don't die press

Write the Person First

by , on
2021-04-08

New creative non-fiction by Aurora Dimitre

Woman adjusting the tie around her neck

When I was a little girl, I wore almost exclusively dresses. I’m sure a big part of this was that it’s easier to help a child go to the bathroom if you don’t have to deal with pants, because I’m talking little, like, between the ages of two and seven, but I was also into it. I did wear my baseball caps backward(1), and I still do, but I wore dresses. Then I had my ‘tomboy stage.’ Boy’s clothes: t-shirts, jeans, the ‘Jim coat’, which was just a letterman-style jacket that my dad got in high school that had ‘JIM’ stitched on the front. In high school, I moved to skinny jeans(2), stuck with t-shirts.

Then college came around. I’ll skip freshman year, because that was more of the same of high school(3), but starting sophomore year, I started going back to dresses. Part of it was that I started going to thrift stores more, mostly for flannels(4), and there was just so much weird shit in there. My system was literally if it confused me in any way, I bought it. The best example of this was a… cardigan? I don’t know exactly what it was, but it was roughly a cardigan made out of snow fence. That’s what it reminded me of. I bought it because it was weird.

With the weird things at thrift stores, though, I would find a lot of dresses and skirts. And so I started buying them—I have been blessed with a body that’s pretty tall and a weight distribution that’s pretty forgiving; even at my heaviest of being around a hundred and seventy pounds, small and medium shirts fit fine—everything goes straight to the thighs. As well as this, I’ve never been bothered by wearing short dresses.

And so this was weird for me, right—I went from wearing literally zero make-up in high school(5), wearing skinny jeans and Homestuck shirts every day(6), to dresses and skirts and a full face. I never got into contouring, never even touched liquid foundation, but I would wear powder, blush, eyeshadow and eyeliner, lipstick, mascara—every day. If I left the dorm or the house, I would put on makeup. I still had a sort of grungey look to this—especially at the start, I would layer and layer and layer, and I always wore my Docs(7)–but it was a lot more feminine than I was used to.

And this isn’t necessarily a problem. At this point in my life I am back to jeans and band shirts(8), but plenty of people enjoy getting dressed up and putting on makeup and everything. I still buy dresses at thrift stores even though I never fucking wear them anymore(9). The thing is, I’ve never exactly been feminine.

Even when I was wearing dresses and makeup every day, I have a lot more in common personality-wise with my father than my mother. Oh, sure, my junk bleeds every month and I had a One Direction phase(10), but I remember a conversation I had with a fellow English major in one of our creative writing classes. We were talking about writing from the point of view of male characters. She was talking about how she had trouble with it. I’ve never had problems with this—in fact, the majority of my point of view characters are male—and I mentioned this. She paused, looked at me, and said, “Well, yeah, but you’re… pretty much a dude.”

This was kind of fun to the girl sitting there in a pink dress, but I did kind of agree. I’m not saying that I’m a major bro, you know, more masculine than feminine, mostly I think it means that I’m way out of touch with my emotions, but it did get me thinking, a little. At the core, people are people. I get along with guys and girls—at my job, which is currently as a counter attendant at a local pizza place, there is an overwhelming dude presence, as is usually the case with pizza places, for some reason. Especially when you look at the young people—there is one other young woman under the age of forty at this place. Lots of dudes. I didn’t walk in there, see all the dudes, and go a) Oh no, too many guys, there are too many men here, I can’t deal with this, or b) Gonna fuck them(11), or really even think about it at all. And I’m not saying that everyone thinks like this, so binary—I’m sure that’s not true. I tend to have the opposite assumption—that everyone thinks like I do. I think everyone tends to have this assumption that their way of thinking is the common one, because your way of thinking is the one that makes sense to you.

But I see these posts, right. And I know that the internet amplifies things that nobody really thinks. I know that all of these women drawing these sharp lines between themselves and dudes are… probably not like this in real life. Part of it is the tendency to overexaggerate online—especially on places like Twitter, where you kind of need to overexaggerate to keep it short. Another part of it, I’m sure, is a want to be part of the crowd. Being a part of the crowd is something that was instilled in me not to do from a young age(12), but it does kind of bother me that either these people are really incapable of seeing the opposite gender as human, or like, how many terrible people are they around all the time? Maybe it’s because I live in North Dakota, where nobody lives, so all the people around are like—oh God, a person, I can’t be awful or they’ll leave and I won’t see another person for weeks, but none of the guys I know are awful because they’re guys. Do I know some awful dudes? Yes. He would also be awful if he was a woman.

A couple weekends ago, I got stormed in at my boyfriend’s dorm room. I was there for two nights. On one of the nights, he was playing video games, and he was talking over the headset with some of his friends. And I know that there’s this big feeling, this big… almost fear of young guys, in this case all in their early twenties, talking over headset(13). And it was… I mean, it was fine. It was nice. They knew I was there, I talked a little bit, they were communicating about what was happening in the game. One of them got progressively drunker as the night went on, but no awful drunk man hatespeech came out. They were just—they were just people. They were people playing a video game together. And I know that there are traits seen as more masculine and more feminine. Being super into cars is more masculine. Sewing is more feminine. Video games are masculine. Journaling is feminine. Emotions are feminine and being more closed off is masculine, except the boyfriend is more in touch with his and I’m pretty helpless when it comes to the emotional sphere, and that’s because at the end of the day, people are people, and vaginas and penises don’t really, you know, dictate your personality.

At the core of it, masculinity and femininity is something that’s socially ingrained in us. You dress your little girl in a dress. And there’s nothing wrong with this, until she starts getting to the age when she can be like, “Yo, Mom, get me out of this dress, I don’t want to be in this dress.” But what it does do is make people think that there is this inherent difference in people, when at the core of it, people are people. And when it comes to writing characters and things like that—if you write the person first(14), you can write anything.

End Notes
(1) There is a home video we own, cryptically titled ‘MO VACATION’ in my dad’s scrawly awful handwriting, that has about a three year old Aurora in a backwards baseball cap.
(2) In all colors—high school, for me, was 2011-2015, so, yes, I had bright pink skinny jeans. Bright purple skinny jeans. Green. Aqua-blue. Red. Checkered black-and-gray.
(3) Except that the number of Nirvana shirts I owned just fucking skyrocketed.
(4) To complement the Nirvana shirts, I’ve talked about this in my grunge essay.
(5) No matter how much I wanted to be emo, I didn’t start wearing eyeliner until college.
(6) Fight me.
(7) I…still always wear my Docs. Different pair of Docs, though, the Docs I had in college died.
(8) Even men’s jeans a lot of the time—I don’t think I even know my women’s pant size.
(9) Skirts I do wear. You can wear those with band shirts.
(10) Brief, it was brief, I promise it was brief.
(11) Okay, one of them, I did fuck a delivery driver, and he’s my boyfriend now, so I continue to fuck one of them.
(12) Seven years old, “Another Brick in the Wall” music video, kids walking into the meat grinder, you get the gist.
(13) Though this was PlayStation, not X-Box, maybe that’s why.
(14) Keeping in mind how they’ve been brought up based on their gender and how that inherent person would be either affirmed or crushed by these social implications and rules.

don’t die press presents: The Anger Poems

by , on
2020-12-12

don’t die press is delighted to present our second e-chapbook, The Anger Poems by Katherine Davis. Click to read The Anger Poems free now!

Can survival itself be a manifesto? Can the expression of anger and pain be a form of resistance? In The Anger Poems, Katherine Davis wields words as weapons to strike back at oppression, affirming her own mind and body and battling on behalf of all women-identified people. The Anger Poems by Katherine Davis, Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee


From The Anger Poems:

I emerge from the maze with a string fastened to my navel,
Pulled to a newly born brain, monstrously electrified, not by kite
And lightning, but by gut instinct, maternal writing, vindication
Of rights never before spoken. Let me wander from spring
Fields to polar ice caps. I pick at purpose like tightened fingers
Around an enemy’s throat. Black and blue, my mark: I settle
For livid wounds, screwy prints which no lawman could decipher.

Click to read The Anger Poems free now!

2 poems

by , on
2020-09-08

2 new poems by Naomi Borkent

All Mothers Were Summoned When George Floyd Called Out For His

A black man lays cuffed on the ground
A white man’s knee crushing his neck.

He calls out for his Mother.
His dying breaths, to plead for his Momma.
To plead for air, for breath.

Mine catches in my chest. 
I want to turn away, I don’t want to see.

I don’t want to see the fruit of generations of hatred, systemic discrimination and abuse.

I want to say: “I don’t see colour!” But I do.

I see you, I see you, I see you. I do not understand your pain. I cannot. But I understand my privilege.


Skin That Looks Like Mine

Skin that looks like mine, you see in magazines. 

Skin that’s white. 
Pale, translucent and milky. 

Skin that says: “Eurocentric Beauty”
Says: “Sorry, Officer. I didn’t mean anything by it.”

But skin that looks like his
Skin that looks like hers…

Chocolate, latte, cinnamon
Kissed by the sun, made of Earth

Says: “Where are you really from?”
Says: “You don’t belong.”

One whose tongue remembers the language of their great-grandmothers…but speaks English instead. 

I can’t pretend to understand your pain. Your righteous anger. But I stand with you. 

Happy Hair Days

by , on
2020-02-27

This Throwback Thursday is brought to you by Ebony Williams. “Happy Hair Days” is an excerpt from her novel, How to Build a Ragdoll.

We have happy hair days to celebrate the hours that turn into full days at the hair salon. I tell people this and while I don’t want to call it a black thing, it’s a black thing. Picking a hairdresser is like picking a best friend and a therapist all at the same time. A salon is a place where you go to keep up with recent happenings among the community and where you had to be willing to share some of your own dirt in order to be considered trustworthy, seen as belonging. It was an all-day event. It was important to arrive early, nine in the morning was preferable, especially on Saturdays, so you don’t get pushed behind someone else who had been coming there longer but arrived without an appointment. If nothing else, hair salons were a place of seniority. The loyal and long-lasting customers usually went first.

We go to Gene on hair days. She is our confidant, a therapist of sorts, our gossipmonger that sits, claws grasping the very top of the grapevine. Very rarely do they talk about hair during those Saturday morning sessions. My mom, no doubt, speaks of issues at work or the current complications with my father now under court visitation orders such as late child support. As for hair, things were much more straight- forward, to do list very clear, relaxer, leave it in for a few minutes then wash out. For so long, hair days, for me were about Shirley Temple. Were about her lovely curls. The way they bounce with each sweet dance move. She exists as this icon, before I understand what an icon even is. Then, she translates into the embodiment of love. Her curls were like warm bodies that might easily embrace me. They weren’t bodies that might easily embrace me. They weren’t the tight fists that were unruly and uncompromising.

Gene often spent some time trying to convince me to make smarter, more informed hair decisions. It is my mother who always has the last word; the cash was coming out of her pockets and even then, I understand the best choice for us is the practical one. The one that lasts longer. Requires less repeat visits but I want, with great determination to look like Shirley Temple. I beg my mom, at the hairdresser’s chair, while the white acidic paste is being washed out of her hair or while she sits under the dryer.

“Can I?”

“What did Gene say?”

“It won’t last.”

“Ok. So then?” she often replies matter of factly as if the rest of her statement would include, “What do you want?”

I simply reply, “So can I get them? I’ll make sure to wrap my hair.”

This was not something that I did often. It’s comparable to a chore like washing dishes or, according to most kids, brushing your teeth. It started with moving a brush in a cycular shape around my head and then tying a scarf around it. Wrapping my hair was an ordeal that helped the edges of the hair stay nice, smooth, and manageable. To get the hairstyle I wanted I would promise to take care of it.

At her look of severe doubt, I add, “Every night. Promise.”

There must have been something in my voice. Something in my tone. Maybe a twinge of hope, of a sort of childlike excitement she doesn’t often hear.

Mom lowers her eyes, glasses resting on her nose. She says, “Fine,” shrugging her shoulders and returning to her book.

My feet can’t carry me fast enough as I make my way over to Gene’s chair and plop in.

“She said yes.”

I think they shared a glance. Gene’s disapprovingly. Mom’s was one of, “What can it hurt?”

When my hair breaks. Begins to fall out, clump together in the spikes of my comb or fill up the spaces between the bristles in my brush, they share glances. They speak of stress. Of “poor child’ as Gene puts it and I find a tenderness with her with me. Find that, at times like this, she handles my hair with the embrace of a hug that lingers lovingly. When my mom can’t afford to pay Gene for a few weeks, Gene understands and when she is all done with my hair, Gene brings me her bowl of candy and offers me one. I feel accomplished. I feel pretty.

~

I wonder what comes first. My hair breaking or my fascination with cutting off the hair of Jasmine, the one Disney doll that is a woman of color when I was growing up. I wonder if I try my experience on her or maybe I try to fit her experience into my life and into my body. When I do her hair or I am playing, I am engaging in a land of bodies, of meaning, of messages and as a child, I don’t know this. I just beg my mom for a Jasmine doll and I cut her hair shoulder length. I take a straw from the utensil drawer in the kitchen back to my bedroom, take the shade off my lamp. Quickly, I place it on my desk, yank off the lampshade exposing the light bulb. My fingers work feverishly yanking the synthetic strands of Jasmine’s hair around the plastic straw. I wonder if this is what Gene feels like. If this is the job I give her. One that comes with the expectations that she will tame my tresses; the expectation that by any means necessary her hands will push and pull me by the roots of my hair for my good. The expectation is that she will make me worthy of the world. She will make me beautiful.

At first, I attempt to bob Jasmine’s hair using the straw as one larger curler. The electrical heat emanating from the light bulb is like the dryer at Gene’s. It is required to reshape hair, to keep curls in place. I figure this will hold Jasmine’s style in place so the smell of synthetic hair burning surprises me. I never think this might be the product of working with such “nice” hair. Jasmine’s long flowing hair is so beautiful, it has to be tamable, curls have to be possible. I think Gene would be able to do this.

From then on, I secretly begin to collect straws. Alter the type of curler I use to reach my desired outcome, the Jackie Kennedy bob. I remember watching movies or reading books with images that showed Black women with straightened and curled into a bob. I recall being told that in those days Black women couldn’t really find jobs unless their hair was straightened. Maybe these images date back to the 50s. Maybe this is where my love for Mid-century modern comes from, a time of clear, crisp tailored look. Maybe the bob was the working woman’s hairstyle of choice. A neat acceptable look. Never a feather or a strand or hair ruffled. This was my interest in Jackie O., my post-Shirley Temple exploration or attempt at adopting whiteness.

I cut straws into eight pieces. This is Jasmine’s collection of rollers. I try to use bobby pins and other accessories from my mother’s hair bag to lock Jasmine’s curlers in place.

They were all too big.

I go through six Jasmine dolls at least and I believe the only reason I give up is because the Jasmine doll begins to have too many versions; there is a sparkling princess, a holiday version, a married Jasmine doll, and a Jasmine that sings. I prefer my original canvas to work on.

I imagine I begin to understand, on a basic level, what it means to have a body through her body. In the world of Disney, she looked the most like me. I could also see how through her body, I learn how to live in the world with my own, taking on the shape of history’s expectations for me. The scary part is, I continue doll after Jasmine doll to make her into something she is not. I am determined to tame her hair. To give her a bob no matter how much she resists it. I burn her body to achieve a type of beauty that seems compulsory. That is consistently rejected. I don’t do this to my white dolls. Don’t do this to the male dolls. They don’t appear to need molding. Don’t seem to need alterations.

At the end, the Jasmines were always unattractive, mutilated. Hair burned down to the spot where, if she were made of flesh and bone, brain might overflow from, if exposed and melted by a light bulb. At the end, she is visibly void of external beauty. Is striped of what she was in an attempt to make her something else. They sleep under my bed in the wicker basket my mom used for me when I was a baby. My collection of Jasmine dolls sleep atop, between, or underneath the other. Bodies strewn about like corpses, abandoned and forgotten peaking out from time to time demanding to be remembered.

Usually we might not leave the hair salon until after the Carvel store, a few blocks over, had long closed but on days when we both got out to greet the sun before it set, my mom and I walked two blocks to buy a small ice-cream cake. The fun excitingly awesome part was deciding what to have written on our fourteen-dollar treat. “Happy Hair Day” usually sufficed and coupled with our newfound beauty, we felt revived, renewed.

#yesallwomen #ebonywilliams #happyhairdays #howtobuildaragdoll #art #arts #shortstories #feminism #feminist #feministwriting #womenswriting #women #hair #dolls #writing #moms #mothers #daughters #mom #mother #daughter #stories #fiction #shortfiction #fem2 #beauty #hairdresser #happy

Hey Chuck

by , on
2020-01-23

This Throwback Thursday brought to you by Freesia McKee
S/tick, Issue 1.4

Photo by Ayo Ogunseinde

this guy brought a poem
to our workshop
about being a man.
they called
his poem
“bukowskian.”

almost everyone
at the table
loved it.

after the workshop,
one guy told me
to write a poem
that included the word
“cunt.”

he knows i write
poems about women.
what else is there
to say?

“bukowskian.”

do you get asked
what it feels like
to be a symbol
for something?

i’m writing
because to me,
you have become
a currency:
i know how included i can feel
if i quote you.
the cost
is that my chair
gets pulled
too close
to their table–
that is a poem
that will never be
bukowskian.

For Muhlaysia

by , on
2019-11-20

Excerpt of a poem by Anastasia Walker

They beat you under the Texas sun in
A goddamn parking lot, one two four
Eight ten kicking punching howling
Filming so they could pretend
It was everyone and not just them
Who were unmanned
By a beauty that held
A mirror to their squalid smallness

Woman holding sign that says "Respect All Women"
Above photo by T. Chick McClure on Unsplash
Photo of Trans Pride flag by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Dear Bastards

by , on
2019-11-08

This excerpt by Katherine Davis will appear in S/tick’s upcoming Issue 4.3!

Useless competing
Against other women, I was made to stand naked as an
Anatomical model, while doctors lectured bunches of aspiring
Residents, all generalizations based on the study of the patriarchal.
Told repeatedly my feelings were impossible, I burrowed under
My skin, bathed in oxygenated blood, vital energy, constructed
An interior palace until I was old and learned and far away

Breaking the Softness

by , on
2019-11-06

Excerpt by Naomi Borkent. Read the rest in Issue 4.3 — coming soon!

Maybe you would’ve preferred 
A woman with soft legs
That can’t stand up for themselves.

Not like mine, strong,
Able to kick, able to run.

Then I remember that they did not stand like trees

Projections

by , on
2019-11-01

Excerpt by Colleen Donnelly — read more in Issue 4.3, coming soon!

    Felicia momentarily pulled her glasses down, seeming to stare dutifully, sympathetically, peering into Ms. Levine’s heart. She made her voice waver just a tad, as she lowered her tone to utter the always terrifying edict, “You have cancer.” She could hear the whistle as Ms. Harding gulped back air.  “Colorectal cancer. Stage III. I’m sorry to say the prognosis is not good.” 

    She watched Ms. Levine intently as she delivered the sentence.  Ms. Levine seemed to shrink in the chair, head dropping, shoulders caving, as she tried to draw herself into a protective ball. Felicia held her hand out across the desk, Ms. Levine took it. Felicia squeezed and then gently stroked it – limited tactile contact indicating compassion. The desk was the court they’d play across. Sitting in adjacent chairs or together on a couch next to the fountain would invite soulful pats, perhaps a reaffirming hug or two that could complicate the negotiations. Collaboration was a necessary tightly-controlled, staged illusion.

    Ms. Levine withdrew her hand, took a moment to compose and draw herself more upright once again and asked, “And what exactly are my options?”