Year of Magical Being

By Lizzy Shramko

There’s not much in an astrological session that I tell people that they don’t already know. But there is something really phenomenal that occurs when a stranger tells you something that is so deeply personal about yourself.
-Chani Nicholas

The Story in Astrology

I became interested in astrology in my late 20s. More specifically, a friend of mine encouraged me to order a birth chart book right before my 29th birthday. It was a cold January in Minnesota and I was single for the first time in eight years. I wanted make sense of the path my life was taking, a path that many people in my life reflected back to me as wrong, as somehow out of sequence.

People seek out celestial meaning for many reasons. When I turned to astrology, I was looking for a story.


As a writer, a reader, and a human living on this planet, I am surrounded by story. My Facebook feed presents a pixelated narrative to me, updating me on acquaintances’ daily habits, big and small. If film is my preferred medium, I can find a catalog of cinematic stories on Netflix designed to cater to my interest in “independent action movies with a strong female lead.” And if I’m feeling old-fashioned, I can always find story in books. But the thing about the stories that fill my life is that so many of them are like unsolicited advice from an older family member: prescriptive, out of date, and intended to make me feel like shit.

Facebook, for example, pushes certain life events. The other day, the social media site helpfully asked me if I experienced any of the following life events recently: marriage proposal, marriage itself, the birth of children, the purchase of a house. Those are the moments that make meaning on Facebook. It takes an effort to find a movie on Netflix with a strong female lead that does not eventually kowtow to the every need of her love interest (invariably a man). Even if you look for respite from these narratives in nature documentaries, the disembodied narrator often finds a way to replicate these heteronormative tropes in the lives of animals and plants. Seriously, plants.

The stories in my life consistently tell me that you are not fully human unless you are in love, in a relationship or somewhere on the pathway to marriage.

But I digress.

In my search for story, I stumbled upon the magnificent astrological world of horoscopes. I was certainly not the first, and definitely won’t be the last, to find their way to this magical place. Horoscopes offer story every week. Both expansive and specific, the horoscopes I read allowed me to fit myself into their lines. When I moved into my apartment alone, one of the more significant events of my life, it did not qualify as a Facebook life event. It didn’t inspire the same congratulatory appraisal of family members when I moved significantly shittier apartment with my partner years back. Building a home for myself, completely alone, is one of the most difficult and satisfying things I have done. The process of pacing the days, cooking for one, acquiring objects, and assembling and reassembling them in a space that was mine alone was exhilarating and exhausting. It was incredibly lonely. More importantly, even if I didn’t recognize it at the time, it was enormously empowering. That week, the first week of January, my horoscope told me to nurture myself, to focus inward, to take leaps into the unknown. And as much as it might sound like New Age pseudo philosophy, impersonal and empty, that horoscope carried more meaning than most of the other stories in my life. I could see myself reflected back, whole and happy.  

The neat paragraphs that most of us know as horoscopes are one astrologer’s interpretation of future/past events based on an astrological chart. Trust me, these charts are complicated AF. When I received my birth chart book (basically a short novel that describes the astrological leanings of my life based on what the sky looked like at the exact moment when I emerged from my mom’s vagina), I realized how sophisticated this astrology business really was. For a beginner, the sign you are probably familiar with is your sun sign.

I was born on February 28th, so I know that I am a Pisces.

But from there is gets much, much more complicated. I do not have the expertise to really go into all of it, but in addition to my sun sign, I learned my rising sign (how others see you) and my moon sign (reflective of your emotions). There are houses and angles. There is ascendant and descendant. Basically, you could spend your whole life learning about this stuff. In fact, some people do.

I’ve read wretchedly shaming horoscopes intended to scold the reader, horoscopes that follow the tired tropes of “success” that are regurgitated across media. In these narratives, marriage, children, and financial stability often equal inner peace, or something along those lines. But there are some astrologists that craft stories that heal, nurture, and help build up the world around them. They leave space in their forecasts for the multiplicity of meanings that exist in our complicated, messy lives. These astrologers’ ultimate version of “love” does not translate to romantic love alone, but to larger notions of social justice, critical healing, to nurturing a holistic love of oneself. If you need suggestions, Chani Nicholas is most definitely one of these astrologers. Nicholas practices what she calls “queer astrology.”

 

She explains

“Queer astrology to me is not assuming that I know anything about the people who are coming to me. That I don’t assume their gender, I don’t assume who they date. I don’t make assumptions about how they grew up, I don’t make assumptions about what their preferences are. And that I’m using a queer/feminist lens to counsel people.”

 

As a gender studies major, I have used critical theory as a methodology for dissecting the world around me to unpack and unfold the crevices of power that are so intricately and expertly enveloping my life. And yet. There is something magical, for lack of a better word, in embracing ways of knowing that are less rooted in a science I know. There is something empowering about believing in something beyond me.

I check Chani on the weekly.

Her horoscopes come out on Mondays, a day I have come to look forward to. Her forecasts for the week are uplifting and focused on self love and self acceptance. As a single woman on the cusp of my 30s, Chani is one of the only sources of acceptance that I can easily find. When I am tired and uncertain, when I have a shitty week at work where I feel unappreciated, or when I’m working on a piece of writing that is particularly challenging, more than just offering advice that is useful, Chani offers advice that is affirming.

Her words make me feel seen.

Illustration by Meher Khan.

Yes, Your Writing Is Shaped By Your Identity—But What You Publish Is Too

Rachel Charlene Lewis

These days, the lit world is spending a lot more time thinking about the role of identity in writing and publishing. With recent shifts toward a greater acknowledgment of the role of identity and the influence of privilege on what we write, read, and publish, more and more think pieces are spanning the web.

Many of us are asking the same question: How on earth is the lit world going to support people of marginalized identities in a society that has shown itself time and time again to be incapable of the same task?

Over the summer, Electric Literature posed the question “Should White Men Stop Writing?” on The Blunt Instrument, its monthly advice column for writers, with an answer that can be boiled down to, “No, don’t stop writing; just work toward good writing and don’t cast yourself as the white savior. Oh, and stop doing the weird white guy thing of submitting work over and over again . . . even after you’ve been told your work is low-quality.” (Get more of the column’s author in a Q&A over at Vulture.)

Many responses followed in the lit world. The Atlantic’s June 6th response piece, “Letter to a Young (White, Male) Poet,” gave a different set of advice that largely suggested the idea that white male poets shouldn’t stop writing, unless, of course, they’re bad at the craft.

But we’ve come up with no solution. And why? Are we looking in the wrong places? At the end of the day, maybe the responsibility to publish diverse perspectives falls onto publishers and editors.

 

Where are the diverse writers?

Let me be straight with you: I am a giant feminist, and as such, I’ve followed all of these conversations pretty closely. I regularly read diverse publications, like THEM, Plenitude, The Fem (disclaimer: I work with them), Blackberry Lit, Quaint, Kalyani, and Two Serious Ladies. I keep up with campaigns that fight for inclusivity in the literary world, like #WeNeedDiverseBooks and the VIDA Count. And it’s really interesting because, at least from the outside looking in, these publications don’t seem to be having the same massive struggle of not being able to find diverse writers that some editors claim is the reason for the whiteness, the straightness, and the maleness of their publications.

What I am frustrated about is the lack of responsibility that editors themselves seem willing to take about the maleness and whiteness of the lit world.

If lit mags are publishing problematic works, they’re unlikely to have diverse writers vying for the chance to get their work in their now misogynistic/racist/ableist/classist/homophobic journal. Editors can’t be shocked when women don’t want to submit to their magazine when they just published a misogynistic piece last week. The same can be said for other marginalized identities.

 

Editors—learn the meaning of diversity

If we publish in terms of talent and actively seek diverse voices, we'll even out the playing field—but first, this requires a basic understanding of what diversity is, what inclusivity looks like, and how identity influences writing.

Our identities shape our perspectives, making all of us privy to the majority perspective per media (and literature’s) constant re-tellings of what it is to be straight, white, and male, and leaving only those of us with identities marginalized in our current US context (people of color, queer folks, trans people, people with disabilities, etc.) with access to certain perspectives.

For writers not to acknowledge the role that who they are plays upon how they move through the world is to make their experience seem as if neutral, as if their writing is just about the “human” experience, not about the experience of any individual and their identities.

 

We need diverse editors

On July 1st,  @MizCaramelVixen, creator of #BlackComicsMonth (with comics being another overwhelmingly white space within the art world), tweeted, “We need MORE editors of color as well as creators of color. Period.”

And they’re not the only one having this conversation. The Twittersphere, especially Black Twitter, has hashed this issue out via tweets on many occasions, both literary and not.

We can talk in circles about the role of identity and who should and should not write, but what’s become clear to me from the many think pieces spanning the Internet about the topic is that there’s no single solution. The fun part about focusing instead on the role of editors is that there is an answer—we need more diverse editors, and we need editors who do the work.

The fun part about focusing instead on the role of editors is that there is an answer – we need more diverse editors, and we need editors who do the work.

How does an editor select a piece? Do they look for something that makes them feel something? Do they look for something that speaks to the human experience? We can act all we want as if 1) editors are totally objective creatures by the nature of their craft, or 2) that the human experience is not often a cover for the straight, white, cis, able-bodied, male experience.

But what does it mean that the people looking for something to connect to so often share so many of the same characteristics? Those of us involved in chats about diversity often talk about the businessman who pulls aside a fellow straight, white, male, able-bodied young businessman and say, “You remind me of myself, son.” Lookie there—privilege.

Julie Dillon/Buzzfeed

Julie Dillon/Buzzfeed

And this isn’t just an issue in business. What does it mean if editors are imagining their past writer selves in writers whose identities match up with their own? What does it mean if reading and the ability to enjoy a piece is tangled up in being able to see oneself in the main character or narrator?

Buzzfeed published an article in 2014 by Daniel José Older titled, “Diversity Is Not Enough: Race, Power, and Publishing” that discussed this issue in terms of the book publishing industry. When presented with a story headed by a person of color, one agent said, as quoted in the article, that they couldn’t relate to the character.

Again—we end up in a sea of, more or less, the same perspectives.

 

But can’t we just look for talent?

If what we seek is a world of invisible identities where everyone somehow has an equal shot without effort on the editorial level working to make our publications more diverse, we are completely failing at our task.

There is a lot to “talent.”

I remember sitting in my sophomore year English class and learning about the debate about whether rhetoric could be taught or not. I thought, wow, it must be fantastic to be able to convince people that you carry a skill that you, and only people like you, are capable of being born with.

I’ve found so much solace in the literary world in these past few years. I’ve shared pieces that rubbed me the right way with my closest counterparts as a means of discussing everything from newfound queerness to sexual assault. I’ve laid in bed with these pieces on my phone at 5:00 in the morning and been like, holy crap, this is what not being in absolute solitude feels like.

But I shouldn’t have had to feel so grateful to find writers like me. It shouldn’t be so difficult to stumble upon a piece by a queer, biracial woman. But, goodness gracious, be sure to tweet at me if you have one to recommend. If talent is the only thing holding these people back, then we must seriously be terrible writers.

What does it mean if reading and the ability to enjoy a piece is tangled up in being able to see oneself in the main character or narrator?

It’s too easy to push the blame on the writers

White male writers disappearing isn't necessarily the answer to leveling the publishing playing field, because it's not as if all white male writers think the same way and have no perspective to offer—here, I do agree with the author of The Atlantic piece. And, again, being white and male says nothing about talent.

What I want to talk about more is the editor. How do we switch up the editing game to make it more accessible? How do we include more voices?

If there's any question to ask, it's how to regulate the seeking and publishing of diverse voices—not whether certain people should stop writing.

 

Editors, it’s on you

There are a number of journals who commit to publishing the works of diverse authors and to being inclusive in their publications. These are the spaces where editors take a step back and say, “What are we doing wrong?” when the only submissions they’ve selected are those of straight, white males, instead of saying, “Welp, guess they are just the strongest writers!”

These journals do not all go about their work in the same way. Apogee Journal, “a literary journal specializing in art and literature that engage with issues of identity politics: race, gender, sexuality, class, and hyphenated identities,” does not read blind. In a July letter from the editors, they say, “Blind submissions don’t actually protect writers from the existing prejudices of editors, and they alone do not contribute to editors reading inclusively.”

Vagabond City, a small quarterly literary journal that seeks to publish poetry and prose that fits outside the mainstream literary scene, asks writers to list their identities along with their submission. (Disclaimer: I edit this journal, so I’m biased.)

It’s the little things and the big things. It’s having submission fee-free periods. It’s promoting your reading periods in spaces beyond expensive magazines. It’s making it clear that you’re a safe space for marginalized voices.

Other spaces don’t necessarily shift their reading practices, but instead make their commitment to inclusivity, diversity, and social justice obvious in their social media presences. The Offing is an excellent example of this. They are continually taking stances on social justice issues like police brutality and mental health in POC communities. Whether their publication is diverse because of their social media presence or vice versa, whatever they’re doing is clearly working, as they’ve continually highlighted the voices of marginalized writers.

It’s the little things and the big things. It’s having submission fee-free periods. It’s promoting your reading periods in spaces beyond expensive magazines. It’s making it clear that you’re a safe space for marginalized voices.

Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 9.43.33 PM.png

And it’s worth it.

I crave a world where I don’t have to scroll or flip through page after page or publication after publication to find a queer woman of color. And I’m not the only reader craving this. I am not the only writer terrified for her future. I am not the only person fearing for the moment when the trend to include diverse voices from the literary world passes and we’re left floating in the same sea with no solutions in sight and few editors left to fight the good fight.

 

What You've Missed in Simon Jacobs' Exclusive Series: MASTERWORKS

Simon Jacobs had an idea for a recurring series: flash fiction pieces in which the characters reenact famous works of art. Being a home for art and lit to meet and clash and mix, Paper Darts couldn't say no.

Welcome to MASTERWORKS. This serialized content is delivered exclusively to Paper Darts e-news subscribers each month. If you don't want to miss out on the next one, sign up for the Paper Darts e-news.

Part 1. Part 2.

Reading time: 3 minutes Recommended for: Pedophobes

Reading time: 3 minutes

Recommended for: Pedophobes

I asked you once if you’d ever considered having children—not because I wanted to have them, but because there was a silence I was either trying to fill or stretch endlessly into infinity. You were standing at the window with your hands on your hips as if surveying your kingdom, and there was something in the dismal, squat, slowly emptying buildings beneath us that reminded me of posterity. I was barefoot, which was unusual.
 
It worked. I’d barely gotten the words out when you broke into a peal of crackly laughter. “Have you ever seen a baby in a medieval fresco? They look like fucking monsters.”

Read more.


Reading time: 3 minutes Recommended for: Dog people

Reading time: 3 minutes

Recommended for: Dog people

It involved a cat that I fitted with feathery wings and a harness. We named him Peter, after the fact, and like most cats, he was a breaking point.
 
We were living in an empty theatre in a once-central part of town. Beneath the spotlight, you, as Oedipus, draped a patterned tablecloth over your otherwise-naked form in a tasteful way fitting the conventions of nineteenth-century French oils (no bush), I adjusted the pulley system so the hook dangled at just about chest level, and then I retrieved our sphinx. The cat—who often roamed the neighborhood in absence of its people—was lean and feisty and the color of beach sand, but once I latched his harness he went limp, hanging dejectedly in the air like the pendulum of a grandfather clock.

Read more.


Reading time: 4 minutes Recommended for: Wet blankets

Reading time: 4 minutes

Recommended for: Wet blankets

The classical 1936 Samuel Barber composition—widely regarded to be among the saddest ever—wasn’t something we did just once; in our best days, it was an entire epoch between us, a work we returned to time and time again. We’d put the record on and turn the volume up so loud that it filled the entire building, chins rising and falling as if in accordance with our very own hearts (as Mr. Barber intended), and then we’d drag out the props to recreate whatever dramatic scene from one of the twelve dozen movies that used this song.
 
My favorite sequence comes, of course, from Platoon, when Willem Dafoe, abandoned by his company on the jungle floor, bursts from the trees with swarms of VC at his heels, theatrical explosions rending the background, gets shot about a dozen times in slow motion, and then finally, falling to his knees, reaches his arms up, Christ-like, at the passing helicopters of his squadmates. I’ve always had a bit of a jungle fetish and a knack for pyrotechnics . . .

Read more.


Reading time: 3 minutes Recommended for: Voyeurists

Reading time: 3 minutes

Recommended for: Voyeurists

Alone again, I set a sheet of plate glass about my length against the bare, whitewashed wall at a 45-degree angle. I set a clock to midnight. I scoot into the triangle-shaped opening between the glass and the wall and lie flat on my back, a new home. I close my eyes. It’s like the version of a structure you make in the woods for the night by draping a tarp over a wayward branch.
 
“A lean-to,” I say to myself, momentarily contented with my knowledge of this terminology, as if, in some entirely separate life, I might be a woodsman or a gatherer, someone who uses his hands and wits as a replacement for technology, with full body hair and shapely calves.

Read more.


Reading time: 2 minutes Recommended for: Craft enthusiasts

Reading time: 2 minutes

Recommended for: Craft enthusiasts

I build the baby octopus first—the mouth-kissing one—as a test of my construction methods.
 
Literally, the Japanese title of the 1814 Hokusai print translates to “octopi and shell diver”; the woodcut design—each strand of hair, suction cup, and cresting wave meticulously detailed—is beautifully tender. Its principles engage in an amorous, onomatopoeia-laden dialogue printed in the background, cramped and ecstatic, the whole work a testament to an era of floating world pleasures and higher lung capacity.
 
Read more.

Announcing Paper Darts 3.0

Announcing Paper Darts 3.0

Earlier this year, our octolady let her laptop battery run dry and went on walkabout to re-learn how to keep lit alive. While she was away, she grew some arms and took up archery to survive in the lit mag wilderness. Today, she's back and ready to sling some arrows dipped in the most potent art and lit in her quiver.  (Insert Hunger Games joke here.)

AWP or Bust!

AWP or Bust!

Apologies. I brought no camera, took no notes, and only soaked it in the event with no documentation, naked. The Loft has a Youtube, and hopefully you’ll be able to watch or relive the event. The waiting lines wound from the room entrance to the stairs, 2 hours early. There were camera and press and two packed overflow rooms. Maybe you’d prefer watching from home.

The Strange, Feminist and Beautiful: Our AWP (Offsite) Event Roundup

The Strange, Feminist and Beautiful: Our AWP (Offsite) Event Roundup

Prince! Poetry! Oh my! The events at this year’s AWP are anything but the typical dry literary readings from your English major days in college. By now, you’ve probably had several lists of AWP events people are excited about thrust in your face or passively posted to your Twitter feed. The monotony is over! Here are our picks of AWP events tailored to our feminist friends—or for anyone who celebrates the weird and visionary in the world of literature.

Normcore Week: Recommended Reading

Normcore Week: Recommended Reading

This New York Fashion Week, let's imitate the masses to show how unlike the masses we are.Even with five years of Paper Darts content to draw on, it's almost impossible to find pieces that accurately reflect the self-aware irony needed to be truly normcore. What we have here are stories of average people in average attire. And if you think about it, is there anything more enviably normal than not quite getting it?

The Essential Not-Writing: Interview with Rebekah Bergman

The Essential Not-Writing: Interview with Rebekah Bergman

Rebekah Bergman writes fiction and poetry. She is a recent recipient of a fellowship from Tent and a residency at Art Farm in Marquette, Nebraska. She is pursuing an MFA in fiction at The New School and works as an editorial intern at Tin House. Her work is published or forthcoming form Spittoon and Banango Street.