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Letter From the Editor

Nikki Gonzalez

I admit: I struggled with the layout of this issue. Sometimes the imagery of the pages exist in my mind the minute I select a theme. Others I ruminate. I stew. I sweat.  I’ve been sweating over this one for some time. And, I confess, I’ve accosted people. I’ve insisted, “Close your eyes! Think of ecstasy! Now tell me: What do you see?” (What do you see?)

Ecstasy and despair. When I shut my own eyes, I can conjure both of them into my body. I can FEEL them both, recreating them physically. Ecstasy sends my eyes rolling backwards, my chest filled completely with a breath that holds there, waiting to burst. And as ecstasy is expansion, despair is, of course, it’s opposite. It’s closing in on myself. My shoulders curl inward, my body draws itself together to its center. It would be so easy if I could be there, sitting with you now to perform these for you and, with that, ready you for what’s to come in the pages that follow. But, alas, we are where we are.

In my days as an undergraduate, I was fortunate one semester to happen upon a course called “The Psychology of the Arts”. It was a class that investigated the experience that the arts, in all its forms and colors and textures, has on the mind. What memories; what emotions; what sensations are provoked in our individual encounters -- and why?  This class culminated with presentations; my own (very successful one) on synesthesia, the occurrence, in some people’s minds, of the senses cross-wiring. There are a number of types of synesthesia. In some cases the senses cross between themselves; in others, objects (numbers, letters, and even other people) produce a sense reaction; and with others, still, emotions are met with a sensory experience. For example, tasting a particular flavor could produce for synesthetes corresponding sensations of vivid color -- actually seeing color. Hearing various musical notes might elicit various taste experiences. And emotions, both experienced by the synesthete, themselves, and perceived in others, can also call forward colors, smells, and sounds. I turned to synesthesia in researching a concept for this issue and I came across this: Asked to describe their experience with synesthesia, one poster on Reddit wrote, “Anger tastes like iron and dust, happiness like soap and the color yellow.” But! But the experience for synesthetes are individual, just as is the experience of interpreting a poem or a piece of art. And so, I decided this: Save for a few soap bubbles in a nod to this lovely comment, I’ve left the pages rather bare. For this issue, I invite you to sit with each of the works presented within and paint the pages for yourself with the sensations and imagery they provoke. I won’t bias you with any of my interpretation; rather I call on you to be conscious of what manifests.

I have one more bit of psychology to share before I turn things over to the extraordinary contributors of this issue. I’d like to share a perspective -- some words of advice, if you will -- that I offer the students in my Psychology of Death & Dying class. Despair is an awful, awful thing. You can feel the struggle it brings to many of the writers in these pages and you, no doubt, have crossed paths with it yourself. But Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor who witnessed the filthiest depths of despair, and the author of internationally acclaimed Man’s Search for Meaning, created Logotherapy, a perspective in psychology that posits purpose at its core. Says Frankl, even in our darkest moments, even when despair looms large over us, even when everything else has been taken from us, what can never be taken is our perspective. If we can harness the strength of our minds to see meaning in any situation, despair need not win. My wish for all of you, dear readers, is that despair never win. See you have purpose.

Finally (I am nearing the end of the page!), a last note about the pages that follow. I do very much mean to jar you with them. I want to scatter you, to take you up and down through each of the varied interpretations of this theme.  My contributors are always free to understand and express the theme I give them as they choose, be it aching or humorous or even a bit raunchy. Who am I to judge anyone else’s experiences with ecstasy and despair? Who am I to tell you how either of those should look and feel? I can only take your hand and encourage you to walk with us through these experiences, drawing on them what you may.


Nikki Gonzalez

Paul Tanner
tit for tat

Conor Barnes
In a Nightmare

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