Dear Heart, by Elana Lev Friedland

Dear Heart,

Let me tell you about the time I write a story about werewolves living in Colorado. In it the werewolves are Jewish and one of them is queer. One is non-binary and that one is a stand-in for me. Because of course it is. Because what is fiction but a chance for self-insertion? Just kidding. This is how you can know I am a poet. And even that is queer, living somewhere on a spectrum zipping back and forth between fiction and nonfiction. Let us parse out who the “I” is.

I write a story about a werewolf. I name them “Ze’eva.” Literally? This means wolf. But the “A” at the end, that “ah” sound confers a girl meaning. I am lucky to live in a language ungendered. But my given name tethers me, my name meaning tree, girl tree, its “ah” ending roots sunk deep below the Earth’s surface.

Let me remind you. Among Eastern European Jews there is a custom of naming babies for a dead relative. This makes me time machine, carrying with me a grandmother I have never met. To cast her aside would make me uprooted.

But there is a long tradition too of changing names, of re-titling babies to evade the evil eye, to dispel the angel of death as it approaches. And then there is of course my favorite Biblical hero: an orphan girl called Hadassah who becomes Esther to become queen and save her people. If this sounds like I am piling on evidence to prove a case, it’s because I am. Why shouldn’t I save myself? Why deny myself the chance to be royal?

I gift myself a new name. A name meaning lion in Russian; in Hebrew meaning heart. A Russian name for boys, an Israeli name for girls, and me in the middle or skipping laps around them, sometimes one, sometimes the other, sometimes neither, sometimes both. When I rename myself I do it to keep the evil eye at bay, to cling to life in a time when darkness surrounds, to shield myself in a technicolor coat, to mark the end of confusion’s flood with an arked rainbow.

But I keep the old name with me. A name fixes letters, syllables, sounds to a being living in a body. Before we’ve met face-to-fact a name can start to tell my story, hints of what to expect to see when you lay eyes upon my body. I adorn myself with two Jewish names.

Why does everything come back to being Jewish? Why, dear heart, connect yourself to a genderqueer God you may or may not believe in? Maybe it’s because the best my voice has ever sounded is in prayer, in a chorus. Because I’m searching for community, a minyan, a quorum. Even in a religion that sometimes literally builds walls to separate gender, I have found ways to figuratively dash around them, found Jews and queers and Jewish queers who hear me name myself without question. After ten years a dire isolatto, a wolf without a pack, a tree without a grove, I have found myself people who speak the same fluidity. I am a heart still beating. I have found myself a home.

So when friends ask, “Do you want us to call you by your new name?” I know they’ll understand when I answer, “No. Yes. Maybe. I don’t know. Sometimes. Both.

More info: Contact the author at elana (dot) friedland (at) colorado (dot) edu

Teddy, from Riot Brrrain, by Caitlin M Caplinger

TEDDY (they/them)
It’s not a swing and maybe that’s how the world has portrayed it like this very lateral process you’re up then down then up down then up down up down and those are your only two modes

                            Deep breath and reveal

bipolar two
literally the name that you’re only occupying these two spaces you’re stripped of that middle the regular the calm
to say nothing of the void that is co-existing pouring in and out of the cracks filling you out making you into one whole lotta
into one whole stunning rich worthy helluva person

                          TEDDY enters into the revolving door (hypomania), moving slowly

it’s more a revolving door where at different times you’re burrowed in a pocket that’s allowing you to conquer the fucking world you are up at dawn who needs food I will accomplish everything in the universe who needs sleep who needs health who needs fucking money spend it all on shit that temporarily grounds me or takes me to the next goddamn level I am above those things I’m the one to take you to the hospital at 3am because I can’t get to sleep because what if someone dies my phone needs to be on I will murder someone most likely me

                 Ducks out and into another door section (baseline), the revolving speeds up

the next pocket is chill cool as a manic pixie cucumber the parts you like the acceptable mode the kind of calm you only feel after a Michelin star orgasm

                Ducks out and into another door section (depression), the revolving speeds up

fuck this pocket

                     The revolving speeds up

but the comforting aspect is that because its spinning there’s this gravity keeping you in one of these 3 pockets so you know what to expect

                    The revolving stops, TEDDY drifts out

it’s the days when gravity stops working when there’s no force pushing me into the center of the door when I could very well float out when the color leaves my cheeks and talking is useless because who would I communicate with it’s the days where you find me unapproachable intimidating because I don’t have an expression on my face or I don’t immediately kiss your ass or I just seem above it all but I suspect actually deep down you can sense there is nothing and that scares the shit outta you

Context: Teddy definitely, 100% has neurosyphilis — oops! To track down the dipshit who passed the pox, they embark on an epic punk-filled journey through their sexual (ok, sometimes romantic) past. Riot Brrrain features an original soundtrack, canonically non-binary and bisexual characters, and loads of biting humor.

This monologue ends the play. After acting some kind of fucked up for 90 minutes, Teddy finally confronts their own challenges and shame: they do not actually have neurosyphilis, its Bipolar 2.

More info: | for inquiries and performance permission