Starting The YA Wallpaper with Gretchen has been a lot of fun. We’re just getting going and I think we’re doing something different from what anyone else is doing when they engage the genre. We’re taking it on its own terms: YA is a serious genre taking on serious issues and expects more of its readers than most people expect when they hear the words “Young Adult Fiction.”

Our ethic isn’t just to review books, to give them stars or tell you what to read. We’re not a book club-style review vlog. Our review ethic is to assume that these writers are good craftsmen/women, skilled at storytelling. We believe that reading these books will be a good time in the story department and we gladly throw ourselves into wholehearted suspension of disbelief and enter the adventures of fictional worlds.

But we also assume that these authors are thoughtful people, writing to say something, hopefully not just writing to meet a book deal obligation. And we assume that authorial intent stops when the book hits the shelves and the author is responsible for what they’ve written, not what they meant to write.

We’re writers, too. This is painful to accept and so we expect everyone, including ourselves, to be thoughtful and respectful about this. We’re learning the ropes and we’re responsible for our words, too. Hold us to that.

But here’s the thing: young readers are significantly impacted by this genre. I remember being thirteen and earnestly believing that Anne Shirley’s love life actually represented a fraction of reality. I remember positioning myself socially as if I was Jo March, and I remember mentally breaking out of the cycle of gaslighting in my church because of Fahrenheit 451 and The Handmaid’s Tale.

Most authors aren’t Ray Bradbury or Margaret Atwood, I get it. One reason I love YA is because it’s not the constipated social world of NYC literati. But if YA is “a thing” now and if it’s going to be taken seriously and if it’s more than just a marketing label, then it’s appropriate to level serious literary criticism at the bestselling YA works and see how they stand up to the ideas they seem to espouse (namely, feminism and intersectionality).

The YA Wallpaper isn’t about singling out an author or a book. We still love a good story. None of our criticism is intended as a personal attack against any author.

Instead, it’s about taking account of the state of the genre and asking the questions we’d want to be asked if our fiction was published. The genre has turned a corner and has blossomed and matured in remarkable ways in the last few years, and we feel that not only is it ready to handle our questions, but it would be disrespectful to the craft and to the genre as a whole if we checked our critic’s hats at the front page.

So, let’s talk tropes. Let’s talk feminism. Let’s talk social norms. Let’s ask hard questions about the genre, since, after all, the genre is certainly daring to ask hard questions about its audience and its world. And we’re pretty excited about that.


I’m pretty sarcastic and snarly at the patriarchy most days, but I’ve recently gotten more fed up than usual and we need to talk.

Sit down. Pour a cuppa or a finger of whiskey or a beer or whatever you need to get through this. It’s going to be a little long. And I’m scared to publish this, which means I need to.

Clarification up front: I don’t hate men. (And I don’t plan on writing about dating experiences as a rule.)

But the fact that I feel the need to tell these stories and feel obligated to give that disclaimer at all makes me really tired and angry.

This is not how humans should relate to each other.

***

This is the story of two boys. Two “prospects.” Two evenings of deliberate vulnerability. And no second dates.

Both evenings ended the same: me driving home alone, feeling raw, and maybe crying at stoplights.

But these two dates were very, very different.

***

The first date was one of those dates where you’re not sure if it’s a date, or just hanging out in a somewhat intense and prolonged fashion and you happen to be alone with each other for the duration.

I barely knew this guy, but he had something about him that piqued my interest, and I liked him. I am/was also kinda not into commitment (and heard from a mutual friend that he wasn’t into commitment either), and so the idea of undefined hanging out with the possibility of more and little pressure was also pretty attractive.

I mean, let’s be honest, I haven’t been divorced that long and I’m totally learning how to date for the first time since ever, thanks to being raised in a culty subculture where a “healthy” relationship meant barely talking, never being alone, and having a three month engagement because you have to wait to have sex until you’re married and everyone knows that normal people can’t wait that long, so you just speed everything else up super fast.

So, handsome, smart, and no pressure. This looked good. And we hung out, and had a great time, and then I drove home. Everything went well.

Except I liked him a little more than he liked me, and I was “on the hook” for a couple weeks, waiting around, sending hesitant little texts, emailing him links, suggesting he join me for outings I’d planned with groups of friends, etc. He never responded negatively to any of this, but he never responded enthusiastically either, and eventually I just moved on.

Not a big deal. But here’s the thing to note: I had commitment issues. So did he. But because I knew he had commitment issues, I held back and was never very aggressive about my interest. I played it casual, I was vague and hesitant, and I was unsure of myself enough that I never really told him “hey, I like you, let’s hang out more.” I should have, though. It wasn’t like I wanted any sort of commitment from him; it would have just been an honest expression of interest.

But I never did that because I felt like I was supposed to be sensitive to his (presumed) commitment issues and take things at whatever speed he wanted to take it at, so as not to let him get overwhelmed or uncomfortable. I felt obligated to conform to his comfort zone and to let him initiate if he wanted more.

Honestly, it was poor form all around. I shouldn’t have felt like I needed to protect him, and I should have respected him as an equal, as an adult able to take care of his own emotional needs. I should have been up front and not played these culturally acceptable girl mind games.

Part of that was my own unlearning of codependent relationship habits. But a bigger part of that was fear of the patriarchy, of his social power and standing as a man: I have been acculturated to accommodate the man’s preferences and let his comfort zone be the hard lines around which I am taught to mold myself. My lack of confidence is the result of my own internalized misogyny.

Now, before I tell you about boy #2, I want to tell you a story about my sister.

She’s a freshman in high school—the first of my siblings to attend. She’s making me proud with how she’s transitioning to that environment, and she’s making choices that show a healthy sense of autonomy, boundaries, and self-respect. She’s emotionally and socially mature in ways I wasn’t until I was almost 21, just because she’s been exposed to more and is deliberate about respecting herself.

But earlier this year she called me up in a panic, because she had two female classmates threatening to beat her up, and waiting for her on the bus or at her bus stop or around school to catch her and hurt her.

Why? Because: before either girl started dating their current boyfriends, these boyfriends both expressed interest in my sister and got turned down. Fast forward a few weeks, and the new girls discover that their boyfriends are still in contact with my sister (these boys are stupidly flirty and my sister kept her same position and was ignoring them), and decide to punish my sister for being a “slut.”

Not the boys. My sister. Who has consistently told these guys to leave her alone.

These girls were afraid to confront their shameless and immature boyfriends, and instead chose to take out their insecurities and fear on my sister.

No wonder everyone still assumes that guys and girls can’t be friends. And no wonder there are so few depictions of healthy female friendship in popular media.

Hold that thought, and let’s move on to the story of boy #2.

This date started very differently. Meeting him was movie-style electric—he asked me out after one of those across-a-crowded-room eye contact moments. I said yes, he said he was making reservations at a nice restaurant, and he’d pick me up that evening.

I was nervously excited, dolled myself up, and off we went. Dinner was perfect, he was flattering and attentive, and the view from our table was breathtaking. The conversation was easy and interesting and skipped around to cover all sorts of things that I loved to talk about.

We went to a scenic spot afterwards, climbed some rocks and talked and kissed. The moonlight and the moment was storybook-perfect. I held my breath a little and memorized it all, and decided that this was awesome, but scary (vulnerability!) and I wanted to take it slowly.

Remember: commitment issues! And he knew about them, too. We’d covered that part of my emotional resume at dinner, and I’m usually really nervous to bring up that part of my story, especially on a first date. But it had been okay, and he hadn’t made me feel uncomfortable about it. So, I thought: good. This is nice. This could be good.

Then he drove me to my car—I’d parked in a parking structure and had a way to go before I got home—and it was 1 a.m. and the moon was magic and we kissed a bit more before I was ready to go.

And then it happened: he asked to come home with me.

Now, please don’t get stuck on this, because that request is not what went wrong.

But I wasn’t ready for that, and I told him so. And I told him nicely.

That aside: he was more into me than I was into him, and I wanted to take things slowly. I’d been burned before, and it seemed like he hadn’t been on the cynic’s end of a breakup yet. If I was going to keep seeing someone as enthusiastic about the idea of falling love as he was, I wanted to ease into it.

There is nothing wrong with his request (although it wasn’t the smoothest move to make), and there is nothing wrong with really wanting to fall in love.

But what happened next was frightening. He was visibly upset, and I asked him what was wrong, and he decided to tell me.

Clarification here: I’m not telling this story to punish him, I’m not telling this story because he was wrong to feel what he felt, and I’m genuinely don’t think he was responsible for feeling the way he did. But patriarchy fucks over dudes a lot and they don’t see it because they’re usually on the power side of it, and this was one of those blind spots.

What he told me was this: He was upset that the evening wasn’t ending like he’d hoped it would. He really wanted to fall in love, and he wasn’t getting much of a commitment from me after a beautiful date like that. He was hurt that he’d opened up to me and wasn’t getting rewarded with an assurance that I wouldn’t see other guys after our date. He was disappointed that sex wasn’t happening, and that dating is hard and unpredictable and he hadn’t met “the one” yet.

Very human emotions, all. But each emotion was underlined with an unspoken assumption, caused by how our patriarchy-driven culture treats love and sex.

  1. The assumption that a girl owes a guy anything (usually sexual intimacy) after being wined and dined. If he picks her and the tab up, if he opens doors, if he says nice things about her eyes…he should get a little something in return.
  2. The assumption that being slow to commit is a reflection on how much someone respects someone (as in: if she’s slow to commit to him, she doesn’t take him seriously).
    1. The assumption that taking something slowly is a sign of rejection (and by “slowly” I mean: without premature commitment and letting trust grow organically and in a non-codependent manner).
  3. The assumption that sex and love are limited resources, going out of style tomorrow—that you can use up all your love by spreading it around too thin.
  4. The assumption that you either fall head over heels and it all works out, or you get your heart totally broken (this is the “it’s better to love and lose than to not try at all” mindset taken to an unbalanced all-or-nothing extreme).
  5. The idea that a woman shouldn’t make her own choices based on experience and experimentation because then some good guy is getting the shit end of the stick. (This is basically an indirect version of slut shaming.)

His refrain was: “it’s not fair!” and he ended it by saying “I should have just had my way with you” because (in his mind) it would have been better to have “loved and lost” than to have had a nice romantic evening without sexual fulfillment or emotional commitment. Having sex with me at all costs and then losing me totally was (apparently) easier to deal with than continuing to hang out with me and the post-divorce commitment question mark on my forehead.

That comment (“I should have just had my way with you…”) was scary and sounded very rapey. And we were alone in an empty parking garage at 1 a.m. I sat up and looked at him then, and decided that I needed to wake him up out of his sad good-guy pity party (thanks to patriarchal entitlement blindness) and let him know how that all sounded to me, what it implied.

I knew I was not in any danger of being raped—he was much more sad and vulnerable and confused than scary and threatening, and he’d been a totally gallant, gentlemanly sort of date up to that point—but I also know that the more confused a guy like that gets, the more resentful they become, and I couldn’t just let a speech like that slide.

So, the romance ruined, I spoke frankly. I told him that those comments made me feel unsafe, that no girl is going to be able to respect and trust him if he talked like that, and that he absolutely had to stop treating love like a commodity that could be used up, or yeah, maybe he will die alone. Sex and love aren’t prizes, I am not a catch, and there is no way he’s going to ever be happy in a relationship if he can’t see women as independent and autonomous and whole creatures. And falling in love is a sham unless you are willing to let the other person be fully human and accept them the way they are, not the way you want them to be.

To his credit, he really did seem to hear me and take all that seriously. He apologized, and I left.

But I still felt really shaken up by the experience and not just because he said something so utterly insensitive and frightening, or because I had to quickly respond so and with a feminist rant that required a lot of vulnerability and frankness.

What upsets me is the assumptions. What upsets me is the same thing that upsets me about what happened with my sister and the high school kids. It’s the same thing that upset me when, a few weeks back, I went to a favorite bar for mac and cheese, an amber ale, and some time to sort out my thoughts in a notebook. Once I got settled in, an old man (who was pretty drunk) sat next to me and leaned onto the bar and watched me eat with a rapt expression on his face. I was helpless to get him to stop, I couldn’t find another seat to move to, and the bartender acted like nothing was wrong. I ended up leaving because I was so uncomfortable.

The assumption common to these situations is this: the needs of men are fixed points and the comfort zones of women are not.

Men have desires, needs, comfort zones, and women are to bend and mold themselves to meet them. The problem is not that the old guy was being a pervert, or that the boyfriends were slutty, or that the one guy was bad at communication, or that the other was presumptuous and rude.

The problem is that I was the one who was supposed to defend my personal space, that the girlfriends assumed it was my sister who was the problem, that I was uncomfortable voicing my own emotions, that I had to explain sexual ethics to a guy and be responsible for being the only one attentive to my own commitment issues.

This should not be. Women are people too (which is the oddly radical definition of feminism), and the common courtesy we women are acculturated to show everyone should be something we ought to be able to expect to receive in return. Instead, women are trained to make up for the social slack that men are never made to learn, and it pits women against each other to compete for men, and it puts undue responsibility on women to keep relationships together and the communication flowing.

And then we continue to perpetuate these things and say that dudes are bad at expressing their emotions, that women are more naturally nurturing, that dudes can’t be expected to know what we’re thinking, that we should not expect much emotional attention from them.

We are constantly building our own gender role prisons. And I’m tired of seeing emotional and relational codependency and false gender roles treated like they are healthy benchmarks of normal relationships.

I should not have to apologize for my comfort zones, my needs, my feelings, or my preferences. And if that is what “normal” looks like, it needs to change.


I’m going to be giving the Immodesty Rail series a rest for now and turn to something else that’s been making me excited lately.

Sometimes I rant about books on Twitter. Sometimes I write stupid posts about books that annoy me. And I always I grumble about bad writing with my inner feminist curmudgeon.

feminist killjoy

But now, you can hear me yelling about young adult fiction (YA) on YouTube, too!

Buckle your seat belts, grab a coffee, and join my friend Gretchen and me as we kick off our new channel, The YA Wallpaper.


http://enkidu-of-ur.tumblr.com/

Cliché blog title and topic, oh, I know.

This is a lament.

I’m feeling more whole, more happy. The California sunshine is stretching me out and caressing my soul. I’m not so curled up tight all the time. I can breathe better. I don’t wake up every morning with that feeling of “oh shit” anymore. Not every day, anymore.

I want to untangle myself from this world — I want to write about books that make me happy, about ideas, about things that enchant me. I want to tell you about yoga and baking and writing process.

People here ask me about my story and I hesitate — which version to tell them? If I tell them true, tell them gory, I get stunned silence and gentle recommendations to move out and beyond this world.

They’re right. Writing about abuse in the church, about theology and faith and church and conservative homeschool communities and purity culture: it’s a small, small world. It really doesn’t affect most the rest of the universe. It’s really insular, cramped, self-absorbed.

But then, too: this morning, my day off, I got two calls (before I got my coffee!) about Christian communities in which sexual assault has been ignored to the point of blatant abuse of power. Two communities that haven’t made the news about these issues. Yet.

I didn’t sleep well last night, and this bleary-eyed grief over this stuff is compounded by my own personal sense of healthy boundaries that’s emerging. The stronger, the more whole I get — the further removed from that world I become — the more blatantly horrific these things appear.

And I realize how insane all this sounds to everyone outside of this little blogging world, how appalling it is that these abuses occur. But I still get calls about girls who are afraid to use their real names when they tell their stories because they are afraid of Christian leaders attacking them for speaking out.

How insane is that?

Why are we here? How obvious is this, and how is it that we could not see these things for so long?

Fuck everything, is all I can manage to say, half the time. I hear these stories and I hear the shame and the fear and the massive amounts of cultivated codependency for the sake of crowd control, and that’s all I’ve got. Fuck everything. Here we go again.

The anger turns numb because the abuses are too common. Fuck everything, here’s another story. Another leader. Another frightened soul. That leader steps down, but another story comes to light.

When will it be done?


I’ve been waiting for this book to come out for months. It finally showed up on my doorstep on Friday (it releases tomorrow, but I got lucky and got an ARC) and I gobbled it up by Sunday morning, reading it during stolen moments here and there.

Blogger Elizabeth Esther isn’t everyone’s cuppa tea. She’s not that poised goddess of tact and diplomacy we all so admire in Rachel Held Evans. She’s not just a funny adult Catholic convert you want to buddy up with over beers to talk about boys and babies and the pope.

She’s larger-than-life, she’s sloppy, she’s enthusiastic, and she’s loud. Her Catholicism is deeply personal and sometimes off-putting. She wears headscarves to church. She live-tweets American Idol. She has Twitter-rant ADHD and reads more books than I can keep up with, and has a daily schedule that’s probably more demanding than the president’s–yet she’s often able to write a blog post a day (when, you know, she’s not writing a book) and be a good friend and pour herself into everyone and everything she loves with abandon.

When we met up this past fall, I wasn’t sure if we’d get along. Our stories have a lot of overlap, but I’m an introvert and she’s not. I’m stiff and awkward when I get uncomfortable and she gets happy-puppy affectionate.

Guys, I can’t review this book without talking about the woman who wrote it. I don’t know how it will come across to someone who’s never met her, but as I was reading Girl At The End Of The World, all I could think was “damn, her voice is so clear.” Every event unfolds and I can hear her telling these stories. I can hear her laughing at herself, I can hear her tender heartbreak and forgiveness as she talks about her parents, and I can hear her admiration and devotion when she talks about her husband, Matt.

This book rings true.

Memoir is tricky. I love to hate Joan Didion because she’s such a good writer, but her voice is so very much that of an unreliable narrator to me that I find myself in internal dissent with anything she says. I want a new vantage point, other angles. There are other authors whose memoir messes with me in this way–they’re ever so slightly out of sync with themselves and can’t quite hear themselves talk when they write about their lives. It’s uncomfortable to read.

This book is uncomfortable to read, but that’s not why. Elizabeth Esther has taken the memories from her formative years in her grandparents’ cult and grabbed these memories by the ears and showed us their bald faces–crooked teeth, handsome eyes, bad breath, and all. There is no disingenuous narration. There is only the agony of being a child, craving security and affection, and getting told that God doesn’t like you and your parents will beat you because of it.

This book is a love letter, from Elizabeth Esther to her child self.  And, I think too, it’s a love letter to her own five children — who are the reasons she found the strength to leave the cult and seek out a God who loves. It’s a promise to work against the curse of legalism, shame, and abuse, to give her babies a family life with the love and security that little EE didn’t get to know.

We’re getting to eavesdrop on these conversations, as readers. We’re being handed her heart and we’re given permission to look at her scars. I’d feel more guilty about that if her writing of dialogue wasn’t so vivid and funny. But it is, and so I read and laughed and lost myself in the story. And I offer it to you, if you can stomach it, with this commendation:

Look how beautiful she is. 


I’ve been at this blogging thing for a while, and I keep forgetting that when you get new followers, sometimes they have a hard time finding a quick recap on what they’ve missed when you’ve got months and months of archives!

Welcome to my blog, folks, and here’s a little bit about me that you may find through reading old posts or my Twitter, but not what you’d find on my about page.

  1. I have an orange cat named Penny, and she thinks she’s the queen of the universe. I got her from Ken Cuccinelli. True story.
    Penny-cat

    Penny in 2011

    Penny now

     

  2. I’m an INFJ.
  3. I’m the oldest of nine kids, and I was homeschooled K-12.

    visiting home usually involves a lot of birthday cake

  4. I was born in California, moved to Virginia when I was 12 (we moved to join a cult), and I moved back to California last fall.

    at the end of the drive home

    at the end of the drive home

  5. I did the courtship thing and got married, but he ended things right before our second anniversary.
  6. Being an English major and my love of reading made me a feminist.

    once upon sophomore year

    once upon sophomore year

  7. I like to bake. And cook. And I like good company and good food. And coffee.

    this is my definition of sanity

  8. I do a lot of things for fun and for work, but most of them involve books or art. I’m for hire as an editor, marketer, or development whiz kid.

    the writing life

  9. But what I really, really want to do is be a literary agent. Or just live in France and write novels.
  10. You can find me on Twitter and on Instagram! I like to talk about how much I love coffee and cheese sticks, and sometimes I tell stories about awkward social interactions. Most of the awkward may or may not be my fault. Usually I just yell at the patriarchy and link to things I find interesting.

Any other questions? What else do you want to know? I’m so happy you’re here and reading!

If you’re new or have been lurking for a while, I’d love to get to know you a bit better. Introduce yourself in the comments and tell me about your favorite book!


Hi guys. We’re going to change things up a bit here today.

morning reading

I want to talk to you about something I’ve learned at my job, the one that I work to pay the bills. The one where I’m working hourly and on my feet all day and where I sometimes get off at midnight or have to show up at 7am. It’s a good job, but taxing. But I love it — I love being around books and I love book people and I love getting to be on this side of the business.

My favorite part about this job is that I get to connect people with a book I’m confident they will love and they trust me. There’s a real, genuine joy that just clickin that moment, and I am gratified that I know what they’ll enjoy and know the product well enough to put the right book in their hands.

But what’s hard is when the stigma of a genre slices through the rapport I try to create with them and undermines my recommendation.

Confession: I unashamedly love YA (young adult) and children’s fiction. I always have. Some of my favorite books of all time are YA novels or Newbery Award winners.

I think YA is probably the most interesting genre in publishing right now, because coming-of-age stories deal with issues in raw ways that many pieces of adult fiction aren’t willing to embrace, and because the audience is so unadulterated and sincere in what they love and what they hate. The clarity of affection is a force to be reckoned with when a teenager really, really loves a story or an author or a character.

Adults are more cautious, more cynical. They’re afraid to wholeheartedly love or hate something–it might not be the correct opinion. It might offend someone, it might not be an educated choice.

I think this is understandable — adults know that life is more complex than they thought when they were teens, issues are more nuanced, and shades of grey is a more real approach to morality than black and white.

But that doesn’t mean that a mature approach to reality and hardship and love and life isn’t present in YA, and this is what people don’t know. I’ll hand them a book that I found intelligent, moving, and beautiful, but once they realize it’s about teens or that it’s from the YA section, they quietly discard it or sigh and smile and ask for something else.

What they don’t know is keeping them from a really rich reading experience in this blossoming genre, and I chuckle to myself when I hear teens talking about how adults are prejudiced against them and won’t take them seriously. I understand why this dynamic exists, but they’re right: adults are prejudiced against seeing the world through the eyes of a teen.

I mean, I know high school was traumatic for everyone, but this is ridiculous. YA is where authors are being original, experimental, and fresh. They aren’t out to prove anything, and that’s where creative brilliance can thrive.

So, I dare you: put aside your struggle through Infinite Jest or The Corrections or The Goldfinch or The Invention of Wings, and pick up Eleanor & Park. Be dazzled. And then tell me what you thought.


On Saturday, I built myself a bookcase.

20140306_102701

I’ve been living out of boxes since September, but before that it was January to July. I put up some paintings on the walls (thanks to baby sister). I lit a couple candles.

new place

My roommates are making an herb garden on our deck.

20140306_102616

In the mornings, I get splashed by light while I do yoga. My cat has been dashing all over the apartment in the middle of the night, chasing her catnip-stuffed squirrel toy.

I’m not out of the woods yet, but I’m taking a deep breath to appreciate this moment. Thank you to everyone who helped get me to this point. I can feel my mind relaxing, settling. Order and light and a door of my own to close? Bliss.


I have been waiting impatiently for this day to come, and now it’s here and I can finally tell you what I’ve been working on for the past two months.

Introducing! The Swan Children: Art Without Apologies

sc-logo-large

The Swan Children is a bimonthly online art gallery and magazine founded to curate and showcase the creative work produced by artists of homeschooled, Quiverfull, and conservative Christian upbringing.

We are the Swan Children and we look after our own. We have inherited the kingdom and we’re singing for our lives – on street corners, in attics, in spare bedrooms, in the shower, at the family dinner table.

THE BACK STORY

I realized that everywhere we’re talking about these communities and social groups online, our discussions are analytical, first person, and are driven by debate and didactic analysis. This is the way a slice of this population processes our religious heritage, but it’s not the way most of us function best.

In my experience, homeschoolers are highly creative and the arts thrive organically in all of the communities I’ve been in–I’ve seen homeschoolers making paintings, murals, writing novels, putting on plays, composing original music, and excelling in fiber arts, fashion design, and graphic and web design. I love this and I think it goes unnoticed too often.

Whether or not we ideologically agree on whether or not homeschooling is the best educational method, whether or not we think one church group or another is abusive or healthy, whether or not we think that conservative politics reflect Christian values, we can all agree on the power and value of artistic expression as an avenue for the soul to thrive. 

I want to honor this vulnerability and draw attention to the beautiful things being created by people who were homeschooled or grew up Quiverfull or in a conservative Christian community.

The Swan Children, lead by our Editor in Chief Connor Park, will function as a place where art made by these people can find a home, where there will be no value judgment of “good” or “bad” or “appropriate” and where the artists will not be making apologetic explanations for their pieces. The Swan Children will showcase these works as they are, no apologies, no comments or commentary, no criticism.

While our first issue will be entirely made up of work from homeschool grads, we also welcome creations from those currently in (or from) Quiverfull or generally conservative Christian communities. We are eager to show a broad spectrum of perspectives as we do so. We want art by current homeschool students and by graduates–there are no restrictions other than that the work has to be compelling and executed well.

OUR FIRST ISSUE

We’re launching on March 1st! This first issue is so cram-packed with talent that I can barely contain my excitement. We have fiction, poetry, drawings, paintings, handmade baskets, slam poetry, original music, song covers, dancing, photography, and more. Every piece tells a story, every piece is moving, and every artist is generous to open up and share a piece of their soul for us to cherish.

Our community is so much more than arguments about policy and theology. Let’s show the world our art.

Excited? Go sign up for our first issue at www.swanchildrenmag.com!

We want to show you something.


“I would be just devastated.”

It’s a word I’m not allowed to use, I think. You hit a point where too many bad things have happened to you in too short a period of time, and you suddenly have no time to be devastated because you’re pretty busy working until 7pm for someone else’s startup and getting up at 5am for your minimum wage, “regular” job. When you’re that busy trying to stay alive, you lose your right to be devastated.

Devastation is a luxurious grief. I think it probably involves flopping on the floor and sobbing loudly without regard to time or place or obligations.

I did that once. It was 3am. I put down the phone, and I covered my face with a pillow and soaked it as much as I could because I didn’t have a punching bag or a basement where I could go play rock music loudly. I cried until I got a headache, and then I tried to sleep because I had to be at work early the next morning and I knew I was going to have to fight icy roads on the way to work, but I couldn’t sleep because my pillow was wet and my head was exploding and my eyes wouldn’t make tears anymore but I couldn’t stop crying. And I was aware of my adult self as she kept checking the clock.

When I hear the word devastated, I think of Meryl Streep on the screen, tossing her hair in the sunlight with a big old empty house behind her as she whisks herself away to nurse a wine bottle and purse her lips before sinking into a bubble bath.

When I hear the word devastated, I think of Roxane over Christian’s body, damning death’s approach because, fuck it, she was going to have her cry on the battle fied. I think of her mourning dress in the morning light, the black lace whispering over the grass.

Life, put on pause. That is devastation.

I used to get really flushed and tight in my chest when I’d come back to campus after fall break and walk to chapel and see packs of girls with gleaming skin and freshwater pearl studs and snappy headbands, wearing smooth, fitted North Face jackets. Aghast at my lack of conversationable ideas when I bumped into one in line, I’d compliment the jacket, and she’d flash me a white-toothed smile and tell me how her dad takes her out to get a new fall wardrobe every year during break, and isn’t this just the nicest jacket? I’d agree warmly, and then I’d poke my fingers through the lining of my pockets and finger the length of the frayed edge and wonder if my parents even knew what my coat was like.

Sometimes I feel guilty for taking time alone so intensely. It’s not productive, I can’t answer any of my own questions, and I should be applying for more jobs, since I’m broke as shit. So when I walk to my car after work, I call a friend so I don’t miss the beauty of those five blocks over worrying that I parked in the wrong zone in my hurry to make it to work on time. I talk about writing ideas and boys, telling her how I’m craving hot mozzarella cheese sticks and worried about my little sister, and I try not to count out the impact of a $73 parking ticket on my week’s budget. I watch the light while I listen to her tell me about the first time she felt her baby hiccup inside her. I impress on my memory the glint of the sea between the houses when her husband interrupts us to tell her how he thinks she’s so sexy. I try to imagine what I would feel if I were in their town again, fighting 16” of snow and cursing the ice on my car in the mornings.

Devastation is a mindset that is incompatible with perceived scarcity, I think. It’s loss, but it’s loss to those unaccustomed to the sensation. I wonder sometimes how much bigger, louder, freer, and more me I could be if I didn’t have starvation mentality strangling my brain every second of the day. I trace the sunbeams and feel small, but it’s not new to feel small. When the world steps a bit closer and the rain whispers on the pavement, I feel large and I contain multitudes.

Is my aversion to accepting grand gestures of nature or grief or familial affection and accidental plenty a form of emotional ADHD? Am I afraid of having enough, because then I might lose my excuses for why I’m not yet flexing my full strength?

I don’t want to be devastated. I need to build an addition in my brain for the positive descriptors–they’re all bunking together in the back room while fear and shame play bachelor penthouse in my kitchen. I think I want to invite whole over for coffee. I want to make abundance my godmother. I want to be baptised with tranquility.

But I’m just not sure how to go about it yet, and I have to be up at 5am for work. Maybe I’ll whisper curses at the sunrise. Or maybe I’ll play Beyoncé.