A letter from the editor
We’ve been around a full year now (well actually, it’s technically 383 days, but who’s counting), and though sinkhole is still an extremely tiny operation – even smaller, in fact, than when we began – it’s mighty, as well. Or at least we think so. We’ve added lots of interesting new things over the course of the year: new blogs and beats, new features and interviews, a killer new podcast (which fyi just released a new episode, on pop culture and American Blackness, that’s more than worth the listen). We held a public reading with our buddies from Ghost Parachute, and we were privileged to take part in Litlando@AWP, a massive multi-booth enterprise of Orlando-based publishers, inside an even massiver conference of writers, journals, sites, and programs that you frankly just have to see to believe:
We also revamped our mission. It’s likely you didn’t even notice, because we did not announce it.
Some background: sinkhole launched in March 2017 with a back-of-the-envelope mission statement, I’m both proud and mortified to say. We were interested in empathy and exploration, and so I threw something together which vaguely touched on those as values. It worked well enough, I suppose. But the site grew away from the vision, as so often happens when you’ve got a bunch of people with disparate and occasionally colliding interests working on a single project. We grew. We lost a few people and picked up a few others.
Long story short, we dedicated a significant amount of time in January and February to thinking about and discussing our mission in earnest. What is sinkhole? we asked each other, which possibly sounds a little bit precious but was just necessary to get at the root of our conceptions about what we were doing. Why do we find ourselves returning to this project? What’s it worth to us? To others? What makes it unique? What’s on our About page now is the result, arrived at democratically. It’s a shared vision, the result of lots of talking to each other earnestly and negotiating on certain things and Google Docs.
sinkhole, the statement reads, “is a place for those conversations most of us have but don’t for some reason ever seem to find their way into print: weird exhilarating mashed-up Babels of politics, culture, and art.” What else? Well, we’re still very much committed to exploring, not explaining, but we’ve made explicit the fact that we’re actively looking to create a space for new and underrepresented writers to showcase their work.
I’m mentioning this mission thing because it’s my privilege, here, to introduce you to the winner and runners-up in our first-ever pop culture essay contest, and I believe each of these essays, which are lovely, and weird, and funny, and challenging, are wonderful examples of the sort of work we’re seeking to publish under this new vision.
Take for example our winner: Nadia Wolnisty’s moving essay, “Mycology,” which weaves two seemingly disparate threads into a strangely haunting tapestry: her friend Jesse’s burgeoning mental illness, and the Great Mushroom War in Cartoon Network’s cult classic, Adventure Time. “Maybe it’s because I was depressed over a relationship that never was,” writes Wolnisty, “or maybe I’m not very mature, but that cartoon story moved me. Born half-demon, half-human,
[Marceline, the Vampire Queen] is bitten as a child and made an immortal. Her friend, Princess Bubblegum, is working on a cure. It doesn’t work. Marceline, who has seen so much destruction, has to grapple with that."
“Everything Stays,” the melancholic song which figures prominently in the episode of Adventure Time Wolnisty is referencing, is now sort of blended synesthesically into my own mental landscape, as are mushrooms, and kittens hiding in shoes.
Madeline Cash’s aptly titled “Bondage, Dominance, and Sciatica” takes an unflinching – and very funny – look at relationships. Her own and her grandparents’, to be precise. Although “Mommom was unintentionally racist” and “Poppop sometimes thought he was in the movie Top Gun,” Cash admires their relationship for its sheer longetivity – 56 years – and the firm commitment to each other which functioned as its bedrock:
I have received an abundance of unsolicited dating advice as a young woman, but the consistent motif has always been to retain your independence. Always be able to function autonomously, as if your relationship might end at any moment…My grandparents were not bequeathed this information. They were scared of the world and hid inside of their relationship.
This fear of the world which Cash at first alleges comprises the secret of her grandparents’ commitment actually, by essay’s end, turns out to be something quite different.
In her cover letter, Karolina Zapal described her essay, “Devil in White,” as an anti-book-review, but to us it was much more: a powerful reading of Erik Larson’s popular novel The Devil in the White City, a critique (or condemnation) of the gendered language of architecture, and a reclamation of the life and reputation of Sophia Hayden, whose promising architectural career was first menaced and then cut short by politics and pettiness:
After winning the contest and roughing the social and economic warfare of Chicago, Hayden receives ten times less monetary gratitude than her male counterparts. Easily enough, when homebuilding with male colleagues, she becomes the product: too feminine, too delicate, too timid, too plain, too unassertive in a man’s time…Maybe all she needs is a vacation from the patriarchy, but with ten times less pay, she can’t afford a getaway.
All three of these essays are excellent as standalone works, but together, they’ve got a kind of magic that’s tough to diagnose. In announcing the winners last month, our culture editor wrote that “the two reasons we publish pop/culture essays at sinkhole is to share the art that excites us, and to discuss how these shows and books and songs and movies fit into our lives. How they give us the vocabulary to engage with our world.”
This, I think, is right on. And so that’s where I’ll leave it.
Thanks for reading.
header image: madison bernath