Fulfilling a promise I made to writers I published almost 10 years ago
Before I worked as a therapist I was a writer and an editor of a literary journal from 2006 till 2012. It was a business that I took up with friends in order to prove a point, that literary journals could be something of a workshop for those whose stories were "just a little off" and we could give feedback to every story that we ever received. It was a bold and humanistic idea.
To run a business is a beautiful thing, to put out quality product, to find passion in commerce and working to please customers. I have infinite respect for anyone who pushes this work in their day to day life. I worked with some amazing people and learned many valuable lessons that I share with my clients today.
The journal interviewed some of the best writers of the short story at the time. We published short stories from exciting and coming writers. We ran contests and dolled out thousands in cash prizes. We were one of the first literary journals that ran online writing workshops and I personally conducted many workshops with writers that I still keep in touch with today. The website, now defunct, you can see our checkout our archives here. Annually, we would publish a print edition. It's (and maybe still is) the gold standard of publishing to have your work in print and I made a promise to anyone who published with Our Stories that they would see their work in print. It was a big deal.
During the last couple of years of my work in the field, somewhere around 2010, I began to notice that I didn't have the energy or the capacity to work as tirelessly as I once had. The margins had been slim, the hours brutal and every three months putting out a journal grew more difficult. To add to this, I was personally going through a period of immense change. First with moving from Saint Louis, back to Ithaca, NY and then to end of a relationship. Because of this, I didn't put out two issues of print of the writers who I had promised would one day see their work in print. That has gnawed at me for a long time. Eight years.
A number of months back I decided to go about fulfilling a promise. I hired a designer. Dug up the old InDesign documents and began in earnest to make these last two volumes to go into print.
I'm proud to say that's completed. To me, when you have uncompleted work in your life it hangs over you. I never made peace with this and I'm proud to say that has now changed. Thanks for reading. Namaste.
Volume 1: 2006-2007
Our premiere short story collection for the Our Stories Literary Journal was the first we ever had in print. The cover art was done by Colin Shaw.
Includes short stories by: JE Ogle, Christian McLean, Pete Syverson, Jenni Di Placidi, Brian Heston, Lyn LeJeune, David Rosenstock, Matthew Hamity, Amy Stuber, Veronica Vela, William Hicklin, Jeremey Adam Smith, Sandy Olson Hill, Patti Smith-Jackson, Thomas Lisenbee, Jennifer Reimer, Nicholas Cook, Chuckie Campbell, Cara Hoffman, Thea Swanson, Mark Vogel.
Interviews with: Richard Bausch, Paul Cody, Matthew Sharpe & George Saunders. Essays on writing by Lex Enrico Santi.
Purchase here at Amazon
Volume 2: 2007-2008
Volume 2 of Our Stories Literary Journal had the cover art of Colin Shaw. Includes the following short stories by the following writers:
Joni Koehler, Emily Hipchen, Janice Soderling, Colin Thornhill, Patrick Berlinquette, Carl Fuerst, Alex Stephens, Dave Weisbord, Kelli Ford, Eric Maroney, Boss Carver, Douglas Silver, Megan Roberts, William Litton, Jennifer Gooch Hummer, Anne Germanacos, Tina Rosenberg.
Interviews with: Stacey Richter, Ana Menendez, TC Boyle & Junot Diaz.
Purchase here at Amazon
Volume 3: 2008-2009
The Volume 3 of Our Stories Literary Journal had the cover design by Jesse Winter and features the following short stories by these amazing authors: Tatjana Miloradovic-Lindes, Paul Dickey, Nick Ostdick, Lindsay Merbaum, Elliot Satsky, Adam Shechter, Thomas Lisenbee, Paul Vidich, Cameron Coursey, Meakin Armstrong, Keith Lord, Jo Page, Karen Best, Renee, Simms, Kristiana Colón, Paula Hari, Shane Kraus, Caroline Bailey Lewis, Erik Hoel, Cynthia Hawkins. Essays on the craft of writing and publishing by Lex Enrico Santi.
Interviews with: Adam Haslett, Steve Almond, Alan Cheuse, Stuart Dybek
Purchase here at Amazon
Volume 4: 2009-2010
Volume 4 of Our Stories Literary Journal had the cover design, of my good friend Bob Reuter, who has tragically since passed. It included the following authors: Margaret McMullan, Adam Smith, Mark Wolsky, Travis Mills, Greg Girvan, Ira Sukrungruang, James Goolsby, Onnesha Roychouduri, Chellis Ying, Louis Wittig, Matthew Lang, Connie A. Lopez-Hood. Townsend Walker, Roy Jeffords, Daryl Morazzini, Glenda Bailey-Mershon, Elizabeth Boyd, Ed Bull, Kerry Mackel.
And the interviews of : Dorothy Allison, Karen E. Bender.
And some essays by: Lex Enrico Santi
Purchase here at Amazon
Volume 5: 2010-2011
Volume 5 of Our Stories Literary Journal displays the mural painting by Lex Enrico Santi, and the short stories by the following incredible authors: Margaret LaFleur, Sara Lippmann, Michael Harris Cohen, Althea Black, Richard Hartshorn, Anne Earney, Charles Hashem, Alyssa Capo, Guinotte Wise, Mark Maynard, Jeanne Gulbranson, Brian Bienkowski, Ana Menendez, Cara Hoffman, Jenny Halper, Gord Grisenthwaite, Sativa January, Melissa Kriendel, Anna Steen,
Interviews with: Richard Spilman & Cara Hoffman
and essays by Lex Enrico Santi -- *Includes new introduction about the last 8 years since OS closed shop.
Purchase here at Amazon
Volume 6: 2011-2012
Volume 6 of Our Stories Literary Journal, only included two volumes, as opposed to 4. It is a smaller collection but the stories were some of our finest. The coverart is a mural painting by Lex Enrico Santi. The following amazing authors were published in the journal: Allison Field Bell, Tyler Evans, Erica Jung, Sandra Rouse, Raul Clement, Jocelyn Johnson, Mittie Babette Roger, An Tran, Amanda Holmes, Lynett Ngulube.
There are no interviews in this issue. There are essays by Lex Enrico Santi, including a special thank you to our writers and my best friend who founded the journal with me, Josh Campbell.
Purchase here at Amazon.
Pt. 4 in a series on oppression...
We often hear from individuals in the media or worse, in social media, examples of when a member of an excluded group: African American, for example, throws a punch at a white man. There are examples of this with colorful memes and such that rile up supporters against Black Lives Matter. This, tragically, is part of our next lesson. The difference between discrimination and an ISM.
Oppression works in a single direction. Discrimination works both ways. Oppression works as a system which flows from the top, like a waterfall. I love waterfalls, I live close to dozens of them. I just don't want to be under a waterfall. Why? There's simply too much power directly underneath. It crashes down on you because the concentration of force directly falls on you. It's a wondrous thing to look at from a distance.
Oppression works like that. Once you are at the bottom of a waterfall, it is nearly impossible to climb back up the waterfall, to get to the top. You would need someone sitting atop the waterfall to create an environment that would allow you to then climb up tot he top of the mountain. Imagine, if you're from around Ithaca, hundreds of people diverting the water from the mighty Taughannock that
A lot of times examples are used of discrimination where a single incident of brutality in the opposite direction, a woman killing a man, an African American slaying a white person, is equated to an example of oppression. It is not. You can't account for thousands of years of oppressive tactics which included state decisions, religious doctrines, control from insitittuoins and equate that to a punch being thrown or Charlize Theron's character in Monster. It just isn't the same.
Don't get me wrong. These are heinous and horrible crimes, but they are not oppression. Oppression is a system. Oppression is what bore out the genocide of the native peoples of America, it was built on ideology, media, legal system, and so on and so on. Oppression is decades worth of complaints that go unnoticed while baseball and football teams have mascots that are blatantly racist against the native Americans.
Acts of discrimination can happen both ways. Everyone discriminates against one another in some fashion, it's the subject object thing that we were talking about earlier. It is part of the human condition that we should discern one from the other. This is, in a sense, to discriminate then--again, we all discriminate. However, having preferences that then are rewarded one from from the other and the very life is lost or cut short because of that preference on a mass scale, that is the root of oppression. Thanks all.
PT. 3 In a Series on Oppression
This is a difficult topic to introduce because it requires to expansively think of ourselves as embodying different bodies of mind at the same time. Let me explain, I function in gender with the identity of being part of the male included group. Or, to be specific, the CIS gender group. At the same time, I have a relationship with my gender which "bumps into" other individuals. I have a relationship with the group "men" and whether that is a meta relationship or a relationship which entails getting together or influencing men as a whole. And I have a relationship with this group of men which can come into contact with a group of women or other gendered groups. This is why it is complex to understand how oppression is impacting because we can experience it on all these levels. This article attempts to explain this sticky aspect of oppression and where some of us get caught.
These different lenses we experience oppression are as follows: internalized, Inter-personal, group and inter-group.
Each one of these has their own unique attributes which keep us from seeing a wider whole of how we may be impacted by oppression.
Most of what we see in the news media happens on the inter-personal level. That makes sense right? We see one individual do something horrible to another individual based on oppressive instincts. Our relationship to the act of violence then has a relationship to our thoughts and feelings about that form of oppression. For example, if you are male, you may not think a wage gap is such a big deal--because you may hold onto ideas of internalized oppression that "well, men work harder" and this may be a very well rooted bias that you hold and it defines you in a particular way. You may then go out an say this to your partner, or get together with groups of men and advocate that the wage gap should be even greater. And so on and so forth. We have a relationship then with an institutional form of oppression (the wage-gap) and while it may not individually impact us (let's say you are male and make less than the median) you may have thoughts and feelings about it (internalized oppression) and then you act out and say that the wage gap is a lie to your partner (inter-personal oppression). Your partner gets upset and this causes tension and struggle. Then you go out and begin organizing with other men (group oppression) against women (inter-group). It sounds complicated right? It is. Don't worry, we're going to go over this a lot.
One can have a relationship with yourself and see your experience as being in an included group. The pain of being a male can be very real and yet you can still act out of your gender and the power that it has and act upon another individual. That's because in Internalized oppression, things are learned about our identities which have been part of the training and construction of having a relationship to power. This happens across all groups of identities, and it happens in included groups and excluded groups. The system of oppression's goal is to for people to police themselves and convince themselves that they cannot--will not thrive--in the system they are in--so why bother?
Just because someone is part of an included group does not mean that all that they learned about themselves is good, in fact, someone can be violent towards their way of being in the world and have a very unsatisfactory relationship with their identity. For example, men are often taught not to cry and share their feelings because it is not "manly". Therefore, internalized oppression ends up being experienced and stories are told and repeated inside of one's mind.
This is a system of oppression where we act out ideas of oppression on other people. We objectify them in a particular way and have preconceived notions on the way this is to go. Very clearly, George Zimmerman was working with a sense of entitlement and out sized ego in order to intimidate Trayvon Martin. He was likely acting out of a sense of internalized oppression as he was angry and saw himself in fact as a victim. When this didn't go his way, the incident turned into interpersonal oppression, as Zimmerman's actions clearly were based on his relative privileged of being white/Latino and Trayvon's racial identity.
We can dip our toe into ageism as well, as Zimmerman may have believed that he could intimadate a boy (Trayvon was 17 at the time) and Zimmerman was 29 years old at the time. The discussion never seems to center around the fact that someone who had 12 years on a boy followed and then executed a youth.
We experience so much on a personal and interpersonal level. When an issue becomes publicized though we begin to experience a lens into our group experience of identity. We begin to process events as part of a greater whole. The next two examples explore this aspect.
We explore how we fit into the larger context of a "group identity". What does it mean to be light skinned black in a group? What does it mean to be Latin who does not speak Spanish? How do we embrace the diaspora of the identity.
To use a relevant example and to bring this all home, let's stay with gender and the male identity. A man experiences stories and experiences of being male. He has thoughts about what it means to be a man and may have examples where he feels he was passed over for a job because of his male identity. This is internalized oppression then, he begins to process his feelings and has a "story" about his life. The oppression can be perceived and not be entirely correct of course. We can't easily change the stories in our head and once we convince ourselves of something it is brutal to interpret.
So then this man has a relationship and acts out his ideas of inferiority and oppresses whomever is of another gender around him. Let's say he begins to have an interpersonal oppressive relationship with his partner. He then experiences his internalized stories of masculinity and then carries out an interpersonal action against his partner. They may not realize how this is linked.
The next step then is for the individual to associate and work with their group to gain power and begin to associate their own internalized oppression as part of a larger movement. A clear example of these are the sad turns of men's groups like Proud Boys which believe that men's relative power has waned over the last number of years and that they must take back that power by force. Other examples of group oppression would be Nazis gathering power to commit violence.
INTER-GROUP OPPRESSION: When entire groups commit acts of violence against other groups for the purpose of exploitation or intimidation then we begin to see how power is wielded and inflicted on another group. These are large scale understandings that we learn about how one group interacts, works with or deals with another group.
You may not realize it but all of these systems of experiencing oppression are playing out around you and you're a part of it on some level. The easiest for you to work with day-to-day is how to address yourself. What assumptions do you make about yourself and where was that learned? Then next, work with approaching people not as objects to work through and get done with but as people who have a subject for you to learn about.
QUESTIONS? Leave a message in the comment section!
Ithaca wears an oddly fitting town-gown with Cornell; we have graced the bottom of a certain middle-finger-lake for over 150 years and somehow we have found a way to get along. I can't say that it was a shotgun wedding, nor is it something closer to an arranged marriage. It feels like something in between. If, after a spike of Co-Vid cases after mere thousands of tourists over the 4th of July weekend sent shudders through the community, how will 20,000 students arriving on campus impact our community? Despite all statements otherwise, the impact could be devastating. We are at a time where it necessitates examining this relationship, as now tens of thousands of Ithacans are putting their well being at risk.
Our taxes are the highest in the state because of sheer expanse of Cornell across the county and with that, our cost of living astronomical for the region. Our housing market is geared towards short term rentals and even the term “affordable housing” takes a sort of sci-fi definition. Moreover we lack the stability of upwardly moving jobs and career-minded-hand and glove positions which move 20-somethings into long term investment of our community. We have something of a steroid induced focus on short term tenant/renter construction projects or service jobs which cater to this market. I fear, as an Ithacan, that we are building a bubble around Cornell and we must ask what good is this relationship and what do we get from it?
For the last 150 years every August we have waited with anticipation the next chapter of our arranged-shotgun marriage to further. We Ithacans set our sails on slinging everything from T-shirts to bacon and eggs. Whether directly profiting or not from this influx of our local economy has been pinned to the Big Red success on the hill and for good reason. Estimates this past April put the impact of Cornell closing to a 7 figure amount on the economic loss. Now, we question is any amount worth it due to CoVid? We now ask, to what extent does Cornell care about Ithacan's well-being in the process of opening campus?
I believe, now is good enough of a time as any, to begin negotiations to renew the social contract with Cornell. This contract due to CoVid predicates that Cornell ante-up more than they are doing and that we must tear up our previous social contracts that have existed. I am talking well past the million dollar gift they give to the city that our mayor valiantly fights for increase. I am saying that if Cornell wreaks havoc on our incomes and relationship with their student population, as they are asking our community to serve them food, drive them places, to build their and service their housing, to pick up their garbage and to teach their classes and eventually house them when sick— we must ask what Cornell is doing for us to be the economic engine that provides a sustainable future for our community?
This community deserves good paying jobs, living wages, and a labor force that has opportunities. I personally believe Cornell should and could play a part in that. Instead of directing funds and growth development towards New York City, where is the actual emphasis on Ithaca? Which academic programs generate students who want to thrive and start careers in this bustling college town? What economic engines have been developed by Cornell that provide community members jobs?
Gone are is the Education program that produced teachers for our community. The work of social workers and therapists is handled by nearby Syracuse and Binghamton universities as there is no program for Cornellians to work with the community. Cornell has no nursing program and their doctors famously train in the City. In addition to a Cornell Global Health Program, why not work with local health? If the product of a Cornell education sends students farther away from Cayuga's waters exclusively—then what is the justification of the land grant institution in these stark times?
In these days of CoVid- I believe there is a question that falls to our community: What relationship do we want to have and our children to have with Cornell for the next 150 years? And like the old Janet Jackson song goes an Ithacan can sing, "what have you done for me lately?" Because at what cost does it mean to truly live in this fine college town? I fear our precarious economic situation is symptomatic of something much larger, where we feel alienated and powerless from a very wealthy and insulated class.
A marriage does include vows and a binding contract for the future. However, if we are to go forward in the future together--in sickness and in health--we must renegotiate the long term health to find our way to true bliss.
The course that changed my life was called Making Connections.
When I was in college at Hobart and William Smith, there was a program called Peer Education and Human Relations. It was my minor, it served as some of the backbone of what has made me the therapist that I am today. Today, from what I know about the field of Social Work, and having done my MSW at the top institution in the country, I believe the PEHR program at HWS served as a defacto BSW program. This course work extremely through in studying the history and dynmacis of oppression. It provided a broad scope of terminology and application of terminology. It had in it, some of the most intense training in facilitation and practice applications that I have ever engaged. Further after my training was completed, in my senior year, I taught three semesters of work as a facilitator-led and taught 15 up-and-coming trainees. I taught this capstone course, "Making Connections" twice and I firmly believe that what I gained in my time as an undergrad shaped who I am today and gave me the skills that I use every day as a clinical therapist.
The course Making Connections had an ambitious task: how do you take a group of 60-80 people ad walk them through each 'ism a week, and hope to bring them through the grueling exploration of how to identify and work with oppression?
The writing that I have been sharing came from that course work from Hobart and William Smith and from various other graduate work from Washington University in Saint Louis. At the time of writing this post though, the core of the lessons I received are over 20 years old. Yet, they are all relevant. They represent a model of how to work with diversity issues on a large scale. The course has had many names, but the name I learned to appreciate was: “Making Connections,” or MC for short. MC is an experiential learning course based around systems of oppression in society. It was a course created by men and women who worked and studied at Cornell University, and it taught me how to live.
The key tenet of the course is that there is no hierarchy of oppression. Each form of oppression is equal to any other, as opposed to there being one that is the most important to solve. Further, it taught me that as long as you have one form of oppression you will have all the others; there is no “solving” racism, for example, unless we solve all forms of oppression. The course taught me how to dissect different types of societal oppression and recognize the historical implications and similarities one type has with the others. Students learned their roles in breaking the cycle of oppression, as well as the stereotypes and misinformation associated with different groups of people.
For an entire semester, myself and a group of 60 other students, faculty and staff members gathered for three hours to talk about understanding what the individual experiences. We would tackle an “ism” a week: Racism, Ageism, Ableism, Sexism, Heterosexism, Anti-Semitism and Classism, making interconnections between them all. Each ism has a relation to power and access to privileges. With sexism, for example, the group in power is men and called the “included group.” Therefore, the excluded group is women.
Each class began with a historical understanding of the roots of the oppression, typically a 45 minute lecture supported by readings and class discussion. We then separated into affinity groups. For example, women talked to one another about their experiences and vice versa with men. We were allowed to work through our experiences with oppression with others privately, without judgement and without being forced to defend our experiences. No matter the ism we were discussing, I always felt like I learned something valuable about my experience in the world.
Then something more remarkable would occur: We would come back together as a group and the excluded group would speak to the included group about their experiences. This was something radically powerful about this class, and it allowed us to share personal stories that transformed opinions. How often have I, as a man, been able to listen to all of the ways that women are impacted by sexism? How often have I been able to share the ways in which I have been personally impacted by racism in my life? How often have I had the opportunity to speak to a group of thoughtful, patient potential allies? Reflecting back on the class now, it seems remarkable that we did this every week.
By the end of the 10 week course lives were radically changed. Individuals that thought they had no culture and questioned their validity as an ally began to transform themselves into being anti-oppression activists. Individuals that experienced oppression in excluded groups grasped language and understanding of a shared experience that transcended not only their own identity group but saw the intersectionality of other groups.
The model of MC is one that can be replicated and worked with in large groups across the country. Whether is set in a corporate environment or used as a model to work with higher education institutions the system works as it leaves no story untouched and has material which makes use of our own stories and experience with oppression. Individuals can learn the basic tenants of social justice and begin breaking out of the systems of oppression which have plagued them. Using the lessons I learned 20 years ago and using the skills I have honed for for the past two decades brings me to the field of social justice and helping others.
Lex Enrico Santí is a mental health therapist based in Ithaca, NY. He offers therapy sessions in a home practice and can work with clients using a secure telehealth (online) practice. Contact him today for more information.