I’m sitting at the picnic table in my parents’ kitchen, the mess of art projects and nubbins of flowers picked by siblings and half-finished notebooks and Costco packs of food surround me. Walking down the hill this morning to make coffee cake before they left for church, I had to stop and soak in the lilting sounds of life on the air—the birds announcing their delight at the change in the weather, my brothers laughing on the trampoline, the wind hitting the blossoms in the trees and setting them to whispering. My sister was playing Minecraft when I came in, and while I dumped spices into the flour, she darted through, clambered up the counter and plopped white azaleas into dishes of water dyed with food coloring. My mother hugged me from behind while I made my brothers and me our first cups of coffee, and then they were gone and the house was still while the oven chirped and hushed itself into heat and the cake baked.

Here, I have been very lucky. Here, I have circled back and through and am again facing forward, about to launch myself at something unknown, leaving behind something I know all too well. Here, I try to savor up these moments and be grateful.

This last year has been a year of intense periods of growth and learning, which is an abstract thing to say, intended to make you nod and smile and agree (for it must be that you feel the same about this past bit of time, too) and leave me alone about what exactly I learned and how exactly I grew. But it would diminish the lessons to tell you, to try to sum up the breath of moments hitting my soul and inflating and tapping me into new shapes.

Usually I think that I want to be a fiction writer, that some day I want to make my livelihood with my hands and my pen, cooking up stories to delight and amuse and provoke. But I have been compelled to write poetry for the longest time, and I suppose I should be honest with myself that right now, I am not writing fiction; that right now I have a life that demands poems for survival and for joy. Poetry is the necessary outcome of my experiences, poetry is the colors on the wall when light hits the shards of moments on the floor of my head. Poems change me, too, each one turning and turning a moment over and around to look at it from funny angles, catching glimpses of myself reflected in it, and laughing in surprise when I sometimes see the sky looking back at me, too. 

When I came back to Richmond this winter, I knew I had a chunk of poems about these last few months that could probably be shaped into a chapbook—the story they tell is a beautiful narrative, but it’s also intensely personal (which is scary). Every time I sat down to write something else, this story pulled me back in, and I found myself arranging and rearranging and revising and refining these poems. The story was wiling itself into life. I couldn’t resist.

This last year I started reading tarot, and it has been an utterly joyful thing to play with for this English major who loves tropes and archetypes. And as I kept coming back to these poems, the framework of a tarot reading—which is to say, the narrative of a major life lesson learned at a moment in one’s life—bled into the organization of the story and I found that I had a poem cycle in the shape of a Celtic cross reading on my hands. So here we are.

On Wednesday, I shut the door on this season of my life and leave the country for the next two years to serve as an English teacher volunteer with the Peace Corps in the Kyrgyz Republic. I want to give this little book of poems to you as a parting gift, both to remove myself from it and let it live on its own (as it wants to do), and to try to share the beauty that blessed me with whoever wants to enjoy it as well. 

It’s a little terrifying to be leaving for so long, and it’s a little terrifying to trust that this is the right thing. And it’s a little terrifying to share these poems with the world and expose myself. But I’m learning that the things that scare me the most are the most satisfying things, well worth doing. These are the things that expand my capacity to love, to learn, to be present, to not be ashamed or afraid. So I’m going to give fear the middle finger and I’m going to go on an adventure and I’m going to share some poems with you. 

With love,
H

Poems


For the last year, I’ve been sleeping on couches, borrowed mattresses, and at last, my own thin IKEA futon thrown down on the floor. I have lived out of a suitcase since last August.

This last week I spent wound tight, my attention turned so intensely inward that I left threads hanging to tangle in the wind out of sheer distraction. Calls left unreturned, texts half-started, emails glaring at me in bold letters, unread. I cooked a lot. It was all I could think about, though if I was honest I’d probably say I cooked a lot because I needed to be on autopilot so my brain could work overtime, like a computer empty of all but the most basic processes so you can run script through it in double time like they talk about in that hacking scene of every late 2000s movie. I made scones and cookies and soup and pizza, each without a recipe, each with a new twist. Raspberries in the scones, cinnamon and oatmeal in the cookies, soup with curry and kale and yams, pizza in a cast iron frying pan. Let me taste my way to culinary fullness so my brain doesn’t have to think about anything even so simple as a recipe.

It’s summer here, not spring. There’s no dramatic demarcation of seasons to announce the shifting, settling, creaking in my soulbones. I’ve been writing a shitty poem every day as part of a group project for the month of June. Greasing the wheels or somesuch–I thought it might help me dig my way out of the shell-hole Clare’s post going viral left in my brain. It hasn’t helped and I’ve been dry as a bone.

Back when I was in the church, I used to describe this restless shifty itching that leaves me without writing words and rusty-jawed socially as being in a spiritually dry spot. We had a book on the living room shelf called Streams in the Desert and every time I saw it this is what I thought of: the missing, the hamster wheel brain, the hibernating empathy. Now I’m more inclined to recognize it as an extension of me instead of an abstract force of a “season”–it’s a symptom and I’m learning to listen to it, to tend it, to be uncomfortable until I realize it’s passed me over and exhale in relief.

I really like my job when I’m like this, though I get cantankerous and set in my ways. The physical demands of sorting, shelving, unboxing, and moving product at the bookstore tires me out and pushes me through, much like the cooking does. I am Sisyphus but I am happy rolling up and down the hill because I know I am percolating something deep inside my boulder and then I can leave.

There were a lot of reasons for why I came to California. I suppose I was running away, on some levels. I was also seeking to undo curses that kept me feeling limited. This was my home, and I was exiled. Could I come back home? Was something fundamentally wrong with me, that I couldn’t return? Or would the mother-warm sun and the soft slopes of the foothills embrace me and hold me close? Even though that dream didn’t quite come true, I managed it. I came home. I returned. The curse is broken. Yes, it’s been a struggle and it’s seemed aimless, and sometimes I’m still here out of sheer exhaustion and sometimes I’m still here out of sheer pride. But I am still here.

And the sunlight has finally thawed something deep down, and I’m feeling like it’s time for one of those regulated burns they do in the mountains. I was up there two weeks ago with my childhood friend and her son, kicking pine cones and stomping through a mountain meadow to find “our” trees and a red spring by a creek. I indulged my ruminative state up there, away from cell service and the internet, and I came away feeling stilled.

And then reality bit my ass, reminding me that men like power and women don’t trust their own strength in the face of the blunt childishness of their men. I don’t blame them. Creature comforts are my security blanket, too. But if it is in my power to slice, to arouse, to startle, to blind with light, to burn, and the cost is not so great to those still dependent on these men, I will do so. And I knew I would, but the decision sat above my eyes and pressed down on me until I felt blinded by it. Days passed and everything was aching from the necessity of this little personal Alamo. And so I broke down my words into small pieces and mixed them with my tears (there were few–I can’t cry with a migraine) and poured us our tonic and lit the fire and walked away.

When I woke up from that hangover, all I knew was the clean blue of a June sky and the exhale of relief.

And then I looked around and saw I had been living like a beggar child, hoarding this and that, meeting my necessities alone and ignoring the music and the panache. So I set to clean house, dusting cobwebs out of high shelves and taking out books I’d forgotten out of necessity and drawing up plans again. Coffee was poured and I shifted into another time zone, chasing the zephyr across the horizon.

I used to be afraid of falling in love, and I think I am, still. But I used to worry about wasting a limited resource on the wrong person, of pouring myself out and seeing my everything puddled on the floor and not being able to catch it all back again in my jar. Now, I am afraid out of habit, but I know that instead of a secret stash in a jar, love is like that red spring by the creek where the water runs clear. It might get muddied, but there’s more where it came from and the dirt will either settle or get washed away or calcify and become beautiful in time.

20140607_133035

It feels like springtime in that the cobwebs are gone and the hibernation has ended and the growing things are forcing themselves toward the sun. It feels like spring in that the old hoary curses have been replaced with seductive promises. The miserly desperation of winter is gone, and I’m ready to loll around in the grass and gorge myself a little.


On Friday, as many of you may have learned by now, the YA internet world blew up, and this article by Ruth Graham is why. Here’s the crux of her argument:

…a whopping 28 percent of all YA sales—are between ages 30 and 44. That’s my demographic, which might be why I wasn’t surprised to hear this news. I’m surrounded by YA-loving adults, both in real life and online. Today’s YA, we are constantly reminded, is worldly and adult-worthy. That has kept me bashful about expressing my own fuddy-duddy opinion: Adults should feel embarrassed about reading literature written for children.

She argues, essentially, that adults who read YA should be ashamed of reading YA because it’s not very complicated literature. That it’s written for kids. That it’s not very mature of us adults to like John Green, and we should be ashamed of our lowbrow, lazy media consumption.

She writes off Divergent and Twilight as “transparently trashy stuff” but then goes on to talk about John Green and Rainbow Rowell, and it seems as if they are the only authors she read for her essay (did she read Divergent or Twilight? We never learn). Graham clearly hasn’t read much YA, and it becomes evident as the piece goes on that she’s merely read a few (two?) headlining YA novels and seems to resent the time she spent on what she feels is a marketing ploy instead of a legitimate genre.

I feel for her—it’s hard to acquaint oneself with YA if one feels pressured to keep up with the NYT bestseller lists and hasn’t invested much in the genre before it (it would seem) came into its own in the last 2-3 years. After graduating with my English degree in 2011, I decided to take a break from reading “serious” literature and read The Hunger Games. I inhaled them and was surprised at my own enthusiasm for the books. They have weaknesses, to be sure, but the books were innovative and written with care.

Is art only art when someone says “it’s art!” and pays for it and puts it in a frame on a wall or in a museum?

Is art only valuable in the eyes of the receiver, regardless of how much care is put into a piece?

Is art only good if it “challenges” you? But Pollock challenges reality just as much as Kincade does, so where do you draw the line?

After I was done reading The Hunger Games, I read The Marriage Plot and tried (and failed) to read The Corrections. Both held my attention, but reading both books felt like watching rich white English literature snobs jerk off to their own writing. Which is why I didn’t finish Franzen and why I haven’t tried to read David Foster Wallace.

Does that mean that I failed to read good writing, or that the writers failed to write well enough to “challenge” me? Is the problem with the white men who failed to observe that the rest of the world isn’t white or rich or educated, or with me, for failing to be rich or aspiring to be rich and New York and in their circles?

Instead, I found myself enchanted with bell hooks, with Chimamanda Nzogi Adichie, with Rainbow Rowell, with Mary Karr, with Francesca Lia Block. I read The Fault In Our Stars and didn’t love it it for all the reasons I couldn’t enjoy The Marriage Plot and Wild and Eat, Pray, Love.

I think it’s very telling that Graham chose to use the language of shame in her piece, saying that adults should be “ashamed” of reading books written for children. (As an aside, she’s wrong there: YA is a genre that is defined by a) a young adult protagonist and b) topical issues that will be relatable to a young adult audience. It is an arbitrary distinction, but these books are not explicitly written for children, by definition of the genre.) Her coding of YA as shameful is a moral coding, which is a symptom of a assumed and defining myopia found in social circles of academia and literati: intellectual rigor for its own sake is morally superior than something that is merely good.

Academic or intellectual rigor in literature is something that is by nature subjective. As much as literature wishes to be a crown jewel of the academy along with science and mathematics, it is at heart an art, and you cannot quantify art. You cannot have evidence-based art. You cannot peer review creative work into being “art.”

The nature of snobbery is to assume that popular opinion is to be suspect, and that one’s cynicism makes one morally superior to the all-accepting, manipulatable masses.

But when the gatekeepers of the literary ivory tower all subscribe to the same standards, all play the same party tricks and indulgently reference each other’s party tricks, and all come from the same five or six variations on the same backstory, you get art that is masturbatory and intellectually incestuous.

Which is why YA is A Thing now. Not because of John Green and his hordes of adoring fans (and he’s a good writer who’s earned his laurels even if TFiOS isn’t my favorite book), but because YA has been snubbed by the literati for the last twenty years (partly because it was nascent and partly because it was “for kids”), and without the critical attention of the ivory tower, YA authors have been experimenting and practicing making messy art. They can afford it: their audience is often more willing to suspend disbelief than a stodgy NYT reviewer, and they aren’t included in the straight-laced social games so often seen “adult” publishing.

And after percolating and sputtering on the back burner for twenty years, John Green came along and lifted off the lid from the pot, and the grown ups table took note. Because it smelled amazing. And just like the little red hen, everyone wants a bite now. But those who haven’t been paying attention (or who can’t be bothered to pick up Laurie Halse Anderson [Speak dealt with issues of rape and victim blaming in 1999], Francesca Lia Block [Weetzie Bat addressed complex family dynamics and coming of age through a psychedelic California fairy tale device], or other standbys of the old guard of YA), happen to read the books that get the best marketing and end up quite confused what all the fuss is about. YA is nothing like a DFW work, after all. You have strong, unreliable narrators focused on one or two traumatic or transformative experiences (who of us doesn’t have that moment in our adolescence that we need therapy for?), and you have complex worlds that serve as elegant metaphors for how difficult life is or what it feels like to be a teenager going through x in a certain space and time.

I think too, that adults reading NYT bestsellers have become inoculated to the world and have forgotten what it’s like to be a teenager. Sometimes the YA authors forget this too, and overshoot their mark. But a truly written YA novel will have emotional complexity and unanswerable questions and truly agonizing life challenges—but apparently we should be ashamed of our primary feelings and distance ourselves into irony and sarcasm and cleverness and cynicism.

I think that the adult who has forgotten what it’s like to be truly troubled by the prospect of adulthood is an adult who should take stock of their choices and ask themselves if it’s been worth it. And then I think they should go read Code Name Verity or Thirteen Reasons Why or The Truth About Alice or Fangirl

If we’re having this conversation using the language of shame and moral choices (though I am not particularly inclined to think is a good or productive way to have this discussion), then perhaps I will posit this: the adult who is too good to read YA is an adult who needs some serious therapy.

Go ahead and write off the YA writers of today because they’re not following your NYC/MFA rules of “good” literature, but don’t forget that history loves to repeat itself and you might be on the wrong side of the Seine.


“Maybe I’ll just set it in a small college and then get my editor to help me change everything to high school details after the manuscript gets accepted.”

“I think I should Snapchat my sister who is actually in high school and see if that gives me more inspiration.”

“These problems are pretty universal, right?”

“Do they still use bells to make you change classes? How do you know what class to go to on the first day? Do you just like, show up and go to an orientation seminar?”

“Teachers in the movies like Dead Poets Society and Stand and Deliver are pretty realistic, right?”

“How do you know which bus stop is yours? Maybe I should find someone to let me do a ride along. For research.”

“This is the only circumstance where I can see having a kid would really help your writing, but it’d take too long to wait until he or she is in high school, so I guess I’m stuck at square one again.”

“Teenagers read Dante in high school these days, right? They HAVE to. Right?”

“How do sports work?”

“I think I’ll just write this about theater kids. Or summer camp. Yeah, summer camp.”

“Do they still use blackboards? Or do the teachers use powerpoint now?”

“My college cafeteria was basically the same as a high school one, right?”

“Maybe I can get experience in schools by volunteering with Planned Parenthood to give sex ed lectures! That would be like, double reverse karma to fix past life and future life issues.”

“Ugh, cheerleading is confusing.”

“I think I’ll just re-watch Mean Girls.”

this post is dedicated to and inspired by conversations with the lovely Kassie.


UPDATE

Everything crashed again, sorry, sorry, etc. We had a SNAFU with servers and switching and WordPress accounts and the fastest way to get this up and running again was to jump the gun on switching Wine & Marble to a domain of my own name, etc. It got complicated, Kiery King is a web fairy wizard, and everyone should go give hen lots of love and probably some alcohol.

Carry on.

::end update::

Hi and welcome, new readers!

I’m sitting here with my cat on my lap trying to take a deep breath and process the last couple hours. Thank you for reading, for your support, and for breaking my blog.

I think we’re up and running again, and so now I wanted to do a little follow-up on the Cracked piece.

First: my parents left the cult and my family’s doing a lot better. My younger siblings are getting much more normal childhoods than I did — all my challenging the system is finally starting to pay off. My parents sent me a big box of goodies this week for an early birthday present and there were references to Disney movies and birthday parties and I even got a chocolate Easter bunny!

Second: My friend whose novel was burned — she’s doing a lot better. After that she got into UVA and got a full ride (but her parents hid her mail and kept her from attending), so she ran away from home and got herself set up, living and working in another state. She’s healing and growing and has started writing fiction again (finally!). She wrote a short story for Swan Children’s inaugural issue. Right now, she’s saving to go to college (she wants to be a doctor) and has plans to do a workaway program this summer in Europe and write more. Freedom is sweet!

What to do if you want to help:

Raise awareness. This stuff is ongoing and hard to spot if you don’t know the signs. Cults are less about doctrine and more about social control tactics.

Patriarchal purity/rape culture infects the world of Christian colleges (and their horrific mishandling of rape cases) — see, for example, the ongoing story at Patrick Henry College.

Spiritual abuse is also rampant in independent evangelical churches, and my good friend Elizabeth Esther just published her fantastic memoir about her experiences in a similar cult to the one I grew up in. It’s a quick read and covers a lot.

On the positive side, there are folks working to reform and heal the American evangelical church from these horrific ideologies. People working on that include Rachel Held Evans, Sarah Bessey, the good folks at Deeper Story, The Wartburg Watch, and Convergent Books.

The homeschooling side of my story is where the biggest ongoing need for reform is, and a quick overview of that can be found in this piece by Kathryn Joyce on us “homeschool apostates.” Groups working to change the state of homeschooling to eradicate abuse, patriarchy, and religious isolationism and dominionism include: Homeschoolers Anonymous, the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, and Homeschooling’s Invisible Children.

If you want to help me out personally: recovery is slow, I’ll be honest. I’m doing a lot better these days than I have been in a long time, but I’m still underemployed and running a tight ship to stay afloat. There’s a tip jar on the side of my blog if you want to buy me a coffee or a tank of gas, but no pressure. I’d be thrilled if you liked The Swan Children and The YA Wallpaper on Facebook and followed us on YouTube — I’m super passionate about the healing power of art and beauty, and about amazing feminist writing and good novels.

I’ll also occasionally run a fundraiser project to help a Quiverfull escapee get on his/her feet. Right now my friend Becca is trying to pay off hospital bills from her gallbladder surgery by selling her music album, and there’s a scholarship contestant we’re upvoting for a chance to go to school without parental support.

And finally: If you related to my piece and thought you were alone:

HI. YOU ARE NOT CRAZY.
::hugs::

Come hang out with us over at Recovering Grace, Homeschoolers Anonymous, etc. Find us on Facebook. We have support groups for you. <3

And if you want book recommendations for how to recover from this stuff, I highly recommend the following:

1) All About Love: New Visions, bell hooks

2) Boundaries, Cloud and Townsend

3) Daring Greatly, Brené Brown

4) Quivering Daughters, McFarland


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 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.


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 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

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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.