Up until college I had been homeschooled my whole life. It wasn’t until I reached high school age that it became very apparent to me that I couldn’t relate to the social struggles of my peers. Whether at soccer practice or in youth group, everyone was either complaining about their teachers, gossiping about their fellow students, or making plans for prom. When I didn’t chime in on their conversation they’d turn to me, expecting me to join in. That’s when I had to explain to them, “I’m homeschooled.” Typically, they’d nod their heads and say “Oh” before continuing their conversation without me. I had always hated telling people about my education, mainly because of all the stereotypes that came with it, like: no friends, no social skills, prom at home with my brother, etc… I distinctly remember a time when I was at church, waiting in the lobby with the kids in my youth group. There was a girl going on about how homeschoolers are “so weird” and “have no social life,” that’s when my I piped up and said that I was homeschooled. The look on her face was pure shock, she even argued with me and said that “there’s no way you’re homeschooled, you’re too normal!”
I used to hate the fact that I was homeschooled, because many of my peers caused me to believe that my education was inferior to theirs. I often felt as though I wasn’t as smart as my public-school friends. Though I was never bullied for it, I noticed that people looked at me differently once they knew. Most people assumed that I couldn’t relate to their academic struggles while, in fact, I could in many ways. It was their social problems that were foreign to me. After all, I had no teachers to hate, unless you want to count the guy on the computer that taught me algebra. It took me a long time to realize that just because the location of my education was different, didn’t mean that my subject matter was any easier than theirs.
Being at home allowed me to focus on my education while avoiding all the drama and unneeded stress that my friends went through. I was also able to focus on my passion for writing. As a child, I was an avid reader. The book that got me hooked was Maximum Ride by James Patterson. After I finished that book, I began reading every type of young adult fiction I could find. Every time I came home with a new book, I would lock myself in my room and read for hours, typically finishing an average sized book in a day or two. I can’t remember when I realized it, but I knew that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. As I grew older, I carried with me the idea of wanting to be a writer, but I continued to carry with me the fear that I wasn’t smart enough thanks to being homeschooled.
After I graduated high school, I took a year off school to decide whether college was for me. I knew that I wanted to be a writer, and that I wanted to go to college to improve my writing, but I still carried those childhood doubts. Though, one day, that all changed. I decided to put aside my self-doubt, get rid of my feelings of inadequacy, and prove to myself that I am smart enough. I am now the first in my family to obtain an associate degree, and it’s safe to say that my days of feeling inferior are far gone.
Genavieve Coleman is a professional communicator, living and working in Shanghai. She has lived in many places and always seems to find herself studying people and learning languages, even in random public bathrooms in the dead of winter. She has been writing stories, seeing the world through photography, and studying mankind since she could imagine.
While hurtling through Bangkok on the metro I was struck by the common emotion found in the riders at the end of a busy day. Sometimes we notice important things without realizing they are important, such as reading a face in the blink of an eye or interpreting body language simultaneously in several seconds of rubbing up against someone. These candid “open” moments are often displayed unaware, without the individual cognitively recognizing how their body is sharing about their day or life. Here, in the line of folks riding out of town after a long, hot day, I was able to see a few moments.
Tired, Digital photography, 2018.
I’ve always felt slightly different from other people, but I could never put my finger on what exactly it was that made me different. None of my friends seemed to feel the same way I did about certain things; my feelings weren’t portrayed by characters in the movies and shows I watched, and never appeared in the books I read. I assumed I was some weird anomaly and I would have to deal with feeling like I was alone on the subject for the rest of my life.
I was never able to understand my feelings before I found my place. I had no representation to compare myself to and help me navigate the rocky waters of understanding my sexuality. The young adult books I read dealt heavily with romance; whenever there were mentions of a character that didn’t fit the norm of sexual attraction they were disregarded and labeled weird, which didn’t help younger me feel any better about myself. The books released within the last couple of years have become much more inclusive than the books I was reading back in high school, when I was questioning myself. Even though there is more inclusivity, there are still groups being left out; it hasn’t been until the last year that I even was able to see characters like myself on the pages of books. Last December I was finally able to put a name to my differentness, I figured out I fall somewhere on the asexual spectrum in the LGBT+ community.
A few months ago I read the young adult novel Puddin’ by Julie Murphy; it was the first book that made me feel seen. There is a character, although they’re a side character they’re still a large part of the story, that identifies as ace and goes about explaining what exactly asexuality is; how there are so many different facets that people can fit into on the ace spectrum. After reading that scene, I remember putting the book down, taking a deep breath, and then clutching it to my chest with a gigantic smile as my eyes watered—for once in my life I could see myself represented. Let me tell you, it felt so good to see a character like me. There is no other feeling in the world that’s like seeing yourself represented.
Diversity has come a long way in literature from where it used to be, but there are still so many other identities that have yet to have their time to shine. I hope we get to see more of them represented because they deserve it. Everyone deserves to feel like they are represented; whether it be because of their ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc. EVERYONE deserves to have that moment where they go, oh shit, that character’s just like me. I want others to have the same feeling I had when I first saw a character that was like me, and made me feel less alone in my journey of discovering who I am. Like I said, we’ve come a long way with diversity, but we still have a very long way to go.
ACE BOGGESS is an author of three books of poetry, most recently Ultra Deep Field (Brick Road Poetry Press, 2017), and the novel A Song Without a Melody (Hyperborea Publishing, 2016). His fourth poetry collection, I Have Lost the Art of Dreaming It So, is forthcoming from Unsolicited Press. His writing has appeared in Harvard Review, Mid-American Review, RATTLE, River Styx, North Dakota Quarterly and many other journals. He lives in Charleston, West Virginia.
Advice for Saying Hello
I was giddy with unspent energy as I traversed the halls of the Louvre. People shedding their winter coats walked down the checkered hallway, pausing to snap pictures of the headless Nike statue before moving on. Glass skylights illuminated a grand hallway with towering ceilings embellished in ornate carvings. I followed the congested flow of people, my school friends in tow, as we rushed past life-sized battle scenes, mythological images, and picturesque landscapes rendered in remarkable detail. The crowd slowed, and the top of a dark painting rested with a glass case on the wall. I saw Da Vinci’s famous lady, surrounded by people scrambling to get near, and I laughed.
She was small, and her colors were muted, but she monopolized everyone’s attention. She sat across from a grand painting ten times her size with ten times her vibrancy of color. She was underwhelming. Or perhaps, I was just very young.
I would later learn that my approach to art, and to the world, was still developing past its shallow stage. Appreciation of the arts was more complex than its surface level, and that to access something beyond a superficial approach was key in understanding not only the world, but myself as well.
I grew up on TV, fast ads, and colorful cereal boxes. My attention span was here and then out the window watching a cat climb a tree. But I was living in a society that fostered my behavior. There was sugar in my breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Colorful signs trying to sell me something fast. Time was money, and money made the world go around. Worship it, worry over it, waste it. But do not waste time.
I didn’t have time to be staring out windows. I had to be focused on my grades, on sports, on my friends, on my social media. I had to worry about how my life appeared to colleges and how my face appeared to the world. Because those things were important, right?
It wasn’t until I got to college that I learned that I worry too much about the world’s perception of myself. I worry about the words I write on this page. That they will never be good enough. Never perfect.
But to create art in any form involves leaving yourself at the mercy of others’ scrutiny. It is my primary reason for writer’s block. Why I am constantly conflicted, because I am a writer that does not write as often as I should. Can I call myself a writer and admit that I sometimes hate writing? I tell myself to stop trying to fit into a box of what a writer should be and to just be me.
It’s a popular mantra now days. Just be yourself. And through living it, people are breaking down barriers not only in literature and writing, but in all facets of life. This freedom of expression allows for a plethora of diverse perspectives and allows us to look beyond the surface level to find greater understanding and greater human connectivity.
While easy enough to answer for most people, it exists to some of us as one of the most complicated questions in our lives. It’s an impossibly loaded interrogation that has been long embodied in the small-talk canon, not taking into account a large number of factors that may distort the reply, and not caring. It demands a simple answer, a recognizable place on the map. It doesn’t take into account those of us that just don’t know, whether it be lost to history, or left enigmatic by circumstance.
In my case, I can’t establish or trace back to home-base. I never lived anywhere long enough to really set up camp and lay claim to a cultural or regional piece of identity. I’ve also come to learn that identity is everything to a person, and knowing where you are from is one of the largest pieces of the puzzle, and when absent, can leave you feeling blank.
Where is home?
What is home?
What am I?
Who am I?
However, my passport tells me I have a home — Guanajuato, Mexico. And while I can show you beautiful, postcard-like pictures of my little birth-town, and maybe tell a tourist brochure’s slogans worth about it, claiming it as my own would be a fallacy. I was never able to own it; I simply never lived there. And when I’ve tried, the cut-throat nature of Mexican culture has prohibited me from laying claim to it, not having met enough of its criteria: I have printer paper white skin and speak none of the language.
The reality is that locations are often just stops to people—distant memories. Nomadic as that is, a lot of us yearn for a “home” of our own — an answer to the ever-present question that we can just yell out with excitement and dignity. A “home” is a place which we can embrace and say, “that’s me.” A place whose colors and histories you can stand by, good and bad; a place that fills in the missing piece.
Really, we draw too much validity from places. Like children trying to conform and make friends in the classroom, always worrying about being ostracized and ignored because we’re the most different face in the room; but also, that we are not different enough, concerned that we may be boring and lost in a sea of average.
I can’t help but feel like we’re misconstruing diversity, diversity always being heritage and appearance, but seldom this implicit thing that can’t be categorized in absolutes. We can’t always be expected to look the part, and part the look, and more often than not, most of diversity can’t be seen. Living a wandering life has made me realize that. We can’t expect people to be pigeon-holed, or to pigeon-hole themselves. I’ve always been “American,” not by my own creed but because I look the part, despite only living here for the last couple of years and way out of my formative period.
We, as people, are collages of experiences, and that should be reflected in our writing. We are seldom token characters, and it pays to reflect the reality of what really creates diversity among us. The real world is complex, and so are we; we should all be making an effort to portray mélange in both the characters we create, and the real people we talk about—humanizing those we know little about, and avoiding cheap attempts at emulating or portraying pseudo-authenticity.
So, when people ask me where I’m from, I tell them “I don’t know.” Because I don’t. I blank on the thought, and a big enough part of me is tired of giving one line lies or convenient truths that codify my life into something appreciably short enough: “I’m American.” “I’m Mexican.” There’s no way in hell I’m accepting the grand total of my genetic lineage as what I am, or where I’m from.
But I’d love to tell you who I am, and ultimately, I think that’s what diversity actually comes down to. Not a blip on the map, and not my skin-tone.
KELLY KING WALDEN blogs at kellylogos.net, which is also her Twitter handle (without the net:) She has raised children (4, one from Ethiopia) and mentors teens and college students. She created an ACT Prep business, which she runs, and writes on the side for various online magazines and a local magazine. She has only published one poem, at Plough Quarterly. She has a Master’s in English and has taught school and college in the past.
KARL ZUEHLKE’s poetry has appeared in Best New Poets 2016, DIAGRAM, The Loaded Bicycle, Jazz Cigarette, Inscape: A Journal of Literature and Art, and elsewhere. His interviews appeared in American Literary Review. He won Best Creative Presentation at the University of North Texas’ Critical Voices Conference 2014 for translations of an East German Poet. He holds a PhD from the University of North Texas, and an M.F.A from the University of Maryland, College Park. He is a former Lannan Fellow and Mary Patchell Scholarship recipient. He teaches at Tallahassee Community College.
Shed, Acrylic on Masonite, 12X12 inches, 2017
Fence, Acrylic on Masonite, 12X12 inches, 2017
Flower box, Acrylic on Masonite, 12X12 inches, 2017
Porch, Acrylic on Masonite, 12X12 inches, 2017
Stairs, Acrylic on Masonite, 12X12 inches, 2017
New Plains Review has come a long way over the past thirty years, and we continue to implement and expand ideas to further enhance not only our journal, but the overall artistic community. I am quickly closing in on my 1-year anniversary of bring Editor-in-Chief for the journal, and I cannot help but to reflect on the previous 2 years as an Associate Editor. Our online presence has grown more in the last 9 months than it had the previous decade, and with the launch of our website, it will continue to grow and become a more prominent publishing group. It is on the backs of contributors and our editors which makes this possible.
We look forward to launching our Online Exclusives segment at the end of the month. Some of the contributors will also be in our print edition. Several of our contributors are from around the world. We will have all forms of creative works from short films to music to visual art, which we’ll be able to share in full color. (I am definitely advocating and pressuring my Executive Editor to start printing in color, but the budget isn’t in our favor at the moment–I will save my rant of Oklahoma education budget cuts for now).
Saying we are excited is an understatement, and yes, I realize that saying something is an understatement is a cliché, but that’s all I can think of at the moment as I’m also fighting the urge to rant, as stated previously.
Nevertheless, we are just past our halfway mark for the semester and everyone has been hard at work. I want to take a moment and thank a few of our senior editors, as they make my job easier than it should or could be. First and foremost, Taylor Cradduck and Courtney Cullins, our Managing Editors, have made New Plains their baby and Taylor quite possibly has found the most typos and errors (some to many are my fault). Unfortunately, this is Taylor’s, and possibly Courtney’s, last few months with us. They will be off to bigger and better things, saving the world one typo at a time.
Secondly, but certainly not second, the all-encompassing Media Team: Alyssa Compton (Director of Public Relations) and Kellyn Eaddy (Senior Blog Editor and Social Media Specialist), along with their team, Anna Dore and Andi Ullrich. This group has done so much over the past few months and they do it with a smile, with the additional workload of being full-time students hovering over them. This group of go-getters are constantly at their round table making sure everything is posted and edited, and they deal with my neurotic leadership from time-to-time when things get intense and deadlines seem to be tomorrow.
Seth Copeland, our Publishing Editor, is new to our staff, but his experience running his own journal, Jazz Cigarette, has helped to streamline our transition into being both a print and online journal, as well as being a mediator to contributors throughout the publishing process.
Sydney Vance and Ocean Scheel, our Poetry and Prose editors, have both gone above and beyond to make sure the reading and selection process is disseminated to their teams and deadlines are met.
With the new additions of expanding New Plains Review, we’ve acquired a Development Officer. A.J. Ferguson has worked hand-in-hand with the editorial team. Our contests and fundraisers have been A.J.’s big tests in making sure things run smoothly.
I will wrap up this blog Michelle Waggoner, the heralded Art Director & Production Chief (as I’m over word count and I don’t want Kellyn getting on to me *inserts smiling emoji*). Michelle has been with New Plains for years and years, and her workload seems to increase while we continue to struggle to find her an assistant and more money. (Still saving the budget cut rant for later.) On top of New Plains Review, the New Plains Publishing Group has 2 other journals– 1890: Undergraduate Research Journal and The Central Dissent: A Journal of Gender & Sexuality, both of which she designs. One day she will be off to bigger and better things. Or New Plains Review will continue to grow and become the most well-known literary journal of Oklahoma. We may be a bit biased, but with the continuity of returning go-getters and talent filled editors, we know we can reach that goal.
Thank you to everyone unmentioned, yes, even Shay Rahm, our enthusiastic Executive Editor, and all the associate editors and even more to the contributors and readers across the world. Without you all, our journal would be something short of a nimrod book.