“I didn’t have to smoke these words. They found their way inside me immediately and burned into my chest, drew heat to my face, echoed in my ears. There is no space for me. There is no space for me.”
Exploring common relationship themes and struggles through the lens of a young couple finding their way through sexual identities and polyamory, Vanishing Twinsexpertly uses ballet metaphors and the blurred lines between twins and soul-mates to walk us through a personal and astonishing story.
While Leah Dieterich’s writing is precisely executed and peppered with gorgeous prose, it’s the forthrightness and integrity of her words that really make an impact. There’s a kind of ache – a searching – to Vanishing Twins that brings a sense of fluency while simultaneously being wholly disorienting. The plot moves fast, focusing more on the vast theme of self-discovery rather than the details of a too-linear storyline; essentially skipping to the good stuff and getting to the point.
Vanishing Twins is a stark commentary on social norms and expectations, choosing to fully delve into these subjects as a whole rather than focus on singular experience. The narrator’s journey is full of well-meaning, yet uncertain behaviors that lend themselves to an intriguing read, despite being habitually insular.
Dieterich’s detailed research on absorbed twins and expansive knowledge of ballet, art and philosophy pepper the plot, giving symbolism and much deeper meaning to otherwise straightforward themes. This academic and slightly commanding technique could feel overwrought if it weren’t executed so effortlessly and with so much poise.
The topics in Vanishing Twins can certainly be polarizing in the wrong hands, but Dieterich handles them with such grace and studiousness that, whether you agree with her or not, it’s impossible not to admire her dedication to finding the answers to such emotionally-driven fare. At times, Vanishing Twins almost reads like a captivating research paper – citing sources, backing up theories and drawing surprising connections – yet it never loses its delicate touch and expressive poignancy.
In the end, it’s a commentary on individuality and self-identity while maintaining a marriage, but it’s also a reflection on love and its boundaries and limits. Dieterich has certainly delivered a timely and vital memoir, but rather than get caught up in its seriousness, she presents a stunning and fascinating narrative that delivers a startlingly touching blow.
“I thought about how entropy seemed to be the natural state of the universe. How everything was coming apart, all the time, while also desperately trying to stay together.”
There are so many moments, passages and insights In Elle Nash’s powerful short novel, Animals Eat Each Other, that it’s easy to get lost in the story and forget to breath. It’s a penetrating account of a young girl’s three-way relationship with a volatile couple; A relationship so unyielding that the young girl’s real name gets lost in the surrender as the couple dubs her “Lilith.” This isn’t some quaint story about an innocent victim tormented by a Marilyn Manson-obsessed white trash couple, though. Animals Eat Each Other is a shadowy exploration of obsession, manipulation and the ruins of love and sexuality (even deeper, the fine line between the latter two). The stripped-down prose cuts through the clutter and the façade and tears you open like a dull, serrated steak knife.
Nash writes with precision and passion, narrating the tale like a retrospective and a confessional diary. Her insights are sharp and honest, exploring her own thought process with an almost bemused culpability yet showing little to no regret or remorse. Not to imply that she should feel any type of guilt, per se. Not one character in this book is what you’d call a “good person” by any standard. What they are, though, are real, complex and fully-developed people that illicit something resembling compassion and empathy. What Nash has done with this book is weave a story about shitty people doing shitty things to other shitty people that is somehow relatable and sympathetic, forcing its reader to exist in that hazy place in which right and wrong are subjective and perspective is the biggest lie and the only truth.
Animals Eat Each Other is dark, sexy and astute, the writing so concise and raw that it makes reading such heavy subject matter seem easy and intrusive. Nash’s evocative and intuitive prose pushes the story along, creating atmosphere and suspense. It’s like that train wreck in slow-motion cliché, but the beauty in this chaos that much more relevant and much more rewarding once you dig for it.
When I met Kelsie McNair up at her studio on Fawn Street, it looked like a gentle tornado had blown through. Walls were scattered with vacant nail holes, beautiful stained glass instead stacked on the ground. Old photos flung array, including a wallet-sized portrait of her mother sporting a jeweled choker and sassy red boa. Her table was afflux of boxes and those signature floral phone cases.
After closing her successful vintage shop, With Lavender and Lace, the cases became Kelsie’s main focus. Now, she’s finished up the last of her final batch. “I have to be out of here by Friday,” she said while carefully layering the gel over dried flowers in intricate rows. It was the first of a major to-do list that includes packing, photoshoots, and a show at Toast tomorrow with her project, Pyrrhic Whim. “Social time is over, that’s it,” she said “I’m done with that,” thus the show will serve as her farewell party before she moves to New York. There was no wine opener, so we relocated to her kitsch apartment filled with mismatch rugs and modern furniture that had a very high tech one.
“I’m doing so much sniffing” Kelsie said while putting away a mountain of laundry, deciphering what was clean or dirty. Seemingly no matching socks to her name, she exclaimed “my life is a nightmare.”
We try to figure out which meme Kelsie is at the present moment; I suggest she’s the woman with math swirling around her heard, just trying to figure it out. Kelsie suggests it’s the comic of a dog uttering “this is fine” while sitting in a burning house. “That’s where I’m at,” she said “it’s a good fire I guess, just a lot of change really quickly, but I’m really excited.”
She’d planned to go to the Big Apple months ago, but with a new gig at Renegade Craft, her vision has shifted. “It is very much in a different direction than all the plans I was planning on.” Previously with no full-time job ahead, her big move framed around teaching at Urban Glass. “I have 3 weekend workshops,” she said, “One of my favorite parts about my life is working with this school, and that they respect me and want me to teach there.”
First though, she must squeeze in a pitstop to San Francisco for work. “There’s a lot of moving parts that are visual and a lot of editorial stuff,” she said of her position as the traveling market’s Social Media Content Manager. McNair’s snippy copywriting and aesthetic posts cultivate “little experiences that people are experiencing,” a skilled gained by garnering her own following and proving she could curate a brand by building herself up over years.
“It was easier back then,” she said of starting up over 5 years ago, when the internet was less saturated and more blog-centric. Still, getting over 15,000 followers and plenty of sales means working “really hard at all this stuff I made up here,” she said, “I taught myself how to do a very specific position.” It’s the first time she’s been employed by someone other than herself in about 10 years, previously working at an ice cream shop, then a thrift store. “That’s my life — ice cream an old clothes,” she said, “nothing has changed, they’re still both weekly things.”
Her NYC digs are a reflection of her social media savvy — she’s shacking up in a beautiful house in the Bronx with a couple she met on Instagram years ago. When they were opening up Mottley Kitchen in 2016, Kelsie offered to help in the kitchen, and they’ve been friends since.
“I literally look like a giant penis,” Kelsie said after putting on a beanie found in the pile, “this hat is over”
Busy with her social media content manager job, she wants to focus less on writing music, and shift her genre focus. Lyrics are her “love language,” music her mode of communication for complicated feelings, but crafting songs can be emotionally draining. “I love writing music, I just don’t have the energy to always be writing music like that,” she said, “and I don’t really write any other kind.” Pyrrhic Whim is dreamy and dramatic, with beats and drones that are dazing. After listening to a lot of alternative R&B, she wants to strip the bells and whistles of her performance and have fun as a jazz singer.
“Playing someone else’s soulful stuff would be a wonderful space to be in; it’s so sensual and old, I want to be apart of it,” she said, “Just a dark, shadowy room where music fills the whole space, and it’s my job to be another instrument instead of all these trends and sounds.”
Her hopes for the city are new experiences, lacking here but plentiful in her new home. “When i have a good day in New York, it’s never like ‘oh, that was fun’ it’s like ‘shit, I’m gonna remember that experience for the rest of my life.” In the opposite direction, this extreme is equally strong. “New York bites you sometimes, it gets rough,” she said, “Men on the street are rude and aggressive and awful, everything is super expensive, there’s so many things, overstimulating in every way, no one cares about you — it’s the loneliest place there is.”
Lying within this premise is her greatest fear — unhappiness “The worst part about leaving [Norfolk] is there are so many awesome people here, they are the best people, and it takes a long time to find friends when you get older, it’s just harder,” she said, “these are the ones i’m gonna have forever. There’s a couple more spaces in me for that, but it’s starting to close up.”
Nonsense will not be brought to New York for the sake of friends. “I have to be my most genuine self so I don’t have to act like someone else when they do let me in,” she said, “if you’re letting me in, you know who I am so I don’t have to work any harder”
“I think back on myself even a year ago, and I keep getting better but I’m still so dumb, I can’t wait to look back and see all the things i’m making bad decision about right now – I’ll be so wise, but I still won’t be there; none of us ripen all the way.”
Maybe, I offer, we are all avocados that are too hard to eat once opened, stuck in the fridge only to be browned a few days later, but never soft. Kelsie might not be totally happy in New York, but she certainly isn’t here and none of us ever are all the way. “If you’re 100%,” Kelsie responded, “you’re more than likely in a manic episode.”
“I’m overprotective of myself,” Kelsie said, only to ensure she’ll be taken as she is or not at all. “That comes with growing up, that’s the best.”
When snorting like children, our laughs high pitched after sucking helium from leftover birthday balloons floating about, I didn’t feel so grown up. Sprawled on a newfound friend’s bed, feet kicked up, flipping through magazines and chatting about hopes & dreams, I felt like a teenager. With a hole closing up inside her, reserving space for a new place, I felt fortunate to catch a genuine glimpse of Kelsie.
She took a puff of the ballon and contemplated. “It’s not because we’re not good,” she squeaked, “it’s just because there’s so many people, I have to do so much to matter so little.” Her voice and mindset were heightened, possibly just a trait of the always overthinking Pisces.
Like a high school girl, I read Kelsie her horoscope. We’d classed and sassed up from Seventeen, with problematic glossy pages replaces with empowering matte media. Alongside thick art publications and makers magazines, featuring inspirational artists like Sarah Perez, was Broccoli. Reflective of her latest endeavor, Smirk Supply, the cannabis-friendly magazine is smart but fun, mature but creative.
“Say a prayer to the weed fairy that you’ll be supported in your wildest dreams, and take a puff.” I read aloud dramatically, “You set the tone this season through the faith you show in yourself. If you are clouded by vibrations of doubt, question them. You are a sensitive soul, so use cannabis to tune into your own energy, not the emotions of the people around you.”
“Yeah,” possibly after not totally staying still for several days, she paused and pondered, eventually smirking. “Wow.”