In the last five years, I’ve lived in six different cities. After graduating in Grand Rapids, I migrated to San Francisco, spent four months in Singapore, a year between Melbourne and Sydney, and the last year and a bit in Brooklyn. Each home, however temporary, taught me something new. The badges and the baggage I acquired along the way make me who I am. So when someone asks me where I’m from, I feel compelled to mention all of them. It would be misleading, just for the sake of conversation, to pin my identity to “just a small town in Michigan called Midland,” where I was born. Collectively, the places I’ve lived paint a much more complete picture of me.
This issue’s cover mister offers a vivid example of this. Moving from Memphis to a suburb of Dallas to a Kentucky college town, Saeed Jones spent much of his early years trying desperately to escape. His new book, Prelude to Bruise, dives into this history through his poetry. Only after he left for the metropolitan solace of New York City, where he is the LGBT editor at Buzzfeed, did he abruptly come to realize that digging up his past was his best way forward. His poems reflect each version of the South he had known–its ups, its downs, and its in-betweens–and we are honored to share some of them with you.
More than the geographies of our past, the lessons we carry with us give context to who we are. In sharing this with others, we discover commonalities–places, people, or experiences–where our pasts overlap. These intersections are the foundation on which we form a stronger understanding of ourselves.
Khalid El Khatib introduces us to two teachers, one who, for the majority of his thirty-five-year career, kept his sexuality hidden from his colleagues; the other, a younger, openly gay teacher whose experience, while paralleled, has been considerably brighter. We hear from Jon Grant on meeting his estranged uncle, who broke free from their small-minded hometown to find acceptance and the creative encouragement he needed to pursue his dream. Despite severely different upbringings, having the same starting point gave them a common viewpoint to see each other from. London-based fashion designer Bobby Abley uses a similar tactic to connect to his audience. Drawing from his childhood obsession with classics like The Little Mermaid, his Disney-inspired collections are universally relatable and have become a staple to his identity as a designer. He says someone once told him that “an artist paints the same painting their whole life. In some ways” he continues, “I’m always trying to tell the same story, but I’m getting it out in different ways each season.”
Our identities can be reshaped through our telling of new experiences. But as Faulkner said, “The past is never dead. It's not even past.” No matter what our relationship with our past–the places we’ve called home, the people we’ve known–it always remains at the core of who we are. We can try to distance ourselves from it, or use it to show how far we’ve come, but only after we've embraced it can we finally turn our attention toward the future.