Shayna is a 31-year old writer living in Tel Aviv, Israel. She spends her days as the director of content for a tech company, but saves most of her creative energy for penning (really great) poetry. Speaking of which, all the poetry in this post is Shayna’s.
Prologue: I believe the stories we tell one another have the power to change the world. Especially the stories we tell one another about ourselves.
As a society, we focus so much of our attention on the bold-faced “success stories” of CEOs and best-selling authors, the famous and infamous. We get accustomed to glossy, polished anecdotes that are fun to read but hard to relate to. Too often — especially during these times of isolation and separation — we miss the remarkable stories that live all around us.
The neighbor across the street.
The woman behind the cash register.
The co-worker we see every day.
Captivating, inspiring, powerful stories live inside each of us. This series celebrates those stories with 15 interviews of women whose voices you likely haven’t heard before. (Since March is Women’s History Month, it seems like the perfect time for it.) I asked each of these women to share some of their personal story, and talk about how they have found — or are still finding — their own voice.
Today, we hear from Shayna.
alive for 31 years and
hungry for every one
of them grains of rice
stuck to the pot
time is after dark frozen
bread and chocolate chips
dinner silent secret i’ve
never had enough
In her own words:
I grew up on Long Island, in New York, in a town called Great Neck that I deeply love. I was raised in an Orthodox Jewish community where womxn are, if not necessarily subservient, not dominant. We were taught in school that womxn are “special” and that’s why there are so many laws policing their dress and behavior.
In Orthodox Judaism, womxn are supposed to want to be an eishet chayil — a good wife whose worth is far above rubies. The heart of her husband trusts in her, as the prayer goes, so she’s supposed to raise the kids and clean the house and cook every meal and do so much more than any one human is capable of doing.
Growing up in an Orthodox Jewish community as a queer womxn was painful. Everything about my existence — the life I wanted, the way I defined myself, the people I surrounded myself with — went against the values of my community and culture. Identifying as queer wasn’t just devalued — it was seen as disobeying authority.
I was scared to be queer in that community, and when I was outed it was the most painful experience of my life. Womxn weren’t queer; womxn were wives. Womxn weren’t partners; they were enablers. We were expected to go to college, get married, and start popping kids out. Not wanting that was rebellious, and rebellious womxn were enemies of the community.
As an adult, I want to negate everything I learned about womxnhood in that environment. As my family’s primary earner, I rebel against the notion that women should stay home or have “easy” jobs; my tattooed body celebrates the zaftig skin suit I was born into; dressing in a way that not everyone considers “flattering” according to their standards of Eurocentric beauty allows me to claim my body and appearance as my own.
I’m a loud-and-proud Democratic Socialist, I’m a vegan activist, and I’m probably never going to be thin — all things that horrify the community I grew up in, and all aspects of myself that I love.
Identifying as a Democratic Socialist is the best way for me to sum up all of my beliefs: I’m anti-racist, anti-transphobic, anti-homophobic, anti-misogynist, anti-SWERF/TERF politics, and anti-capitalism. Supporting feminism, Black Lives Matter, trans rights, queer rights, and socialist politics isn’t enough — I have to fight not just for what I believe in, but against what I don’t believe in.
“you have already experienced
the lowest point in a downward
cycle” my hair frizzes and knots
on contact my husband broke
the glass under his foot we pray
for messiah the skeletons
dance in jerusalem compulsions
come too fast to name i wash
my hands i bless my bread my dead
What aspect of your personal history most shaped who you are?
Being Ashkenazi Jewish is a huge part of my identity, and I strongly align myself with Yiddish socialism.
As far as family goes, I have a little sister who’s my best friend, two parents, and a grandma. My mom, sister, grandma, and I are a little crew that can’t be torn apart and I love them deeply. They’ve always encouraged me to pursue my passions and dreams (thanks, mom, for paying for my poetry degree!) and I know how much of a blessing that is.
What are three things about yourself that you did NOT get to choose?
My chart (Sagittarius sun, Leo moon, Libra rising), my birthplace, and being a writer. I’ve never been good at anything else, even though I’ve tried. Definitely not a writer by choice.
“i thought you would
handle this better” can
someone share the guide
a plague please carve
out of my skin anger
so deep it took
three pages to find
about a cavernous spin
bike i confronted
[redacted] but got no
parts of my life are
dying leo moon is
What are three things that you DID choose?
I’m a Democratic Socialist because I believe that people come before profit, I’m a vegan because I don’t want to be complicit in abuse and murder, and I’m married because I can do just fine on my own, but I’m better as part of a team.
What is one deeply held value that you will never, ever compromise on?
Capitalism is the enemy of a peaceful society.
What voices get under your skin?
People who bow to their fears and try to convince others to do the same. For most of us, what stands between our dreams is confidence and money. Money is a limited resource available to very few people (though hopefully mutual aid will change that!), but confidence comes from within.
Also, anyone who voted for Trump or aligns themselves with hateful politics (SWERF/TERF, transphobic, anti-queer, racist, misogynist, capitalist) and isn’t afraid to share their opinions — how are you not embarrassed to be who you are??
Finish this statement: “I first realized I was a feminist when…”
I was in sixth grade and someone told me girls don’t ask boys on dates and I thought that was bullshit.
What has been your favorite pandemic-times creative pursuit?
Brewing and drinking millions of mugs of tea. Cold, hot, milky, herbal, mega caffeine — I love them all.
Also, I’ve participated in two poetry workshops and am in a weekly writing group with five phenomenal poets in five different countries, and it is the light of my week.
That is love
When I say I love you, I mean
you are always the best option. I prefer
life with you to life without you. That is
how I love: always thinking about the end.
The Hebrew word for longing is ga’agu’im
and it sounds right: a guttural word for
a guttural feeling. When we met I hated
something about your voice, but one day
I couldn’t remember what it was. That is love
and why I didn’t think it would happen to me;
that anyone would or could look past scars
and hairs and a laugh that keeps reinventing
itself. I have spent a lot of time thinking about
life without you and have come to the conclusion
that, while life may have been simpler before we
met, now it will never be simple again. We can only
miss what was ours and I would miss you terribly. That is love.
Read more VOICES…
Jamae Tasker is a Warrior of Love
Sam McWilliams is an Intrepid Cliff Jumper
Hattie Anderson is a Confident Black Goddess
Elizabeth Schroeder is a Swashbuckling Peacemaker
Nikka Diaz is a Natural-Born Empath
Kelly Galeano Arce is a Dauntless Truth Seeker
Tiffany Miller is a Nurturer of Dreams
Emma Rekha Marty is a Guardian of Hope
Natalie Patrice Tucker is a Mother of Dragons
Ruth T. is a Queen of Hearts
Tetyana Borshch is a Radical Daydreamer
Brittani West is a World Class Risk Taker
Tiffani Jones Brown is a Lionhearted Listener
Kathy Azada is a Bright Side Enthusiast
The titles for the VOICES Series come from Exercise #2 in the Permission to Speak Workbook. The exercise, “You have more power than you know,” encourages participants to choose a title from a list that is offered, or — if none of those titles feels right — to make up one of their own.
“Each of us is our own harshest critic, most of the time,” the workbook says. “We don’t always see ourselves as we are. We instinctively try to hide many things about ourselves — our failures, our mistakes, our weaknesses, our obsessions. …But the things that make you you also give you power.”
Each woman interviewed for the VOICES Series either chose a title for herself from this list, or gave herself a title of her own making.