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finding yourself

Guest Posts, How To, Surviving

Becoming Wonder Woman

April 28, 2021
wonder

by Kayla Delk

Step 1: Backstory

My parents got divorced. I was five. I don’t remember much of it, but I do remember Sunday nights at my dad’s house.

I sat in a mustard yellow recliner in the corner of our living room; my little brother was on the green couch across from me, and my dad would be in the kitchen mixing some popcorn and Cheetos for us. The walls were empty except for the TV and bookshelf encasing my dad’s collection of figurines—samurai holding different fighting stances—from when he lived in Japan.

My brother would excitedly rub his feet back and forth across the corduroy fabric, punch a fist to the sky, and shout “Woman Woman!” Dad entered just in time to keep me from losing my cool. “It’s Wonder Woman.” I told him every time.

On Sunday nights, my dad would rent movies from Netflix, back when they would actually send DVDs to your door, and we would all sit in the living room to have a movie night. For a year straight, I picked out the original Wonder Woman series with Lynda Carter. Every Sunday night, I was criss-cross apple sauce, eyes glued to the TV, imagining what it would be like to be her.

Step 2: Play Pretend

My brother and I spent our afternoons playing superheroes in the backyard. I, of course, picked Wonder Woman; she was a princess and a warrior and the strongest one at that. It only made sense. Zander chose The Flash, and together we saved the world.

Battles consisted of climbing the concrete divider by the garage and jumping off with some haphazard flying kick. My brother running down the hill to fight the villain with his super speed, while I’m at the top swinging my Lasso of Truth. If the timing was right, there was wind in my hair while we flew my invisible jet across the ocean. Nothing could stop our dynamic duo.

Step 3: Doubt Yourself and Become Insecure

My dad got remarried, and my older stepbrother didn’t think I looked enough like Wonder Woman to play her in the backyard. Instead, we switched to the Marvel Universe. I could be Jubilee from X-men, or we could play Harry Potter, and I would be Cho Chang.

“It’s the blue eyes,” he said shrugging his shoulders, “you don’t have blue eyes.”

No, my almond eyes were a little too brown to play Wonder Woman, my skin a little too tan, and I, as a whole, a little too Asian.

“Well, can I still have the Lasso of Truth, that’s kind of magic?”

“No, but you can have a wand.” He picked up a stick and threw it at me.

Step 4: Have a Keepsake as a Gentle Reminder of Who You Want to Be

Ten years may not seem too old for Chuck E. Cheese, but it felt like it. Zander was turning eight, and he wanted his party there. While he played on the obstacle course with his friends, my dad and I used the majority of our time on the kiddie version of a slot machine (you put a token in it at the top and watch as it’s pushed onto a mound of extra tokens, hopefully knocking some off in the process. The more tokens knocked off, the more tickets you get). I never did very well, but it was fun.

As the party was coming to an end, we huddled around the ticket counter. It was the most exciting part by far. Dad always got the most tickets, from ski ball probably, but in the end, we would put everyone’s together in a big pool and split them up evenly. To be honest, we never had enough tickets to get any of the big prizes, so there we stood. Eyes wide, faces pressed against the glass counter trying to figure out which plastic toy we would pick this time. Zander, a bouncy ball. Me, a slap bracelet. Back to Zander, farting putty. Me, a ring-pop. Zander, a sticky hand. Me, a Wonder Woman keychain.

Step 5: Have a Secret Identity

We were assigned a partner project in my eighth grade English class: create a radio show based in the 50’s. My partner Savannah and I spent a week putting together playlists of Elvis and B.B. King. As the radio show hosts, we also had to have names from the time. Mine was Diana Prince.

Savannah didn’t ask where I got the idea for my stage name. She wasn’t really into superheroes, but I thought myself very clever.

Step 6: Make a Comeback

I worked at our local theater throughout high school. It was my junior year when the new Wonder Woman movie came out. I stood at the table in the middle of the lobby tearing tickets and directing customers to the right room. Behind me was a ten-foot cardboard cut-out of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman.

I was flattered when the old men I ripped tickets for told me I looked like her.

Step 7: Understand Why an Island Full of Women Thrived Without Men

I was in the driver’s seat of my 2004 gold Ford Focus. The boy with curly brown hair and glasses that I kinda-sorta dated sat in my passenger seat. We’re parked in a lot by the lake, looking at the moon. He showed me music I wasn’t cool enough for and told me about his dreams of one day disappearing. I said I hoped he didn’t. For a while, we sat in silence. He made a note of my keychain, the colors faded from spending six years in one of my dresser drawers, and I told him I got it in elementary school.

He gave me a surprised “Hmph.”

“I figured you were just a bandwagon fan.”

Step 8: A Villain Emerges

Senior year of high school I found myself waking up in panic attacks from nightmares. Sometimes I was being held down and taken by an intruder. Sometimes I had to protect my sisters from being raped, but the dreams always ended the same way.

I wasn’t strong enough.

I spent the rest of the year learning how to fight. I started kickboxing four times a week. Feeling my knuckles hit the bag awakened an anger in me I didn’t know I had. Watching my sparring partner stumble back from my foot against their chest left me wanting more.

The class was doing drill rounds. Each person straddles a punching bag on the floor and goes at it for one-minute intervals. It was meant to burn you out, and it did. Haunted by my dreams, I poured my built-up rage into the bag until all that was left was fear—the fear of not being enough, enough to protect myself, enough to protect my family. I found myself exhausted and crying.

Step 9: Self Realization

My freshman year of college I lived alone in an apartment. My mom tried to leave me with a machete, but I told her it was against the rules to have any weapons on campus. Instead, I found a new gym with a new combat class to help me keep training. An extra seven pounds of muscle made the dreams stop, but the newfound empowerment told me to keep going. I decided to become an instructor.

For the next two months, I spent three hours a day in the gym perfecting my form. I punched faster, kicked higher; my body ached with every movement, tearing the muscles only to build them back stronger. I wielded more power than I had ever known.

It was time. I was nervous. For the last portion of the certification, I had to teach a class by myself to prove I was good enough. My coach asked who I wanted to be when I was leading the group on stage.

“Wonder Woman.”

Kayla Delk is a student at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Her poetry has been published in The Sequoya Review. We are honored to be the first to publish Kayla’s work as an essayist.   

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sentilles book stranger care

Sarah Sentilles is a writer, teacher, critical theorist, scholar of religion, and author of many books, including Draw Your Weapons, which won the 2018 PEN Award for Creative Nonfiction.  Her most recent book, Stranger Care: A Memoir of Loving What Isn’t Ours, is the moving story of what one woman learned from fostering a newborn—about injustice, about making mistakes, about how to better love and protect people beyond our immediate kin. Sarah’s writing is lyrical and powerful and she ventures into spaces that make us uncomfortable as she speaks for the most vulnerable among us. This is a book not to be missed.

Pre-order a copy of Stranger Care to get exclusive free access to a one-hour generative writing workshop with Sarah, via Zoom on May 25th at 7pm Eastern time. If you register for the workshop and can’t attend, a recording of the event will be available. More details here.

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Anti-racist resources, because silence is not an option

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Awe & Wonder, Guest Posts

On Brothers and Other Solar Systems

April 13, 2018
brothers

By Jen Fitzgerald

Flagstaff, AZ feels like a place where it is safe to be in between. Maybe not between any two things as tangible as a wall and a bear, but in between way points, between jobs, between mountains, or in between a question and the possibility of its answer. The geographic placement of the city mirrors the position of Megrez, the star that marks the end of the Big Dipper’s handle; Tucson, Phoenix, Flagstaff then pouring into the deep bowl of the Hopi Nation and branching out into the entirety of Ursa Major.

Those from Flagstaff don’t stay in Flagstaff for very long without feeling some sort of way about it. The reasons are varied, but all seem to loop back into, “Flagstaff has got a lot of problems but it’s better than where I was.” I could like it there until it became too familiar. I could like it until the novelty wore off and I was the only stationary creature. I could enjoy the train coming through until the first fatality, the first near-miss I witnessed— until it solidified as a place where things happen.

There is much to love about this Dark Sky City, one of our rare 13 in the United States. The come as you may and are vibe is a holdover from the golden days of Route 66 and the Santa Fe Rail Line. Almost everyone there is from somewhere else, and that somewhere else is mostly Phoenix, with Tucson at a close second. This is a city that prizes movement—and I know what it means to move. Continue Reading…

Abuse, Guest Posts, healing, Self Image

Divorcing the Voice.

December 20, 2014
beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88
By Janet Raftis

I remember when I woke up, that sensation of feeling like I was falling down into my skin. For me, it happened not long after sobriety, and it was like a veil was simultaneously lifting as my body expanded outward in a way that allowed me to feel my skin for the first time.

It tingled and I think my feet touched the ground for the first time in my life. I don’t remember if I laughed or if I cried, and most likely it was both. I do know that it was overwhelming in the sweetest way imaginable. I actually liked the way it felt, even and in spite of the fact that I didn’t know what to do with it.

It was like a long intermission was finally over.  There had been this limbo state for me that lasted a few decades, in which I was separated from myself, dueling it out with this silent demon in my mind.

This Voice had gotten so good at cursing me and cutting me down that I had come to think of it as me. I had come to believe that the Voice I heard in my head was telling me the truth, and I allowed it to treat me far worse that any other person ever had.

It was crueler than my rapists, sharper in tongue than any high school girl, more vicious than any person that had attacked or robbed me. It was out to get me. And I was handing myself over to it without even a fight, head bowed in silent, frustrated submission.

The truth is I didn’t know that I was even in there anymore. I was a shell, bouncing around in a seemingly empty and echoing container. Even the happiness I experienced was overshadowed by fear and a sense of complete and utter isolation. I had so little faith in me that I couldn’t even believe in the sincerity of others’ feelings towards me. The Voice told me I didn’t deserve them, and so I kept an emotional distance from everyone for fear that their love would be taken away.

Finding myself again was a slow process that began unfolding a little over a decade ago and that has since found a rhythm that supports an often difficult but beautiful, constant and expansive growth. It was the love affair that I’d never had with anyone else, and the relationship that needed to be established before any other liason could ever take root.

First I had to get honest with myself. The reason I believed the Voice was because I didn’t believe in me. Gazing steadily at myself in the mirror, I had to acknowledge the fact that I didn’t really know anything about me. Who was beneath that reflection, and why had I been running from her? I’d kept myself at a superficial level of understanding because the thought of what I might uncover if I went deeper scared the hell out of me. But all of that stuff that I’d pushed down contained clues about me, and it was begging to be addressed.

I had to back up and open my arms wide so that I could open to the possibility of me. I had to give myself a break (sometimes even in tiny five minute increments), and I had to accept myself exactly where I was – all of it, even the self-hatred and fear. I had to acknowledge that I felt blemished and overlooked. I had to allow myself the space to accept every little bit of me that so that I could start exactly where I was.

As I started to notice and to actually feel my feelings, I began to witness a wonderful, albeit strange, occurrence. Initially, I spent a lot of time questioning my relationship with God and that led me right back to myself. I got angry and yelled. I got sad and cried. I got frustrated and acted out. But I followed each and every little thread to see where it landed within me, and as I did so, I began to finally understand myself. And as I worked within this new framework, and handled everything that came up instead of stuffing or hiding from it, I began to trust myself. It came in morsels initially, but the trail of crumbs eventually led me to a beautiful, delicious (gluten-free) cake.

I took little steps to work through my fear. Jen Pastiloff’s workshop showed me how to say, “Fuck it!” and give my fears a big, fat kick to the curb. I began to have more faith in the Universe and I began to understand my value. I started to fill up from the inside out rather than trying to do it from the outside in.

Actively engaging in my healing process has shown me that I can and do love myself. It has allowed me to create a bridge of understanding and connection to myself that has grown into a network of support and love, a wheel of light radiating from a center point, which is a (usually) fairly empowered me. As I learned to value myself, I started to attract others that honor me as well.

This has not always been easy and I’ve also called in a few folks and situations that I thought had my best interest at heart that in the end didn’t. Working through those circumstances has been difficult, but empowering. I’ve learned to trust myself even more and to recognize that when I give my power away, I don’t have solid ground to stand on. And so I have built an even stronger foundation based on self-trust blended with community. Most importantly, I know that regardless of how another treats me or how a relationship ends, I am still here, still standing, still the same person that I was only stronger and wiser.

No one can take from me what I’m not willing to give away.

The more I learn to honor myself the less I’m willing to part with. That doesn’t mean that I can’t give to others – I do and it now comes from an authentic space of not needing anything in return. It means that I’m more discerning about how I give of myself and with whom. I’ve learned that I can share more when I’m standing strong.

Silencing the Voice is an on-going process, one that I expect will never completely end. But it doesn’t control me anymore and I’m not afraid to tell it to shut the hell up these days. Standing up to it is standing up for me. And that feels pretty damn good.

Continue Reading…