Letter from Editor-in-Chief, Issue #1
"Find. The. Bitch."
BY JENNIFER MELEANA HEE, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
If I had a dollar for every time publisher Kathryn Xian told me this over the past three months since we began the Hawaii Women’s Journal, I’d have ... a dollar. She only had to tell me once, because Kathy is the type of person who gives it to you straight and you listen, because she doesn’t have time to tell you again: she’s working for Legal Aid, running Girl Fest, organizing the Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery, growing kale and Mexican oregano, saving Corgis, and launching a magazine to give women writers an alternative platform for their words. You don’t talk back to revolutionaries—or dog-owning gardeners—you jump on their wagon, proud that you were invited along for the ride.
As for “finding the bitch,” Kathy wasn’t telling me to hunt someone down and beat her or him—either literally or with a whoop ass sized can of metaphors—but to look through my own thin skin, under years of wanting to please, needing to either give it my all or give it all up. To knock on the dollhouse-sized door of my Inner Bitch and wake her the hell up, because we had work to do. Was I supposed to send my inner Paula to rehab and become bedfellows with my inner Simon? Did I have to stop shaving my armpits? By accepting the position as editor of a new, independent magazine I knew that I’d have to become the hapa face of rejection—stomp-tapping on the literary ambitions of mostly women writers whose beautiful pieces just weren’t the best fit for our pages. I wanted to fit everything between our covers, to accept with abandon until our pages overflowethed with diverse voices, but I knew I’d have to reject. I also knew I would have to deal with more of the world than I was comfortable dealing with. I’m no poster child for this society’s definition of functional living: I don’t call people, meet people, or sleep my way to the top. More than once, I wanted to crawl back into a lacey petticoat and leave literary progress for the Jane Doers of the world.
But before I could gracelessly quit HWJ for the sixth time, due to panic attacks from the very thought of having to enter the world as any form of leader, bearing the uncomfortably phallic staff of rejection, writing began popping into our inboxes—names we knew, names we didn’t know, names we hadn’t heard from in forever—and the healing began. Our submissions overwhelmed me with hope for writing-kind. I found myself swooning over the words of our contributors—shouting, “AMEN!” in my pajamas, laughing, crying, wanting to bring all these writers together from worlds as separate as Los Angeles, London, New York, and Mililani to hide in a room together and feel safe and whole. Is that weird? Probably. Instead of a room full of these writers, we have the next best thing: a magazine full of their words.
HWJ is not thematic by issue, yet for our inaugural issue, motifs did emerge, like women sharing close spaces and beginning to cycle together, and not in a triathlon sense of the word cycle.
Pieces mirrored each other: Carmen Golay-Swizdor wrote about becoming a mother and Theresa Falk about how she healed from the loss of hers. Kristel Yoneda captured too perfectly the struggle to “form” an “identity” in our twenties. Frances Kakugawa used both poetry and prose to describe the struggle during her sixties to maintain her identity: as she writes, “Neatly categorized under OLD. / They gave me flu shots before anyone else. / They began mailing me funeral plans.” We received two columns on wellness, one by acupuncturist and traditional Chinese medicine practitioner Lorelle Saxena, offering practical information so we could see through the quick fix-it health fads and go back to simple, natural cures. In the other column, “Diet, Interrupted,” Ivy Castellanos tackles our body-image and weight-loss misconceptions, so that we may fight the “diet commercials in which depressed, miserable-looking women go from fat and frumpy to fit and utterly fabulous in under two weeks.” Yea, right.
In our First Writes column, twenty-something Kristel Yoneda writes about our childhood idealism: “We were dreamers back then: give us a cheap ukelele from Walmart and we wanted to be musicians; give us a playdoh set and we wanted to be chefs; give us an empty refrigerator box and we wanted to be Batman and live in a cardboard cave.” Even as children, we realized one role would never satisfy us. We insist on being everything to everyone: “Domestic Divas” (Jennifer Dawn Rogers), good daughters, amazing lovers, attentive but not oppressive siblings, platonic friends, happy campers, BFFs, Glamour Women of the Year, responsible dog owners, sport fans, neighborly neighbors, and editors of supposedly progressive magazines that should be avoiding the language of misogyny yet use the word “bitch” on the first page. Even at the ends of things—deaths and divorce, or traveling like writer Jasmine Joy to the mythic countries of our ancestors—we are left with more questions than conclusions. Harmonie Bettenhausen closes her poem wondering “how will we connect / without a road leading us back to each other?” We have tried to fight the stereotype of the unstable woman, but how can we not embody uncertainty—for our children, our dreams, our sickly racist and homophobic communities? It is our concern, our questioning of the status quo, with which we move forward, using pages such as these to muster our collective strength.
We will love ferociously, tend to our gardens, and live in peace. But mess with our shit, our children, our rights, our humanity—and we’ll use the same amount of passion to fight. For a world without trafficking, infanticide, size 0 skinny jeans, and The Secret. Many of our writers are part-time humanitarians. Women such as Jemimah Wright, who traveled to Brazil to expose the truth about tribal pressures on mothers to kill “imperfect” infants—where imperfect can be defined as two X chromosomes. The American Pen Women president Nancy Moss, who helps troubled girls in Honolulu through the Girls Court program. Women like law student Jennifer Allen, who understands that spreading awareness about human trafficking is the only way to eradicate it. Dana Vennen, a woman whose childhood obsession with horses evolved into a therapeutic horsemanship nonprofit, healing children, particularly young girls, in a way only horses can. We can’t help but try to heal ourselves by healing the world. We no longer want a room of our own; our room is the world.
Indeed, in our Venn diagram, our similarities as women and writers overlap, forcing us to define the center—and I’m totally not being sexist, but have you ever noticed how vaginal the center of a Venn diagram is? Our experiences in Hawai‘i, the mainland, and abroad converge. We are the eye of our own storms; together, we are biologically designed to connect—sometimes with a mate but always with places, the children of our loved ones, each other.
As you read our inaugural issue, I hope you experience the “pencil breaker.” The pencil breaker is a phenomenon whereby you read something so good the pencil you happen to be holding breaks in your overexcited little fist. The “pencil breaker” has proved to be my favorite editorial screening tool. (Hey—it’s cheap.) Every piece we’ve included in this issue has pencil breakers, but here are a few teasers:
The Secret teaches that everything in life that happens to us is a result of our thinking: “thoughts become things.” In the film, Bob Proctor (credentials: “philosopher”) poses the question, “Why do you think that one percent of the population earns around 96 percent of all the money?” My response was: inheritance; slave labor; unfair tax laws; the chance of nation of origin; and an unequal playing field. But apparently I’m wrong. According to Proctor, it’s because “they understand ‘the secret.’” –Aldra Robinson, “The Great Big Vending Machine in the Sky”
“I need to be under,” I said. On my health information form, I had explained that I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. I’d written that lately, since piecing together the scene of my father’s fatal car accident, I couldn’t bear things stuck in my head—ears, nose, eyes, mouth, throat—because it all felt like hoods of cars crunching into my face, or peels of fender sliding into my ears, or shards of windshield puncturing my brain. I’d been having visions of my head with metal parts disappearing into one side and reappearing on the other, like train tracks through a mountain. –Suzanne Farrell, “Hole”
But the volcano could only reach so far, so life outside this area would go on and someday someone would dig us up. Our bones would long be bleached dry in their sarcophagus of ash and perhaps when exposed to air they would crumble, but I am sure my marrow would still be thick with love. –Mayumi Shimose Poe, “The Shape Love Takes”
Are manners really passé? I think not. Just because we have iPhones doesn’t mean we can behave like savages. –von Hottie, “von Hottie’s Guide to Navigating a Modern Life”
Reading the poetry by Misty Tashina Bradley, Harmonie Bettenhausen, Frances Kakugawa, and Jess Kroll, I broke a whole box of pencils. Thanks a lot, poets—they’re cheap but they’re not free!
I’m not good at saying thank you because I don’t like to talk, but I can write it with all my heart. Thank you to everyone who has volunteered their time, words, photography, and art—friends, Family Hee, Family Matsumoto, strangers, Facebook quasi-acquaintances, and Jess Kroll for willingly being the one male voice in a sea of estrogen. Thank you to my boyfriend, Ryan Matsumoto, for understanding when I married the Hawaii Women’s Journal, for taking photographs of butterfish and beautiful produce, and for always knowing how to push my zoom-out button. Thank you to Kathryn Xian, I think, for conceiving the idea and not making me cry. Or at least not more than once. Per day. Thank you to Mayumi Shimose Poe for being a full-time editor by day and still carving a huge chunk out of your free time to be the best Managing Editor ever. Thank you Anna Harmon for volunteering your editing and everything-else services when you didn’t know any of us—or what you were getting into. Thank you, Rita Coury, for the stunning cover. And thank you, writers—I can hardly believe how much amazing you all are.
I am especially grateful for the many HWJ slogan-brainstorming sessions. Finding a gender neutral, positive, catchy, multidimensional, and meaningful phrase that we’d all be proud to show off on our eco-friendly bags and racerback tanks was no easy task. Here are my favorites:
Hawaii Women’s Journal: Come Feel the Love.
Hawaii Women’s Journal: Everything and the Kitchen Sink
Hawaii Women’s Journal: Say Hello to Womanessence.
Hawaii Women’s Journal: Women on Women.
Hawaii Women’s Journal: For Women, and Also for Men, but Mostly for Women.
Hawaii Women’s Journal: Wit + Grit
Hawaii Women’s Journal: What Would Oprah Do?
Hawaii Women’s Journal: Let Me Ask the Chicago Manual of Style What It Thinks about Your Appositive.
Hawaii Women’s Journal: Never Too Pretty to Take It Outside.
(About the bitch—I think I found her.)
Hawaii Women’s Journal: Enjoy This. We Did.
Letter from Publisher, Issue #2
“Woman is the nigger of the world.” –Yoko Ono
BY KATHRYN XIAN, PUBLISHER
Ono said it in 1969. By 1972, John Lennon had made it into a song, with the help of The Plastic Ono Band. The words are as powerful and problematic today as they were then. However, many cannot see past Ono’s use of a racial slur, misunderstanding her commentary about the global hierarchy of discrimination upon which societies are based: misogyny. They miss her point—that, without misogyny, governments could not operate their patriarchal civilizations, upheld throughout millennia. Throughout history, Caucasians, Blacks, Asians, Latinos, and many Native Peoples have controlled the potentiality that is the female, subsequently perpetuating violence and social battery against both genders. It’s unfortunate because, if left to flourish, female potentiality could improve the world—for men, too. In fact, most believe that it was John Lennon, not Yoko Ono, who first uttered those words. Case in point.
Sadly, when race is put in a minority competition with gender, women often lose the #1 position in Justice Trend of the Season and for good reason: men exist in different colors. And in the race for the model-minority finish line, men of any color will succeed farther than their female counterparts. What do women do in this paradigm where there is no pot of golden equality at the end of the rainbow—because oppression comes from all colors in the spectrum? Short answer? Embrace loneliness atop the sheer Cliff of Freedom and base-jump that literal mother-fucker with a big-ass parachute strapped to your back, carrying with you the mothers of the past- all the women who were never able to pursue their dreams because they were too busy giving birth to nations- too busy being housewives, childcare services, house maids, cooks and dishwashers, and personal laundromats to see their girlhood dreams of becoming astronauts, doctors, lawyers, firefighters, or Presidents fade into the mundane routine of perpetuating the species behind a smock and a wooden spoon. We are a generation of women born from mothers of stolen futures.
But it is entirely our choice what we do with our own.
This is the why and how Hawaii Women’s Journal came to be. One step at a time, one independent idea at a time, we come closer to our own personal liberation. The Hawaii Women’s Journal is not a panacea for gender inequality, but it is a step in the right direction. Any project that seeks to promote women’s voices farther than usual is a step in the absolute “right direction” from every corner of this very cubist globe. I never liked squares. And I found a few others who didn’t either: my editors. And my editors found like-minded writers and photographers. Before we knew it, the literary love-child we call Hawaii Women’s Journal was birthed, despite our lack of spare time from our full-time jobs. Like Athena from the forehead of Zeus. It’s interesting how much wisdom comes from the most splitting headaches.
It’s true. We suffer. I make the Editor-in-Chief cry daily. It’s part of the birth. We women sometimes sit on our birthing stones, contemplating if the world is worth us moving for—it’s either overwhelming, because of the voices in our head urging us to “go perfect or go home,”or undermotivating, because we can’t really see much sitting in one place. That’s not base jumping the Cliff of Freedom—it’s paralyzing apathy.
At the Hawaii Women’s Journal, we believe in taking the big leap. We embrace all of those who have the courage to do so. We’re holding out the safety net—or perhaps it’s a trampoline. Liberation may be frightening in its apparent loneliness, but it is well worth the journey. And you will find many friends along the way. Our magazine proudly introduces you to writers who continue down that path by unfettering their unique voices in print. Allow us the privilege of exposing you to the informative, the funny, the poetic, the gossamer, the child-like, the witty, the tragic, the crazy, the sensual, and the beautiful. Allow us the privilege of giving you a push towards the edge. Parachutes are available upon request. We’ll be waiting with our safety nets/trampolines should you decide to land.
Letter from the Contributing Editor, Issue #3
“Paper Bags Never Looked So Good.”
BY ANNA HARMON, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR
I have a new favorite book: The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munch. It’s only 42 sentences long and has as many pages with illustrations as it does with words. What the book lacks in character development, it makes up in colorful pictures and a damn good storyline.
The same thing that makes me love The Paper Bag Princess is why I believe in the Hawaii Women’s Journal.
If you don’t happen to have keiki to read to or work at a nonprofit that promotes reading aloud (as I do), then let me bring you up to snuff with a plot summary.
Princess Elizabeth is a smart, beautiful girl engaged to Prince Ronald. He looks like a jerk, huge jewels hanging around his neck and nose in the air, as if Elizabeth smells. She, on the other hand, looks quite lovely, with a smile on her lips and hearts literally floating in the air around her.
Then a dragon comes, burns everything, smashes the castle, and takes off with Ronald. Elizabeth, however, is a survivor. She finds a paper bag and puts it on without complaint because she has somehow escaped the narcissism and materialism that can come with, well, being a princess. And she sets off to rescue her fiancé.
She uses her brains to outwit the dragon, tricking him into using all of his energy to prove how badass he is. He falls asleep so soundly that she’s able to walk right over him to his cavern lair, where she opens the door to rescue dear Ronald.
But rather than fall to his knees in gratitude, he points at her with a look of disdain and says: “Elizabeth, you are a mess! You smell like ashes, your hair is all tangled, and you are wearing a dirty old paper bag. Come back when you’re dressed like a real princess.”
Elizabeth tells him to shove it and skips off solo into the sunset—frizzy hair, beat-up paper bag, and all—toward her own happily ever after.
This is not how most fairy tales end. Just ask any five year old if happily ever after involves a paper bag (and a plain brown one at that) and princelessness.
I’m going somewhere with this. It’s that the HWJ is my post-Ronald Elizabeth.
The Hawaii Women’s Journal takes us outside of the suffocating castle and arranged marriages that we sometimes forget exist (in grown-up terms: a capitalistic society that supports restrictive gender roles) by creating an alternative platform. Minus fire-breathing, castle-smashing, and death by dragon. It challenges us to rethink our wardrobe (grown-up words: surroundings and lifestyle choices) and reconsider how we’re using our best assets. If Princess Elizabeth didn’t face that dragon, her brilliance would have gone untapped, and she’d still be sitting idly, fluttering her eyelashes every time dear Ronald walked by.
When you face your metaphorical fire-breathing dragon, you may lose your pretty pink dress. But why are you in that dress to start with; what’s wrong with a paper bag? Enter, again: HWJ. This issue, multiple queries from our writers revealed a universal need to address appearance and its effect on our opinions, lifestyles, and interactions. Let’s face it, the way we see each other matters; it’s a flawed, yet ubiquitous, part of our society that is exploited and commoditized. Weight, make up, hair, muscles, clothes: we “see” it, they sell it.
How do we give society a makeover?
We publish amazing fiction and nonfiction pieces that confront body image and encourage us to heal ourselves (both literally and figuratively), because society can be a powerful anti-Neosporin. We celebrate movements that demand alternative opportunities for style and lifestyle. In this issue, we reclaim PMS, fat, fashion, and the myriad complications and blessings of being a woman. All together, our voices are redefining “our room,” the world.
Not to mention HWJ keeps it real for post-castle-and-ballgown Elizabeths—just because we say no to forced gender roles doesn’t mean we don’t love an innovative fashion find, good manners, or tasty home-cooked risotto.
As for you, dear readers? You’re my princesses-gone-rogue, too. (Men, it’s ok—I’m not trying to emasculate you. Embrace your inner Elizabeth.) You don’t just wear your paper bag, you own it—your red ribbon, your protest sign, your TOMS shoesto raise awareness in a world wearing blinders the size of castle walls. You confront inequalities and crises with volunteerism, vegan cafes, works of art, and grassroots movements, to name a few. You are the seeds and the soil of community revolutions, including the platform HWJ strives to be.
I’m proud of you. I’m proud of our writers and artists of all ages, who are turning their conflicts and insights into stunning stories, poems, columns, artworks, and exposés. Which I now, with little further ado, will let you to enjoy.
Hawaii Women’s Journal: Where the paper bag princess found her happily ever after.
Letter from Managing Editor, Issue #4
BY MAYUMI SHIMOSE POE, MANAGING EDITOR
Trying to fit how I feel about Hawaii Women’s Journal into 1,000 words or less is like trying to Rubik’s a cube back to solid color faces. It’s like trying to love people as fully as we should without worrying about how much time we’ll have with them; to imagine how to live on just sweet potatoes, quinoa, and vegetables after a lifetime of bacon; to save all those drowning when we’ve been outfitted with a roll of lifesavers candies instead of the real thing. Yet we do all these seemingly impossible things because to us there seems no alternative, such is the pulsatile nature of our hearts.
So, without obsessing over the algorithms, place the cube in your hand and pivot the first row.
Here is how it began: I miscarried. I was depressed. I got a short story accepted for publication at the then-fledgling Hawaii Women’s Journal. And then I latched onto HWJ like it was a life raft. I volunteered my proofreading skills, my passion, my OCD. I began to live life in terms of deadlines and issues, forums and new features. I devoted myself. I bounced hundreds of e-mails between the Editor-in-Chief, Publisher, and myself with clever metaphors of gestation and birthing without ever allowing myself to acknowledge the irony.
And then, this is how it continued: I acknowledged the irony. But it now seemed less ironic than fitting, because this is exactly what Hawaii Women’s Journal is to me: an ‘ohana. Being involved with this journal is a constant reminder of the improbable ways that we are connected and are ever reaching out to connect—the pieces slowly rotating into place. I became Managing Editor via Jenn Hee, who since high school had been an acquaintance—but only that. It was later, after reading her grown-up words (via her blog), that I learned we were of such the same mind: Lucy Grealy and Ann Patchett, minus the cancer; two heteronyms of the same person, ala Fernando Pessoa. Strangers in adolescence, long distance writer-friends in our twenties, colleagues into our thirties. But what first brought us here—to these pages, this support group, this “it-takes-a-village” family—was the flapping wing of Hee’s “yes” to Publisher Kathy Xian’s request for an editor-in-chief: our very own butterfly effect. That’s all it takes. Saying yes to each other’s dreams instead of no.
While joining HWJ in the last semester of my MFA program may not have been, in hindsight, the best for my mental health, I knew I was in the right place doing the right thing because of the way it was feeding me. I would put in an entire day’s editing and not look at the clock once. I would lie in bed at three am trying to fall asleep, but my mind would still be percolating so all I could do was turn the light back on, grab a notebook, and list inspiring people I hoped would write for HWJ. And even exhausted, all I could feel was grateful to be a part of this fine family.
We’re nearing our one-year anniversary, and what we are trying to do with HWJ becomes clearer to me, issue by issue. We are not a glossy full of “sexy” women so skinny you want to strap ‘em down and force-feed ‘em hamburgers (or vegan tofu burgers, to placate Hee). We aren’t necessarily pushing the hot button issues, you probably aren’t going to hear it here first, we don’t care whether tartan or faux fur is “in” this season, and we won’t try to convince you of any “right way”—to solve a Rubik’s cube, to think, to eat, to live. What we’ve got to offer is smarts and hearts, wit and grit, and the community we are building out of diverse voices. These voices may seem disjointed, but the more you read, the more you see that they are facets of the same gem, heteronyms of the same writer, faces of the same cube and community. HWJ can be and is all mixed up, but also everything and every voice has its place.
HWJ works because Xian seems to know every single person in the world and how to get them to volunteer. Because Hee’s brain radiates like an x-ray to find the heart of every piece. Because our associate editors volunteer their time, and in exchange we help them hone their editing skills. Because Contributing Editors Anna Harmon and Andrea Devon Bertoli and Proofreader Suzanne Farrell Smith “can find a hair on an ant’s ass” (to parrot Xian) and spend equal time editing and cheering on authors’ words. Strict roles do not function well here: the publisher weighs in on submissions; the editor-in-chief bullies and keeps company with the publisher when she’s in layout hell; our many “planning meetings” often get waylaid by juicy details about love lives and vegan cookies; and all of us are responsible for drumming up the talent you see displayed on these pages. As for our writers, the difference is this: we kick it old school. We take it back to the days when editors read a piece of writing, noticed a shine amongst what was a little rough, and worked with writers to polish their work rather than throwing out the gem out with the igneous. HWJ works because writers offer up their raw and beautiful words; we put them through the editorial gauntlet, which is less a gauntlet and more a mine in which we, oops, cause a collapse and leave them trapped until they’ve uncovered a deeper understanding of their work and can dig themselves out; and then with gorgeous graphics and fancy fonts and mad layout skills, Xian polishes the entire project such that those writers submit again, or volunteer to edit, or encourage others to read and submit to us. HWJ: The rough is the diamond. HWJ: We mine your mind. HWJ: Will this slogan joke ever die?
The best compliment we’ve received was this: “HWJ has been inspiring to read so far … I opened up an empty Word document today, something I haven’t dared to do for months, even though I tell people that I want to be a writer.”
I read that and thought: ah-ha, our work is done. This is exactly what we want for our readers: the daring to do whatever it is that, beneath the surfaces you present to the world, keeps your aorta pumping. One person’s blank Word document is another’s garden complete with organic compost pile is another’s joy at meeting his or her first child is another’s channeling a lifelong obsession with organization into a geek-sexy career as a librarian. HWJ: We say fuckyeah to your wildest dreams.
So, maybe it’s okay that I can’t quite fit my feelings into 1,000 words, that things don’t quite line up. There are 519 quintillion possible arrangements of Rubix’s colored pieces, but there’s only one way to solve any overwhelming problem: begin.