The Summer I Was Angry

Written by Montez Louria
Art by Mateus Souza

It was the summer of 2016 and I was studying abroad in Ireland. I had one semester left before graduation. This was one year after Freddie Gray was murdered in my hometown. My world was full of tension. This was my first time flying, getting a passport, and visiting another country. I was ready to experience something other than American racism.

I arrived in Ireland during the first week of July. Days after my arrival, I was crying outside of a pub. A living mate was toasting to her new job as the television screen replayed the murder of Philando Castile. The TV blurred the gory parts but we could see through the blur. The world watched as he died. My world moved in slow motion as the glasses around me raised and my eyes cemented to the screen. The air felt thick and my stomach felt heavy. The pain in my chest radiated to my throat.

“Do you want to get some air?” A voice broke my trance. I got up from the table in disarray. We walked silently outside and we stood for what seemed like the longest minute of my life. I opened my mouth, and, before a single word could drip from my lips, the cruel sharp air scratched my throat. 

Outside of the pub, I lost it. It was the first time my pent up anger bubbled over like pasta water and spilled. I couldn’t hold it in anymore. I was angry and this was the first time I was allowed to be angry. All my life, I was reminded of the “integrity” and “grace”  my community leaders used to combat racism which, somehow over the years, has been diminished to bullying. I was constantly reminded to be calm and reasonable, and to combat my anger with “love,” as those who’ve come before me. It is only our leaders who are meant to be negotiable and non-violent.  

I was depressed and I was Black. This combination led to a cocktail of sobbing and moaning. People passing by thought I was insanely drunk. “Hey,” a heavy Irish accent spoke, “it’s alright. Drinking makes me cry too.” There was another who giggled and raised what seemed to be a beer in hand. 

My living mate pulled me in and hugged me close—as close as close could get. My tears fell hot down my cheeks and soaked her shirt. 

“That could be my dad. My brothers. Me. I’m just tired…” I was rambling uncontrollably and I felt so embarrassed at that moment. 

“I… I know sorry doesn’t help but I’m sorry,” she said. 

It seemed like the world was moving around yet another death of a Black person. As the last moments of Philando’s  life were shown to the world, drunk people were giggling  and my other living mates were encouraging  me to “just ignore it.” It’s rather hard to ignore the realities of your life when they are broadcasted for the world to see. No, I didn’t know Philando personally, but I knew him, a gentle Black man who just wanted to live. He is a part of my community, a hurt community who were forced to take a collective sigh as we watched him die, on a loop. A pub wasn’t the best place to hear the news. The Guinness was flowing. The world was just going on as if nothing happened.

My community endured another public tragedy and were given no time to grieve. When a nationwide tragedy happens, the nation encourages everyone to come together through sympathetic speeches, and reminds everyone that we are in “this” together. When a Black person is killed by police, we are expected to stay complacent and move on. The country digs deep into their personal lives, searching for petty mistakes and  mishaps from some other times in their lives to justify death. In those moments, when tears roll down my face or when I’m sighing as I say, “not again,” I think:

“When is it going to happen to my cousin, brother, mother, father or even me?” 

“What thing have I said or done to justify the erasure of my life?”

The cool air dried my tears and chilled my face. We left the pub and walked up the hill to our hostel in silence. I sat on her floor without removing my shoes or jacket. I could still feel hot tears rolling down my face. My other living mates stumbled in one by one. They were quiet. A part of me felt ashamed and another part of me felt relieved. A wide eyed, brown haired girl stooped down and rubbed my hand gently. I didn’t like to cry in public because I was always told that was a sign of weakness. I was taught to be strong and to pull a fake smile no matter what. Oddly enough, I couldn’t hold it in anymore. I spent the rest of my time abroad reflecting on my own identity and the paradox of being Black American. 

I thought back to that summer night as the fifth anniversary of Philando Castile’s death came. I thought about my time in Ireland as more unjust Black deaths have occurred .That summer I was angry, I was sad, and I finally allowed myself to travel through a full spectrum of emotions. 

To Philando Castile, may you rest peacefully and may your legacy be with us forever.

Decorated Bodies

Written by Montez Louria
Art by Laura Tancredi

It’s midnight and I am sitting on my floor scrolling through Instagram. I see ads for Fashion Nova Curve, Love Vera, and Savage Fenty; all the bodies are some sort of “plus-sized.” The 2021 idea of what it means to be plus-sized: beautiful models with plump lips, full busts, wide hips, and big butts. Most of these models conveniently have no bellies and are perfectly smooth. I look down at my own protruding belly, my thighs that kiss each other, my flappy arms.  

I have been fat, or “plus-sized,” for most of my life. I remember walking to the bathroom in third grade when a teacher I didn’t know walked over to me and poked my belly. “Fatty-poo,” she said with a shaking hand and wide grin, “I wish I was as fat as you, fatty-poo.” I suppose she thought rhyming would make me feel good about being poked and called fat. Growing up, fat was a bad term and I was always made to be ashamed of being fat. The teacher continued, obstructing my walkway, “fatty-poo, where you going fatty-poo?”

Finally, when she saw that I would not respond, she let me go to the bathroom. I sat in the bathroom for a moment, not even using it. I looked down at my belly and I sighed. She wasn’t the first to say this, my classmates would also mention my impish belly. I recalled my classmates pointing and screaming at me: “Your fat tail!” I felt so defeated that I hung my head low, looking at my yellow, collared school shirt.

In church I was called “cheeseburger” because I was fat and lighter skinned, while a dark-skinned chubby girl was called “hamburger.” My mother was appalled by the sentiment, she demanded them to stop calling me “cheeseburger” because it was reminiscent of her fat sister who was called “bacon” in her youth. Everywhere I went I was reminded that something was wrong with my weight.

Because my mother and grandmother were so upset about the “cheeseburger” comments, they began scolding me about my weight. My grandmother valued smaller bodies; she believed being thin was the key to success in any facet. When I was in eleventh grade she told me, “Start working out, lose weight so a nice boy can take you out on a date.” She would poke, squeeze, and feel my stomach to examine if I had lost any weight. In my youth, my mother would scream at the top of her lungs, “You’re getting too fat!” She started limiting what I ate; my grandmother had convinced her that tuna fish was the best “nice and light” option for my lunches. I was reminded that a distant uncle lost over 100 pounds by eating cereal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Corn pops were his only food. I would look in the mirror and desperately want to be thin, I was always concerned about eating in public and the amount of snacks I consumed. I hated my body.

I would ogle Seventeen Magazine, Girl’s Life, Teen Vogue, and even Cosmo, wishing I could look like all the girls on TV. Thin, petite, straight hair, all the things I didn’t have and would never be. I had sadly accepted that I would never be as pretty because I would never be as thin.

As I got older the body positivity movement started, but I noticed that something was off about it. Fat bodies, actual fat bodies, are still not appreciated unless they are deemed “sexy.” I scroll through the hashtag on Instagram to see bodies that are beautiful yet aren’t a reflection of bodies that have been shamed, pummeled, and overlooked for many years. There are bodies that fit the casting call for plus-size models: no bellies, no cellulite. Yes, I know there are ads and places that do feature bellies, but with the idea of body diversity it isn’t enough. No, I don’t want thin or hourglass bodies to be replaced, I want better representation, actual representation for fat bodies. Larger bodied people have to parade in lingerie, business attire, or overly-elegant outfits to be deemed worthy of showing. Many fashion influencers are only influencers because they aren’t fat.

Fat femme bodies should not have to be sexy to be appreciated. I log onto Instagram just to see accounts of plus-sized models loaded with comments about BBWs because they are exposing their skin or wearing lacy underwear. I have noticed an appreciation for the bountiful bodies of plus-sized women, but only with certain stipulations. The guise of appreciation is strongly masked with fetishization. Fat femme bodies shouldn’t have to be decorated to be appreciated. At times, when I look at Instagram, I feel like the eight-year-old in the hallway on my way to the bathroom. The fat little girl who was ashamed to be seen, the fat little girl who desperately wanted to be thin.

I sit by my balcony door. I let the breeze hit my face and I scroll over to the tags section of Instagram. I search, “fat ootd.” I see bodies that resemble my own. I search, “fat yoga.” I see bodies that look like my own being active and happy. I get up and look in the mirror, examining my own body. I have a belly that rests on my thighs, I have arms and legs with stretch marks. My pants are found in the “special” sections of stores or mostly online. I am not proud but I am not ashamed, I am becoming content with my body. I have given up on working out 5-6 times a week. I retired my meal plan that only included protein, a cup of leafy greens, and brown rice. I stopped obsessing over my weight and how I looked in a bathing suit and I just started living. I realized that life is too short to spend it hating my body.

Dear Uncle Louis

Written by Montez Louria
Art by Anete Lusina

As the clock changed from 11:59pm to 12:00am, the month changed as well. I smile. June, PRIDE month and my mom’s birth month, crept up on me. I look at the clock, thinking heavily about the performative brand-stamped rainbows that will decorate everything for only 30 days. I think about the origins of pride, the POC women that paved the way, and the riot that started it all. More importantly, my mind moves to myself, the queerness I’ve become more comfortable acknowledging and my distant relatives who lived proudly, secretly. A lesbian (my grandmother’s aunt) and my mother’s favorite uncle, Louis Fitzgerald. 

My mother didn’t know him as a gay man but she knew him as a smooth-talking, white Cadillac-driving, afro-picking uncle. A gold tooth cladded man who served as a protector for my mother.My grandmother’s heart outside her body, as she called him. That is until she discovered him to be gay. This is an open letter to you. I know you’ll never physically read it but I hope your spirit will absorb my words.

Dear Uncle Louis,

Hi. I am your great niece. We never met or were ever even in close proximity, but I feel you and I think about you often. Mom started talking about you again. She reminisced on the arguments you had with Sammie, the neighborhood drunk. Sammie hated you but loved you like a son. Do you remember when Sammie died? Mom says you cried a lot.

Anyways, I am writing to you to say you thank you. Eventually, you said who cares and admitted your truth, even if that meant letting your sister go. You left your family behind to live happily. I don’t want to call you courageous because we shouldn’t live in a world where you need to be courageous to live. I don’t want to say brave because I want to avoid cliches, so thanks for the inspiration. For being a predecessor and being part of a family that wouldn’t accept you for who you are. Your essence will not die, and neither will the aesthetic you left with us. Your humor, confidence, compassion, and soul will always live vicariously through me. I am an extension of you because I will live my truth, without permission. Accepting queerness, rejecting old family ideologies, all of that is because of you. I learn from the stories of you that what happens behind the closed door of my bedroom doesn’t matter. What matters is how you show up for the people outside of your bedroom door. Mom didn’t have the best childhood but whenever you appear in a story, her smile radiates and her heart bursts. Thank you for protecting mom from the monster across the hall.

As June ended, I didn’t celebrate in vain or take anything for granted. You deserved so much more than what you got. So much more than a lonely death and an unmarked grave. I hope you are in heaven flashing your gold teeth and rings, waving a pride flag, proudly. I celebrate pride for you and because of you.

Oh! Mom wants you to forgive her for the time she saw you on the street. You both made eye contact, but she didn’t say anything. She didn’t know what to say. But if she could go back in time, she would tell you that she was sorry that she didn’t keep in contact with you. She is sorry that she let that opportunity slip away. We love you.


Montee, your great niece.

I had a John Hughes phase and I’m ashamed

Written by Montez Louria
Art by Victoria Borodinova


I remember removing the plastic from brightly colored DVDs which held the contents of John Hughes’ films. I remember admiring Hughes’ film,  they are cute and campy. (If you are unfamiliar with his work, he is responsible for movies about teenage misadventures and mishaps. He even did the Home Alone trilogy). Of course, there were love stories, zany comedies, and films that challenged the way we think of high school archetypes. These films sound legit, yeah? Like most things, they were cool for their time and  I watched them religiously. I am 26 now and I realize my not so cool, “I’m so cool, I’m into nostalgia that I was never a part of,” phase has contributed to some social oblivion. Of course, we have to start with the most obvious and most shameful. Sixteen Candles. Now listen, I loved Molly Ringwald. (Hey, I discovered these films in late middle school). So naturally, I wanted to watch all the things with her in them. I started with The Breakfast Club and made my way around to Sixteen Candles, then other films not involving her, too. The first problem of many in the film is none other than Long Duk Dong. 

 “What’s happenin’ hot stuff?” The character Long Duk Dong says as a gong is smashed as an introduction to his character. He is a foreign exchange student from an unidentified Asian country. Are you cringing yet? I definitely am. Despite not having much screen time, the character is one the most memorable and quoted of the film. He is part of the long tradition of misrepresenting Asian people and culture in American cinema. Stereotypes that reduce Asians to people of mysticism, restaurant owners, kung fu and ill spoken immigrants. I know that someone will read this and say, “OMG! Pipe down millennial, stop ruining  everything! It is funny. Comedy. Tee hee… a character.” But it isn’t and like many stereotypes in the media, I was made to believe that this was true. That it was okay. Even watching it back then, when I was a teenager, something didn’t feel right about the character but I didn’t have the vocabulary or conceptual awareness to explain it. I do now, and I am ashamed that I watched that film repeatedly. 

The film shows him using a fork and spoon as chopsticks and he speaks in a generic, stereotypical Asian accent. The one almost every actor has to do for cheap laughs. With lines like, “oh sexy girlfriend,”, “no more yanky my wanky,” and “Donger need food,” accompanied with ridiculous laughter and a gong every time we see him, it is very easy for me to want to push this movie in the back of my mind to die. I remember not laughing at this character, but I had a relative who snickered at his on-screen appearance. Maybe the snicker was at how Hughes could have ridiculously crafted a caricature like Dong, even down to his name. In Hughes’ creation of the character, he gave ammunition to already rampant Asian hate and racism. I am not Asian, but I can imagine what it was like being an Asian student after the premiere of the film. Being called, “Donger” instead of your actual name. What a treat! What a wonderful nostalgic film. What culture to look back on. I look back at that movie and I want to bury it. A part of me hopes that younger people do not discover Hughes’ films because a lot of them have very problematic things.. Stereotypes like Long Duk Dong aid in maintaining the long history of Anti-Asian rhetoric,as well as stereotypes that lead to hatred and mistreatment. I’m not going to say that the recent spike in Asian hate crimes is because of John Hughes but I will say that the people who cannot sympathize or empathize with Asian communities today, probably laughed at something like Long Duk Dong’s character in the past. Hollywood is only good at positively portraying cis white men. 

Aside from the racism present in Sixteen Candles, it’s also very sexist and creepy. Looking back, I can tell that this script was written by a man. The decade as well as the 90s seems to be romanticized a lot. The 80s was the decade of recreating the American dream and likened itself to the 50s. (I won’t go on that tangent). Many of the themes are similar in some ways. Much of its comedy lies within the problematic nature of the film. Rape Culture is so intricately woven into the plot that it is masked by a ‘dream boy falls for geek’ story line. Even after the dream boy participates in the date rape of  his girlfriend Caroline, we, the audience, are supposed to be in on the joke.  All because Caroline is deemed the 80s “slut” archetype. The film tells young women to not be like Caroline. Be responsible. Don’t drink. Don’t party. Don’t be mean. Don’t have sex. Oh, and by the way, cheerleaders are always, always mean and dumb. (This trope hasn’t really died yet in present day TV and film). We are made to think she deserves it. Also, the horrible writing of the female characters here is beyond toxic. 

Obviously, I’m not saying that Hughes is responsible for every God-awful value that we have as a society but what I am saying is that films, television shows, music videos, media work like time capsules. They capture the good, bad, and problematic of the time in which they exist. That means as we progress, and I use the term loosely, we need to look back on previous media. We need to look at the societal issues of the time and work on not repeating those same mistakes. Somehow, in 2021, we still have stereotypes of Asian people in TV and film. We still have archetypes and harmful messages about young women’s bodies being presented to us. Somehow, they are still at work and they need to end.

So please, in the future, no more “Dongers” or angelic jocks who sacrifice their unwilling and unsuspecting girlfriends. I had a John Hughes phase and no, I am not proud of it. I’m not boasting about seeing the classics and will not think fondly of them. Thanks, John Hughes, for capturing the problems of the 80s in your films.

The Vaccine and The Vessels

Written by Montez Louria
Art by Harrison Haines

While in class tonight, I am giving a presentation in my Zoom class when a classmate raises his hand. We are still living in a virtual world because of Coronavirus. We are in our second semester of staring at each other on the screen. Although the days are getting longer and the itch of outside calls, we are still in a global pandemic. A pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands of people.

He asks my professor, “Professor, are you on campus right now?”

She responds, puzzled, “I am not. Why?”

“There has been a shooting near campus on Lincoln.”

The tiny squares trap the tiny faces. There are an array of emotions –surprise, numbness, and horror. My initial thought is “how are we still in a pandemic and yet there is a shooting? How can we get a slight restriction lifted and immediately people are being shot?” America is the leading in gun violence. In 2020 alone, we had over 600 mass shootings. Mass shootings become as normal as after dinner conversations.  According to Forbes, “There have been 147 mass shootings this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, which defines a mass shooting as when four or more people have been shot or killed, not including the shooter.” This year alone, there is a prediction that at least 500 mass shootings will happen. The question becomes how and why? How can we access firearms so easily and why are we so torn about it? Pewresearch says, “Nearly two-thirds of Americans who report living in urban areas say that gun violence is a very big problem, compared with about half of suburbanites (47%) and only about a third of those who live in rural areas (35%). Majorities of all three groups say that gun violence is either a very big problem or a moderately big problem.” The issue is a matter or proximity and culture. The idea that the farther away a gun you are, the less gun violence affects you. Therefore, gun violence is not an issue. It’s the same issue with Coronavirus. The idea of “safety” and what we are saved from. Gun play in America is like going to the grocery store. We debate on the topic of saving lives.

Articles slowly coming as we sit in class discussing the correlation of 1920s literature and 1920s issues of race. We pause for a moment. We are frozen in time as the flashes of previous school shootings and mass shootings run rapidly through our minds. Our professor is speechless. She stops mid sentence,  but she gathers  her thoughts and class resumes. 

Just like that, we experience the shooting and then we move on so abruptly.It is the perfect metaphor for mass shootings in America. My presentation had to be finished. The class had to finish. At that moment, I didn’t want to finish my presentation. But I also didn’t know what I wanted my professor to do. A dilemma I have often. A dilemma we face in America. What to do next after a mass shooting? We post on social media. We send thoughts and prayers to families. We do everything but create actual gun reform.

Maybe there was a quick thought or prayer to the victims because a classmate mentioned that the shooter had been apprehended. My professor offers a sigh of release. Class can officially, uneasily go on. It’s not surprising that as the country begins to open, so do the rounds. America holds the stats for the highest percentage of mass shootings. Not only that, we have sold over 20 million firearms.  

We have now implemented active shooter drills in schools and workplaces. We live in a place where we debate about the regulation of purchasing firearms. It becomes an issue of the liberals vs. the second amendment when really this is an issue about human rights and safety. There is no real reason a person like me or even an avid hunter needs an assault rifle in their dining room.

In the last five years there have been 29 mass shootings in America. Most recently, the gunman who killed ten people in a grocery store. Before that, an Asian hate crime in Atlanta. These events happening as we cheer for the return to “normalcy.” Eventually, we will abandon our masks but look over our shoulders and be on edge at public gatherings. This is American normal. Violence, rage, and hate are normal in America. Those concepts are deeply embedded into our society.

 I suppose being able to drink an overpriced beer at a dingy venue makes life seem less bleak. We lower White House flags. We say prayers. We give speeches. We cry. We mourn and we do it all again at the next shooting involving a “misunderstood lone wolf,” who deserves redemption. What good is a vaccine if we still have other viruses running rampant in our country? 

I don’t want to pretend that life is normal and everything is okay when everyday we are in danger. We cannot go to grocery stores, school, movie theaters, gas stations, spas, concerts, bars, clubs, airports, or even places of worship without the looming suspense of becoming the victim of a mass shooting. America, this is our normal and it’s terrifying. The unfortunate thing about mass shootings is that they can coincide with racism. That means no one is safe anywhere. The thought is tiring and it’s exhausting to think about such a thing. This is America, where it’s easier to access a firearm than it is to receive therapy. Where it’s easier to purchase a rifle than to receive basic healthcare. I currently live in the state of California. Although every state has different laws about purchasing firearms, in the state of California, I only need, “Purchasers of handguns must provide proof of California residency, such as a utility bill, residential lease, property deed, or government-issued identification (other than a driver license or other DMV-issued identification), and either (1) possess a Handgun Safety Certificate (HSC) plus successfully complete a safety demonstration with their recently purchased handgun or (2) qualify for an HSC exemption,” according to Cal State Department of Justice website. The requirements are a lot easier than being qualified for health insurance provided by the state. Requirements for health insurance are an income at minimum, $17,609 annually. That means that you need to make less than $1400 a month. Why does this matter? The cost of living in California is astronomical. You need a job that pays at least $1400 or more to pay rent. With rent averaging to at least $1500 in the state, it is safe to say that many Calirfonians are not receiving health insurance. Somehow, it is easier to secure a gun than it is to get a PCP (primary care physician) or therapist. We have a serious issue in America with firearms being readily available to people who can provide necessary IDs or even pass background checks, in certain states. Everyday we step outside, our lives rest in the palm of someone else’s hand. There is someone waiting for the weather to get hotter, public gatherings to get larger, and more vaccines administered. There is someone waiting for the virus and its variants to be eradicated. Unfortunately, there are already shooters who seized their opportunity as some restrictions were lifted.

When we applaud the efforts of our government for rolling out coronavirus vaccines, let’s make sure we hold them accountable for gun reform in our country. 

I no longer want to see families crying. Friends lost. Children robbed of a future. Women who become statistics. A nation in fear and oblivion. Unfortunately, as more people get vaccinated and Coronavirus becomes more controlled, we still need to develop a remedy for our other, long lasting, ever-evolving viruses.

Zoom Alumni Association

Written by Montez Louria

Zoom classes are the Dracula of education. My soul, energy, and passion are all sucked out of me while sitting and staring at my glowing tablet screen. I have four classes and instead of getting lost or running from building to building within a minute of class starting. I am frantically drowning in Zoom links. Is it or is it code: 601 326 7566? At this point, all the links and numbers are the same. 

I see the tiny squares of equally unenthused classmates, trying to find the right comfort in a chair. Trying to not lay back against their bed. Trying to relate good lighting. Home offices constructed out of kitchen islands and Zodiac tapestry. Then there is me with sticky notes against the wall right above my head. Feet buried in the carpet. Cheap Walmart chair with wheels that would never attach. A furry pillow turned into a butt pillow that is now deflated. Here, I am in a virtual classroom, hoping that my wifi doesn’t take a break. Hoping that today is not the day my tablet gives up. Hoping this isn’t time for a power outage or other experimentations from my apartment complex. 

Our professor asked us to keep the camera on because “keeping the camera on facilitates the learning environment.” We start class at 7pm EST. We start the class with a personal yet unfunny anecdote from everyone’s favorite quirky White male professor. Half of the class laughs at the story about a student being potentially date raped at a party. “Scratch that,” he says, “I didn’t mean that. I’m not victim blaming but why are you going to a party, DURING COVID?” I look into the camera. Half of the students are smiling, the other half uncomfortably pretending this is okay. We follow up with a sci-fi reference while realizing forty minutes of class has been wasted. The class goes until 9:50. Yet somehow we will be waiting here until 10pm or 10:05pm. Oh joy. 

The blank stares, awkward silences, the one person who talks too much, people should talk more… are these archetypes imitating life, or has life begun to imitate the archetypes? Traditional student tropes plaguing my digital life. I sit, trying desperately to hold my attention to the screen– it’s rather difficult to discuss the threshold concepts when your bed is calling. She says she misses me, andthe television is waiting for me to catch up on Doom Patrol. My immaculate “Wild Art Heart” anxiety reducing coloring book is waiting for me. I’m fidgeting. I have things I want to say. I say nothing. My overcompensating classmate speaks again, and every time they speak, it’s a practice for a badly written dissertation. They take up so much space in conversation. 

I miss the stale walls of a lecture hall. I miss the swivel chairs, the tables with plugs already in them. I miss the brick of campus. Walking past busts or statues I secretly hate or wonder why they exist. The most painful thing about Zoom classes is that I still pay for full tuition for half the experience and half the access. I started my MFA program via zoom and I’ll probably graduate via Zoom. Like many others, at one point in time, my workplace and classroom are also my bedroom. My place where I could decompress, abandon my fears, and reset became a dumpster of emotion and stress. I cannot leave my stress at work. I cannot deposit my academic frustrations in a building named after a donor. I worry about my attire. Am I being too casual? I attend class in a tank top or pajamas that look like a hoodie. I lean against my back wall. I lean against the side wall. I slump on my home desk. The candles in my room flickering distract me. There is something about being able to walk or drive to a campus, sit in a room, speak passionately about the intersection of identity and pedagogy, and then go home. Something about being able to catch a classmate after the session. Have a chat. A quick late night dinner/snack. But all of this: gone. I end class in my bedroom, I go to my dark and lonely kitchen. Refill my water bottle and complete my night routine. 

We will all have the common ground whether we are undergrad, grad, or post grads. We will all remember the makeshift virtual accommodations, virtual club meeting, ceremonies, mixers, and orientations. We will remember graduation as a name on a screen with a “sorry, thank you box,” full of school merchandise that no one wanted to buy. We will have the loans from attending class in our isolated rooms and favorite slippers. What wild card crazy or exciting memories will we have from zooming our way through higher ed? What hazy yet enjoyable memories will we have of conversations in dining halls or dimly lit pizza shops? Yes, being able to seek higher education is a privilege. However being in the same space all the time because of a pandemic changes your outlook on college. I will speak for myself when I say I am past the point of organization. Past the point of being optimistic about zoom fatigue. So welcome us all, into the alumni association of Zoom University. The reunion will be amazing. Shared misery makes for the best cocktail hour.

The Zoom Call I Needed

Written by Montez Louria

I woke Saturday morning to realize I hadn’t reserved my ticket to watch Amanda Seales’s talk to my Black Student Union (BSU). I frantically ran to my computer, trickles of sweat forming on my forehead, panicking about if I had missed my shot at saying I was on a Zoom call with Amanda Seales. At first, I thought about skipping because it was Saturday, and in my completely empty quarantine schedule, I thought catching a nap would be more useful. Then I thought, “Why not watch Batman: Mask of the Phantasm for the one hundredth time?” However, a glance at my pan-African flag made me realize what a disservice I would be doing myself to miss Amanda Seales. The BSU at my university is extremely active, even though the university is not always on board with their activism. We attend a very neo-liberal, “we support diversity yet proudly defend professors who attend insurrections,” kind of university. Amanda Seales presence– even virtually on campus– made me flutter in Black girl magic.

I counted down to six o’ clock. Finding things to fill the void:laundry, recoloring my hair, catching fraud on my debit card. That actually made me 5 minutes later than I had planned. I hopped on the Zoom call to see a glorious Blonde fro, immaculate Black art hanging above her head, and a beautiful blue suede couch. I was glued to my phone. What a sight to see,an unapologetically Black woman spitting nothing but Blackness and authenticity in association with Chapman University. Needless to say, I couldn’t believe it. I still cannot believe it. Aside from her aesthetic, Amanda dropped the gems I needed.

Let me back track. February is Black History Month. I have been scrolling on Instagram and Facebook, witnessing living history and Black excellence. And then there is me. I am taking four graduate level classes. I have a day job. I have high anxiety. Major depression, and half written stories because I can never finish a thought. I never feel like my work is good enough. So, I sit in my room and think about just how inadequate I am. I have flashbacks of people telling me my writing was bad, and not to be a writer. I have flashes to the stupid thing I said when I was fourteen-.It’s a vicious cycle. During the month, I had been feeling like I wasn’t enough. I was questioning my work and even my MFA program. I always grapple with if I am enough and if I’m doing enough, but going to the Zoom call with Amanda Seales made me change my pajamas and look like a human.

She is what I wish I had growing up. What I wish I saw more of. She allows herself to take up space, she says what she wants, and she is honest with herself and the audience. She spoke about artistry. Seales started to touch my soul and tap my brain when she said, “Black women are The Avengers of the world.”

Many people want to give Black women their flowers in hopes of fragrance (or perfume) in return. She was being genuine and acknowledged the work Black put in today and have put in.Immediately, my cheeks perked up like the Grinch on Christmas eve.

Now if you watch Amanda on Instagram then you know what she talks about. Alongside being herself, BSU asked her questions. Of course, people asked her what non-BIPOC people can do to help non BIPOC people. She was asked about advice she would give her twenty-year-old self and this is where what I needed came when I needed it. Amanda talked about the value of time and giving yourself grace. This is how she phrased it:

 “Remember planting and harvesting don’t happen at the same time. In your 20s you will do a lot of planting and harvesting at the same time. You will see people around you harvesting and you start to freak out. You’ll say, ‘omg. It’s drought. It’s famine.’ [But] They might be harvesting different shit than you. You might be harvesting tomatoes and they are harvesting corn.”

At times, I beat myself or wonder where I went wrong. I wonder why I didn’t do things sooner or later. I wonder why I don’t write more or why I don’t market myself better. I wonder a lot of things related to academia or my personal life. And I realize that I am where I am supposed to be at this moment of my existence. Watching and listening to Amanda Seales helped to ground me.

“Never stop growing your vision, while growing someone else’s. [And] Protect your boundary. Protect your heart. Protect your energy.” A parting message that I needed to snap back to reality.

I’ll always be working on something or towards something. The goal is to not lose myself or the idea of brilliance within that– I deserve to be here, I deserve to take up space, and I deserve to be heard. My work and ideas deserve space.

Thanks Amanda Seales for reminding me of who I am.

Methods of a friend

Written by Montez Louria
Art by Pixabay

The summer before freshman year of college changed my view of friendships and relationships. The leaves changed as he and I drifted apart. Two people being untethered and rebuilt as new people. He was going to Pennsylvania and I was staying, stationary in Maryland. (At that point in my life, I was too afraid to venture to any unknowns.) His awakening would come at the expense of a piece of me.

My rebirth would come as you being added to my list of emotional trauma. Sounds drastic. However october 2012 was the last time we spoke as not only a couple but as genuine best friends. The “I’ll call you everyday, I’ll show you my scars, and laugh about shenanigans at the North Avenue bus stop kind of friends. It’s fair to say you were my first love, not romantically but platonically. You were one of the people that made me value the voice outside of my head and outside of my family. I loved you because you were my friend. You were the first person I told about sexual trauma outside of my family. I was irritable, upset, and watching your words leave your mouth and swim around my head. It was summer. I was wearing a tan Care Bears t-shirt. I cried to you while enjoying badly cooked chicken teriyaki. At that moment, you gave me something I hadn’t had before. Acknowledgement. Acceptance. An apology and he had committed no act against my autonomy. We would talk about that for hours. You would tell stories of escaping the hell constructed at home. The history of the scars to prove it. 

I didn’t plan for us to get married or be partnered forever. However, I thought we would be able to maintain our connection. I remember the day I knew our friendship (and relationship) was over. You stopped answering my phone calls. No texts, the exception was to express sarcasm. The photo of your new girl wearing your sweatshirt. I saw the photo and a part of me turned to stone. It turns out, you had known her a while. Spent the last few months of your time in Maryland, getting acquainted via text. Wires crossed in my brain. There I was worried about you maneuvering through a new place and school. There I was ready to tell you about the nonsensical lit professor who cursed like a sailor and dribbled when he spoke. I wanted to hear about the dullness of your degree. My newfound college experience found me isolated in a sea of private school white girls who couldn’t fathom the thought of actually living and commuting from West Baltimore. My mom didn’t understand why this was so hard for me because it was “school,”- a thing i was good at, regardless of what was happening socially. 

You took what you needed to grow and flourish while I was splitting into two people. Reimagining and discovering the truths of what I had been avoiding within myself. Somehow, what could be described just simply as teen drama became a catalyst for confronting my trauma. I had more issues than Ebony magazine. I had uncertainty about myself, my choices, and my interactions. It was the start of an ongoing healing process. The piece of me, the seed you used for growth, you can keep if it’s still available. You were my friend and then you weren’t.

Wonder Lust

Written by Montez Louria
Art by Jessica Lewis

I moved to California during a pandemic to create a space for myself. Although, I was moving to try again at graduate school, I realized this would be the first time living on my own, away from my family and “home.” I didn’t really develop a sense of home. I found comfort in objects that were familiar to me. An egg custard flavored snowball, a lip liner pencil sharpened to a nub, or the smell of salt, pepper, and ketchup gave me a feeling of Baltimore. That was home. However, when I have memories of Baltimore or my previous living spaces. I don’t feel like home. When I think of home, I think of sadness, some ridicule, and trauma. I know home shouldn’t feel this way, so I ask myself, what does home mean? I’ve always lived in a house with relatives. But there always seemed to be something missing.

I grew up living with my mother, grandmother, and four aunts until I was thirteen. By that time, my mother had become fed up with constant turmoil. I remember the straw that broke the camel’s back for my mother. An argument the day before. A slammed door. “Yall are so judgemental! All yall do is judge people, “ an aunt screamed as she stormed up the stairs. The next day my mother’s cordless phone and caller ID box was thrown out of the bathroom window. It was wedged between a rusted gate and the church who was our neighbor. That was the day my mother decided to move out. They were always arguing about something. The smallest word, wrong look, misunderstanding, or missed social cue caused an uproar whenever we were all in the house together. We always waited until we were home. At church or any public place, we plastered cheap smiles on our faces to keep up the facade of a “happy, tight knit family.”

Most of my life was spent in places that bred silent resentment. Dwellings with walls, carpets, and ceilings but no sense of home. The first house where my earliest, and often most dreadful, memories formed was in East Baltimore. The chaos of city life was no match for the tensions in my home.It had three bedrooms, two floors, and a basement. A kitchen with open cabinets and a washing machine placed next to the sink. Walls painted with words that created grudges.

that were coded with secrets and lies. The presentation of a perfection when really there was depression and molestation growing like mold in every corner. 

Until the age of seven, I shared a room with my mother and my aunt. I slept on a cot wedged between them. In that house, your business became everyone’s business. We moved together, but separately. We always stayed and moved together. So much so that I didn’t have my own room until I was thirteen,13 and by that time I had no sense of what privacy meant. We always kept the bedroom doors open because we weren’t supposed to hide things from each other. We had a mantra that my grandmother would use as ammunition against us, “We have to stay close. All you have is family.” She would say more frequently after the death of my mother’s third youngest sister. She would say this after telling us stories of her cousins, sisters, and mother betrayal or deception. She was able to pull us in enough for us to believe that nothing in this world mattered more than family, except being partnered by a man. That’s what mattered in life. Naturally, when I started to stray away from the script, it did not go over well. 

“What happens in this house, stays in this house. You don’t need to go run and tell our business to everybody,” my grandmother would say to me. “You have a problem, you come tell me.” My grandmother would say after the day after I was recommended to see a school psychologist. I don’t know which teacher recommended or why at the time but I made the mistake of going home and telling my family about my day at school. There was a silence at the dinner table. My grandmother’s eyes shifted. My aunt’s eyes shifted. My grandmother held her fork still in mid-air. She asked me to repeat myself. I gulped and I knew in that moment, I had messed up. My grandmother stood and began to make her grandiose speech about family business. She stood in the kitchen, scolding me as I sat in the dining room watching my two youngest aunts giggle at me. Her voice echoed like thunder. I sat at the table twiddling my fork, appetite lost. I watched my entire family nod their heads and agree with her. “Everybody don’t need to know everything,” my eldest aunt said to me. “What he ask you? Your favorite color? He told you it’s okay to be sad,” my grandmother taunted. I sat at the table, tears slowly falling down my face which caused more laughter. As the word left her mouth, I could see them floating from the kitchen to the dining room, dancing around my head. Slowly the words disappeared from not only my view but her mouth. All I could hear was rumbling. It was just noise and no words. So there it began. My ideas of home. 

Home is a constant state of wander, wonder, and waiting. Wandering away from the places I’ve known for so long. Wondering what life was like for other people growing up. Wondering how I can create a home. Waiting for escape. Waiting to grow older. Waiting for a sense of belonging and stability. 

Often, I would sit back and listen to other people describe their young life and what it felt like to be home. I started to realize that there was so much,etching missing from my own experience. Feelings and ideas that were never available in those spaces where I grew.  Maybe it was love or happiness or understanding, but I was never able to grasp what I was missing from the places I lived. 

Currently, I am gathering a sense of home, trying to abandon the wander, wonder, and waiting.