By Erin Jester

At 23, my life was going about as well as any recent college grad could hope for: full-time job, no debt, new dog, new boyfriend.

Naturally, I decided to start stripping.

My parents put me in ballet class at age 4, and it stuck. I was transfixed by the grace of my teachers, with the long lines of their arms and the elegance of their movements. I watched myself in the mirror, mimicking. All I wanted in life was to be as pretty as they were.

Every June, the other girls in my classes complained about the recital. Too many sunny afternoons spent in the auditorium of the local high school, waiting for our turn during dress rehearsal. Garish spandex costumes with sequined trim that cut into our armpits. I probably complained, too, but mostly I loved it. My classmates would fumble their steps onstage, sweating under the stage lights. I reveled in it.

At 17, I was as good at ballet as I was ever going to be, and I stopped telling myself and anyone who would listen that I was going to be a professional dancer. Instead, I set my sights on the only other thing I felt I’d always been good at and joined the school newspaper. The fantasies of tutus started to fade, but the eating disorders lingered.

Starting when I was 14, I had counted every calorie I could and stuck my fingers down my throat to bring up the ones I couldn’t. 'Petite' isn't small enough for most ballet dancers; one must be waifish. I mostly quit making myself throw up when I got to college – the communal bathrooms made me too nervous – so I alternated periods of eating midnight pizza and Krispy Kreme doughnuts with my roommates and doing “cleanses” with raw vegetables and diuretics. I used diet pills and teas from the Asian market that made my stomach cramp too badly to want to eat. Seven years of refusing to let my body function normally left me with a heart murmur and fillings in my back molars. My hair may never recover.


“The fantasies of tutus started to fade, but the eating disorders lingered.”


When I’d been out of college for six months and still living in Gainesville, Florida, a friend told me an acquaintance of his was starting a vaudeville troupe and looking for performers. Salivating at the thought of being back in the world of live performance, I sent an email and was told the slate for the first show was full, but I could stage-manage the inaugural show at a local hippie bar. From the restroom door at the side of the stage about a month later, I watched the troupe leader’s second-ever burlesque performance: A nervous, lanky woman with breasts as small as mine (!) speed-stripped out of a corset and an 80s-era black velvet prom dress to the song “Tijuana Taxi.” It was the first live burlesque act I'd ever seen, and it was terrible. I was transfixed.

The same night, although essentially all I knew about burlesque was what I'd just seen, I told her I also wanted to take my clothes off on stage. She told me about another, all-burlesque troupe that was getting off the ground. I sent another email.

The manager of that troupe hired me as a stage kitten for the next show, meaning I’d dress up in a sexy maid outfit and pick up unmentionables between acts. I went to a rehearsal and watched in awe as women who looked just like me – women with imperfect bodies – strutted around the stage of the smoky bar with the self-confidence I’d thought was reserved for movie stars and Crossfit practitioners. Two days before the show, the manager asked me to do a surprise burlesque act as the finale. I said yes, called my best friend over to my house, and the two of us got hammered as I tried to choreograph an act from nothing. I practiced with knee-high socks on my hands and feet because I didn’t own a pair of gloves or stockings. It was a mess.

For the uninitiated: “Burlesque” today generally means removing one’s costume for the enjoyment of an audience. It doesn’t have to be sexy or beautiful, and is often meant to be humorous or political, but the end of the act usually finds the performer nude except for some legally required adornment covering the nipples and undercarriage. It is not what you’ve seen in the movie with Cher and Christina Aguilera. It’s stripping – no way around that.

If I had more time to consider what I was doing, I might not have done it. I'd spent most of the last decade hating the sight of my own body in the mirror. An impending trip to the beach would send me into a three-day fast, usually followed by a fit of tears. Now I was supposed to get nearly naked in front of a hundred strangers. It didn’t make sense, but I was so desperate to perform that I went along with it.

The night of the show came. I did my makeup with shaking hands at the home of another woman in the troupe, who graciously plied me with whiskey and assured me that it was going to be OK. A few hours later, I watched her slip out of a sailor outfit, dripping confidence, and I nearly threw up from nerves. I heard the emcee calling me to the stage. This is it, I thought. I have no tits and no sex appeal. Everyone is going to laugh. After almost 15 years of performing, I’m finally going to pass out from stage fright.

In the time it took me to walk to the front of the stage, a small miracle happened. My nightmare of a public death by embarrassment started to disappear, and my eyes opened on the people in the audience, who were pressed up against the stage, hollering happily. I wiggled my body. They hollered louder. There were whoops as I peeled first one, then both gloves off my hands.


“Now I was supposed to get nearly naked in front of a hundred strangers. It didn’t make sense, but I was so desperate to perform that I went along with it.”


In retrospect, they were all so drunk by that point in the night that they would’ve yelled as loud for a band, a stand-up comic, a clown or a dog wearing a hat. It didn’t matter to me. I had bared my body and the outcome was positive. It was a major turning point.

I did another show, and then dozens more, and the feeling wasn’t a fluke. I met women, men, trans and nonbinary performers of many forms and figures who used their bodies for all kinds of wonderful purposes, not just the bump and grind of classic burlesque, but sword swallowing, fire breathing, trapeze flying and stilt walking. In every dressing room I sat in, I heard plenty of constructive criticism and even a fair bit of shit talking, but I never heard anyone say anything negative about another person’s body. I rarely heard people disparage their own bodies. Those who did were rebutted with a chorus of love and approval. This was the part that made the deepest impression on me.

Later, my therapist told me I was able to recover from my eating disorder as quickly as I did because of the positive influence of burlesque. A licensed professional taught me to stop treating carbs like the enemy, but a gang of foul-mouthed strippers taught me to stop hating my body.

There’s more to it, of course. Burlesque isn’t for everyone hoping to overcome body anxiety or work out their issues with sexuality in front of a live audience. Like all show business, it’s a ton of hard work that requires ingenuity and a thick skin. But this isn’t a story about how burlesque isn’t for the faint of heart. This is the story of how burlesque saved my life.

I thought I’d failed at becoming a professional dancer, yet here I am, getting paid to perform slinkier versions of the Black Swan and the Sugar Plum Fairy as north Florida’s Burlesque Ballerina. My first year of burlesque actually did more to develop my identity as a performer than 12 years of dance training because I was able to experiment with what felt true to me, and because so many things went wrong. When you make your own costumes, sometimes they don’t come off when you want them to, and other times they just fall apart onstage. You don’t know real panic until you’re stuck in a corset at your first burlesque festival and have to run offstage to get a friend to bust you out of it. Never let it show in your face.

I spend less time than ever worrying about how much I weigh or what other people might think of my body. And I quit my newspaper job to work in the costume shop of a regional theater because I realized a life in the arts would make me happier than any reporting job ever would.

In the three years I’ve been parading my bare body all over Florida, I’ve learned it’s not only acceptable to adjust my expectations regularly — it’s essential. Just remember to pack a backup costume.

Erin Jester performs burlesque and creates costumes for theatrical productions in Gainesville, Florida.



By Grace Rojek

I turned my head as far right as I could before the familiar throb of pain shot up my neck to my temple. I looked at my colleague, the two of us working overtime on a Saturday at a video shoot on Navy Pier. (The day she captured this sunny shot.)

“Hey,” I said. “I’m not OK.”

“What do you mean?” she asked. “Your headache? We’re almost done.”

I had nicknamed her my work wife — an accurate term of endearment considering the large percentage of our time we spent together. Despite our closeness, I struggled to tell her how everything was slipping out of my control.

For over a year I had been ignoring my headaches — getting by with weekly trips to the chiropractor and handfuls of Advil. I was consumed by life in Chicago, Instagramming its most photogenic aspects for my family and friends back home in Ohio.

Just a few weeks after this photo was taken the pain became all-consuming, like a constant jackhammer at the side of my neck. I made a panicked call home and was on an emergency flight back to Ohio the next day.

I packed only a few weeks’ worth of clothes, determined to fix whatever was wrong and return in time for my company’s fast-approaching annual performance reviews.

Cue the X-rays, CT scans and MRI — yet doctor after doctor found nothing to diagnose. I spent the holidays in bed with the lights out, my siblings standing worriedly on the fringes of my room, at a loss for words. I did not make my return flight back to the city.


“Just a few weeks after this photo was taken the pain became all-consuming, like a constant jackhammer at the side of my neck.”


Physical pain connects you to your most human self. My personality was suspended as sleeping, eating and even breathing took all my limited energy. I didn’t look at social media for months.

It’s hard enough to keep in contact with friends when things in life are exciting! But how do you call someone you haven’t seen in a year and say, “Hey. I am in the deepest, darkest pit.”

(I did, in fact, text those exact words to someone, and she responded with empathy and kindness. That right there is the making of a lifelong friend.)

Finally, my mother and I hesitantly accepted a diagnosis from my neurologist: chronic migraines. This meant the road to relief would require more patience, as well as frustrating trial and error. No major accident or injury was to blame for my fate, but I knew my lifestyle in Chicago certainly hadn’t helped my health.

If I could draw a pie graph of my life in 2015, 75 percent of it would have been labeled “work” — I was consumed by a job that I liked, but didn’t love. As an achievement-oriented person in a post-college world, the workplace can be addictive because it's one of the only places where there are clear steps to success. Agreeing to work on the weekends to finish projects didn't seem like a compromise — it almost felt comfortable.

I missed my performance review. I resigned from my job. My roommates in Chicago found a subletter. The process seems logical and linear in retrospect, but each decision stung as the life I once worked so hard to maintain was suddenly no longer an option.


“I was not ahead. I was not behind.”


I continued to avoid social media because I knew while I was anxiously awaiting my health insurance to approve Botox injections for my head and spending most of my time with my mom and physical therapist, my work wife was completing projects we had started together and sipping mimosas on #SundayFunday.

But I also had a great deal of time to think. I thought about what I loved about my old job and what it was missing. I pictured what I would do with a day if I magically woke up without pain. That idyllic day included being close to family with limited stress, and I realized that moving back to Chicago may not be the right answer.

In June, my mother and I took a trip to Sanibel Island in Florida — the world’s capital for sea shelling and a sacred family retreat. The plane ride was difficult, and while there, I slept my typical 10 hours a night. I passed on our traditional bike ride around the island, but I did get to watch a sunset paint the sky while wading ankle-deep in warm water. Next to my mother, who had been the steady light in my darkness, I said a prayer of thanks.

On the island, I realized there is no comprehensive life timeline. I was not ahead. I was not behind. In fact, I had been forcibly given something many would consider a huge privilege: a fresh start.

Pain will break you down to almost nothing. But when it lets up just a bit and you regain some capacity, you have newfound clarity on what’s important to add back into your life. For me? Family, then faith; a chance to finally start my own company — one that will allow me to be creative and live a well-balanced life.

This month I turned 26, and despite what it may look like on social media, I still battle pain and fatigue every day. But the balance of my life has been restored, and I have greater clarity on what I want to create in the months and years ahead.

Perhaps poet Emery Allen put it best:  

“You are on the ground and you feel like you are nothing.
This is where it happens.
Do you feel your roots?
Do you see the sun?
You are not alone in this dirt.
The pain is just showing you that you are alive.
It is time to start over
And grow the way you’ve always wanted to.
It is time to become.”

Grace continues to heal while living in Canton, Ohio, with her mother and brother, and near her boyfriend. She’s thankful for her friends, her pup Molly, and the chance to start an e-commerce site in the fashion and bridal industry launching this January.



By Ashley Lamb

It seems like “millennials” like to claim identities.

(Except for when we don’t want to be labeled. And except for the label “millennial.”)

Because of my educational background, career path and general passions, I like to claim identities related to social justice, such as feminist, ally, advocate, and the like.

Here’s what I struggle to claim: Christian.

Saying it feels strange on my tongue and makes my insides clench. As I claim it, I feel a myriad of caveats, justifications and explanations rising from my chest and spilling from my mouth that I cannot control. I recently read that “the most revolutionary thing a woman can do is not explain herself,” but this sure feels like something I must explain — both to those who don’t share the identity and to those who do.

My religious upbringing was largely in a white, upper-middle class, conservative, evangelical church. I believed “all the things” the Christian leaders in my life told me because it was largely the only voice I heard — and it was certainly the loudest.

They told me that as a woman, I would need to “submit” to my future husband as the spiritual leader of our household. I could never hold leadership titles such as “pastor” or “elder,” and I could never speak onstage unless it was Mother’s Day or I was accompanied by my father or husband. Of course, if I were to be onstage, I should ensure that my clothes were not too tight, too revealing or too sexy. Heaven forbid I cause one of one of my brothers in Christ to “stumble” because I have boobs. If there were ever questions about sexism or inequality, we were reminded that “men and women are equal in the eyes of God,” but that there are different expectations between the two as they hold different roles in the church and in society. (Does something smell a bit like “separate but equal” here, or is it just me?).

They also taught me that LGBTQ+ individuals were making a “choice” and could be “healed” from their sin, and that poverty was in many aspects a “moral problem,” but by far the most essential belief is that we were right. We had the answers, and anyone who believed otherwise was misled at best, a “false prophet” at worst. When 18-year-old me met people like 25-year-old me, there were fervent prayers about “backsliding” and “lost souls.”


“Here's what I struggle to claim: Christian.”


As I moved through college, I began to drastically reconsider many things I had always believed and assumed to be true. I started out with beliefs related to social issues such as race relations, poverty, criminal justice, LGBTQ+ issues and women’s equality. Somewhere around my junior year (when the above picture was taken), many of my most tightly held beliefs began to crumble as I started to delve deeper into heavier theological issues.

I won’t get into them too much here, but it will suffice to say that there are many Christians who would not hesitate to label my beliefs “heretical.”

I admit that in many ways, I do feel like a “lost soul.” Being a part of a church community has been an integral part of my life since before I can remember. From growing up in Western Michigan, to spending six years in Ann Arbor for college, and now living in Northern Michigan, it is something that I have always craved. I’m not sure how to go about life without it. The church is where I have forged most of my deepest and most meaningful relationships. Although my husband and I have found a church where we feel welcome and where we know our beliefs will be heard without judgement, the reality is that I will probably never again feel at ease entering a Christian community that I am unfamiliar with.

One of the caveats I feel I must explain: I recognize this struggle is one of privilege. In the U.S., I am still the majority in the basics of my religious beliefs. The religious holidays I observe are woven tightly into our culture. My Sabbath day gives me free parking, a day off work and brunch specials. I don’t fear hate crimes or that a political leader will create a registry to track and control me based on my beliefs.

My “otherness” has become increasingly obvious to me as I hear “liberal” used as a derogatory word by people who love me and could never imagine that I would fall into that category because I go to church on Sundays. It becomes increasingly more uncomfortable as conversations with friends and family revolve around beliefs they assume we all share. There is no space for dissent because who could deny the truth?

I remember a key moment in my spiritual journey. It was my freshman year of college, and I was at the peak of my religious fervor. I was contemplating the afterlife and the importance of “sharing the gospel” with people so that they could spend eternity with God in Heaven.

I recall thinking to myself: This is what makes life worth living. If I didn’t have this belief, my life would be completely meaningless. I can never turn away from this faith, because after having experienced such an important calling, I’ll always know something is missing if I walk away.

It may sound depressing, but honestly, at the time it was invigorating and empowering. I was certain that I had found the deepest meaning of life and that it would guide me until the day I died.

Fast forward only five years, and I’ve found myself very close to that place where I said I’d never go — my faith is nearly unrecognizable to the faith I’d known before. My beliefs and the way I practice them are so radically different, it feels strange to even call myself “Christian” anymore.


“Somewhere around my junior year (when the above picture was taken), many of my most tightly held beliefs began to crumble as I started to delve deeper into heavier theological issues.”


This is what I claim.

I am an unapologetic feminist.

In the Christian sphere, my feminism means that I also am egalitarian. I believe that it is detriment to the gospel and tantamount to spiritual abuse that women are not permitted in leadership in so many churches across the world, and that they are taught that their bodies are dangerous and they must “submit” to the leadership of their spouses rather than being equal partners.

I believe that racial reconciliation is one of the most important things that our society can work towards. I believe that the universal Church — all people who call themselves Christians or claim to follow Jesus and/or the Bible, regardless of denomination — should be on the forefront of that movement, making active efforts to reflect the diversity of God’s kingdom and seriously questioning why Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week.

I desire to be an ally to the LGBTQ+ community, and to those who also claim the identity “Christian,” I fully affirm them as members and leaders of the Church body.

I believe that we as Christians can learn so much from our Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu, and atheist brothers and sisters if we can only learn to open our hearts and minds.

And yes, I am a Christian. As screwed up as the Church is, and as much damage as it’s done, I still believe in it. I have seen the Church do good. I have seen incredible communities form and unbelievable healing happen within. I truly believe that at its best, the Church is something special. When it’s healthy, I haven’t found anything else quite like it.

I was wrong when I thought life without my narrow little faith would be meaningless.

I still don’t know where exactly I am, or where I’m going for that matter. I know that I’m moving towards a faith that is bigger, more inclusive and less defined. I hold nearly everything with open hands.

In so many ways, my life has never been more meaningful.

Ashley Lamb is an enthusiastic consumer of good books, good food and good conversation.  She works in the child welfare system as an adoption specialist in Traverse City, Michigan, where she lives with her husband and their two fur-babies, Lilo and Stitch.



By Ethan Smestad

Let’s be honest: Social media isn’t as fun of a place as it used to be.

Swipe open Facebook at any time, and these days your feed is likely filled with articles about the newest appointment to Trump’s cabinet and how that further seals the deal on the end of the world. You scroll past it because you’re trying not to dwell on it; you see a few of your friends sharing this same article; a bunch of them argue over its finer points and what it will mean for us all.

Keep scrolling, soothe yourself with some Biden/Obama friendship memes, keep scrolling and watch seemingly everyone in the world sound off on everything that’s fucked up in the world right now, from every conceivable perspective and angle.

There are the people terrified of Trump, and there are the people terrified of the people rallying against Trump — his supporters, who are only getting more galvanized. Then there are those who are constantly trying to present you with some better perspective that frames both sides correctly and conclusively. People read about how fake news on Facebook influenced the election — they read that on Facebook. Universal uncertainty prevails.

You look up from your phone out into the world, and you’re looking at a world that feels even more scared than when you first swiped Facebook open. We’ve been living this cycle for a few weeks now, but its root cause is nothing new. We’re all dealing with the most potent and invisible “enemy” mankind has ever known: fear.

After 9/11, the term “national security” became an obsession as fear spread throughout the country. In the years following the 9/11 attacks, the government increased surveillance, and eventually, Edward Snowden revealed the extent of the government’s knowledge. To me, the National Security Agency represents the adage “knowledge is power” and a thought that the more you know, the more security you have.

We all want to feel safe, and feeling like we know what’s going on goes a long way to calming these anxieties. Take a look at your Facebook feed again, and you’ll see what I mean. We’re all desperately sharing information and trying to prove we know exactly what’s going on.

But if the internet holds so much information, and humanity supposedly knows more than ever — is better educated than it ever has been — then why are we all so much more afraid? Even though the U.S. has one of the largest militaries in the world, and by all means should feel more secure than ever, why are we so afraid?


“You look up from your phone out into the world, and you’re looking at a world that feels even more scared than when you first swiped Facebook open.”


There are genuine threats for certain; many of us are reading about the carnage and bloodshed happening in the Middle East, hearing about how people who may have a different set of beliefs are flooding into Europe.

In light of shootings this year in Orlando, in San Bernardino, California, and elsewhere, the marginalized groups of this country now fear that racists, homophobes and xenophobes will be able to express their hate with impunity. There seems to be some clear sides to the conflicts brewing these days, and it doesn’t look like there’s much room for reconciliation.

We can easily point out what separates these groups — but what unites them? All sides of these conflicts share the essential drive of fear, and the desire to feel safe. Honestly, maybe we’re afraid because there’s good reason to be. We don’t know how to defend ourselves from new threats, and we’re struggling to find comfort again.

My answer to these problems is acceptance: I don’t think security is ever guaranteed, no matter how hard one tries to get it, because there is nothing secure about being alive — and this is actually good news.

☐ ☐ ☐

I didn’t know how good I had it growing up: I lived in a (mainly white) upper-middle-class suburb in Long Island, New York. There was virtually no crime; my parents had stable, well-paying jobs that benefitted many people in our community — looking back I realize my life until junior year of high school might as well have been a dream.

But even when you have everything you’re always told makes for a good life, none of it can stop suffering from seeping through the cracks. Our many achievements as a society, including our advancements in medicine, have done nothing to quell the fact that our bodies all have an expiration date. We can build incredible, impenetrable boxes to hide from the dangers of the world outside us, but nothing can change the fact that we’ve always been delicate and temporary creatures.

Despite everything my parents had going for them, they couldn’t stop cancer from taking them. I sometimes even think it was the very way of life they coveted that made them sick. The best medical care in the world meant nothing; even the top hospitals couldn’t stop the inevitable.

Here again surfaces the security we crave: We build giant hospitals filled with trained personnel that know the human body head to toe, and we stuff them with state-of-the-art technology, all kinds of concoctions and potions, methods for extracting tumors — a whole edifice of medical knowledge and countless reports of successfully carried out life-saving procedures. Hospitals work hard to make you feel hopeful, giving the appearance that we’ve mastered our own nature and function. But in my experience, these hospitals were mainly for the appearance of health and wellness, not the actuality of it. The same goes for the military, for government and for all structures meant to somehow control the great flux of life and death on planet Earth.


“Even when you have everything you’re always told makes for a good life, none of it can stop suffering from seeping through the cracks.”


I know these hospitals have worked for many. I’m not saying the whole thing is entirely a scam … I’m only saying that in my own experience with my parents’ sickness, the main thing I took away from it was that nothing is certain, and nothing is guaranteed.

If there's anything I learned from losing my parents, it's that you're not really living when everything is simply “alright.” We shouldn’t strive for security. When there’s nothing to question, to mourn, to fear, life just passes like a pleasant but meaningless dream.

Fear is what lets you know you’re alive. It reminds you something is at stake and that you have to take risks to fight for that small, precious scrap of an occasional incredible feeling that surges through you called “love.”

☐ ☐ ☐

This year has been absolutely insane — a lot of terrible things have happened. I’m writing this in the Bushwick branch of the Brooklyn Library, and as I look around at all the faces here, I feel sympathy for everyone because I know they’re all searching for something, and they’re all very scared — just like me.

People aren’t simply afraid for themselves either; they’re afraid for people they love and care for, and I can tell you losing someone you love is often far more terrifying than being physically hurt yourself or losing your own life. Many of my coworkers and friends have much more reason to be afraid than I do, and my way of coping in the aftermath of the election was to offer myself as support in any way to these friends who feel their life is under threat. Not only that, but especially for straight white people in America, it’s time to stop talking and speaking on behalf of marginalized people and shut our mouths to listen. We don’t understand what it’s like to be black, Muslim, queer or trans in America, so we need to listen to these voices, and use our privilege to help bring those voices to the frontline of the dialogue.

People are reacting differently to what’s going on — to today’s insecurity. Some people are keeping their heads down, staying quiet and waiting to see what happens; some are breaking down completely and spending days or weeks in bed; some are are holding their loved ones a little tighter; some are lashing out angrily, and pointing fingers and blame; some are fighting; some are rallying together and shouting to the heavens. The key here is that there is no right way to react to fear. There’s just honesty — acting in a way that’s true to you.

And listen: All of this is good news, I promise! It means that you’re alive, that you care, that you’re invested, and that everyone you’re angry with — everyone you hate right now — feels fearful too. The fear simmering under the surface is a symptom of that much deeper feeling that glues us all together, whether we like it or not: that feeling of love.

You and I are creatures putting one foot in front of the other, without ever having a clue when we’re going to step off the cliff. And you know what? If you disagree with that statement and think I’m wrong, that’s fine too. I won’t argue with you. I will listen. All our petty and bitter arguing and squabbling — all our fear and our love — just means that we’re here, we’re alive, we’re conscious and trying to figure it all out, like true detectives. This is what it means to be alive.

Ethan Smestad is a 24-year-old Long Island native who recently transplanted to Bushwick in Brooklyn, New York. He works for Amnesty International as a fundraiser, occasionally performs music and theater, writes freelance, and contributes to various websites.



From the Editors:


This month, we’ve been pretty consumed by discussing and thinking about the U.S. presidential election and what it means, as no doubt so many of our readers have been doing, too. In this moment, it’s clear our country has some healing, listening, fighting and uniting to do.

In particular, we have been thinking about the role Cropped plays and could play, not just in November 2016 but at all times, in connecting people and increasing our understanding of one another.

We want to remind you that Cropped is a space for everyone — a community for folks of all races, religions, sexualities, identities, sizes, abilities, even ages. Please know that we will make sure to keep it safe for all of us.

As editors, we know we can do better. There are so many stories and so many voices missing from this site. There is so much we don’t know about each other, so much we could afford to learn. So, we are committing to reaching out and to listening and to sharing this platform.

Marina has the word “human” tattooed on her arm — a reminder that we are all human and that we are only human. Now maybe more than ever, this feels like a mantra worth spreading. When we all understand this, maybe we can act out of respect and love instead of fear.

As we’ve said before, Cropped is a space for compassion, solidarity and perspective. We are on a mission.

We’re taking December off from publishing in order to focus on that mission and evaluate how we can do better. Stick with us. We’ll stay connected with you all on social media, and we’ll see you in 2017.

Marina and Maria



This month, the book my book club selected was “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison. The book club is made up of my coworkers, and we’ve rotated each month in who decides what we’ll read. One coworker in particular has done a great job of suggesting books written by people of color that directly examine questions about race — a recent personal mission of mine as well. “The Bluest Eye” is a beautiful exploration of these questions and in particular is a reflection on the experience of young black women. I don’t want to “crop” out the truth, so I’ll admit, I’m only halfway done with the book! But it’s one of my most enjoyable reads in a long time. My heart aches for these vivid characters, and I root for them with every turn of the page.

Another confession: Until the singer and songwriter Leonard Cohen died this month, I did not realize how famous he is and was. His song “Suzanne” came up on my Spotify once and became an instant favorite, but I didn’t know how many other people have deeply appreciated his music and lyrics. I think what I appreciate most is his honesty. He has questions about mortality, spirituality and love, and doesn’t claim to know the answers. The editor of the New Yorker, David Remnick, wrote a beautiful profile of Cohen for the magazine in October, just before his death. And Cohen spoke with radio host Terry Gross on her NPR show “Fresh Air” — a very worthwhile listen.


I’ve been thinking about and reading about how to be a better ally — donating, showing up, listening, amplifying others — and right now being an ally to the water protectors at Standing Rock is at the front of my mind. I really appreciated hearing from Dr. Adrienne Keene and other Natives on the ground in last week’s episode of Another Round (although the situation at Standing Rock has changed since this podcast was recorded — check out the #NoDAPL hashtag for updates).

Today I heard the song “Walrus” by D.D Dumbo on “All Songs Considered,” and now I’m hooked. Maybe you’ll like him too — give him a listen here.