feet apart like fossils revealed after some total cataclysm, the STANDARD logo atop the crest of each pump beaming in the 6:00 PM sun, conjuring latent images of Studebaker trucks and pleated pants and roadside diners.

We kept the windows down. The air was an impossible molasses. Then, still laughing, we pulled off our sweat-heavy clothes and I caught hazy, saturated glimpses of the thick coiled black snake just above Miranda’s hip, and the black butterflies on her ribs, and the thin curved black line with a bow that wrapped around her upper thigh.

Dry, fingerlike spindles of vine lapping at the top of the truck in the hot wind.

The warm LCD strings hummed as they jumped and curved from the screen, and the slowly advancing tape purred. Miranda and I were neither present nor past, neither here in the ruins of empire nor there in the warm glaze of Americana, but drowning in a fever of time, with dull headaches and little beads of sweat on our wrists and collarbones that held perfect teardrop shape before imploding in silent ecstasy and darting down our arms and our chests.

Later, long after Texarkana, we built bookcases in our one bedroom apartment off 6th Street. Miranda and I found and cut and sanded and stained the wood ourselves. After a few months, I picked up a book and the middle shelf splintered apart. Even some of the texts were chewed through, obliterated, you could say, rendered blank and flat by the insects, bugs whose intricate dance I would never understand. But I already knew the futility of trying to know such things. Archeology is more bounds and borders than possibilities.

The second time we passed through Tennessee I lost her. We were just east of Knoxville and I realized I should have stopped there for gas, where we moved for an hour through rainy traffic past water towers and brick smokestacks, old refineries and forges battered by the downpour.

I couldn’t get a range readout on the old truck, so I had been nervous about gas since L.A., especially in the desert. But Miranda was never nervous, because I think some part of her wanted to run out of gas between Kingman and Flagstaff. Maybe she wanted to break down and walk out into these alien valleys, and feel the humming, high-pitched sunset light funnel through oblique juniper trees and into our eyes.

“I can’t do it,” said Miranda, her eyes trained forward in thought.

“Miranda,” I said in frustration. We had passed Knoxville on the I-40 just two weeks ago, turning around in Virginia, again pushing back Miranda’s return home.

“We can keep going, go back up to the Midwest, or Mexico.” She wouldn’t look at me.

“You don’t know what it’s like to enter your house and feel gravity pulling you to the floor. Or see your dad sitting on the sofa staring into space, beer going warm on the coffee table, not a thought in his head. I think about running into him in a grocery store parking lot, or on the train, and what would I do? Brief eye contact? For how long would I cry after stepping off at my stop? But you know what the worst part is?” I could sense things rupturing in her mind, her inner self breaking through layers of mirrored, out-of-reach models.

“I am supposed to take care of him! He says to me, you’re going to take of me when I’m old and sick. I am? How could I? How can I not?”

Now the rain had stopped, and I watched wet moss and slate and hills flash past the windows. Miranda stopped talking and I didn’t have a response for her. Language couldn’t voice whatever it was that boiled within her, and so something else had to give way.

We stopped in a small town to get gas. I stood by the pump and Miranda went inside to get a pack of cigarettes. The tank was full. I walked inside to piss. I didn’t see her inside. When I got back to the pump she was gone, and I didn’t see it, but the camera would have caught it all in beautiful grain and distortion, her short brown hair flashing behind her as she found a ride in the parking lot, crossed the street with a woman half her height and slipped into a brown sedan with Mississippi plates.

I walked along the basin of the creek, holding the camera by the strap of its bulky plastic case, a kind of cheap black plastic made thick to look like leather but that scuffed easy and frayed like twine.

The dark water ran by me on the right, and on either side the concrete sloped up to accommodate a fuller flow. I was looking for a place where I could set up the camera and let it run, where it could take in a good few minutes of city noise, traffic and sirens and fronds rustling in the wind. I wanted to capture in that static an image of the scraggy hill that rose to the south revealing motionless oil drills and cranes bending towards the heavens. But the camera had already become rooted in my mind, had already begun to sculpt and render my world. What I saw and heard was filtered through its aura.

I approached a bridge in the creek and pulled myself up over a ladder enclosed in a rusted metal box. It was almost dusk now and things had begun to feel grey and alien. I placed the camera on the top of the bridge, just resting it on the concrete, and it assimilated perfectly what was in my field of vision. There was no difference between what I saw and what the camera saw. I had manipulated my eyes, through the tunnels and interstices of history, to see.

The sound of the city rolled towards me, immediately filtered back through time and made gorgeous. It was curfew now. The klaxons fired and waxed in and out of pitch.

From the top right corner of the screen, Miranda descended in a painstakingly adorned chariot carried by bony black wings, transfigured finally and forever in the glow of history, black mesas and broad blue skies and railroads and wheat fields and clothes lines and junkyards flashing in her eyes. She stopped and swayed over the city like so many lights above America, hanging and ticking in the smog-choked night.

    A birthday after birthday poem
    Isabel Drake

Things that appeared this past week:
four bitter teas, over-steeped
three Wednesdays, overslept
two mass shootings,
and our elders struck
on Market Street
on 360 W. 43rd Street
(the puffy faces resemble my grandma)
one paper cut—
so I learned to stop seeing patterns in everything.

Tomorrow is my birthday, and I’m thinking about 
yesterday, and then tomorrow and yesterday
and then yesterday again.
No, such amiable friends dare not creep by
in cruel unison,
rather, they skitter and tumble and flow backward.
Feigning their embrace, but soon
puncturing my skin.

Is tomorrow my birthday? I’m thinking about
my grandmother’s fried rice, white pepper in the air.
Tickling my throat, scallions
spilled on the floor—

Grains of rice still stuck to our insides,
many birthdays later.
It must have been lunchtime, but now
it is dusk.

Kinetics of Distraction
Simon Locker

This week the Loeb Art Center screened Supersymmetry, a new short film by Denise Iris, an accomplished filmmaker and Vassar professor. Video projections fracture the Arctic across two adjacent screens, assembling mirror images and wide-angle landscapes.

Supersymmetry begins with drifting ice interrupted by frames from within a wave, where water curls and warps in rapid motion. The two shots of this opening sequence stand for the film’s success as a whole: Iris gives us recycled images of the earth that are redeemed by momentary investigations of its elemental complexity. Supersymmetry is a reproduction of the media’s stagnant language of the Arctic punctuated by lucid moments of visual experimentation that isolate and transfigure the inner life of water and ice.

The film’s protagonist tells us that he has lost his partner (along with his food and supplies) while traversing the arctic. His voice is heavily distorted and drawn out, a vocal effect that immediately struck me as out of sync with the Arctic world that Iris had begun to represent visually. The character’s groans are low, slow, and grating, like the kind of horror movie creature that is more comic than abject.

After a few lines, it is clear that the film’s dialogue will remain in tension with its visual strength. While at times the camera breathes new life into the forms of the Arctic, the protagonist’s narration rests in overplayed ideas conveyed in less than imaginative language. Stranded, the man heads towards the coast in the hopes of being discovered by a passing ship. Death seems certain, and he asks “Have I given enough? Have I loved enough? What have I done with my life?” These baseline reflections seem flat and out of touch with the immense ecology captured by the camera.

The film is broken up into six chapters, whose titles try to imply the protagonist’s precarity: “Fifth Hour Before Last,” “Fourth Hour Before Last” and so on. Only, Iris’s narrative doesn’t need this kind of segmentation, and it seems arbitrary to divide the film into six parts. At each division, the chapter transitions break up whatever momentum the camera had begun to generate on its own. This feeling that the chapters are superfluous is doubled by their inconsequential subtitles: “On the Wings of Maybe” or worse, “Manunkind” and “Halluminations” read like the episodes of a Netflix docuseries and are forgotten shortly after their title cards.

As he walks across the ice, the stranded man descends into a kind of madness that pushes questions like “what have I achieved,” into meditations a little more unmoored, yet still lacking in real density, in weight. He says that he is “all the forms of water,” enamored with the “crystal beings” that surround him. He witnesses a vital life in the material of the Arctic. It is in this state of trance that Supersymmetry begins to reject the BBC template of a remote and impossible earth, and chart new ways to imagine the Arctic.

Iris’s camera excavates the inner life of crystal beings. These moments of madness are the film’s greatest accomplishment, creating striking experiments with ice, water, and sound, moving images that are interesting enough to stand alone as Supersymmetry, without the contrived narrative and dialogue. The mountains and coastline give way to microscopic shots of water in transformation, and the lens begins to digest the kinetic properties of the Arctic. Assisted by the projection design, Iris presents warping, kaleidoscopic slides that bend, crystalize, and dance with light. Water agglutinates, sublimates, and fizzes into minute pockets of air. Lattice-works of ice become infinitely complex, protean surfaces that fluctuate under the pressures of heat and current. The temperature drops, and the viewer is provided with an new way to see these everyday forms.

One shot zooms in on a melting piece of ice, a clear nod to the waning polar ice cap. For our entranced protagonist, the annihilation of the crystal beings is an “infinite pity.” The West’s destruction of the earth surely is, but does Supersymmetry really understand the scope and structure of that sorrow?

When the stranded man is rescued by a passing ship at the end of the film, we learn from the vessel’s mast and furled sails that the narrative takes place during some period of European presence in the Arctic that predates the steamship. Like much of our contemporary moving-image culture, exactly when in the past remains uncertain, the text unfolds in the field of quasi-history, where jumbled historical attitudes and characteristics mystify actual processes of historical transformation. What was our protagonist doing in the Arctic, and who sent him? Iris provokes these questions, but their answers inevitably tie into the politics of global warming. To fully arrest the dominant narrative of climate crisis, we need to recollect a historical pattern of degradation in which the earth suffers for the benefit of Western capital.

Our image culture conjures specters of climate crisis without ever representing the material and political conditions responsible for destruction. Netflix gives us lone polar bears swimming desperately between slivers of ice, but we never get an indictment of the system of mass consumption which actually imperils life on earth. The annihilation of “crystal beings,” the end of ice, in the last instance, is a casualty of modern global capitalism and the extractive mechanism of Western empire. The liberal iconography of the earth absolves capital and the state of its central role in triggering climate crisis, and instead offloads the responsibility for destroying the earth on to individual viewers.

In its best moments, Iris intervenes in this iconography, giving us fragments that erode and undermine the images of the Arctic that circulate in the media. Yet, for all its visual experimentation, by leaving unpacked its own historical domain and crowding out its crystal beings with a comparatively ineffective narrative, the film remains subject to a territory of distortion which has already been well charted. Supersymmetry is a kinetics of distraction, whereby climate crisis becomes a tragic but elusive phenomenon played out not on the level of real life, but as a metaphysical fascination along the borders of reality.

The Image Landfill
Rise of the Photo-Dump and the Aesthetics of Resistance
Karina Curry

In April of last year Bella Hadid posted a series of photographs to Instagram sans caption. The first picture to be featured was a zoomed-in shot of the sun hitting a vase of poppies and half full wine glasses, the window in the background revealing a horse grazing on the lawn outside. When swiping left, the images became immediately disparate from the first. The pictures that followed included shots of loose flower cuttings, homemade chocolate chip cookies, a close-up of some ambiguous psychedelic pattern, a mirror selfie of Bella adorned in her horse-back riding attire, a bouquet of flowers, a goose, more flowers (this time accompanied by some crystals), the batter to what I assume would become the chocolate chip cookies, and–you guessed it–more flowers.

The posting of unrelated photos, without captions and without context, was once a sanctimonious practice, gate-kept by the bizarre stoner and introverted e-girl. Self-entitled “photo-dumps'' got their start in the alt-scene. It was leftsist and weird to post ugly, random pictures all together in a singular post. Posting such posts went against the grain of forced selfies, “fit pics,” and curated “food porn.” These posts–say, a zoomed in shot of a beer next to a trash can paired with a zoomed in photo of some hands holding a carabiner during golden hour–these were semblances of real life. These were the mundane, the scrappy, the dirty. The aesthetics of the blurry and zoomed-in resisted the high-resolution images of our knowledge economy. When combined, they alluded to life with cinematic-quality, hinting at reality, playing with temporality, and confusing the viewer with emphatic ambiguity.

Photo-dumps have grown popular in recent years, with an explosion of popularity arriving with the Covid-19 pandemic. The random, disparate images found in a photo-dump make sense during a time in which late-stage capitalism’s state of anomie and repression has coalesced, entering into our homes, unannounced through Zoom and Slack. When life has been reduced to the bare minimum, when we have become a culture predicated on productive survival, when they promise us a future that we know will never come, the ghosts of a different life come back to haunt us. The pinnacle of posting pre-pandemic–eating out, partying, travelling, gathering together–is now politically incorrect: those things are an embarrassing display of privilege of ignorance! Post instead your mundane life: your hobbies, your cooking, your walk around the neighborhood.

Bella Hadid’s snapshots of “mundane” and “everyday” life are, of course, negated by her celebrity status and the immeasurable beauty of her “quarantine home” (which seems to be somewhere in the countryside, lol). We know most people’s quarantine did not include horseback riding and baking cookies, but nonetheless, her post recalls photo-montage techniques, ultimately cultivating a specific narrative and affect of her pandemic experience. Like memory, the creation of random, heterogeneous groups of images offer up a space for associative interpretation. What is the zoomed-in image of some nondescript art doing alongside Bella's pristine life? Why is your friend posting their sliced up apple alongside a picture of some rando on a swing set? These are not schizophrenic disembodiments of our lives, but platforms of affective association that we will work through. In both recognizing the fragmentation of our life, and the absurdity of the moment, the random, dissimilar collections of images proposes something closer to memory, to the true remnants of our lives. Instagram is deeply implicated in the memory industry that pervades our culture, but the move away from curated, perfect images comes with a desire to transform the platform away from totalization, emphasizing our deeply human will to relate.  

In our paranoid, hyper-critical, overworked era, it does not come as a surprise that we desire to connect what cannot be, to rise above the disconnected, fragmented times. Our impulse to archive has become something other than an attempt to cleanly document our lives. The photo-dump is a jumping off-spot for interpretation, a point of departure for understanding the montage of our lives. These are not passive posts, they are deeply active and deeply personal in a moment where we are desperately grasping for ways to express what has happened to us, what has happened to our lives. These are the aesthetics of resistance that recognize the crisis of our time. Think of the film reel, the scrapbook or the montage. Where cultural, collective memory fails us, where mass media distorts our perception of reality, we will return to the blurry image: to that ghost of life. It’s there, in these traces, in the images that disturb our symbolic order of influencer-utopia, that we will articulate our monuments outside the realm of commodity-media. When the visions of our future fail us, we will create our own. And when they silence us, when they repress our realities, we will sort through the landfill and recover, and ultimately connect, what they couldn’t.

images taken from Bella Hadid’s instagram 

Of the Masochist

Had Nietzsche lived during the COVID-19 pandemic, he may have included another character in his work, Thus Spoke Zarathustra: the Masochist. The Masochist shares many commonalities with those Zarathustra encounters in his travels, the most significant being an incapacity to affirm life.

Who is the Masochist?

The Masochist simultaneously lives in near-paralyzing fear of contracting the coronavirus and embraces the changes that the pandemic has forced on them wholeheartedly. Out of their fear comes subconscious joy, for they have found a path toward virtue. “Alas, how ill the word ‘virtue’ sounds in their mouths! And when they say ‘I am just,’ it always sounds like: ‘I am revenged!’” (“Thus Spoke” 119). Ah, sweet sweet revenge. The Masochist, therefore, goes beyond CDC guidelines, creating a rationale for out-precautioning the precautionaries. They agonize over which test to get and when, which masks are most protective, which sanitary wipes to buy. They pour their soul into this work, and it’s 100% worth it. Above all else, the Masochist finds any excuse to say no, to cut themselves off from the world, preferring to read about it from the safety of their homes. They wouldn’t dare go to the supermarket — the Times says cases are rising! Better to Instacart, they say, and let some eager Joe Six-pack expose themselves for minimum wage. Yes indeed, you know the Masochist. The one banging pots and pans for the healthcare workers, looking out at their neighbors from a perfectly safe distance, unknowingly sad for the day this custom dies out. They do not want “normal.” They do not truly care about the efficacy of Pfizer vs. Moderna, despite reading article after article on the subject. After all, “masks and social distancing won’t be going anywhere soon!” they say.

Curious to find out what has become of men, it is written that Zarathustra descends from the mountains. What does he find?: “I go among this people and keep my eyes open: they have become smaller and are becoming even smaller: and their doctrine of happiness and virtue is the cause” (“Thus Spoke” 189). How Zarathustra would goggle at the Masochist of today. How small their virtue makes them. In the Masochist, Zarathustra would likely recognize many traits he had come across before. The Masochist is, in a sense, one of the many despisers of the body, one who can no longer create beyond themselves. However, unlike the conventional despiser, the Masochist acts out a deep desire to protect their body from affliction. It is ironically out of this obsession with their own health that they embark on such a deeply unhealthy mission. To interact, laugh, share a conversation, dance even, are all too risky. Their self-preservation takes precedence over their daily bodily needs.

They are also like the Preachers of Death: “Muffled in deep depression, and longing for the little accidents that bring about death: thus they wait and clench their teeth” (“Thus Spoke” 72). In the Masochist, we find a similar longing, albeit a more complex one. The longing of the Masochist is not for death but rather for a life so deeply deprived of life that it would be as if they had died. A capitalist slave to productivity, the Masochist runs from death (the most unproductive human condition) and will always pick a deprived life over death. They live, hollowed out by fear, loving only their own ability to control and solemnly waiting for others, the less careful ones, to slip up.

Let us note that only a few subtle differences separate the Masochist from the sublime men that Zarathustra encounters as well. The sublime man, Zarathustra says, is “hung with ugly truths, the booty of his hunt, and rich in torn clothes; many thorns, too, hung on him — but I saw no rose” (“Thus Spoke” 139). A collector of truths and thorns. So too is the Masochist, whose home is filled with a stockpile of masks and whose mind overflows with COVID-facts. Such a life leaves scars on the body like torn clothes. But for all these scars what is the Masochist’s prize?

To the Masochist the world has never before seemed so sinister, so filled with uncertainty. While the rest of us shrug on, doing the best we can to integrate the external forces that constrain our lives, the Masochist cannot. The Masochist deals in absolutes, in COVID-truths, and therefore, “as of yet he has not learned of laughter and beauty” (“Thus Spoke” 139).

How would Zarathustra confront the Masochist?

Likely with the same scorn he shows to most people: “Loving and perishing: these have gone together from eternity. Will to love: that means to be willing to die, too. Thus I speak to you cowards!” (“Thus Spoke” 145). If one wants to love, to find love, one must be ready to die. But the Masochist will never make this sacrifice and is resigned to perpetual cowardice.

What is so obvious to Nietzsche is somehow so foreign to the Masochist. To Nietzsche, the world is fundamentally “chaotic, conflictual, excessive, open-ended… no longer ordered rationally” (Grosz 93). To think that the coronavirus brought chaos to an otherwise orderly world is what makes the Masochist so naive. Implicit in the Masochist’s conception of the world is a level of privilege that previously sheltered them from seeing what now has been laid bare before their eyes. Privilege has meant that they have never felt unable to control their environment, and so losing control becomes maddening.

Faced with Nietzsche’s concept of the eternal return, how would the Masochist respond? Would this reactionary, this self-starver of human interaction, be able to take on the weight of this moment returning to them an infinite amount of times? Or would they look back with regret, at having squandered a year, and in that year eternity itself? How many months have passed since they allowed themselves to feel true joy? How much has been forgotten about the range of the human experience? Undoubtedly, the Masochist would be crushed by having to live their hollow life over and over again. Yes, “the question in each and every thing, ‘Do you desire this once more and innumerable times more?’ would lie upon [their] actions as the greatest weight.” (“Gay Science” 341).

The Masochist is, therefore, the ultimate oppositional force to affirming life and the ultimate negation of amor fati. While Nietzsche advocates for an unconditional love toward the body and toward corporeal needs, the Masochist clings to austerity. The best we can do for the Masochist is try to lead by example. They must recultivate within themselves an ability to love and appreciate life, despite its dangers. Of course, this is made difficult by the fact that the Masochist thinks themselves to be the star example of how to respond to the pandemic. They truly believe that their actions are virtuous, morally superior, and that no one else has a grasp on what is really happening. But we must try, for their sake, to remind them of the world that waits for them outside, of the life that will always be worth living.


Grosz, Elizabeth. “Nietzsche and Amor Fati.” The Incorporeal: Ontology, Ethics, and the Limits of Materialism, Columbia University Press, New York, 2017, pp. 92–129. JSTOR,

Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. The Gay Science. Vintage Books, 1974.

Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. Thus Spoke Zarathustra: a Book for All and None. Penguin Books, 2003.

No Birds Sang 
by Teo Hedigan 

There are no such thing as birds, and everyone knows it. If you ask my uncle, he’s never seen one. But then again, he’s a bartender. And he’s not even my uncle, he’s my dad’s cousin. My friend Gabby said she once had a pet bird, until a detective knocked on her door in the middle of the night and confiscated the creature. It was all screeching and talons, she said. She says a lot of things, though, and has a lot of nightmares. Gabby has caused disturbances before, and I think it was a rat in a costume anyway. In truth, the absence of birds makes everyone sing a little louder, chirp a little more. People look up to the sky, and I’m sure some think of the myth of birds. Nostalgia for something that never happened. But some of us are inspired by this absence – to flap our elbows or grow wings. And the poems, all the poems that no birds inspired. My favorite is NO BIRDS by Pope Edgar Allen II:

and the sky turned orange
and no birds sang, only me and my little brother
no birds ran away from home
or stole from the bride or groom
no starlings disrupted our dinner
no birds danced and none learned to fly
none defecated on my holy mercedes benz –
so now i glide through a crowd of believers
on a four-wheeler
they chant NO BIRDS
and i’m proud of the world’s children

A small group of deluded farmers live in Long Island, devoted to the myth of birds. They host a summer camp, and read to children about things with crystal eyes and blue, red, and yellow feathers. As the campers grow older, they are exposed to more and more bird stories. Propaganda. By 15 years old, they start to read about grey, beady eyed birds called pigeons. Pigeon birds roam around big cities and only eat bread and rats, apparently. These farmers are ranked among the most dangerous organizations in the United States, but loopholes in the law allow them to continue preaching. The thing is our laws are not very good, or very specific at all. Lots of things go on that should be stopped, and lots of things can’t go on that should be started. Including bird education camps like the one in Long Island – this should never be allowed in the first place, yet it grows bigger every year. Granted, most local politicians are elected on the basis of who can shoot the most clay pigeons tossed into the air in 3 minutes.

Once a few pals and I started a bread baking organization. We made pastries that people could purchase and send as gifts. The gift would come with our anti-bird pamphlets, which most people seemed to enjoy. We had to warn customers about leaving pieces of bread outdoors, in case they would attract unwanted creatures like pigeons. Even though there are no birds. We have our principles, what are we without them? Anyway, after a year or so we were shut down by a detective, because the laws are very strict when it comes to food allergies. This can be traced back to a simple typo in the massive Dorito Recall case in 2019. It was meant to be a big step forward in preventing unnecessary food-related deaths, but it wound up changing the way we live altogether. It read: “No persons or organizations shall make food capable of harming anyone.” Of course, it should have said “with intent” rather than “capable”. This new law introduced a comprehensive ban on cooking or baking, as there exist serious allergies to almost all ingredients you can think of. Since then, we can only buy frozen meals and pastries from the store and reheat them. My favorites are from the 7/11 – there are these delectable mini hamburgers, and the nice cashier who gives me cigarettes and drinks Jägermeister on his breaks. Still, we’ve got to trust the system. And some scholars have pointed out a silver lining – with no pieces of bread lying on the street, there’s no chance in hell a bird could soar down from the sky, find a meal waiting for him, and mistake us for welcoming them with open arms. All it takes is one bird, my uncle would say.

One of my former business partners would tell me that, if birds were to descend on the Earth, they would have no idea and simply sing and defecate at all hours. Imagine the horror. The only thing separating us from badgers, mice, and tadpoles is our ability to sing our way out of all sorts of situations and depressions. Singing is all we’ve got, and we can’t start sharing it. I pity the ignorant bird of the future, who arrives with a happy song to sing. A logistical nightmare.

Tonight at 6pm, like every Monday, we’ll all get together as a community and boo birds. Sometimes we cheer the absence of birds, but mostly boo the idea of them. People just love to make noise. It really brings us closer, gives us a reason to be. Raison d’être, as I like to say. Some people think I’m saying “raisin catcher” but I tell them it’s French and has a much deeper meaning. Philosophical, maybe even metaphysical. I caught a drink with the 7/11 guy, George, on his break the other day. I asked what his raison d’être was and he took a long swig of Jäger. The New York Mets, he said, and my beautiful family. As he turned to me, his eyes glimmered in such a way that I thought he might weep – but he grinned ruefully. I told him I’d like to go fishing with him at the East River some day, and for a second I thought I might weep. We decided we’d do that in the summer, and that we’d meet every Monday at 6pm to make noise and drink, read books and whatnot.


Simone Rembert

There was a terrible recession. No one is ever very sure how terrible a recession must get before it becomes a full-blown depression, but the situation was dire. A shortage of jobs, exorbitant rent, frequent layoffs. For Willa, such uncertainty was familiar. Fifteen years ago, she’d noticed things slowly disappearing from her childhood home: HBO, then dental insurance, finally, her father, with his income. Her grandparents were born during the Depression, her parents had carried gallon jugs to the gas lines— Willa understood the boom and bust as an inevitable fact of life. With challenges came solutions. It was all a matter of locating them.

Statput was a solution, albeit a desperate one. Not only was taking their test seen as an admittance to some sort of problem (of deviance, obsession, or worst, illness)— it was the disclosure of one’s most private humanity. Active contemplation data was reported to corporate sponsors and then sold to advertising and marketing firms. Participants made very little in terms of residual pay. But Statput was a solution, at least.

She scheduled an appointment at the suggestion of her family friend Gina, who’d been tested in July. Gina had made great success in validating her clinical anxiety and minimizing rumination. Though she’d accepted decreased payment in exchange for MOSS treatments, a new brand of motivational talk therapy in which professionals synthesized the results of Statput’s testing for their client’s weekly visits, she’d still made enough money to pay her Utilities— twice. (Gina’s egg withdrawal the year prior had paid far more, but Willa, with one ovary remaining from a single salpingo-oophorectomy at age sixteen, wasn’t eligible.)

The world had its thoughts about Statput. Protesting Seventh Day Adventists and Socialists and altruists alike were permanent fixtures outside the six offices in the tri-state area. But on this day, with Willa’s mother in $187,000 of credit card debt, and her father rationing insulin in order to finance his second divorce, she knew better than to privilege morality in pursuit of financial stability. So, she’d completed the intake forms, followed the series of hexagonal pills, accepted the intravenous benzo, and let them run the scan. When the machine was done interpreting the data, she was called back in.

“Let’s break down your percentiles. As you’ve likely been explained, we measure active contemplation. As we put it: the kind of thoughts which require vocal phrasing in our internal monologue. That’s a wide array of things, but we break it into three essential cortexes: physical, metaphysical, and emotional. I’ll give an example of each. Physical thoughts are most easily summoned during bodily activity. I use the case of demanding your body to finish an exercise. Metaphysical thoughts concern well,” the doctor, whose name tag read Brad, chortled smugly, “it’s your questioning of the meaning or nature of things, your explorations into why. Some may be inclined to designate this category ‘logic,’ but we believe that implies a level of objectivity we see present nowhere in the human brain. Most of the time, these sorts of thoughts lead to emotional responses. Emotional is both the most and least obvious category. All activity which stimulates the amygdala falls under this category. So the breadth of ‘the feelings chart,’

He did air quotes.

“but also things like memory and decision making that we don’t typically classify as ‘emotional.’


“Now, within these three cortexes, we observe and document recurring themes. I won’t explain how that part works, if that’s okay.”

“Sure.” Willa didn’t really care for science. Not in grammar school. Not now.

He turned to the first page in the manila folder he held. “Well, your results, in ascending order: your recurring themes were doubt, nostalgia, confusion, shame, envy— all very common recurring themes for members of your demographic, occurring with a frequency between 4 and 7 percent.”

He flipped to the second page and paused. For a moment he looked stunned. His face soon settled.

“So.. what about the rest?”

“Well, for you... for you, it was all sex.” He handed her an infographic. It was printed on card stock, in color. “As you can see there, at a frequency of 68 percent. Dispersed in near equilibrium amongst the emotional and metaphysical cortexes. I’ve rarely seen something like this.” Willa was distracted for a moment; his cadence reminded her of Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.

“Just to highlight your magnificent difference, for the average Statput participant, active contemplation of sex occurs at a frequency between 10 and 20 percent, existing mostly in the physical category.”


“Well, do you have any questions?”

“Not really.”

Outliers, as they were called in Corporate, were a purposeful result of the machine’s algorithm. For every 250 scans, one set of randomly selected data was set askew. Executives had justified this as a part of the company’s scientific process. It was the controlled variable in their continued experiments on the human psyche. And, though no one ever read this subsection of the waiver, Statput did not guarantee accuracy.

Brad, in awe of the severity of Willa’s skew, particularly bored on this day at the office, decided to start the bit.

“Is it alright if I ask you some more questions? I can give you a moment if you’d like. I think this case could help us greatly. And you will be compensated extra for your time. Of course.” 

Willa followed him into another room. This one was yellow. Next to Brad now was Claudia, a silent note taker. He started.

“You mentioned on your intake form that you’d had one major surgery bef—”

“Two actually. There’s one I forgot. Dental implants, my left and right bottom molars.” Metal messed up machines, which Willa knew because she’d been required to remove the nose piercing she paid $75 for last week in order to take the test.

“That won’t be relevant. As I was saying, this surgery, you classified it as a laparoscopic procedure with no further detail. Can you explain?”

“It was a single salpingo-oophorectomy. When I was sixteen.”

“Interesting. Emergency?”

“Yes, I was meant to have a cyst removed, but it’d ruptured and killed the fallopian tube and ovary.”

“Sounds serious. Are you fertile?”

“Yeah, it’s fine. The procedure only advances menopause by a few years.”

“Have you exhibited any hormonal symptoms since the surgery? Perhaps increased libido?”

She withheld. Then, “I suppose... I suppose I get hairs on my chin sometimes.”

“You suppose...?” Claudia looked up as she spoke.

“Yes. I do. Get hairs on my chin sometimes. Like, only a few.”

Brad nodded. “At what age did you have your first period?”

“Eleven. No, twelve. March of seventh grade.”

“We don’t need the story, just the date.” Claudia sounded experienced. “What is your line of work?”

Willa hesitated. She’d lied on the intake forms. The unemployed were barred from engaging in Statput testing. (The government’s ethical sanction. Bipartisan support.) Willa had provided the number for her step-sister’s boutique dog-grooming parlor, knowing that business was slow, and Stephanie would inevitably answer the phone if Statput was to call. She could still use this information, and should they call the parlor, Stephanie would still pick up and vouch for her. But suddenly it became evident to Willa that these two doctors or employees or whatever they were had access to all the thoughts she actively contemplated, now and ever. She couldn’t be humiliated any further.

“I’m unemployed, I lied on the form.”

“It’s alright, thank you for your honesty.”

A long breath in.

“I don’t mean to pry here, but it seems there’s a very obvious answer for your results. At least to me, observing your questioning for the past few minutes.” Claudia was far more assertive than Brad. She trusted herself. Well, he did too. But she, more.

“What do you mean?”

“Are you a sex worker? Prostitution, live entertainment, pornography?”

“Claudia, please.” Brad was shy, pulling at his partner’s sleeve. Begging. “There’s no shame in it Brad, we just need the truth.”

“No. I worked at a bank. Before that, Papa John’s.”

Claudia fell silent, shifting behind her tablet to take notes again. Brad resumed leadership.

“Have you ever contracted a sexually-transmitted infection?”


“Not even herpes?”

“I’ve never even had a cold sore.”

“What is your sexual orientation?”

“Hetero.... Heterosexual.”

“Are you sure?”

“Is anyone?”

“Have you ever thought about having sex with non-human organisms or objects?”

“Not that I can recall.”

“Try to recall.”

“Nothing’s coming.”

“Do you masturbate?”


“How often is ‘occasionally’?”

Claudia was now pacing behind Brad with a palm pressed firmly to her forehead. She stopped. Hands on hips, she knelt to the ear of her colleague, whispering, then turned to Willa. “I’m sorry, I’ve just realized my path of questioning missed a major point. Sorry if this is patronizing or repetitive, just procedure. Are you sexually active?”

They had every memory on file. She couldn’t lie.

“It’s all right, feel no shame.”

“I... I, I can’t remember.”

Brad clarified. “Any partners in the past calendar year?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Well, when were you last sexually active?”

“It was a long time ago.” She was thinking of the edge of Eva Cohen’s sofa. Fourth grade. “I’m not recalling much, just...”

They stared. Willa hadn’t seen either bare such expression.

“What counts as active?”

“Any form of oral, vaginal, or anal sex.” Brad recited lists so eloquently.


“What? November?”

“No. I have never. I have never been sexually active. I’m a virgin.” It spewed out of her mouth like hot vomit.

Brad’s eyes widened. Claudia resumed pacing.

His reaction was automatic, uncharacteristically natural, but in all parts, terrible. “You’re a virgin!?”

Silence. For a long time. Claudia left the room.

Brad gathered his coherent thoughts, which had halted completely when Claudia bolted out of the room. So unfair; this would be the highlight of his day, surely, and he couldn’t acknowledge it in the moment. There was a new feeling too; this growing gnaw behind his top two abdominal muscles. He really pitied the poor girl. He’d gone into this wanting titillating conversation. Perhaps she would admit to a porn habit or a weird kink. Instead, he and Claudia had made her feel like nothing. Worse than nothing. An adult virgin. He put on his ‘You will believe I have more than an Associate’s in Business Management’ voice and tried to finish up.

“Well, sorry for that shock,” he looked down at the manilla folder in his lap. He’d forgotten her name. “Ms. Mendelsohn, your data just presented a very different expectation. But I think your... status could perhaps explain your results. Is this making sense?”

At the front desk, the cashier compensated Willa in $800 cash, which she promptly spent on three months of MOSS. For her extended questioning, she was given her a single share of Statput— presently worthless, given the recession and all.

 first appeared in BOILERPLATE ISSUE 01 “fastenings”


Fig. 1 IPCC’s RCP8.5 scenario average change in surface temperature (1986-2005 to 2081-2100). The RCP8.5 is the most extreme climate scenario, a future humans are not likely to survive for long. Models take available data, knowledge of how our climate functions and has functioned, and makes projections based on trends that can be extrapolated. A model does not proclaim absolute certainty. We do not know exactly what will happen. This watercolor may bleed 1000km too far west – this map, like the projection,  is not an exact look at the future. Yet these models hold immense value as they give us a larger idea of what will happen on different paths we take. We can see that the impacts will not be evenly spread. We can see how extreme this temperature regime is. We can see that this is an uninhabitable world, regardless of how the watercolor dried. William Riley.

The immesnse expanse of our planet is most often visualized through abstracted forms, yet global catastrophe remains difficult to reduce to the single diagram. In recent memory the flattened projection of globe, turned technical diagram, has become an iconic visualization of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the wildly disseminated maps  produced by organizations such as the New York Times, the pandemic is divided by the political boarders of internationally recognized states. Countries are rendered in shades of yellow, orange, red and maroon. Continents become color fields. Crisis is crimson.

Presented with the existential and inescapable severity of the climate crisis, our visualizations of global climate catastrophe also default to the evocative shades of the sanguine. Often corporally detached by the technical precision of computer generated graphics, maps such as RCP8.5 lack a human connection. While the technical projected map provides severely impoverished vision of the violently dire stakes of climate catastrophe, it remains an alluring conception of our immediate and incompressible global emergencies. CPM.

Foraging with Diego

CPM: So what got you into foraging?

DSC: At the start of the pandemic I was really into
TikTok, I am now not into TikTok, but at the time I
was following this person named Alexis (@Black-
Forager). She posted these really funny and infor-
mative videos about foraging and she would always
show the end product with her recipes. I thought
the concept of food from your backyard was really

CPM: Nice. What sorts of things do you like to

DSC: The most delicious thing I have foraged is
definitely ramps. Previously I had never had a
ramp, but I learned about them in ramp season,
which is late April, that they are really good. Ap-
parently chefs and farmers-market-people all over
the world go and forage for their own ramps. That
being said, the thing that excites me the most is
mushrooms. Although hunting for mushrooms is
definitely on the more dangerous side of foraging,
since there are many more steps that go into it, I
really enjoy the mycology components the most.

CPM: Certainly. Mycology seems incredibly inter-
esting! What is it about mycology, or the mush-
room hunt, that excites you?

DSC: When I was bored and procrastinating, I
would watch mycology lectures on Youtube around
the same time I got this field manual for mush-
rooms of the Northeast. They are really cool. The
mushrooms that we eat are the fruits of the actual
mushroom. The mushroom is the fruit, but the
mycelium is the organism. They aren’t a plant or an
animal, they have their own realm. They have their
own kingdom, that is so sick. About 80% of trees in
the world depend on mushrooms to grow, so it’s so
cool. It’s a huge scavenger hunt, it feels fun.
GinGin: Where do you go to forage at vassar?
DSC:Over the winter I would literally forage in
the backyard for field garlic. That then extended to
looking around campus, and then to the ecological
preserve too. The only thing is that the ecological
preserve has sooo many ticks. It’s not okay. The
plants that grow there that are invasive just help
the ticks because they are high in moisture content.
The ticks are just really turned on by that so it’s
kind of crazy. When I go back home I will have to
read a different manual for Northern Mexico forag-
ing, but for now I am in the Northeast.

CPM: do you have any advice for the aspiring

DSC:Get a field guide and read it. See which plants
you are able to identify and what recipes you can
make from them. The worst thing that can happen


In 2025, Vassar is set to renegotiate it’s contract with the company currently leasing the golf course. While the Climate Action and Sustainability Committee (CASC) and Students for Equitable Environmental Decisions (SEED) have discussed more sustainable alternatives for the immense golf course acreage, the future of this carefully mowed expanse remains uncertain. As a substantial portion of the western side of campus, the land of golf course is geographically significant despite its limited use by students, and the vassar community at large. Yet there is no shortage of golfable terrain nearby. Within a three mile radius of campus there are three other golf courses to choose from. Keeping in mind Vassar’s own institutional goal of carbon neutrality by 2030, is the apocalyptic suburban ecology of the golf course really so essential? Throughout the 1920s students, faculty, and alumnae eagerly fundraised and planned the construction of the golf course we know today as a welcome campus amenity. Yet nearly 100 years later as effects of climate catastrophe loom, the continued maintenance of bourgeois leisure athletics no longer seems to be the most pressing matter in campus planning. As the campus community continues to ponder the future of the Vassar campus, and where its institutional ideals lie, 21st century visions for the golf course are desperately needed.