Word from the Editor

“Like the mutability of social strictures in my lost and new homelands, my work embraces ambiguity and uncertainty,” Tatiana Garmendia writes about her portfolio Migrations. Garmendia’s work “wrestles with conflicting moral intuitions, with the personal and the historic.” Whether the medium is writing, painting, or even dance, the creative mind is driven to tell our passions and histories through narratives.

Our stories can be difficult, sometimes impossible, to tell. In her essay “Alone in Company,” Chelsea Bayouth reflects on the role of an artist at the end of 2018: “For me, it is to fear that every word or image is a window into public, political, and social tumult. It means you have to be more vulnerable than you or anyone in times previous has ever been.” If we continue to write, to paint, to dance, to show up for ourselves and our art every day, we might find that our work transcends ambiguity and discomfort to reveal a greater insight into ourselves, and if we are lucky, into the world.

Lunch Ticket Issue 14: Winter/Spring 2019 finds itself through narratives—difficult, painful, and emotional, they find power in their revelations and in the vulnerability of each writer and artist has put into them. At Lunch Ticket, our mission has always been to serve misrepresented and marginalized communities, and our staff of forty-six volunteers somehow manage to pull together two amazing issues twice a year. We look for work that haunts and moves us all with a social justice bend. Art is a place where people can find a middle ground and explore complex subjects. In the poetry section, Mehrnoosh Torbatnejad writes:

And the first words out of my mouth
do not buck into a shield, do not blast his ears
with refusal, not never, in my quiet defense
something un-proud: it’s not even Muslim (Can You Remove Your Necklace During Work Hours?)

From fiction stories like Devan Collins Del Conte “Again Undine” to poems like Chaun Ballard’s “Q & A” and creative nonfiction pieces like “Reflections” by Marlene Olin, this issue explores themes of identity and giving power to the voiceless. “The myths were wrong and they weren’t; they weren’t to do with her anymore anyway and they were all she had left. They weighed her down from the inside, those alloys of knowing,” Devan Collins Del Conte writes in “Again Undine.”

We are also trying to expand our platform for youth outreach. In Issue 14, we featured artist Ava Wangs, an eighteen-year-old who found inspiration for her collection “Natural and Organic” in “things I hold close to my heart, such as my childhood memories, a place or a story that carried meaning, my friends, my family, and my own identity and philosophies.” Ava shows us that narrative and stories aren’t always written but can be illustrated with a paintbrush.

Lunch Ticket is excited to announce our contest winners and finalists. Gabo Prize winner Maia Evrona translates selected poems from Abraham Sutzkever’s Poems from My Diary. Guest judge Piotr Florczyk says, “I was immediately struck by the visionary undertow of these poems, their author wearing a mask of ‘a blind seer’ and running ‘from abyss to abyss rescuing the smiles of the sacrificed.’” Evorna’s prize-winning translations appear alongside other literary works translated from Old English, Spanish, German, Russian, Italian, and Polish in our Gabo Prize and translation sections.

This issue’s Diana Woods Memorial Award in Creative Nonfiction winner, “Playing House” by Alex Myers, captivates us “with its unexpected, evocative metaphors and descriptions—its language just slightly off-kilter, as alluring and evocative as the abandoned houses that drew in the narrator and their brother,” said guest judge Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich. “This is an essay that stayed with me.”

At Lunch Ticket, we look for stories that stay with us. As we continue to make strides towards our mission, I’m reminded of Helen Park’s protest at her church’s lack of tolerance in her creative nonfiction piece “Crabbing:” I got up, walked to the back of the room and turned around at the entrance, yearning to spot just a hint of opposition, any lick of discomfort, a slight cough or questioning tilt of the head. I waited with my hands at my sides, holding my breath and praying for something—anything—to break the surface.” As artists and writers, we often find ourselves taking a stand while others are still sitting. In the era of Kavanaugh, Muller investigations, and the endless stream of distressing news, it’s essential to remember that the work is important. Art is necessary, and it has the power to “break the surface.”

Kori Kessler has a degree in literary theory. She just got done traveling Europe and currently attends Antioch University Los Angeles. She is editor-in-chief of Lunch Ticket and has work published in Tiferet Journal. One of these days she plans on settling down in LA with her dog, Ginsberg.

Alone in Company

Before my eyes open, I begin my day by searching for my phone. My hand runs over the covers, under the pillow, along the stack of books on my bedside table. More often than not, I find it and am plunged into the rush of notifications, which I absorb with one eye closed, because of my astigmatism. But some mornings my phone has fallen between the bed and the wall. The first time this happened I tried to carry on with my morning, feed the cats, pee, but a feeling kept sounding the alarm that I had forgotten something. I paced the apartment, into the kitchen, back into the bedroom, the bathroom. My husband was sleeping and to retrieve my phone from between the bed and the wall would be to wake him, which is precisely what I found myself doing. And before the sun was up we were moving the mattress, so I could snatch that which brings me, joy.

Last night I found Garden State streaming on HBO GO. Without weighing my decision, I pressed play. And as Sam and Andrew met and carried on with the dialogue of their un-woke romance, the soundtrack washed over me. I was on the precipice of my college experience that summer, flitting around with boys I didn’t plan on seeing past August, just shy enough in age to look up to the characters as harbingers of my own twenties. I saw the film in theaters three times, fourteen years ago. Nathan Rabine had not yet written the article that catapulted the trope of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl into existence, my grandmother was still alive, Bush was president, and I had been accepted to my dream art school, which I would be attending in fall.

The soundtrack to Garden State is my first studio. Organizing the paints. Being alone for hours in my room with a quill and ink and a pad of paper the size of an infant bed. Falling in love with Sonny and then with Jake. Recovering from the Halloween party of a school filled with kids like me.

Most of the time I am aware of my brand of intelligence. Not enough to be an academic, but enough to know that I will likely never write the next great American novel or amount to much at all.

When I think of all the freshmen college students ready to have their first holidays away from home with friends they have only known for a few months my throat gets tight. Because what time in my life will ever be as important and rich and poised with moment, than the times that have already passed? Parenthood, I suppose is the one coin I have left to collect before I can truly say or feel that my “poised with moment” moments have come to pass. But there is still so much figuring out I have to do before I can be a mother. So many things to write. Books to read. Art to make. Money to be earned. So why do I squander away my time, so many days on my phone, immersed in the scrolling and clicking and taking naps next to a bedside table with a stack of partially read books?

Most of the time I am aware of my brand of intelligence. Not enough to be an academic, but enough to know that I will likely never write the next great American novel or amount to much at all. When does a person amount to something? How does one know when they have amounted? Perhaps we never know and that’s the sort of thing that can only be accounted for posthumously.

Maybe I am lazy with my aspirations because I don’t want for much. Somedays, laying in a sunbeam on my bed, soft music coming from somewhere in the house, my two hilarious, precious, unusual cats curled up on me, Fig on my right shoulder, Budderlamb on my chest, I watch them pull whiffs of our neighborhood with their intricate noses and think, How can I ever want anything more? My husband and I have hung chandelier crystals in our bedroom window. So every fall and winter, when the sun moves lower in the sky, rainbows dance across our walls all day. It’s no wonder I don’t get much done. I am keenly aware that these are The Good Days.

So why, when I watch Garden State, or Good Will Hunting, or read Sylvia Plath or books about the activists in Taiji, Japan, protesting the slaughter of dolphins, do I wish I was smarter? Contributing more to the world? Working harder? There must be something in those things that resonates with me. Is it more than the desire for prestige? More than the validation of a title? Of bragging rights? I don’t really know. I do know that sometimes when I see images and posts of my friends’ successes, I am filled with such a combination of envy and self-loathing that I scroll past, or don’t finish reading about the publication, grant or fellowship that they are over the moon to share. Sometimes I see the post. Let it settle somewhere inside me before liking or commenting on it. And after I am fortified with breakfast, or a shower, or some small victory of my own, will I revisit, explode into an an emojistorm of congratulations. Because I do mean it. I mean it, and everyone is watching.

I crave aloneness. Aloneness from my phone— which I have every opportunity to fling into oncoming traffic or the fountain at Echo Park Lake. I crave aloneness from the news, which is a swipe to the right and new every time.

I have been asked what it means to be an artist in 2018. I hardly know. For me, it is to fear that every word or image is a window into public, political and social tumult. It means you have to be more vulnerable than you or anyone in times previous has ever been. Everything tells us it’s a society poised on the brink of collapse and chaos, more segregated in our righteousness than we have ever been. It is the loneliest time to have a heart with the desire to share anything at all. Social capital is the currency, and if you have none you are poor. Of course, it is a time of great revelations. Of the ground being cracked apart to be re-laid. It’s a jackhammer and a whirlpool and a plague. Relentless in the sludge of information that pours through our screens by the hour. Where are we headed from here? Where can we possibly go?

I crave Inverness. Dancing Coyote Beach and the fireplace in the cottages there. And the nap I took, lulled into a thick sleep by the lapping of Tomales Bay. I crave aloneness. Aloneness from my phone—which I have every opportunity to fling into oncoming traffic or the fountain at Echo Park Lake. I crave aloneness from the news, which is a swipe to the right and new every time. I crave aloneness from the dishes and the plans. And the piles of paper in my studio. The boxes of “art” that have not sold but might. I crave oblivion to offset the aloneness and aloneness from the desire for oblivion, and yet, this is the most alone I may have ever felt.

In college of at the start of my junior year, I didn’t yet have an apartment and the calendar had snuck up on me suddenly. I found myself entirely unprepared for school, in the thick of class sign ups and foundation courses with nowhere to live and a trash bag of cocktail dresses in the trunk of my windowless ‘93 Camry, that I had intended to sell but instead became my temporary wardrobe. I moved into my studio on campus which was a drywall space with an open ceiling in a block of several other similar units. For the first two months of that year, I slept on a futon there, where the overhead lights were on all the time; it often reeked of cigarettes and weed, and you could hear all hours gossip from the other students who didn’t suspect you were silently existing nearby. I showered early in the morning, in the security office and kept a large bowl nearby which I peed into, when the bathrooms were too many flights of stairs to get to in time. On my desk with the art supplies were two boxes of cereal which I couldn’t keep safe from the rats whose chewing kept me awake at night. I painted and sculpted in there, destroying the cocktail dresses from having future homes. And when I felt lonely I would go to the library to see people studying, peruse the books, and to check my Myspace in the computer lab.

That’s what it was to be an artist in 2006.

Now, it feels entirely devoid of that romance. Now, my art is better. I know technical shortcuts and where to buy the materials I need at the best prices. I have evolved immeasurably in my approach and my craft. I have slowed down and quickened my pace. I have a true home. The home of an adult married lady with a closet of clothes and cats and cereal that does not get chewed on by rats.

But I am more scared now than I ever was of making and sharing art. The size of the world seems to have grown with my access to the information in my pocket. And in that, my sense of uniqueness, of necessariness, of relevance has diminished, which before the age of the smartphone, played a subterranean, but crucial role in my creative machine.

In 2012, I was in the worst part of what would be a four-year existential crisis. I didn’t know why humans were here on earth or what the point of it all was. And one afternoon at Bed Bath N’ Beyond sent me spiraling out of control—the isles of Yankee candles and plug in wall fresheners seemed to me, everything that was wrong with the world (in particular a heavy blue Yankee candle with a tiny sailboat on the front called Life’s A Breeze). When I rounded the bend on my crisis I had settled with a personal knowledge that some things were just too big for us to know, and that my particular life was not designed to answer the big questions. I was not meant to see the man behind the curtain or get friendly with the abyss. For it did, as Nietzsche forewarned, begin to gaze back into me. Maybe too, is this VIP pass we’ve created to everything, that we take with us everywhere, too big for my spirit to hold. But how to move forward? Tossing my phone into the LA river and moving deep into the woods of the San Geronimo valley seems as counterproductive as spending four hours of my day engaged with my phone. In the end, they both leave me isolated. At least one of these options gives me the illusion of camaraderie, community. Alone, but in company.

 

Chelsea Bayouth is a writer and Emmy Award Winning visual artist from Los Angeles, California. Her poetry and short stories have been published or are forthcoming in BOAAT, Roanoke Review, Borderlands, Harpoon Review, The Rattling Wall/PEN Center USA, Heavy Feather Review, Stirring Lit, and many others. More of her work can be found on her website www.chelseabayouth.com.

Migrations

The following narrative should be read alongside Tatiana Garmendia’s artist portfolio Migrations.

The doilies function as surrogates for the domestic domain. Their fragility contrasts starkly with brutal memories of the night the G2 Cuban secret police took my father away for a two-year interrogation. Mounted on drone footage from a random suburban Washington neighborhood, they point to the intrusion of state surveillance upon citizens, questioning if there is safety and peace anywhere.

*     *     *

Each handkerchief bears the portrait of a Jose in my family, along with the text to personal letters written to them. Cutting and pulling on horizontal threads to partially distress each, I physically eroded the textiles, illustrating the dissolution of intergenerational ties when a member of the family is forcibly removed by the state.

*     *     *

Beforehand/Afterwards II documents a performance in honor of my father, who was detained and tortured by the G-2 in Cuba. He died at 36 years old. Many of the techniques used against him by the Castro regime are now used by the US government in Guantanamo. Over the course of a month I embroidered a list of these torture techniques on a standard military blanket and wrapped myself in it as an offering of warmth to my father’s memory and the bits of his DNA in me. The embroidered blanket drapes an empty chair and serves as a surrogate for the missing figure, bringing his absence into the viewer’s space.

*     *     *

This series embraces the fluid space between the past and the present, between a homeland lost and a homeland gained. Here each wave meets at my heart with a gesture of embrace. The translucency of the polyester film points to a space between actual and conceptual representations. The viewer can see the recycled wood stretchers, sometimes the wire, and construct in their minds how the image comes to be. Viewing becomes a surrogate to the creative act.

*     *     *

Water has so many states…it can be solid, fluid, or vapor. Like our memories. Some are so concrete they are heavy like a glacier, others vanish like so much mist in a breeze. In this self portrait I wanted to capture the feeling of memories washing over me.

*     *     *

An empty glass and uprooted plants become stand-ins for the gaps in cultural agency experienced by outsiders, like immigrants, occupying the peripheries of society.

*     *     *

Flags and notions of nationhood are both abstract and very real, but both are easily distorted. I used a funhouse mirror to alter perceptions of the flagged still life.

*     *     *

I love the diversity of peoples in this my new homeland. Whatever frictions exist between cultures and races, most of the time we live, learn, and grow stronger together. To me this is still the land of possibility and optimism, which is why I employed the primary triad in the color scheme.

*     *     *

As a refugee, I see my identity occupying a reflective space between two cultures. I meditate regularly on a mercury glass skull, and here reflect on all those who have braved the seas in search of freedom but have drowned instead. Over 70,000 Cubans have drowned crossing the waters to the US.

*     *     *

I meditate regularly on a mercury glass skull. Here I reflect on all those who have braved the seas in search of freedom but have drowned instead.

 

Tatiana Garmendia is a professor of fine arts at Seattle Central College. She has exhibited her work throughout the US, and abroad in Mexico, Italy, Germany, England, and India. Her works are in public collections in Seattle, New York, Washington D.C., Miami, Illinois, California, Ohio, and the Dominican Republic. Synthesizing formal concerns and a humanist engagement with history and culture, the artist’s interdisciplinary work occupies fluid boundaries. Born in Cuba at the height of the Cold War and immigrating to the USA as a youth, the artist’s practice deciphers myths, histories, languages, and tropes from different communal fonts.

Girl’s Dresser – 1991

Girl’s Dresser is not my first attempt at using watercolor, though it’s among the earliest ones on my long journey to becoming an artist.

This piece was created in 1991 after I had turned sixteen. The start of the year was one of my most dramatic teenage years. Second only to the year I became pregnant in my sophomore year of college at the age of nineteen. I was head over heels in love with a beautiful man who was seven years older than me and I was tortured by my parents’ attempt to keep us apart. The strain of it all proved to be more than my fifteen-year-old self could handle and before I turned sixteen, I had ended it, to his (and my) amazement. Essentially, Girl’s Dresser was created shortly after the breakup of my first boyfriend.

I drew inspiration from my own clutter. One night, I made a little space and teetered on my dresser to take it all in. The visual of my own dresser top overwhelmed me and I realized then that I’d have to simplify my vision in order to get it down on paper. As I sketched out my edited and imagined version, periodically I’d again teeter on top of the dresser to keep the core of my vision in my head.

There was no book present, but I wanted to incorporate one in the piece because I had always been an avid reader, though in 1991 I was no longer a reader of the genre of literature the novel I created visually implies. The novel in Girls Dresser titled Tiny suggests some sort of young adult horror literature. It’s more of a reflection of what I had been reading from fifth to seventh grade rather than the literature I devoured at sixteen.

I define clutter as an abundance of things that are unorganized and I place them into two sub categories: (a) things that have sentimental value and (b) things that have a perceived outward world application value.

By 1991, I was reading works like, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison and literature about slavery. I knew at the time that the novel I had invented in the painting came across as silly, but I placed no harsh judgment on it and allowed myself to explore the misty paths my imagination took me. The work was not created to be seen but to be adventurous. It was my version of still life, but for my eyes only—and maybe a couple of friends.

When Girl’s Dresser was complete, I tucked it away behind a collection of unhung posters behind my bedroom door. Girl’s Dresser, though always in my heart, never hung on a wall or door. It could almost be seen as a capsule of time that reflected the thoughts and behavior of my much younger self. I was a girl trudging towards womanhood, trying to be pretty, trying to be smart, exploring curiosities and defying her parents—I got into trouble on more than one occasion for keeping my dresser such a mess. I shrugged it off. It was my mess.

My current style and themes veer away from my interests as a teenage girl in wide degrees. For example, in a series of work titled, “Kobiphysics,” all of my paintings touch on the contributions of ancient and modern physicists. In a series titled, “STATIC!” the work addresses police brutality and the abuse of authority. Observation from these few examples illustrates that my more current somber and cerebral topics are galaxies away from the pink swirling whimsy of the study of a girl’s dresser.

Examining my entire body of work (my writing included) up to the present, one of the common threads that weave my first works to my current ones, is a thread I refer to as “clutter.” To be clear, I’m not inclined to categorize clutter as the half hazard placement of things that haven’t made it into the trash from procrastination or laziness. I define clutter as an abundance of things that are unorganized and I place them into two sub categories: (a) things that have sentimental value and (b) things that have a perceived outward world application value. In my writing, you can see it in random lists I create (I’ve always been a list maker). In my art, you can identify it in a collection of abstract images. An example is seen in my latest series, where I create assemblages of random things I own: pearls, painted bottle caps, crocheted t-shirts, Mardi Gras beads… in order to re-envision the idea of traditional talismans. My favorite is titled, “To Ward Off Sneaky-Snake Women Who Try to Kiss Your Man on the Mouth.”

I suspect the influence, the gravitation to the visual aesthetics of the abundance of things, stems from my grandmother, Ernestine Ruthie Mary Anderson Banks, who, in hindsight, I recognize as a hoarder. She was what a psychologist would classify as an “organized hoarder.” Her cups not only lined the inside of the cabinets, but were also nailed to the outside of the cabinets. Grandma had more jewelry nailed to her walls than in jewelry boxes. I’ve spent hours of my life reflecting on the multitudes of perfume bottles (full and empty) that occupied her entire dresser top—lined like soldiers under a cover of dust.

Clutter is to my work as decay is to the work of Salvador Dali; as crowns are to the work of Jean Michel Basquiat; as shame is to the work of Fyodor Dostoevsky.

My grandmother, Ernestine, passed away when I was twenty-four, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I began looking at her and her collections with new eyes. I’ve reflected on the way she spoke with relish of her collections; the shelves of ashtrays; the wall to wall beverage bottles, the cast iron skillets that hung from beams, the deer antlers on the back wall of the den, the floor to ceiling walls of books… and how she displayed them—like a series of museum installations. I began to look at her, over time, as an artist. The quiltist. The candelist. The pillowist. The found-object installation artist. Now that I think about it, she was also a curator, because everything she displayed was chosen as though diamonds and displayed with parallel mindfulness. As kids, we, her grandchildren, didn’t look at it like that at all. Everyone had grandparents who lived like this. Right?

My clutter was never as artful and Grandma’s. As I grew up and became a mother, I had less of my own clutter and a whole lot more of my daughter’s. Still, subconsciously, the clutter, the disorganized collection of various things, has been the backdrop to my various explorations of themes, concepts and media. A quiet stowaway that I’ve paid little attention to, until my body of work silently expanded. Clutter is to my work as decay is to the work of Salvador Dali; as crowns are to the work of Jean Michel Basquiat; as shame is to the work of Fyodor Dostoevsky.

Though I am now open to sharing my work publicly, I consider each to be an experiment as I’m constantly working on both skill and mental evolution as a human being. My great challenge is to create like I did when I was sixteen. An exploration of and for the self. I’ve been striving lately, to be honest with myself. To stand up on my dresser top and look down at my life, to see it for what it is. To share what I want and keep the rest to myself. To recognize the mess. My mess.

 

Girl’s Dresser, 1991

 

Kobina Wright is a second-generation California native with a degree in communications from California State University, Fullerton. Wright is an artist, writer, entrepreneur, and a board member of The G.R.E.E.N. Foundation, an organization that helps to service the community through health education and navigation to support individuals and families to access quality health care.