Jeanie Tomanek’s paintings, with their heavy focus on symbolic elements, present as rich in meaning and full of magic. Each one tells a clear story. Take “Faith,” for example, where a woman is mid-step in the process of walking off a cliff. She can see the cliff on the other side that is her destination, but it seems she has no intention of attempting to make the jump between them. She will calmly step into open space with her chin raised in confidence. Like all the women in Tomanek’s work, she embodies inner strength, in this piece related to the belief that one can never reach their goal(s) without taking a risk. Tomanek’s primary aim is to showcase the universal strength and wisdom of women.
Crystal J. Zanders draws attention to the strength and wisdom found in relationships and domestic life, sometimes in a humorous way. “Defense of Dysfunction” pokes fun at the way we often break our possessions before we can afford to replace them and are forced to get creative in the fight to hang on to them as long as possible. “Grenade” addresses the more serious issue of knowing someone you love is fighting in a war, and thus the humor comes across as darker to us readers – yet we can see the speaker’s intention is to diffuse tension on both sides and make the situation more bearable: “I laughed // when you told me you’d joined. You won’t pass / the psych exam, I said”; here, humor becomes a means to access the strength needed to endure.
In Erin Seaward-Hiatt’s short story “Small,” the narrator shows her strength in grappling with mortality and the knowledge that there are unavoidable dangers in life. Horrible things can happen to the best people, even to children. But in the face of these frightening realizations, she doesn’t hesitate when she needs to risk her own physical (and legal) safety to help her friend and her friend’s daughter avoid a potentially life-threatening situation. What allows her to step off the cliff is the history and closeness she has with her friend: “Then again, we crossed that bridge a long time ago, and the boards on the damn thing are all creaky and starting to splinter. This time, more than ever.”
Elsa Valmidiano’s essay “Blighted” recounts her experience of having a miscarriage and, earlier in life, an abortion. It can also be said to serve as an ode to the strength of women and the risks they are willing to take in order to choose the correct path for their lives and bodies. Valmidiano lists some of the methods women have used to self-induce abortion and writes: “The darkness or light of the alley never stopped women. And I remember, I am lucky.” In a world that still creates stigma around this topic, talking about it is its own form of risk, though doing so might help create a world where all women can call themselves lucky.