The Solo Valentine (ft. Rick Ross)

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

by Shania Driggs


Sitting in my bedroom, I scroll through Instagram and see girls posting photos and videos of their man with bouquets of roses; they are in a nice hotel room with that song every lover girl plays, “Hrs & Hrs” by Muni Long, in the background. I mumble to myself, “Must be nice.”

It was three weeks before the much-anticipated holiday, usually for couples, known as Valentine’s Day. For the singles like me, this was just another day for us to be aware that we are single and feel like a third wheel, or just act unbothered while everyone is getting cute teddy bears and boxes of chocolates with a nice card. In the past, every Valentine’s Day either I had a guy or I’d go out with my homegirls, but this particular year was different. Even my friends had a valentine, so that really meant that I was going to be alone.

I had been single for the second year in a row. I always had someone who at least wanted to take me out, but even that didn’t feel right for me this year. I was at a point in my life where having a man’s company was starting to become an annoyance because men seem to always give the bare minimum, and I didn’t want that either. I wanted to have what the other girls’ experiences were. I was accepting that I had no plans and I was going to be alone this year for Valentine’s Day. 


As the weeks counted down, seeing couples celebrate Valentine’s Day early and hearing my friends plan what their man was going to do for them, I started to feel sad. I felt left out because everyone had someone and I didn’t, and it made me feel like a loner. I kept telling myself, “I’ll just wait ’til I have somebody that will do nice things for me,” not even thinking I would be able to do those same nice things for myself. 

I took my frustrations about Valentine’s Day and talked about them with my therapist. I met with her every month, and we discussed anything I had on my mind or upcoming events. I told her that I did not want to sit at home and be sad like others. I wanted to go do something, but I also was not confident to go out by myself. I was scared and had so much anxiety. I always went places with people; I never had thought to go anywhere alone.

My therapist told me, “Shania, you work hard and you deserve to treat yourself. If you really want to go do something by yourself for Valentine’s Day, do so. Never wait for a man to do anything for you that you’d want to do on your own. And also, Valentine’s Day is not just for couples; it’s to express and show love to anyone, including self-love.”  


The session with my therapist had me going back and forth with the thought of taking myself out for Valentine’s Day. Days later after debating, I decided to plan myself a Valentine’s weekend staycation. I told my friends about my upcoming plan, and some were supportive. Others said things like, “Girl, you’re bold. You’re really gonna go out and be in a room alone? That’s crazy.” I didn’t care, and I continued with my plans. I booked an Airbnb in Cleveland, Ohio just one week before Valentine’s Day, and ironically, it was All-Star Weekend in Cleveland also. As scared as I was, I went through with my plans and had so much fun. Not only did I treat myself to a nice room, but I enjoyed sitting around in a silk robe with a glass of wine and took amazing pictures. 

As the day went on after I checked in, I put on something really cute and decided to go to Bonefish for dinner. I sat in my car filled with anxiety, thinking about turning around. I braced myself and went in. With my palms sweaty, I stuttered asking for a table for one, and the hostess led me to a booth. Dinner went lovely. The waitress made me feel comfortable knowing that I was alone, and before getting my check she told me, “A nice man over by the bar paid for the Martini on your bill; lucky you!” I was shocked but also pleased with that nice gesture, and it made me even more confident throughout the night. 

The night was still young, and I decided to go out to the clubs downtown. Since it was All-Star Weekend, a lot of places were buzzing with celebrities and ball players. I found a really cool club and paid the ticket to get in, and to make it even better, Rick Ross was there and he’s one of my favorite artists. After a few drinks and vibing to songs and meeting new faces at the bar, I returned to the Airbnb and reflected on my night. To experience a solo night like this, knowing how doubtful I’d been about having the courage to go, was the best feeling ever. It made me so confident to be okay with being single and not care what others may think. I learned a valuable lesson: that I can always have fun spending quality time with myself and also be brave enough to do things on my own. 

Shania Driggs is currently studying Respiratory Therapy at the Akron Campus of Stark State College. Shania is 23 years old and aspires to be an inspiration to all women to express Self Love. She quotes that “self love is the best love” and that was the theme for her story about “The Solo Valentine”. Shania is an advocate for Single women and their healing journey; she also ministers to individuals about self love and enjoying those moments of solitude. “I hope everyone that reads my story gets inspired in doing what’s best for you, treating yourself and doing the unordinary for the best experiences in life!”

The Mug

Photo by Simon Daoudi on Unsplash

by Chandler Jernigan

There is nothing in this world that has the astonishing ability to be a beacon of hope in the darkness of night than the bright yellow and black sign that one sees in a drunken haze. One of those nights I stumbled into the infamous Waffle House like I had so many times before. The perfect mixture of the sweet smell of waffle batter, the salty air of bacon grease and sticky tables just made me feel at home. There, I found something I did not expect myself to become so attached to: a Waffle House coffee mug.

I marched into the diner towards my usual spot. I was disappointed to see other people sitting there. I found another booth, but the unfamiliar seat creaked and dug into the small of my back. I waited a long while for the server to take my order. I could have made my presence more known or called the lady over; however, I had this mug in my hand, and I was surprisingly okay with just that. I had nothing to do but stare at this beautiful mug. Perfect in its hourglass design, knowing full well that it makes a smaller cup of coffee, I saw it as a means to keep itself full of hot coffee. My stomach growled and my back ached, which fueled the fire of my anger, and the only comfort I enjoyed was this mug in my hands. During the long wait, I plotted a devious plan. This mug was coming home with me.

After paying, I decided it was time for my new companion and I to leave and go home. I grabbed the cup and put it in my jacket, then walked out the door. Not used to this type of behavior, I felt the rush of breaking the rules, like a real criminal. My hands trembled as I began to get in my car. I expected fire and brimstone to begin falling from the sky or lightning to strike me for my sins against the world. I felt empowered by this impulsive act at the Waffle House, unlike any other experience I had there. Once I arrived home, I cleaned the mug and placed it alongside my perfectly matched set of generic mugs.

I used my proudly stolen Waffle House mug as much as I possibly could. I took it with me to work in the morning, and I carried it around with me everywhere I went as I toiled through my daily tasks at my low-level insurance job. I had no intention of releasing the secret of how I came about owning such a laughable mug, no matter how much anyone decided to question me about it. Everything about this mug was great to me. Even its use was complementary to my daily life. I never needed any other mug, and I grasped this mug like I would never drink out of another cup again. I felt strong and confident holding this mug because it showed that I was still just a kid – impulsive, stupid and, more importantly, not a boring adult with responsibility and perfectly upright morals.

All of the sudden, I had a child, then another one, and then a foster son. Through each newborn phase, I could not keep my eyes open or have a modicum of coherency to my words due to each baby waking up all hours of the night. The solution came to me as an old friend: a warm, inviting and exhilarating coffee mug. I needed coffee more than any other time in my life, when I had lied to myself about its necessity in the past. So naturally, I creaked open the cabinet and saw my prize once again: a beautiful, out-of-place Waffle House mug; a blast from the past; a reminder of my freedom and aloofness to the world around me. It reminded me of the life I had before children and how no matter how much I love and cherish all my sons, I also loved and missed parts of my life that I had taken for granted in the past. 

One morning, after finally getting enough sleep, I opened my cabinet once again and saw my stolen coffee mug. This time was different. I saw it in a light that made me question my reality as a parent. I was faced with two wrongs that do not make a right. I either tell my children about how I stole this mug and I’m proud of it, or I lie to them and possibly break their trust in the future. This mug was pulling me in so many directions that I had no idea where to go. This mug was becoming a dark shadow of my past, and I could never share my love for this mug with my children. I stared at the mug for what seemed like an eternity, picking and choosing in my mind what I would do about this mug that I had loved and cherished for such a long time. I grabbed a mug that had not been used in a very long time instead. A plain, normal, boring blue mug that I bought at a store.

I think back to how I had taken the mug and how there was no harm done at the moment. I made a ripple into this present moment where I now had to put it away. I went from having so much pride and closeness with the mug to feeling guilt and shame for having it out around my kids. I opened a trunk of trinkets and keepsakes that I have collected over the years and placed one of my most prized possessions into it, the stolen Waffle House mug.

Fear Will not Control Me

Photo by nasim dadfar on Unsplash

2019 Stark State College Composition Essay Contest Winner

by Jonathon Stevenson 

I was standing at the part of the gate that had been cut a few hours earlier. As I looked out in front of me, I had time to realize a few things about myself. I thought back to some of my fears: talking in front of a group, letting a girl I liked know, even my first roller coaster. I see now that none of those things were scary, at least not in the way I thought. This was scary. Being here, holding this rifle, wearing this body armor, being thousands of miles from everyone I loved. This is what I should have feared, and believe me, I was afraid. 

I had been deployed for about five months at this point. When a soldier is deployed it can be quite a different experience depending on where that soldier is. There are three main places I could have ended up depending on my job title and branch of service: an Airfield Base, a COP (Central Operating Post), or an FOB (Forward Operating Base). I was stationed at FOB Salerno in Afghanistan. This was one of the better places to be stationed from what I was told.

It wasn’t a bad place to look at for the most part. It was quite pretty, mostly desert but still nice to look at. In basic training, I was told what may happen on deployment. One day you may be there, either in Iraq or Afghanistan. I was taught and trained on what I would need to do in those situations, whether it be handling an attack or just how to treat the experience. The training is very good, but it didn’t really prepare me for the truth of what I would be feeling or thinking when I was there. 

I was working night shift. I started at 8:00 PM and went to 8:00 AM. This was considered the easy shift because not much happens during the night. I was working in an office where we kept track of who was coming and going for patrols on the base and the surrounding COP’s. When a soldier is deployed, they always need to be on alert, but I will not lie when I say it is easy to get complacent over there. About 90 percent of the time I was just kind of going through the motions. A unit goes out for a patrol, I log it, that unit talks to some villagers about some possible enemies, I log it, that unit comes back from patrol, I log it. This night was even quieter. There had been rumors of a possible attack on FOB Salerno, but we didn’t really think too much of it because there were rumors of an attack every day. On occasion we would get some IDF (Indirect Fire), where the enemy fired a mortar at us, but with no aim on it, so it usually didn’t even hit anything. 

It was about four in the morning, and I was reading a book that had been sent to me in a care package when I started to hear it. I stopped reading and listened. It sounded like booms from some IDF being fired way off in the distance. I only heard the one, so I logged it and checked with the other guys on duty with me. We had a camera on this FOB that did 360° surveillance of the FOB and the surrounding area. One of the guys could control it, and we had him do a sweep. We didn’t see anything, so there was nothing more we could do. 

I went back to reading my book. Not even two minutes later, I heard another boom in the distance. This time everyone looked at the screen as the sweep was made, and we saw something. Normally the IDF comes from the mountains, but that is not where we were looking now. Near the airfield, a long fence meant to keep people out of the FOB was being messed with. About 20 people were slowing cutting the fence chains. 

Everyone in the room was looking at the screen. We realized that this was really happening. Our Battle Captain got on the phone and started alerting people as to what was going on. About 10 minutes later, the QRF (Quick Reaction Force) team was heading out to the location. As we tried to radio them, we realized the fence was completely cut open now, and people were starting to move onto the airfield. 

The one thing any of us who were deployed knew is we must have communication with everyone when they go anywhere. Not having communication can be the difference between life and death. As we tried to radio the QRF, it became very clear that the communication was not working. As we watched the raid camera, we could see only about 10 people pushed onto the airfield; the rest were hanging back behind some trees. Our QRF team had gone outside the gate to secure the hole, but because we couldn’t talk to them, they had no idea they were heading for an ambush. 

At this point I was starting to get scared. Our building was the only one with the camera. We were the eyes for the whole FOB. If we didn’t have communication with even one person, the whole base was in trouble. The QRF moved closer to the cut in the fence as we desperately tried to get radio comms with them. It was at this point I noticed one of the people hiding in the trees come out, and it looked like he was holding something. 

“RPG!” I yelled. 

Everyone looked up as the rocket was fired at the vehicle. It hit directly on the front side of the vehicle. Everyone looked white in the face around me. We had no way to know if anyone was okay. Could they all be dead? Just then we saw the back doors open and two soldiers get out. They started to fire at the enemy behind the trees. Two of them for sure had survived. 

At this point, around 6:00 AM, we had gotten ahold of the Special Forces Unit on the base. They had snipers position themselves on roofs of the buildings in the FOB and started to take out the ones who had entered the airfield. We found out that everyone in the QRF vehicle was alive. They had taken out the enemy behind the trees as well. They were following a tip as to where the enemy had come from. Now they needed a few soldiers out watching the gate until it could be patched up. Myself and two others were selected to go out. 

As I was getting my gear together as quick as I could, I felt my heart pounding through my chest. All the training I had received up to this point had to be enough. As they drove us out to the fence, I realized the ranks of the other two soldiers with me, PVT (Private) and PFC (Private First Class). I was a SPC (Specialist), which meant I was in charge. 

Wait a minute, I thought. I had never been in charge before. I noticed how scared they looked, maybe even more scared than me. I leaned over to them and said, “Don’t worry guys, just remember your training and keep your eyes up.” They both nodded. 

As we pulled up to the hole in the fence, I did a quick radio check with everyone just to make sure I had communication with everyone back at the office. Checks were good, so we got out and positioned ourselves just outside the gate hole. The plan was that we would be here for about an hour as another unit did a sweep outside the fence to make sure we were clear to patch up the gate safely. 

It had been about thirty minutes, and things had been very quiet. Every ten minutes I had been conducting a radio check to make sure things still looked clear from a distance. At about 40 minutes I heard on the radio that three men were approaching us from behind the trees, directly in front of us. As we looked, we saw the three guys emerge from the trees. They had their arms up as they walked towards us. As I looked at them my heart sank; all three of them had vests on with wires across them, suicide vests. 

“Stop!” I yelled at them, putting my hand up to indicate what I meant. 

They did not stop but kept walking towards us. It was at this moment I realized that they weren’t going to stop. Their intent was to get as close to us as possible and detonate their vests. Doing that would not only kill me, but also the two soldiers with me. It would probably cause a bigger hole to be formed in the fence, which would allow more access to the FOB and put the lives of every soldier on the base in danger. 

I called out one last time, “Stop moving, or we will fire!” 

As soon as the last word left my mouth, at about 15 meters away, the three guys started to charge at us. There were three shots fired: One from each of the three rifles pointed at them.

Each round found its target, and in front of us three bodies lay on the ground. 

After writing up my report on what happened at the gate, I realized the gravity of what I had to do. I thought back to some of the things that scared me in the past. Those things were not scary to me anymore. What I had just gone through was scary. Having to make the decision I had to make was scary. I then realized I had been holding myself back in life. I didn’t want to live life afraid anymore.

I think about that day often. That was the day I truly believe I lost a part of myself. At the same time, though, I know I gained a new understanding about who I am. In this life we are going to have fears, and those fears may very well control how we interact with the rest of the world. I learned that day fear is an emotion that we very much need. It keeps us out of harm’s way, but it also keeps us from living our lives. I don’t let fear control me anymore. 

Jonathon Stevenson is an eight-year Army veteran who is currently earning an Associate Degree in Human and Social Services. He plans to continue his education and eventually become a licensed social worker. He wrote this essay to share his personal experience that “really opened my eyes and shaped me.” 

Turn and Face the Strange…

2019 Stark State College Composition Essay Contest Winner
Photo by Ezekiel Elin on Unsplash

by Emily Baumgardner

I saw David Bowie for the first time in Labyrinth, a 1986 Jim Henson film that he starred in, and his entrance was nothing short of fantastical. An owl bursts through the opening doors out of a storm, and the wind is blowing the curtains around wildly, and finally, the owl shifts his shape. Bowie stands in all his glory, hands on his hips in strong defiance, glitter raining everywhere. I was four years old. That wasn’t the end for me. Instead, it began an obsession of finding everything about this rock star I could get my hands on and devouring it. With the androgynous clothing, makeup, and long hair, it didn’t take long for the general public to wonder what exactly drove Bowie to express himself the ways he did on stage and screen. It resonated with me in ways that are hard to describe, but I’m going to try.

Growing up in a predominantly Christian, affluent, and conservative place like Green, Ohio, there was hardly any room for LGBT+ people. It wasn’t that the adults said mean things about queer people; they just never said anything at all. Being gay, lesbian, or bisexual wasn’t discussed because it was improper. Certainly, being transgender was even more so haphazardly shoved under the rug. So, when I finally figured out that these feelings I’d been having for my best friend and other girls at school weren’t just platonic, I was shaken to my core. Being bisexual wasn’t what I wanted for myself. I’ll be honest about that. If anybody ever genuinely stopped to think about what LGBT+ people go through in the duration of their lives while they’re “out of the closet,” I don’t think that they could come to the conclusion that sexuality is a choice.

I was 14 when I came out to my mother. I remember shaking in my seat, clutching the edges to feel a semblance of security. There were seconds of silence, their own tiny infinities, and then finally, an atom splitting that created lasting nuclear damage. My mother, still ignorant to anything outside of heterosexuality, turned into every fear I’d had about myself. She screamed about an incessant need for attention, that I wasn’t really who I said I was, and that these feelings were just exacerbated admiration gone off the rails. I cried for hours. I went to sleep that night feeling as if everything in the universe was cursing me, daring me to try and love myself.

And after that, I began a scavenger hunt of a separate kind: finding other people like me. I wanted – no, needed – to prove that I wasn’t some freak anomaly or just making something up for the attention. And lo and behold, who should I find but Bowie, my childhood hero. I was scrolling through an article about bisexual celebrities, absentmindedly sifting through the photos and paragraphs, when I first read about David Bowie’s sexuality. I stopped immediately, frozen in place as my heart pounded in excitement. It was real, I wasn’t alone, and in fact, I had great company. I felt this camaraderie and connection to this man nearly fifty years my senior who I’d never met and who had never met me. After reading that Bowie was bisexual, I didn’t feel so lonely. I felt like suddenly there really was a whole world beyond my hometown, and more importantly, there were places and people that could love me as I am.

Recently, I came across an article about an interview David Bowie gave before his death. Bowie, reflecting on his past, stated in a Rolling Stone interview: “The biggest mistake I ever made was telling that Melody Maker writer that I was bisexual. Christ, I was so young then. I was experimenting…” I was crushed. I felt like somebody had punched me so hard in the stomach that I could finally understand Houdini’s cause of death. And as hard as that quote was to swallow, this next one felt like it was lodged in my throat. In another interview with Rolling Stone ten years later, Bowie stated:

I think I was always a closet heterosexual. I didn’t ever feel that I was a real bisexual. It was like I was making all the moves, down to the situation of trying it out with some guys […] I wanted to imbue Ziggy with real flesh and blood and muscle, and it was imperative that I find Ziggy and be him. The irony of it was that I was not gay. I was physical about it, but frankly it wasn’t enjoyable. It was almost like I was testing myself. It wasn’t something I was comfortable with at all. But it had to be done.

Instantly, I cried. This hero I’d built up in my head for over a decade as a champion of people who felt like me and loved like me felt like a cheap imposter. But why was this so important to me? Why was I so emotionally compromised at this new information? Surely, his sexuality was just one component of who he was and the music he made was just as important

It’s easy to say that I was upset because I’m just an overly emotional fangirl who turns humans into idols, and I even considered that. But the truth is, the reason it hurt so much was because I believed in this man. I listened to his music, I heard his message, saw his music videos and movies, and I thoroughly believed in him. Bowie told the world that he was bisexual, and people still loved and revered him. He strode around gallantly with pride, and in a way, it made me feel like I wasn’t a freak or a slut. I found a kind of solace in the fact that he came out nearly forty years before I did, and that society had come so much further in the space between then and now. After all this time, all those years of being a bisexual icon and role model, and then snatching it away – it is detrimental to queer young kids.

Real representation is crucial to a person in any minority. In current pop culture, we have TV shows like Blackish, Fresh Off the Boat, and The L Word. These shows have casts full of authentic representation: real people who have experienced, to some degree, non-assimilations with the majority of the population, and the struggles that come with that. Blackish and Fresh Off the Boat are shows that contain real and authentic performances of people of different ethnic backgrounds in our society. The L Word is a show about lesbians, and some of the women on the show, including cameos, are LGBT+ in real life.

These shows and characters are incredibly important, especially to younger audiences who are watching and questioning parts of their identities and how they fit into the world around them. “Specifically for the members of minority groups, seeing oneself reflected in the media is crucial, particularly in the face of prejudice, discrimination, and the constant barrage of invalidating comments and actions,” argues Dr. Eric Anthony Grollman, an assistant professor of Sociology at Richmond University. If a young LGBT+ kid sees somebody who expresses themselves and isn’t publicly ostracized for it, they may feel they have a shot at a semblance of normalcy. But when that person expresses queerness, and then they reject it only after it made them famous, it’s damaging. It gives homophobic people the chance to say, “Hey, look at that guy – for him, being gay was a choice!” It allows those people to push for things like conversion therapy, or the systematic oppression of our rights to marry who we want, to work where we want, to start families how we want, and so forth.

I’m not sure of Bowie’s intentions, but it feels like a kind of dangerous cultural appropriation. Perhaps it’s like Bowie said that he wasn’t bisexual, but Ziggy was. But is authenticity really that crucial? What is the difference between having a character that is openly not-straight and being straight, versus actually being openly queer in the public eye? Ziggy was still loved and accepted and so was Bowie. And as much as I loved David Bowie for the extravagance he exuded, that was just one phase of his career, relatable to Picasso’s “Blue Period.”

The thing about Bowie is that he was ever-changing. From Ziggy Stardust to Aladdin Sane and the Thin White Duke, all the way to Jareth, the goblin king of Jim Henson’s fantastical Labyrinth, he held many faces up to the world. Alex Sharpe, a professor of law at Keele University in England states:

Bowie […] committed serial ritual suicide. Like a Gustav Metzger acid painting, Bowie dissolved before our eyes, only to be reconstituted elsewhere. To be a Bowie fan was to mourn, to let go and to learn to love again, and to become increasingly aware that this process would be repeated without end, or at least till the end, by which time, of course, it had inspired countless new beginnings.

I have to acknowledge the later days, the later music, and who Bowie was as a sum of all the characters he created. There was a purpose for each character: Ziggy was a cautionary tale of fame, sex, and rock ’n’ roll gone too far. Major Tom was most likely the character closest to the real Bowie. For example, in Bowie’s song “Ashes To Ashes”, released in 1980, he refers to Major Tom as a “junkie.” This was around the same time that Bowie was struggling with his own addiction. Furthermore, in Bowie’s 2016 “Blackstar” video, which Bowie made while he had terminal cancer, there is an astronaut’s suit which contains a skull on a strange alien planet, possibly alluding to Major Tom one last time. With each transition, he illustrated a point; “however, Bowie aimed not merely to change. He was not simply a chameleon. Rather, he always sought to ‘fuck things up’. That is, he was not concerned only with motion, but with challenging the taken-for-granted, the axiomatic, the self-evident.”

This isn’t to say that Bowie was a leader on purpose. He just expressed his thoughts and views on things without any expectation of reaction or reciprocity from the general public. In thinking about this flexibility Bowie had, I started to wonder how somebody who changed so much could really be something solidified, or finite, especially when it came to something with such fluidity as sexuality.

When we look at studies done on sexuality, and the different ways we interpret it, I can’t help but think of a moment on the TV show Orange Is the New Black. The lead character, Piper, explains to her then fiancé that her sexuality isn’t just straight or lesbian, and suggests that most people aren’t like that either. “You fall somewhere on a spectrum,” she says, nonchalantly. “You know, like on a Kinsey scale.” Before that scene, I’d never even heard of Kinsey, or his scale.

The Kinsey Scale, in layman’s terms, is a scale that helps researchers determine a person’s sexual orientation. It is based on their past experiences and their responses to questions. Alfred Kinsey, often referred to as “the Father of the Sexual Revolution,” considered sexuality to be non-binary – that is, not just one way or the other. Instead, people fell somewhere between straight and gay, respectively. The Klein Sexual Orientation Grid furthers this idea using a more intricate set up:

For each person, it sets out the seven component variables of sexual orientation, listed as A through G down the left side. The three columns indicate three different points at which sexual orientation is assessed: the person’s past, their present, and their ideal. The person then receives a rating from 1 to 7 for each of the 21 resulting combinations, one rating for each empty box.

The variables are as listed: sexual attraction, sexual behavior, sexual fantasies, and sexual identity. These variables illustrate just how complicated sexual identity really can be. When looking at Kinsey’s scale or Klein’s grid, it’s easy to see how Bowie’s statements of his own sexuality differentiate the way they do. The point of all of this is that sexuality is a very fluid thing, and it can’t fit neatly into one box. It flows over and around other boxes, constantly in motion.

So, in looking at all of this: the grid, the statements, the history of Bowie, and what real representation is, I can only come to one conclusion. It’s possible that even he didn’t entirely understand his sexuality. Bowie, at least to some degree, was bisexual. Bisexuality doesn’t change based upon who you’re with; it can fluctuate, but it doesn’t go away. No amount of conversion therapy will change that, nor can one man’s single statement from over thirty years ago. At the end of everything, what really mattered was Ziggy. It was Ziggy who gave bisexuality its voice. It was Ziggy that freed me from my bonds of silence and shame. And Ziggy, just like the Thin White Duke, Jareth the Goblin King, and Major Tom, was a piece of Bowie, however small he was. In the documentary Bowie: The Man Who Changed the World, Dana Gillespie, a close friend of Bowie’s said, “You don’t tame a man like Bowie.” That is true. Bowie was swift and ever-evolving; if you blinked, you missed it.

And while I felt hurt at first from Bowie’s eventual abnegation, I understand now that no matter who he was or what he identified as after the fact, he still changed sexuality and gender expression for the better. For the record, I still love Bowie.


American Institute of Bisexuality. (2014). The Klein sexual orientation grid.

Anderson, S. (Director). (2016). Bowie: the man who changed the world [Motion picture]. A2B Media, Screenbound Productions.

Grollman, E. A. (2012, September, 24). The importance of representation: Voice, visibility, and validation in America. N.p.

Human Rights Campaign. (N.d.). The lies and dangers of efforts to change sexual orientation or gender identity.

Kohan, J., Jones, N., Kerman, P. (Writers), McCarthy, A. (Director). (2013, July 11). The chickening (Season 1, Episode 5) [TV series episode]. In J. Kohan (Executive Producer), Orange is the New Black. Tilted Productions; Lionsgate Television; Netflix.

Loder, K. (1983, May 12). David Bowie: Straight time.

Lowder, J. B. (2016, January 11). Was David Bowie gay?

Sharp, A. (2017). Scary monsters: The hopeful undecidability of David Bowie (1947-2016). Law and Humanities, 11(2), 228-224. 10.1080/17521483.2017.1344478

Emily Baumgardner wrote this essay as “really more of a therapy session on paper for me.” In addition to moonlighting as a writer, Emily is currently earning her degree towards a day job career as a Dental Assistant.

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Destigmatizing Single-Parent Adoption

by Katie McVicker

Headlines about single-parent adoption are far and few between, except in the cases of celebrities, such as Angelina Jolie, who is raising three of her biological children along with three adopted children in her multi-million dollar home. Do single individuals need to be millionaires to be loving, supportive, and resourceful adoptive parents? Single-parent adoption has become a major issue in recent years, corresponding to an increase in single-parent homes. In fact, an article from Adoption Advocate reports that “From 1980 to 2008, the number of single-parent households grew from about 6,000,000 to a little over 10,000,000, accounting for over 25% of households with children.” The same article points out that single adopting parents increased from between .5 – 4% to “28% of all parents adopting from U.S. foster care in 2017-2019.” While single-parent adoption has become more prevalent and accepted, there are still stigmas single parents face when applying for adoption. Traditionally, individuals still perceive adoption as ideally involving a two-parent household. However, the pathway for adoption should be as accessible for single men and women as it is for couples. 

Single men and women face more challenges adopting children. In fact, there is also little research representing single parents who choose adoption by choice. In a 2020 study described by Gasse and Mortelmans, a single parent by choice is characterized as a parent who chose to be single before becoming a parent through artificial insemination, informal fertilization (choosing a partner randomly or deliberately but without pursuing a relationship), unplanned pregnancies or adoption. The researchers interviewed single mothers to find out how the mothers adjusted their lives to raise a child on their own. Researchers explained adoption procedures are harder for single parents than couples, and only one single parent could be found to interview in the “adoption” category. The article discusses why it is harder for single people to adopt by explaining different types of “gatekeeping” barriers. Gatekeepers, in this article, are explained as people who can be helpful but can also be a barrier for a single person trying to adopt. Gatekeeping in the context of adoption is described as “more formal and evaluative,” meaning that single people who are trying to adopt are subject to a rigorous screening process. Gasse and Mortelmans emphasize that the difference between a single person trying to adopt versus a couple is the stigma attached to the screening process for single people. 

The stigma attached to single-parent adoption is different compared to the stigma related to adoption in general. Factors such as gender and subsequent related perceptions can complicate the adoption process. In a literature review explaining the challenges that single men face while trying to adopt children, Seeman compares different studies that have been done on single fathers who chose adoption, as well as examines complex attitudes that affect both single adoptive fathers and mothers. Despite some conflicting viewpoints, it was discovered that single men face certain types of stigma while trying to adopt. If the single man has a history of mental health issues, social workers in adoption agencies are more likely to disregard the adoption application.

According to Seeman’s description of research, most single adoptive parents are female. Contrary to the researchers’ expectations, however, single mothers face greater stigma in their communities and  “were described by participants in this study as ‘less intelligent, less desirable, less secure, less fortunate, less satisfied with life, less moral, less reputable, less of a good parent and less economically advantaged’” than single fathers. While the sample group in this study isn’t specified in the literature review, it reveals the pervasive attitudes some people have toward single mothers. The literature review suggests that mental health professionals require the proper training so that eligible candidates who are trying to adopt should not be discriminated against based on gender, marital status, sexual orientation, or any history of a mental health disorder. 

Family support is another key element for a single parent looking to adopt a child. A study described by Biasutti and Nascimento was conducted on multiple families with single parents with adoptive children. The families were interviewed to investigate how the adoption process worked for them, what they anticipated and what they experienced throughout the process. From this study, it was found that all families had a strong desire to parent children and, therefore, were able to overcome any challenges and changes that took place during the process. Extended family support played an immense role in the success of single-parent adoption. The study explained that some family members were hesitant with regard to their loved one adopting as a single parent and questioned whether it was the right decision. Some of the participants expressed their concern that the child would be lacking the role of the opposite sex. However, all the participants in the study accepted the child and, at one point or another, were part of the caretaking and support system. In this study, the researchers determined it would be important for the child to have involvement from grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Biasutti and Nascimento’s study, which agrees with Lindner,  shows that single parents are just as capable of a successful adoption, with an emphasis on the fact that single parents should have a broader support network. 

Social worker and blogger Amanda Booreman writes about the challenges she faced adopting as a single mother, as well as the support system she had from her family and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services. After preparing for a year prior to the adoption of her five-year-old daughter, she discovered that adoption was not for the faint of heart once her child had been placed with her. Throughout the years, she and her daughter faced many challenges learning how to become a family unit and getting her daughter the proper care and support to work through emotional trauma and anxieties. At the time, finding the right support system was difficult. Amanda suffered financially and struggled to find her daughter the proper mental health care that would pinpoint the areas in her development that needed treatment. One strategy she used was reaching out to government agencies and the birth family for guidance. After years of conquering challenges, Amanda and her daughter now have a wonderful relationship with each other, and both advocate for systematic change in adoption. 

A fact sheet from Child Welfare Information Gateway, sheds some light on how to create these changes. This fact sheet lists resources and helps families navigate the adoption process. Among these, easily accessible support groups or free counseling (pre- or post-adoption) could benefit both single-parent and child. These resources would allow for a smoother transition and would also serve as a point of contact when experiencing times of unforeseen hardships. Also, prospective adoptive parents could be educated on their rights and responsibilities and provided with unbiased information on local adoption agencies, which could potentially improve the support and encouragement they feel throughout the adoption process. Lastly, quality and continual training should be allotted to social workers.

Recent developments in the United States could potentially raise the need for single-parent adoption now more than ever.  In an article from the “Perspective” section of The New England Journal of Medicine, the author Lazzarini discusses the overturn of  Roe v. Wade on June 24, 2022. The overturn limits available access to women seeking abortion through medicine and prevents third parties from obliging services to a woman seeking an abortion. Abortion rights are still being decided at the state level, and some state legislatures have already passed laws completely banning abortion. Given the overturn of Roe v. Wade, it would be fair to speculate that the change in available access to abortions could then correlate with an increase in live births and further need for adoptions. More children needing adoption means a rise in the need for available adoptive parents so that these children don’t end up in the foster care system. 

Destigmatizing single-parent adoption would present an opportunity for a larger pool of adoptees to find a permanent home. Given the research stated above, it remains difficult to allow single parents to finalize the adoption. However, the United States continues to have an overflowing foster-care system with underpaid and overworked social workers attempting to govern this system. Stigmas should be reduced to lessen the burden on this system and allow single-parent adoptions to become more prevalent when it is appropriate. Of course, there should be an objective structured process to ensure a safe, nourishing environment for the child, but it should not correlate with individuals’ subjective opinions.


Biasutti, C.M. & Nascimento, C.R.R. (2021). The adoption process in single-parent families. Journal of Human Growth and Development, 31(1), 47-57. 10.36311/jhgd.v31.10364  

Booreman, A. (2015, October 21). Nothing prepared me for adopting a child as a single parent. The Guardian. 

Carter, J.R, Chang, C.Y, Parrish, M.S, Whisenhunt, J.L. (2019) Addressing single parents’ needs in professional counseling: A qualitative examination of single parenthood. The Family Journal: Counseling and Therapy for Couples and Families, 27(2), 188-198. 10.1177/1066480719835343

Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2019). Adopting as a single parent.

Gasse, D.V. & Mortelmans, D. (2020). With or without you-starting single parent families: A qualitative study on how single parents by choice reorganize their lives to facilitate single parenthood from a life course perspective. Journal of Family Issues, 41(11), 2223-2248. 10.1177/0192513X20911971 

Lazzarini, Z.,  (2022). The end of Roe v. Wade- states’ power over health and well being. The New England Journal of Medicine, 387(5), 390-393. 10.1056/NEJMp2206055

Lindner, A. (2021, September). Single Parent Adoption: The Process and Experience of Adopting Unpartnered. National Council for Adoption. 

Seeman, M.V. (2018). Single men seeking adoption. (2018). World Journal of Psychiatry, 8(3), 83-87. 10.5498/wjp.v8.i3.83

Katie McVicker is originally from Tallahassee, FL, and currently resides in Navarre, OH. Her favorite thing to do is spend time with her favorite humans: husband, Virgil, and two sons, Dominic and Troy. She plans on pursuing nursing at Stark State. This is her first published piece but she plans to continue writing.

Paintings by Chrystal Robinson-Shofroth

The Heart of the Ohio Hyena
Jupiter Rising – The Expressive Woman Series – The Macabre Landscape of Woman Collection
From Underneath Us

Chrystal Robinson-Shofroth is an interdisciplinary artist, who specializes in curating Multidisciplinary arts experiences that engage all of the senses. Chrystal studied Special FX at Art institute of Pittsburgh, and grant writing, Video Game design and 3D graphics at Stark State, but her passion will always be painting. Chrystal owns GhostRighterz Artists Services where she strives to provide artists with access to administration skills and arts opportunities. GhostRighterz, the ghost behind the scenes, offers the community a variety of artistic services including t-shirt and merchandise production and design, murals, event coordinating and commissioned artwork. She has a passion for the preservation and revitalization of Downtown Alliance. She was recently put on the board for The Alliance Area Preservation Society and hopes to really use this opportunity as a platform for change in Downtown Alliance. Her event The Historic Main Street Arts Festival will take place in downtown alliance on July 23 2022 2-9pm. Chrystal is the VP for FashionAlliance Project and the 2021 second place winner of the Mount Union Artfest as well as numerous awards around the country. Chrystal strives to advocate for disability rights and inclusion in the Ohio Arts Scene. GhostRighterz Artists Services has a lot of intriguing events and projects in the works for 2022. The public can expect more artistic videography and digital mixed media work in the future, the future of art evolves around Ohio and Chrystal’s artwork is evolving with our technological age. 

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The Sound of Love

If I were to perish tonight, let me peacefully evanesce with you wrapped inside my arms.

For when my heart dwindles, the symphony within yours shall orchestrate the heavens to prepare for lover’s depart as your notes carry me home.

Steven LeRoux
Steven LeRoux

“Hello everyone, I’m Steven LeRoux. I’m a husband, father to 4 beautiful boys and an STNA by night. I recently got accepted into the Fall 22′ nursing cohort, which I’m extremely excited about starting. My long-term career goal is to become a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. I’m a food enthusiast and do a pretty good impression of Gordan Ramsay in the kitchen (skill wise), I love the beach and being outdoors, I enjoy being active in the community and get involved in coaching youth baseball and basketball whenever I can, and of course – my love for poetry.”

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American Malls: Left to Die or Resurrected?

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, malls in America, while open, were lively, crowded spaces. They were the place everyone, boys and girls, old and young, went to. However, once they closed, whether temporarily or permanently, the atmosphere completely changed. Malls became eerie, almost as if the building had been abandoned, or was “dead.” This phenomenon is known as “kenopsia,” the feeling of seeing a place usually filled with people now empty. This feeling fascinated many people, so many that over the next decade, it evolved into its own subculture. Now, a simple search can lead to hundreds of videos and photographs showcasing empty malls. While interesting as a subject of visual art, the dead mall is no longer just an internet subculture. Many malls in America, over the past few years, have been shut down, resulting in them becoming “dead” permanently.  This phenomenon has raised many questions regarding what is happening to America’s malls, whether they can be saved, or whether they are even worth saving. 

Over the past decade, anchor stores within American malls have been declining. According to Joseph Tokosh from Kent State University, Sears, Macy’s, and JC Penny had closed from 20-25% of their stores in America as of 2018. Since then, that number has only continued to rise. According to Green Street Advisors, a research firm that deals with real estate referenced in The New York Times,more than half of all mall-based department stores would close by the end of 2021.” There are many factors that led many anchor stores within malls in America to close their doors. One of the biggest factors was the rise of online shopping sites such as Amazon. According to Fujie Rao, from the department of architecture, mall anchor stores such as Macy’s, Sears, and JC Penny have been struggling to compete against online retail. People are now spending more time shopping at home online rather than in physical stores. This has resulted in many brick-and-mortar department stores closing down due to a lack of customers. Another big factor is consumers choosing discount department stores such as Walmart, Target, and T.J. Maxx over the anchor stores within malls. According to Sapna Maheshwari from The New York Times, T.J. Maxx made over one billion more dollars than Macy’s in 2015 and has continued to make more sales ever since. This shift in cheaper discount stores over the more expensive department stores has caused malls’ anchors to lose money. 

Malls have made many changes in order to both try to keep their doors open and bring new consumers in. One prime example of this is the American Dream mall. American Dream was not just designed to be a mall; it was a mega mall. Mega malls like American Dream were not built to be just bigger in size, but also bigger in entertainment. They hold more than just the popular retail stores consumers see everywhere. American Dream, for example, has both an indoor DreamWorks-themed waterpark and an indoor Nickelodeon-themed amusement park. It also has two indoor mini golf courses, two ski rinks, an aquarium, a LEGO-themed playground, a wave pool for surfing, and even a Ferris wheel outside. In addition, it has full service restaurants, from fine dining such as Carpaccio to fast food such as Five Guys, not just a simple food court. American Dream even partners itself with local hotels within the area to make it easier for visitors to find a place to stay. American Dream, along with many other mega malls, now seems to be an indoor vacation spot for visitors rather than a shopping center for locals. In addition, many department stores within malls including Macy’s, Dillard’s, and Sears have created websites for consumers to shop online. This way, the companies have the benefits of both online and in-person retail. In addition, the websites also help advertise current deals and sales within the stores. The websites also can assist consumers in finding the nearest stores and offer awards for frequent shoppers who have memberships.

However, these changes have not been able to save malls from being closed. Despite creating their own shopping websites, department stores still struggle to compete against Amazon. According to business reporter Corey Goldman, Amazon led many department stores to have to create websites alongside their brick-and-mortar stores in the first place. Now, to make matters worse for department stores, Amazon has branched out into physical stores, making it even harder for retails to compete with the efficient shopping experience Amazon offers. In addition, according to The Simon Property Group, one of the largest mall operating companies , consumers are more likely to turn to online shopping over brick-and-mortar stores. This is due not only to convenience, but also to avoid the risk of Covid-19. The pandemic and related restrictions made malls in America lose even more money and consumers. The quarantine escalated the issues malls were already facing and made matters worse. Even American Dream mall, with all its fancy attractions, suffered financially due to these restrictions, possibly even more than the regular malls. Being so large, American Dream took seventeen years to build. Then, unfortunately, once it was complete, it opened its doors at arguably the worst possible time: 2019, just a year before Covid hit America. Mega malls, unlike regular malls, rely much more on foot traffic from vacationers in order to stay open, due to making most of their money from the big indoor parks and rides. If anything, going bigger and expanding completely backfired on mega malls during the pandemic, resulting in them closing along with the regular malls.

Some economists may argue that malls are outdated and therefore should simply be destroyed. Green Street Advisors states that malls will become “irrelevant retail destinations” due to the closing of many anchor stores. However, while it is true that many department stores within malls have declined in popularity, that does not mean the entire mall itself is no longer an important part of the community it is in. Malls provide teens with public spaces to socialize and move away from parents’ supervision. Sirpa Tani from the Department of Teacher Education of the University of Helsinki, describes malls and other similar places as “loose,” meaning the area is not always used for its primary intention. Teens enjoy places such as the mall because, while they could shop or eat, they can choose not to. It is a place where the teens can simply socialize and “hang out.” When asked about why they enjoy going to the mall over hanging out at home, one teen named Juke explained in an interview, “‘Well because you don’t feel like staying at home…because there you have rules and all….We are just for once free [here].’” Malls provide a safe escape for communities’ teens to simply be themselves without worry. 

If malls are shut down and destroyed, not only will America lose important places for teens to socialize; communities will also lose large amounts of space that could be utilized. According to Patricia Kirk from, rental prices for warehouses are now higher than ever due to the lack of available space for companies. Along with that, according to Chris Arnold, a financial reporter from, “…the U.S. is more than 3 million homes short of the demand from would-be homebuyers.” Malls are large facilities that could provide more than enough space to solve these issues. Destroying them would not only be a waste of resources, but also destroy a potential solution to these problems. 

Some communities in America have been able to successfully save their malls and other large buildings by converting them into facilities that provide more essential services and spaces. Providence, Rhode Island, for example, was able to successfully convert an abandoned mall. The city transformed The Arcade Providence, the first and oldest indoor mall in America, into a housing facility. According to Arcade Providence’s website, inside the building now consists of small micro apartments, restaurants, a bookstore, and two salons. The Providence apartments may be smaller and lack household items such as stoves; however, this is not much of a problem as they are directly above restaurants, and residents are allowed to bring portable electric stoves. Residents can easily walk to get a meal or a salon treatment, saving gas money and reducing air pollution. Along with that, the locals in the town of Memphis, Tennessee, were also able to successfully convert an abandoned Sears building into a multi-use development called Crosstown Concourse. The facility currently holds a highschool, art galleries, restaurants, live music events and even healthcare facilities. Both of these facilities now pride themselves as places of community and bringing people together, similar to how typical shopping malls brought many different people together.

So, is it possible for American malls to make a comeback? Perhaps they can, but it will take more than just adding new fancy attractions or websites. They must make large changes and provide what consumers are now currently demanding, which may not include large shopping centers. If more malls shift their focus from making sales to making a connection with their community, like Arcade Providence and Crosstown Concourse, they too can adapt to a changing world and provide people something that online shopping and discount stores cannot.


American Dream. (2021). Attractions and Tickets, Food and Drinks, Book Your Stay.

Arcade Providence. (n.d.). Retail, History, Microlofts.

Ark, T. V. (2020, March 5). Crosstown High: Innovative Memphis school in a vertical urban village. Getting Smart.

Arnold, C. (2022, March 29). There’s never been such a severe shortage of homes in the U.S. Here’s why. NPR.

Garfield, L. (2016, October 10). America’s oldest shopping mall has been turned into beautiful micro-apartments — take a look inside. Business Insider Nederland. Retrieved April 14, 2022, from

Goldman, C. M. (2022, January 20). Amazon forced retailers to go online. Now it’s taking over the empty space. TheStreet.

Kirk, P. (2021, December 6). Industrial tenants renew leases far in advance, raise warehouse roofs and more to deal with space shortage. Wealth Management.

Maheshwari, S. (2017, January 6). Department stores, once anchors at malls, become millstones. The New York Times.

Maheshwari, S. (2020, July 5). With department stores disappearing, malls could be next. The New York Times.

Tani, S. (2015) Loosening/tightening spaces in the geographies of hanging out. Social & Cultural Geography, 16:(2), 125-145. 10.1080/14649365.2014.952324

Thomas, L. (2019, October, 22). More than 17 years in the making, American Dream megamall’s story was shaped by retail’s upheaval. CNBC.

Tokosh, J. (2018). Is the Macy’s in my mall going to close? Uncovering the factors associated with the closures of Macy’s, Sears, and J.C. Penney stores. Growth and Change, 50(1), 403–423. 10.1111/grow.12269

Rao, F. (2020). Unraveling material/digital shopping space: An assemblage approach. Geography Compass, 14(11). 10.1111/gec3.12539

Wired. (2019, June 28). Architecture professor explains why malls are dying. [Video]. YouTube.

Alina Sheikh

“I am currently majoring in Graphic Design at Stark State. I enjoy art, music, animals, nature, photography, and animation.”

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Smile, Your Mom Chose Life

As a drifter, I’m always on the lookout for a new home; whether it’s on a park bench, behind a dumpster, or in this case, a car. I’ve been watching the car from behind a building for about an hour to see if the owner would come back to their beat up Station Wagon, but so far, no one has. Just my luck! I quickly walk over to my new “home” and admire it for a few seconds, noticing the faded bumper sticker that said, “Smile, Your Mom Chose Life!” I refocus my attention back to the car, sweating and shaking nervously as I start to pick the lock, and with the scorching hot California sun beating down on me, I don’t feel any better. I finally got the door opened. The smell of old gym socks, hot garbage, and rotten eggs rolls out from the car. The carpet looks like the furry, green mold that grows on the lid of expired cottage cheese. I notice all the trash, a screwdriver, and a pile of grease stained food wrappers in the passenger seat, along with a dead rat on the floor. “Well no wonder it smells so bad.” I mumble to myself. I remove the warm plastic cover on the steering column with the screwdriver I had found and begin to hotwire the car. I hear a faint rustling sound but I ignore it, assuming it’s just another rat. Only seconds passed until I heard it again, and again, and again. I finally look up at the dusty rearview mirror, worrying that it was the owner walking back to their car but instead I see two crazed, yellow eyes staring back at me. I turned around to face the back seat and saw a man who looked dirtier than I did. He had big, dark circles under his eyes and a long, white beard with food particles in it. His gray jogging suit was dyed with an assortment of stains. He pointed a handgun at me and smiled, displaying his dull, yellow teeth that had more holes than a golf course. “Smile.” he said in a low smoker’s voice. “Your mom chose life!” I discreetly reach in my pocket for the elephant tranquilizer I had stolen from the zoo. I bring it to my lips and blow, shooting him in the arm, watching his eyes go in different directions as he loses consciousness. “Yeah, but I didn’t.”

Lauren Marshall
Lauren Marshall

“I am majoring in graphic design with hopes to one day become a t-shirt designer and open my own business. I love art in all of its forms, with painting and writing being my favorites. I also love punk rock, horror movies, and Jesus.”

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