My 2017 Quote Board

I started 2017 off unemployed. Here are words of creative inspiration that got me through it.

           By Monica Torres

I started last year unemployed and in need of creative inspiration to help me keep going on in—what felt at the time—the deluded belief that I could still be an employable writer. I am forever a literary nerd who is turned on by words, so it makes sense that it’s in the words of people I admire that I would find solace.

Here are the words I wrote down in my journal that helped me grit through six months of funemployment:

1. “I wrote my own deliverance.”

I’ve been told by musically-smart friends that “Hurricane” is arguably one of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s weakest songs in his musical “Hamilton,” but I’m still moved by his bold declaration. Miranda as America’s first Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton is recalling when Hamilton was lower than low: a soon-to-be orphan who has just survived a hurricane that has crushed his island home.

“When my prayers to God were met with indifference /
I picked up a pen /
I wrote my own deliverance”

Even as all the family he knows is dying or killing himself around him, even as everyone around him sees little value in him, Alexander Hamilton maintains the arrogance it takes to keep on living, to see yourself as something worth saving.

It works. Young Hamilton writes a poem about his suffering that is so good it inspired benefactors to pay for his education. (Ironically, Hamilton is remembering this moment of confidence right before it sours into hubris, and he self-destructs his personal life, but we all are large, we contain multitudes!)

When I felt outmatched for a project I wanted to do, this is the kind of confidence I would remind myself to channel.

2. “I’m having lunch with my son.”

“I went to go see [the late journalist David Carr] in late January 2015 for lunch at the Times, during a workday. People were coming up to him in the lunchroom, and he just shooed them away, telling them, ‘I’m having lunch with my son.’ I was having a rough time with something at the time and he just kept saying, ‘I’m not worried about you. I’m not worried about you. You’ll be fine.’ We went downstairs afterwards, and I remember it was raining. He lit a cigarette, and we talked for a few more minutes. Then he hugged me, told me he loved me and went back inside. That was the last time I ever saw him. He just worked so hard, and yet, helping and mentoring me always seemed just as important as anything else he had to do.”

—Sridhar Pappu, journalist, former intern at Washington City Paper on being mentored by David Carr

This is the mentorship story I think about now that I’m employed and am in a position where I can give back the way people did for me. My “I’m having lunch with my son” moment happened shortly after I was laid off. I reached out to a successful mentor figure who I had only met a few times. It had been over a year since I last talked to him. I expected him to write me a short It Gets Better Kid email, because that’s what many others did when I told them what had happened. Instead, he did much more. He reserved us a table at a restaurant where we talked for hours. In between bites of delicious food, he listened to all my worries and earnestness and, most importantly, he took me seriously, more seriously than many of my previous bosses had. The next day, he CC:d me on emails to editors he knew, calling me a “talented editor” who they should meet. At that point, weeks of job rejections were eroding my self-esteem, seeing him vouch for me and call me a talented journalist helped me believe that I was.

I still think about that kindness. Someday, I promise I will return the favor. When others come to our table, I’ll shoo them away —“I’m having lunch with my son.”

3. “There is a supreme moment of destiny calling on your life.”

“There is a supreme moment of destiny calling on your life. Your job is to feel that, to hear that, to know that. And sometimes when you’re not listening, you get taken off track. You get in the wrong marriage, the wrong relationship, you take the wrong job, but it’s all leading to the same path. There are no wrong paths.” —Oprah Winfrey to Stanford Graduate School of Business students

I watched this video many times in 2017. I get emotional from pull quotes and proverbs on Pinterest, so any life advice from a master orator like Oprah is going to floor me. She’s so excellent at seeing the divine in the mundane. When I got my nth job rejection letter, I needed to hear Oprah tell me how to make a career story out of failure, and she did. “I have a supreme moment of destiny calling on my life!” was my mantra as I wrote demoralizing follow-up emails to interviewers who were ignoring my calls. It reminded me to play the long game and take the risk of betting on myself.

4. “I can’t be a pessimist because I’m alive.”

The fact that I have a tumblr tag dedicated to earnest quotes would probably have embarrassed me prior to 2017, but after a year of professional setbacks and a year in which a racist, coward, liar was sworn into presidential power, I feel no shame in saying that I needed visible written reminders on how I could keep going.

The one I keep returning to comes from James Baldwin. If you want to hear it spoken in with the weight of Baldwin’s voice, you can watch it here.

Baldwin taught me that survival in America cannot be an academic matter. You cannot just rely on academic theories of social justice, you have to live through it. When asked to explain the future of America and the future black Americans within it, he said that this knowledge forces him to remain hopeful. “I can’t be a pessimist because I’m alive. To be a pessimist means that you have agreed that human life is an academic matter, so I’m forced to be an optimist. I’m forced to believe that we can survive whatever we must survive.”

It’s a lesson that guides why I am a skeptic who is purposefully choosing not to become a cynic. I still don’t believe in benevolent authorities but I do believe in my chosen people and the power of collective action.

So I will keep betraying myself to hope, because survival cannot be done alone. I must keep my unguarded side open to the risk and possibility of connection.

5. “I still believe in the changing the world through words”

During my first months of funemployment, I made the mistake of thinking that curating cheer was optimism. I was curating relentless cheeriness to potential employers (I…love…freelancing!), to worried family members (I love this free time!), and to friends I didn’t want to scare off (I’m a freelancer!). 2017 became the year in learning to overcome that impulse, let my face relax and be vulnerable. Being unemployed got much better when I realized it was okay to openly talk about how terrible it was.

Everytime I reached out honestly as myself —without shame of my self-doubt, without fear of vulnerability— it turned out to be the better move in writing and in life. I’ve learned from the best.

My college thesis advisor Dorothy Wang, a teacher who had the conviction to believe in my worth as a writer long before anyone else did, is the person who taught me to stand up for my ideas, especially if that meant you were going up against your own peers and superiors. When my career was adrift, she reached out and wrote me a note of encouragement that I still keep under the Baldwin and “Hamilton” quotes I tack on my bedroom wall. It helps to keep all of their wisdom written down within eyesight.

“I still believe in changing the world through words,” she told me. I still do too.

 

“Log Kya Kahengay”: Calling Off a Wedding

To marry or not to marry (the wrong person), that is the question.

By Saira Khan

About five years ago, when I was contemplating calling off my wedding a mere three months before the ceremony, one of my biggest concerns was about what my parents would endure as a result of my decision. To be clear, I wasn’t worried about what my parents would say (they’ve always encouraged and supported me), I was worried about what people would say to them.

If you’ve watched Hasan Minhaj’s Netflix special, “Homecoming King,” then you’ll know the significance of the phrase “log kya kahengay” (what will people say?)–words that have struck fear into many a brown kid’s heart, and indeed was what was on my mind during that pivotal moment of my life.

“I want to wear this dress.”

“Log kya kahengay.”

“I want to go to college.”

“Log kya kahengay.”

“I’ve fallen in love and want to marry a person outside of my race.”

“Log kya kahengay.”

My experience with shame doesn’t come close to what some women have to endure. But, five years ago, when I found myself lending legitimacy to “log kya kahengay,” I was acting on an entire lifetime of being told that I carried the weight of my family’s honor on my shoulders.

I have two sisters. If you’re South Asian, you already know this is an issue. In our culture, boys are considered blessings and girls are thought of as burdens. In low-income families, the needs of boys are prioritized over that of girls, who have to sacrifice meals, their education, and occasionally, their lives, for the male children of the family. Families that don’t have any male heirs are often pitied. I’ve lost count of the number of times I heard women ask my mother how many children she has, only to go on and respond, “Aw, no boys? I guess that was God’s will.”

My parents were also criticized for the way they chose to raise their three daughters. We were educated and sent “abroad” (to the U.S.) to complete our education. For many, the idea of sending your daughters to another country for anything, let alone studying, was enough reason to bring shame and dishonor upon the family. And people made sure they told my father this.

So, when it came down to me calling off my nearly year-long engagement (I was also marrying outside of my race, to a white man, which could be considered scandalous among some people), I thought about all of the above. I thought my actions would reinforce all the sexist nonsense that had been directed at my parents. I knew what kind of comments were awaiting them:

“See! They raised their daughter to be free and now she can’t even get married.

“This is what happens when you give girls too much freedom.”

In truth, what I felt is hardly unique. South Asian women are expected to carry the burden of their family’s honor–and with it, are held responsible for bringing dishonor upon them. It’s a concept that is so pervasive in our culture that countless Bollywood plotlines have been written around it: the story of a woman killing herself after being raped or to prevent herself from being raped (the implication being that death is always better here.) In a not-fictional-all setting, this translates to honor killings, or the murder of a female by her family members, for bringing shame upon the family (reasons have ranged from dancing in the rain, falling in love, and leaving an abusive marriage). I should note that it could be argued that intimate partner violence in the United States echoes similar behavior, and so honor killings are not exclusive to the South Asian community. Even our colloquial phrase for committing rape centers around honor: “Izzat loot lo,” which literally translates to “steal her respect.”

It’s because of these deep-rooted misogynist mores that I almost married a man who was absolutely, 100%, the wrong person for me–we were different people, with different goals and ambitions–and yet, as so many people do, I stayed in the relationship for reasons I still don’t even understand. Luckily, for both of us, I had a candid conversation with my parents about calling off my wedding and they were, as always, supportive. They were also kind enough to spare me the details of what people said about it.

By taking the burden of what my decisions–right or wrong–meant upon themselves, my parents freed me from an expectation that had weighed me down for years and years: that respectable women get married and have children. Since breaking off my engagement, I’ve discovered many things about myself, including that I most likely don’t want to be married and have children; even monogamy isn’t important to me. And you know what? I’m not ashamed of any of it.

Memories of a City Kid’s Summer

Our summers aren’t for backyard pools or manicured lawns or days spent in air-conditioned basements. They are for screaming, running, falling. For skinned knees.

By Gabrielle Sierra

Go. Leave the city. Flee to your upstate houses, your lakeside homes and your ocean-front rentals. New York summers belong to us. The native New Yorkers, the city kids.

Our summers aren’t for backyard pools or manicured lawns or days spent in air-conditioned basements. They are for screaming, running, falling. For skinned knees. For sneakers hitting hot cement. For jumping through sprinklers or being blasted by an open fire-hydrant, cartwheeling back and forth in the street. For us rolling ten deep, fifteen deep, every day. We fill the street. Kids with nowhere to go and nothing to do for two whole months.

Our summer is for games in driveways and for tagging your little brother just a little too hard so you have to run and hide before your mother finds you. For spinning and spinning until you fall onto your back to watch the world above you twist.

We play Freeze Tag and Spud and Man Hunt and tear across the block, darting into front yards, exploring rooftops and sneaking up alleys. Homebase is always the same tree, a beast that can only be seen in tunnel vision as your legs pump as hard and as fast as they can, moving you just ahead of an outstretched hand.

Our summers are for the Ice Cream Man, whose name is Mike, who rings his bells as he cruises up each street, sending even the calmest of kids into mild hysterics, prompting us to run inside and scrounge for change or beg our parents for a few dollars. We devour electric-colored pops that drip into a pool at our feet that will later be overrun with ants.

We draw with chalk over the cracked sidewalk, people complimenting us on our shading skills as they step all over our masterpieces. (Picasso never had to deal with this.) We rescue bugs from the tar oozing on the curb and we listen to the sound of cicadas in the trees.

Our summers are for playing handball in the park “asses up,” the losing team standing against the wall like criminals while they wait for the rubber ball to sting their bare skin.

For those of us lucky enough to grow up near the ocean (yes, New York City has ocean access) our summers are for running to the public beach and never bringing enough of anything, never having an umbrella or the right towel or the appropriate amount of suntan lotion. For sucking the salt from your hair as you walk across the too-hot sand without your shoes on. For smelling the ash can barbeques that are watched over by families who have come down for the whole day, lugging coolers full of meat onto city busses just to spend some time with their children by the water.

My summers don’t smell like hot garbage. They don’t make me want to get out of town. My summers are not for the faint of heart, the bored. We fill the space you leave behind (thanks for clearing out of our way.) We are adventurers, explorers, city kids in the heat.

So go, we’ll be here. See you in the fall.

Will You Still Love Me When I’m Loopy?

My family and I share a genetic predisposition to Alzheimer’s Disease.

By Gabrielle Sierra

My family has always made light of our genetic predisposition to Alzheimer’s Disease. Our jokes run the gamut from socially acceptable to completely inappropriate.

Sometimes we dabble in light ribbing in order to relieve tension, like when someone forgets a name or retells a story. “Get ready!” we will sing-song to our partners or family members or friends, alluding to some inexplicably hilarious distant future in which we have no memory at all.

Other times we skew darker, like when we laugh about that time my great-grandmother accidentally used Lestoil (a multi-purpose cleaner) to bake a large batch of cookies and my grandmother had to run around to all the neighbors and collect them. Or how in my grandmother’s later years she couldn’t tell any of her daughters or granddaughters apart so she called us all Barbara.

It sounds bleak, I know, and maybe a little cruel, and maybe we should think twice before taking this hit comedy routine on the road. But Alzheimer’s Disease has no cure, and most scientists believe that those who have a family member with the disease are at a higher risk of developing it. The risk level goes up even further when more than one person in your family has had the disease.

My grandmother had it, my great-grandmother had it and my great-uncle had it. The math isn’t promising.

Of course, I am not alone in having a family member (or three) suffer from this affliction, as Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia. A progressive disease, it affects the brain, and grows more and more destructive over time. Alzheimer’s is associated with memory loss, but the disease is much more overarching in its destruction, causing the sufferer to lose the ability to understand visual images or to make clear judgements or even complete simple daily tasks. Many Alzheimer’s patients experience sudden changes in their mood and can become fearful, anxious or even violent.

There are seven stages to Alzheimer’s, and the final stage is terminal. This may include the patient losing their ability to swallow. But unlike some diseases, this final stage isn’t always reached swiftly. My grandmother started showing signs of Alzheimer’s around the age of 75 and only just passed away last year at the age of 96. For nearly a decade her body was healthy and strong, so it was a struggle to understand that what was happening to her was all in her brain.

While Alzheimer’s has no cure, in some cases a test of the Apolipoprotein E gene can tell patients whether or not they have an increased risk. Many doctors encourage those who may be genetically predisposed to the disease to have these tests done, but with no way to slow or prevent the development of Alzheimer’s, many (like my mother and aunts), choose to skip the test in favor of a future that is uncertain but still optimistic.

A silver lining, though a muted one, is that my family members who suffered from Alzheimer’s succumbed to the late-onset variety. This is the more common form of the disease; less than 10 percent of Alzheimer’s sufferers develop the early-onset form. Late-onset means the disease doesn’t really start surfacing until the individual is in their mid-sixties or older, which sounds far better than beginning to lose your memory at age 30. But in this modern world, where the average lifespan for an American man is 76.5 and 82.1 for an American woman, this information can be of little comfort.

For a family of academics, voracious readers, and quick-witted banter-lovers, losing control of your senses, memories, and abilities can seem worse than death. It is incredibly difficult to see a bright flame slowly extinguished, and even harder to realize that, at least for a while, the individual knows what is happening to them.

As a family unit we remain hopeful that a cure or at least a treatment will be developed within our lifetimes; new drugs are being developed and new studies are being published all the time. My mother and aunts allowed researchers to learn from their mother’s decline and even donated her brain after she died. We participate in the annual Alzheimer’s walks and raise money for what we can.

But more often than not, we laugh. We ask those close to us, “will you still love me when I’m loopy?” with a light tone that carries a bit of fear. We take photographs, we tell stories, and we write things down. We read and read and read. We make jokes in the doctor’s office, we make jokes over dinner, and we make jokes on the phone. Even while gathered next to my grandmother’s bedside as she died, we laughed. We cried, we told stories, and we laughed.

We laugh because we are strong and funny and full of life, and maybe a little cruel. We intend to face the future with a grin.

 

My Big Boobs and Me

Learning to love my body.

By Saira Khan

One morning, when I was about 12 or 13, I woke up with breasts—large ones. In reality, the transition from awkward pre-pubescent kid to awkward pubescent teen may have been less pronounced, but to me, it felt like it happened overnight.

While the size of my breasts has changed over the years—along with my weight—the proportion of them to my body has always been, well, extreme. For context, I’m 4’11” and when I was a mere 80-lbs-weighing 16 year-old, I was a 34B. Now, many pounds heavier but still the same height, I teeter between a 34C and a 36D.

This is by no means a problem in itself. After all, the United States is a hyper-sexualized country in which breasts and butts serve as the kings and queens of the land. But along with the uneasy power bestowed upon women’s bodies (usually when it’s convenient for men), comes the shame for the sexuality they invoke—and women with large breasts are easy targets.

One merely has to look at the depiction of large-breasted women on recent TV shows to understand this dynamic. “Mad Men”’s Joan Harris (played by Christina Hendricks) was a voluptuous woman with noticeably large breasts. She was also the token “sexy” character. And who can forget that melons-through-Richard’s-window scene in “Sex and the City”? For all her progressive sexual behavior, even Samantha Jones easily returned to the most basic stereotype about women. “She has big boobs? She’ll definitely fuck your husband,” is the general tone.

It goes beyond body image though. On a more frightening level, I’ve always drawn the unwanted attention of men who take it upon themselves to comment on my body.

“You know you have great tits, right?” (Yes, asshole, I do.)

“I’m more of a tits man than an ass man,” (You know I can see you looking, right?)

“Wow, that’s a lot of cleavage for a little lady.” (Did I ask you?)

When I was younger, my body felt obscene. I never felt quite right in the clothes I wanted to wear (you know, those Abercrombie & Fitch clothes designed to fit the body of a curveless teen). I tried to hide what I had with baggy clothes and strategically placed dupattas. I was keenly aware of how much cleavage I was showing—which, when you’re a D-cup, means a lot even if you’re wearing a basic v-neck t-shirt. Plunging necklines? Nope. Strapless dresses? Too much boobage. Button-down shirt? Um, hello gaps between my buttons!

But short of taping my breasts down, there’s nothing I can do to make them look smaller. It doesn’t matter if I’m wearing a crew neck t-shirt or a low-cut dress, my breasts are going to look large because, well, they are. And it took me some time to learn this valuable lesson. There was no grand epiphany, but if I had to attribute this realization to anyone, I’d say it was my best friend Mashal, who came into my life with her full closet about a year and a half after my breasts did.

Mashal played an important role in building my self-esteem. When I tried to hide my body in yet another loose fitting shirt, she encouraged me to wear something more flattering. She was one of the first people to talk about my breasts in a positive way, as something to be envied rather than ashamed of. As a full-figured teen herself, I admired how she carried herself with confidence. I looked to her for fashion advice. Over time, and with more positive reinforcement, I began to see my body as a blessing rather than a curse. It was liberating. By spending less time worrying about how I was being perceived by others, I was able to focus my mind and energy on being myself. As I started to feel more comfortable in skin (and in my breasts) I felt more confident to express my opinions and make new friends. Instead of making myself smaller and invisible, I came out of my shell. In the few years between highschool and college, I went from being a painfully shy introvert to a very loud extrovert. Those of you who know me may recognize me as the loudest voice in the room.

The journey to appreciating the way I look has been a long and sometimes exhausting one. My body is what it is. It changes and grows and shrinks in ways I sometimes cannot control but that doesn’t mean I shy away from what I want to wear and how I want to dress. I’ve had my body for 30 years now and I can either anguish over the things I cannot control or I can love it for what it is—which, to be honest, I really, truly do.

How People Are Using Gifs to Get Off

On swapping sex gifs as party favors in participatory online porn culture.

By Monica Torres

 

Welcome to the new frontier of anonymized intimacy. Older generations had anonymous AOL chatrooms and Yahoo! Group Mailing lists to explore kinks; younger generations are using gifs, or looping animated images. With the rise of gifs being used on social networks, fans on Tumblr are engaging in a participatory porn culture, swapping erotic gifs with each other in a 21st century gif(t) exchange. The pleasurable goal on- and off-screen is to arouse but rather than the proof of a physical cum shot, online fans see release with an endorsing reblog tagged: #hot or #Icametothis. Media theorists call these fans who mediate their own desires “prosumers”: people who inhabit the “simultaneous role of being a producer of what one consumes.”

These porn gifs are usually ripped from porn sites, so they are de-contextualized from their original meaning. But for porn gif makers, that’s the whole point. They are less concerned with plot and more concerned with zeroing in on fucking. Compressing scenes of desire into the seconds that were most personally affecting allows these “prosumers” to re-center frames of desire towards moments that aroused them, not whatever an ass-man director wanted from a film.

“Passing facial expressions of pleasure get magnified. Penetration is obsessed and lingered over. Orgasms last forever. Surprise is repeated. In a sex gif, it’s always the first time.”

The porn scholars behind “Giffing a fuck: Non-narrative pleasures in participatory porn cultures and female fandom” argue that gifs are uniquely suited for this affective engagement: “microporn facilitates a tighter focus on those gestures or movements most sexually affecting. This affective experience is furthered by the loop aesthetic of GIFs in which a single privileged moment is replayed repeatedly (and perhaps obsessively).” Passing facial expressions of pleasure get magnified. Penetration is obsessed and lingered over. Orgasms last forever. Surprise is repeated. In a sex gif, it’s always the first time.

These sex gif loops create feedback loops. There’s no better example of fandom-facilitated engagement than orgasmictipsforgirls, a Tumblr for “horny girls everywhere” that has over 154,000 followers. The blog orgasmictipsforgirls is run by Holly, a self-described “twenty-something not-entirely-straight girl who loves to gossip about sex stuff.” It’s my favorite sex blog on Tumblr, because it represents my favorite part of fandoms: community.

Holly doesn’t want to call her blog’s goals #sexspo (sex inspiration), but she does see links between fitness blogs and her sex Tumblr. Both promote narratives of self-improvement for readers. One is just doing it through explicit step-by-step gifs on how to give blow jobs: “It’s like when you read about someone who went from not fit at all to running a marathon and you’re like ‘I could totally do that! I COULD TOTALLY DO THAT!’” she wrote in an email to me. “But with the advantage that training for a marathon is hugely exhausting whereas being a bit more sexually confident can be enjoyable all along! (Oh, and that reading about other people’s marathon training doesn’t make you fit, but reading other people’s sex stories can get you off.)”

Holly has created highly-detailed guides on how to help women masturbate filled with supplemental gifs that act as useful, nonjudgmental visual aids. If I had known about all these ways I could hump myself to completion when I was a sexually frustrated teenager, I would’ve had my sexual awakening a lot sooner. And many other fans have been in that same boat based on the frequency readers ask Holly, “what’s an orgasm?”

Holly believes gifs can titillate women in ways that porn videos can’t: “[I]deas often fail at being good or believable or non-skeevy the whole way through (especially for women!) but most anything can be sexy for 2.2 seconds.”

Appreciative fans send Holly audio recordings of themselves masturbating, nude selfies, their sex stories, and the gifs and videos that got them off. Holly curates them all into Tumblr packages to be reblogged. She says opening up her blog to submissions made it possible for everyone to “have the opportunity to be a ‘sex blogger’ for a Warhol-sized fifteen minutes.” Her blog is considered so helpful that a sex therapist once directed a patient towards her site because, according to Holly, the therapist said, “there are pictures that will show you EXACTLY what to do.”

Orgasmictipsforgirls is an example of how the power of porn fandom comes not only from the loops of sex themselves, but also from the loops of feedback created between “prosumers.” It’s this intense, intimate community that fandom is actively fostering through curated loops of desire exchanged between Tumblrs. Citing academic Karen Hellekson’s previous work on fan economies, “Giffing a fuck” says that fandom gifs rely on “giving, receiving and reciprocating” works that reinforce bonds between users: “the gift of artwork or text is repetitively exchanged for the gift of reaction, which is itself exchanged, with the goal of creating and maintaining social solidarity.” Seeing hundreds of notes and reblogs to your gifs isolating that one ass slap is a confirmation that you weren’t the only person to find this hot.

“Reading about other people’s marathon training doesn’t make you fit, but reading other people’s sex stories can get you off.”

But Holly recognizes the limits to using porn gifs is their source material: “The huge weakness is that it’s still made out of ‘Porn From The Porn Industry’ so visually the blog is way, WAY whiter, skinnier, hairless etc. than I’d ever choose it to be.” The all-inclusive, celebratory messages of “Anyone Can Fuck!” and “’People Don’t Give A Shit What You Look Like, Trust Me” that Holly wants to give followers clashes with the limiting spectrum of bodies she’s curating from. It’s a reminder that even when gifs are purposefully taken out of contexts, they are still subject to them through the kinds of bodies the images use.

Gifs create ephemeral moments of pleasure that impact people far beyond their second-long loops. Scrolling through these explicit dashboards, I will sometimes pause between gifs of explicit body-slapping fucking, arrested by a woman’s captured, open expression of lust. On photography, literary theorist Roland Barthes called these arresting moments the “element which rises from the scene, shoots out of it like an arrow, and pierces [you].” What pierced this one gif curator and compelled them to make this gif is now, in turn, piercing me. ‘Do I look like that?’ I’ll wonder. It’s still rare enough for me to see women’s pleasure on screens that gifs like these do feel like gifts. In porn, I’d have to rewind. In sex, there’s no replay button. But here I can linger freely.

The Bonds of Motherhood

An adopted woman’s journey into adulthood, and whether she wants to meet her birth mom.

By Sara Afzal

 

It was taco night at the Angulo family’s home, and my best friend Tessa, 14, and her mother, Teresa, were gathered around the kitchen island. They had the same soft features that fell easily into glowing smiles and laughter. The two of them looked so much alike. I was shocked when I first found out Tessa was adopted. “We get that all the time. No one ever believed me when I would say I was adopted,” Tessa Gardner, née Angulo, said.

One night during one of our many sleepovers, Tessa showed me a stuffed teddy bear. She pressed a button on its stomach, and the jovial sing-song voices of two small girls rang out “Happy Birthday Tessa!” She told me they were her two half sisters from her birth mother, Cindy, who had remarried and started a new family. Although Tessa received gifts and letters from Cindy, she has never met her.

Over the years, their correspondence was sporadic, and Tessa’s mom tended to correspond directly with Cindy more often than Tessa did. After a lapse in communication, Cindy wrote a letter to Teresa in 2009 implying the possibility of a meeting. “As Tessa neared 18; I was nervous that she would be interested in meeting me and on the other hand nervous she wouldn’t. I didn’t want to be torn on your side or hers if I kept in contact. If anything should have transpired; I wanted it to be a decision she made,” Cindy wrote.

Tessa chose not to pursue a meeting at that time.

“Growing up I always wondered what it would be like to meet her. I kind of went back and forth with it, but I just wasn’t ready. It’s a big thing… to meet your biological mom. You never know what could happen,” Tessa said later.

Tessa’s parents, Teresa and Tim, pursued adopting children after it became apparent that Teresa couldn’t become pregnant easily. “They didn’t really have a diagnosis,” she said after going through fertility testing. In her early 30s, she considered trying the in vitro process, but she decided against it. Teresa turned her focus on going back to school and furthering her career as a nurse, but realized at age 36 that she had to be a mother. “It wasn’t so important that I have a birth child. I just wanted to raise a child, so that’s when we started looking at adoption.”

Tessa was their first child. She was born premature after 16-year-old Cindy unexpectedly went into labor six weeks early. Tessa had a breathing tube when she was first born, and only weighed about four pounds. She spent 10 days in the hospital before going home. As a nurse, Teresa persuaded the hospital to let her take the baby home, where she fed her every two hours. “For me, from the moment I saw and held Tess, I was in love with her. My bond to her was instant and complete and I still feel that bond,” Teresa said.

Teresa and Tim decided from the beginning to have an open adoption with full communication and identifying information from the birth mother. Although Tessa decided not to initiate a meeting with Cindy, letters went back and forth throughout her life. About 55 percent of families initiate open adoptions and 40 percent are semi-open adoptions with mediators, according to a Donaldson Adoption Institute survey of 100 adoption agencies. The survey also found that 95 percent of agencies offer open adoptions. 

Tessa’s adopted sister Tori decided to meet her own biological mom, who had Tori at 17. Tori came out of the experience realizing how different her childhood would have been with her birth family, and grateful for her current circumstances. Tessa said Tori came home, gave their mom a big hug, and immediately thanked their adopted parents for the life they had given her.

According to psychology professor Abbie Goldberg, whose research focuses on adopted families, “Adopted individuals are not confused by contact with their birth parents. They benefit from the increased understanding that their birth parents gave them life but their ‘forever families’ take care of and nurture them.”

The Angulo family maintained open communication with their children’s biological parents, but also allowed Tessa and Tori to make their own decision with meeting them. “I wanted our kids to know their birth parents. What a huge hole in your life if you had no information. I know Tessa has never met her birth parents, but she got all of their information, she’s gotten letters from them, she knows of them, where they are, what they do, what they look like…I think that’s important,” Teresa said.

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Tessa and Teresa

Teresa said she would constantly tell Tessa about her birth mother as a baby, and read her bedtime stories about adopted families. Tessa remembers knowing from a very early age that she was adopted, but despite the open communication throughout her life with her birth mother–she didn’t feel ready to meet her.

“I really didn’t think about being adopted too often unless it came up in conversation or I got a letter from my birth mother. I felt so comfortable with my family. They just never made me question anything. My mom and dad were super supportive,” Tessa said. “I see a lot of people not having a close relationship with their parents and it’s really sad to me. My mom and I have always been really really close. She’s my go to person and always has been,” Tessa said.

At 29, Tessa is now married and a mother to a two-year-old daughter named Ava. They live in Santa Barbara near her parents, who are active in their granddaughter’s life. To Ava, Teresa is known as Nan (short for Nana), the one that takes her to the library for story time, picks flowers with her, or helps her feed the koi fish in their small front pond. “I love being part of Ava’s life. I’m thankful Tessa is here. You connect with your child when they have a child of their own,” Teresa said.

Tessa says she is fascinated by discovering her own biological traits in her daughter. Whether making the same “hangry face” or getting a spell of the giggles. “Her mannerisms are similar. Certain faces she makes my mom says she looks just like me,” Tessa said.

Recently, Tessa discovered that her birth mom, Cindy, named one of her daughters Ava as well, a coincidence that immediately gave Tessa goosebumps. Cindy was just 16 years old when she had Tessa. A high school cheerleader, was dating a football player, Ernie, when she became pregnant. According to Teresa, he was never involved in the pregnancy or adoption process.

“I honestly can’t believe what my birth mother went through. When you are pregnant you have this bond with your baby and go through this whole pregnancy journey,” Tessa said.

“I think now that I’m older, I would totally would love to meet her. I think my mindset is different, and I can handle the situation better,” Tessa said. “I feel like I owe her. She did such a selfless thing. I would like to just hug her and tell her thank you.”

 

Watching My Father Lose His Sight

For most of my life, books and my father went hand-in-hand. Then, about six years ago, he began losing his eyesight.

By Saira Khan

I was 13 years old when I first read something from my father’s book shelf. “Blasphemy,” by Tehmina Durrani, is a novel about the abuse and brutalization of Heer, a young Muslim woman, at the hands of her cleric husband, Pir Sain. At one point, Heer is forced into getting an abortion. It was my first literary encounter with abortion and Durrani’s words about Heer losing control over her body have stayed with me ever since.  She helped shape who I am and what I believe in.

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t see a book or a newspaper in my father’s hands. When I was a child, and we lived in New Jersey, his Sunday morning ritual included sitting on our stoop with a warm cup of chai to read The New York Times beginning to end. He encouraged me to read from his collection. Often, the books were about women: “A God of Small Things,” by Arundhati Roy, Benzair Bhutto’s biography, and Thomas Hardy’s “Tess of the D’urbervilles.” Books and my father went hand-in-hand. Then, about six years ago, he began losing his eyesight.

***

My father, Afzal, was born in the town of Lucknow, in India, in 1948, shortly after the partition. His family—including four siblings and two parentsrelocated to Karachi, Pakistan, when he was still a baby. His father (my grandfather) was a schoolteacher by passion and by trade. Literature was a big part of their lives. “It wasn’t just reading the books that we enjoyed. We needed to talk about them. We debated them all the time,” my father told me. This is a ritual he carried on with his own family. When I was younger, and still lived at home, conversations about what we read would ultimately lead to conversations and politics and religion. It wasn’t uncommon for us to be at the table for two hours.

Much of the literature my father consumed was from progressive Pakistani and Indian writers, from the prose of Saadat Hasan Manto to the poetry of Mirza Ghalib to the early feminist works of Ismat Chugtai and Qurratulain Hyder. “There’s one writer we talked about a lot at home,” my father told me about his adolescence. “Noon Meem Rashid, he was always a prickly subject. We’d have so many debates about him! It was great.”

“Before I ever considered moving to America, I found so much of the world in these books,” he told me. “There was a time when I was obsessed with Russian literature and poetry.  ‘And Quiet Flows the Don’ was one of my favorites. Which, by the way, I read in Urdu. That’s a lost art, reading in Urdu. No one does it anymore. That’s a story for another day, I suppose.” He always preferred reading in Urdu. “It’s my mothertongue, I understand it much better than I do English. And there’s a poetry in Urdu words that you just can’t find in English.”

When I asked my father if he actively chose feminist literature to stock his bookshelves with, after we were born, as a way of imparting wisdom on his three daughters, he laughed. “I couldn’t even fathom your existence when I first started these!” Literature opened a window into a world that he says people didn’t, and still don’t, talk about. “Take Chugtai, for example, she was writing about what life for women was like, socially and sexually. And Manto, he wrote about the rape of women and children during the Partition,” he said. “This is why it’s such a shame that you can’t read Urdu,” he said addressing me. “These books in English had an effect on you, imagine what Chugtai’s words could have done!”

“I guess you could say reading was a big, big part of my life,” he said. “I guess you could say I wouldn’t be who I am if I hadn’t read what I did.”

***

My father is an insulin-using diabetic. So I can’t say we were truly surprised when, in 2010, he started losing his vision: macular edema, the loss of sight due to a buildup of fluid in the retina, is a common complication stemming from the disease. He underwent cataract surgery to correct it, but it barely helped. “Apparently the surgery wasn’t a success. I don’t remember what exactly happened but my eyesight was still poor. ” Over the years, he has sought all forms of treatment: another surgery and various types of glasses. “Sometimes I’d think it was getting better but then my vision would just get progressively worse,” he said.

Since then, his vision has only gotten worse. By 2011, he could no longer read regular print books. When it became apparent that he would no longer be able to consume the words he wanted to, we turned to audiobooks. I got him Walter Isaacson’s book about Steve Jobs on tape. “There is no fun in it,” he told me back then and again when I asked him about it this week. “I like to see and read. What’s the point if someone else is putting the images in your head? I’d rather watch a movie.” But even that has become cumbersome. Much of the images he sees are blurry and disrupts the flow of the film or show. And while he never complains to us directly, when he asks one of us to explain what’s going on in the movie because “I can’t see it properly,” my heart aches for him. To lose such an important part of yourself, something we all take for granted, that has been there since many of us were born, must feel debilitating. But I don’t know how it effects my father  because he refuses to talk about it. Though  I’ve pressed him on it many times, he brushes it off as a natural part of growing old.

***

Before he started losing his sight, my father amassed a large book collection, the same collection I’d peruse as a teen. Bookshelves were always a staple in our home. These books had long and healthy lives. The ones in Urdu had been acquired in Pakistan in the 1960s and  travelled with him to Chicago, New York, New Jersey, and Maryland. During this time, the collection grew to include books in English. Geoffrey Chaucer. Khalil Gibran. Leo Tolstoy. And many more that I can’t recall. My parents moved back to Pakistan in 2014 and when I went to visit in early 2015, there was no book shelf to be found in their home. “We donated them to a mosque before we left,” my father told me. “What’s the point anymore of lugging them around from one corner of the world to another? They’re better off actually being read. There they’ll be cared for.”

A few days ago, while speaking with him for this story, I asked him if he misses his books, and more importantly, misses reading them. He told me all was not lost. “I can read some short news article on my laptop if I adjust the font enough. If it’s something short it doesn’t hurt my eyes,” he said. “Listen, this is just something I have to live with now,” he said when I asked more pointedly if he misses consuming  literature the way he knew how to. “I don’t miss it anymore. Not now. Not anymore. Now, I know I cannot read them, so I don’t even miss them.” I don’t know if he was trying to convince himself or me but I don’t think either of us believe him.

 

 

“Get Out”: A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste

“Get Out” shows us that the scariest thing racism makes you lose is yourself.

By Monica Torres

Spoilers Ahead

It’s dark. You’re walking down a sidewalk in a quiet suburban neighborhood, the kind with trimmed shrubs, bay windows and manicured front lawns. People from Norman Rockwell paintings live here, but not you. You’re a visitor. A white Porsche Boxster with tinted windows starts following you. When you stop, it stops. You sweat, you move faster, but you don’t run. Why don’t you run? Maybe if you’d been born fifty years earlier, your instincts would be better, but by the time you remember, it’s too late, the driver’s side is open, but the driver isn’t there, he’s right behind you, BAM—

I saw “Get Out” on the fifth anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s killing, and in the opening scene of the film where Andre gets kidnapped by a neighborhood vigilante in a car, the film takes us back to that time. George Zimmerman’s reasoning for calling 911 on a 17-year-old black boy, tailing him in his car, then fatally shooting him, was that Martin was “just staring…just walking around the area…looking at all the houses.” Under racism’s illogic, a black boy walking back to his own home is “not a citizen of a democracy, but the subject of a carceral state,” as Justice Sotomayor warned, made guilty by his very existence.

Next time we see Andre, who is played by LaKeith Stanfield, he is worse than dead.

We learn that his mind has been trapped into the Sunken Place, while some Crazy von Cracker has taken over his body. He’s worse than dead, because even though his body has been hijacked, some part of Andre’s mind is still aware of what he’s lost. In the movie, the Sunken Place is depicted as a black hole that the victim is endlessly falling through. As you’re falling, you’ll see an open door where reality plays out in front of your mind’s eye. Maddeningly, as a victim to the Sunken Place, your escape is always within sight, but never within reach.

W.E.B. DuBois’ concept of double-consciousness, “this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others,” is taken to terrifying extremes in the movie. DuBois was talking about how racism wears on a black person’s psyche, the need to always present a false mask to a white world that does not see them as human. Poet Paul Laurence Dunbar describes this survival mechanism in his poem “We Wear the Mask”:

It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

In “Get Out,” the villains have built a mask that its victims can never take off. But the monsters who would build this psychological horror are not outliers of society; they’re your neighbors.

The Armitages are a liberal family who would’ve voted for Obama for a third term. They’re not wearing white hoods but they’re still white supremacists who are buying and selling black bodies as their property. They do this by transplanting the minds of their white friends into the bodies of black people like Andre, who they capture.

The movie follows their latest target. Rose Armitage, played by Allison Williams, has invited her new boyfriend, the film’s protagonist Chris, who is portrayed by Daniel Kaluuya, to meet her parents at their house. She said she hasn’t told them that Chris is black. That makes Chris nervous, but not nervous enough to run. Chris’ friend Rod, who is played wonderfully by Lil Rel Howery, is the audience’s surrogate and he isn’t buying it: “White people love making people sex slaves and shit!” he warns in one of his scenes of welcome comic relief.

Rod is right. When the Armitage patriarch greets Chris, as “my man,” it’s not a clumsy attempt at brotherly slang, it’s a possessive foreshadowing of the body-swap horrors to come.

Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 8.10.16 PM

More creepy than a monster wanting to kill you is a monster who wants to own you. That kind of trauma is neverending. “I want your eyes, man,” Jim, the blind artist who wins the bid to “buy” Chris and take over his body tells him. He denies that he’s doing this because Chris is black, he just wants “those things you see through.”

This is colorblind hypocrisy taken to another level. Jim wants the cultural capital of being black without any of the work of being black: ‘I want those things you see through, all your sensibilities, your sexual prowess, your strength, your cool, everything but you.’

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Unlike every other black character trapped in the Sunken Place, Georgina, the Armitage’s “housekeeper,” breaks through the hypnosis without needing the external trigger of a camera flash. I keep thinking about this small breakthrough, wanting a whole story just on Georgina, the one black woman in the film trapped in the Sunken Plane, whose grief and terror was big enough to be seen on its own. It’s the movie’s best scene.

This breakthrough happens when Chris tells Georgina privately, one black person to another, “If there’s too many white people I get nervous.” Hearing this admission, Georgina goes rictus-still. She smiles so wide it splits her face in two. And yet as Claudia Rankine reminds us, “the body has memory…[t]he body is the threshold across which each objectionable call passes into consciousness—all the unintimidated, unblinking, and unflappable resilience does not erase the moments lived through.” However much you school your face, it won’t erase the toll of the moments and years endured.

Tears slip through the mask of gentility. Even as she’s smiling, Georgina begins to cry.

“No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no,” Georgina says in defense of the white family she serves and each no is an exhortation, a plea, a lie, a demand, a cry from deep within. “They treat us like family.”

Georgina, split in two, leaves Chris alone after that moment. After Georgina leaves, Chris tells himself and the audience “that bitch is crazy!” and it’s played for laughs, but those tears are the last real sympathy and solidarity Chris will be shown in that house until the end of the film.

Later, after Chris finds the box where Rose keeps photos of her previous conquests, we see the first and only look of the original Georgina. In the photo, Rose is entwined around the original Georgina, and their smiling faces are close enough to be lovers. There’s no 1950’s hairdo and no apron of servility. This is a Georgina who had her whole life ahead of her.

The horrors black women face in “Get Out” are never seen on screen. How did Rose lure Georgina into her haunted house? Did she tell Georgina the lie she told Chris, that Georgina was her first black lover? When Georgina’s “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” moment arrived, was she also asked to maddeningly represent her whole race: “Do you find that being African American has more advantages or disadvantages in the modern world?” At what point did Georgina know, did she try to fight back, and who, if anyone, is looking for her missing body?

These are the questions writer-director Jordan Peele never answers, and what some critics rightfully point out are disappointing erasures. The film makes the case that inaction is just as much a betrayal as what you do. But Peele gets implicated too in his inaction to center certain stories over others.

When Georgina is later killed, it’s graphic and bloody. She had the soul of a murderous white grandmother, so it’s gratifying to see her die, but it’s also a moment of loss. Because when Missy Armitage, the controller of the Sunken Place, is killed, the camera pans away:

the intentional framing and editing choices Peele makes to conceal and work around the explicit deaths of Missy and Rose show that white women are still valued as fragile and occupy a unique cultural privilege…even in the blackest horror film of this decade.”

Besides Georgina’s tears, the next kind thing an ally will do for Chris is shake his arms and scream at him to “GET OUT!” When Chris takes a photo of Andre, the camera flash jolts Andre out of the Sunken Place. Andre’s nose bleeds as he yells at Chris to leave. But with another dose of hypnosis, Andre goes under again and is back to being “Logan.” Chris is the only person who experiences the Sunken Place to escape it with his mind intact. And the only people who help Chris out in the end are black people.

When faced with the order to kill Chris, Walter, who has been taken over by the Craziest von Cracker, uses the brief mental disruption from Chris’ camera flash to take over his own body to shoot Rose. Walter then turns the weapon on himself and chooses death, a final resting place free from masks.

The body-swap is fiction, but for Peele, the layered anxieties it represents are very real. “We’re all in the Sunken Place,” Peele said about his film, implicating us all. Junot Diaz elaborates on the two-forked devilry of racism: “white supremacy’s greatest trick is that it has convinced people that, if it exists at all, it exists always in other people, never in us.”

But that fantasy is a trap. It’s why it took so long for Chris to believe that Rose could kiss him, defend him against police, and lead him to his psychological slaughter, all in the same breath.

“Rose, give me the keys!” Chris begs, even after he sees the photos that prove she was in on the plan to steal his body and mind.

“Get Out” turns a lot of horror film conventions on their head. Black men are not sacrifices, “Magical Negroes,” or bestial monsters; they’re vulnerable young men. White women are not damsels in distress, but predators. Unlike Night of the Living Dead where a black hero escapes a house of crazy white people, only to get shot by the police; in “Get Out,” a black hero finally makes it to the end of the movie.

But what’s especially unsettling about the film is what still remains the same.

The tension for the audience watching Chris attend an all-white dinner party is just as high as when he’s strapped to a chair about to undergo a lobotomy. The strongest scenes in “Get Out” draw upon the familiar, everyday indignities of racism, those off-hand comments and backhanded compliments that divide the world into us and them, turning friends and lovers into strangers: What did you say? What did you just say? You already know the answer, but you don’t run because it’s 2017 and you’re tired and you want to be proven wrong.

Racism drives its victims crazy. When it happens to you, people stare at you like you’ve lost your mind. ‘You’re being paranoid. He didn’t mean it like that.’ In “Get Out” there’s no ambiguity. He did mean it like that. It does not see the best in well-intentioned white people. That’s why I described the film to my friends as “grimly satisfying.” You’re not crazy here. The film takes all of your fears and anxieties of being The Only One in a room of white people and brings those nightmares to life.

When Chris’ friend Rod comes to save the day, he is glad to see Chris alive, but also, man, he called out white people from day one: “I told you not to go in that house.”


Further feedback I’ve enjoyed:

This roundtable: “Get the Fuck Outta Here: A Dialogue on Jordan Peele’s ‘GET OUT’

This academic syllabus: “‘Get Out’ Syllabus

This podcast: “The Horror, The Horror: “Get Out” And The Place of Race in Scary Movies

This criticism: “What Becky Gotta Do to Get Murked? White Womanhood in Jordan Peele’s Get Out

New Phone, Who Dis?

A woman’s journey, told through cell phones.

 By Frida Oskarsdottir

The child of an engineer and a computer programmer, I was the first one of my friends to get my very own personal computer: a blue iMaclike from the commercialscementing my friendship with at least three girls who were way more popular than I was. While my parents likely hoped I’d use the computer as an encyclopedia and to print out my schoolwork, for me it was another way to keep in constant conversation with any humanor botI could find. Before AOL Instant Messenger existed the Internet was basically the Wild West; my friends and I would log into chat rooms and delight in the ability to have banal conversations online, with what we assumed were toothsome boys our age and not, as it is more statistically likely, 45-year-old basement dwellers.

When I wasn’t skirting predators on the World Wide Web, I was chatting on my lime-green cordless phone on my own private line. If it sounds like I was spoiled, it’s because I was. In 1998, having a private line was basically the gold standard of pre-teendom. I didn’t think life could get any better than being able to call people from the comfort of my bedroom. And then, in 2001, at the age of 14, I got my first cell phone and the world opened up even more.

In the sixteen years that have followed, mobile technology has expanded in ways few people could have imagined. Our smartphones have replaced countless devices and appliances and razed entire industries. They answer our questions in seconds and guide us when we’re lost, geographically or existentially. Seventy-seven percent  of Americans now own smartphones, up from 66% last year, and 35% in 2011. Their rapid evolution continues to change the ways we think about connection and convenience, and also makes it easy to forget how recently we walked through life without the immediacy these devices afford us. 

I wanted to see where looking back through the flip phones and sliders of my past would take me. Each of the clunky, outdated behemoths below was a notch in my timeline, radical in its own way.

v-tech

Model: V-Tech 9111 // The Non-Cell Phone

Year: 1998

While not technically a mobile phone, it was attached to my body via the back pocket of my hip huggers, and I carried it into every room of the house as well as outdoors into our yard, testing the limits of its connectivity.

One time the mom of a boy I liked called my parents and told them we had to keep our phone conversations to a minimum of two hours a day so that he could do his homework. My unfettered access to call time also enabled me to attempt to steal not one, but two of my friends’ boyfriends by calling them under the guise of discussing their “relationships.” Woof.

siemensModel: Siemens C45 // The First

Year: 2001

My friends teased me mercilessly about this phone because Siemens sounds like semen and we were 14. When you turned the phone on, the screen glowed orange and a smiley face would pop up to greet you. It was a frowny face when you turned it off. Because you had to charge it basically 23 hours a day and the only outlet in my room was on the other side from my bed, I remember getting out of bed to see if anyone had sent me an “SMS” at random hours of the night (they hadn’t).

nokia-3310Model: Nokia 3310 // The Classic

Year: 2003

Who didn’t have this sturdy Nokia phone? Rumor has it this baby is set to re-release in 2017, to the delight of Snake enthusiasts everywhere. I’m pretty sure I owe the C I got in Chemistry my sophomore year of high school to this piece of plastic, but I also got a very high score in Snake. So..

I also recall having to push my nails into the buttons to dial after a few months, the physicality of the structure so obviously the sum of its parts.

Model: Nokia 3200 with interchangeable covers // Feat of Visual Engineering

nokia-cover

Year: 2005

I tried desperately to find a picture of the actual interchangeable cover I had for this upgraded version of the basic Nokia phone but I couldn’t, probably because it was an unauthorized cover I bought at a boardwalk stand in Ocean City. I’ve got one word for you though: FLAMES. Fun fact: constantly changing the cover on this phone led to debris accumulation; it basically became a dirt factory that I held up to my face all day.

The biggest differenceoutside of the unbelievable aestheticwas that this phone came with its very own camera. As a seasoned photographer after a year of high school photography that I spent outside smoking cigarettes, I was ready to explore this new medium. The pictures I took included, but were not limited to, my feet, my hands, and an eyeball. That’s it. Because 3 pictures was all the storage it could handle.

pink-razr

Model: Motorola Razr // This phone came in pink

Year: 2007

I know you were waiting for this one. This phone was a game-changer. I was thrilled when I finally got this sleek design but also knew that my excitement had to be partially ironic in order to continue being as cool as I thought I was. I perfected the one hand flip and relished clicking it shut. I was Paris Hilton.

Incidentally, 2007 was the first year that Americans sent and received more text messages than phone calls each month. Perhaps that’s why this is the phone I remember sending them from for the first time, which begs the question, what the hell was I using all those other phones for?

jest

Model: Verizon Pantech Jest // I was eligible for an upgrade

Year: 2009

I genuinely thought this was the coolest phone ever, until it arrived and I realized how crappy it was. Nevertheless, since this was when I got my first “real” job out of college; I’d slip this little pebble into my stiff Target-bought khakis with grit and determination. While the home screen boasted “Email” access and something called a “Social Beat,” you needed a stable internet connection and 20-25 minutes just to log on to www.google.com and type in “beer store.”

env

Model: Verizon LG ENV //Groundhog Computer

Year: 2010

The folks who designed this phone clearly thought they were onto something, envisioning a groundhog-sized person cracking it open to type at his groundhog-sized desk. Oh look, a shift key! In my memory this weighed 8 pounds.

Model: iPhone 4//The Futurescreen-shot-2017-02-22-at-9-03-27-pm

Year: 2012

And here we are. When I finally made the transition to the iPhone I felt like I’d been launched into outer space. My first grainy Instagram photos are all in Kelvin, i.e. orange and terrible, and this was when my private selfie habit really reared its ugly head. I accidentally smashed the screen on this after having it for approximately one month, wanted to commit harakiri, and have since protected my phone with industrial strength covers and screen protectors like it’s going out of style. So here’s where it ends, because I refuse to include the subsequent iPhones I’ve owned because they are all essentially the same.