Welcome to the Contrarium Blog! Unlike the magazine, the blog will be less structured. There will be two posts a month: one artist interview, and one post about whatever we feel like! This month, we want to tell you the story of Contrarium and give you some insight into the submission process.
First of all, for those who don’t know, my name is Maya. I’m in my first year of graduate school for counseling psychology. I graduated undergrad with a degree in English back in 2015, and in the interim I have been working in Jewish non-profits planning community events, mostly for young adults. I was ready to leave that world behind when I applied for grad school, but I left it earlier than planned thanks to the pandemic.
I’ve told the origin story in the first issue and at the launch party, but allow me to recap: I have wanted to run my own literary arts magazine ever since I was on the editorial board of the Catalyst at UC Santa Barbara. I tried to make it a thing at my various jobs working in the Jewish community, but it never quite made sense. It doesn’t help that I have a habit of dreaming big and acting small; I don’t follow through with my ideas. So when the pandemic hit and the gyms closed and my social life died and I lost my job, I felt restless. I dreamed again of the magazine, but my boyfriend was unenthused by the idea because he had astutely caught on to my lack of follow through. Him thinking of me that way lit a fire under my ass, so I immediately got to work.
I made a post on Instagram and on Facebook and I reached out to some friends from college. In the end, I had four UCSB alums (Nicole, Janessa, Ashley, and Katya), and one of the two reasons that I never regretted my horrendous first big girl job (Shana) working with me to make this magazine come true. At that first meeting, I had no clue how big a gift I had received. All five of these people are tremendously talented in ways that I am not. They gave Contrarium a name, a gorgeous website, an even more gorgeous layout, diverse voices, a killer social media presence, and so much more. We started with my nebulous idea and ambitious goals and we fucking did it.
There was nothing easy or smooth about what we did. I am not a natural leader and I have never made something from scratch before. It took spreadsheets, detailed lists, ever-changing timelines, a lot of personal favors, too many Zoom meetings, and letting go of a few amazing ideas, but we did it. I wish I could turn this blog into a how-to for how to create a magazine, but I barely know how we did it. Maybe after Issue II we will be experts, but only time will tell.
However, I can give you an insight into two aspects of the magazine: picking a theme and picking submissions. There are a few ways to pick a theme, but I believe that an important first step is to choose a perspective. I had a few ideas before getting the team together. I thought about seasons. Maybe each magazine would have four sections, each one related to a season. Maybe each seasonal section would correspond to a certain age group of artists. Maybe we would publish four times a year, and each issue would be themed around a specific season. I thought about psychology. Maybe each issue would give a voice to a different mental illness. But ultimately, I chose opposites.
I am a firm believer in balance. I don’t think anything is inherently good or bad, but I think there is danger on the ends of a spectrum. I also believe in contradiction. Not that it’s good, necessarily, but that we are filled with them. Contradictions are a fact of life, and we need to learn how to live with them. And when it came time to pick a set of opposites, all I could think about was how my life was moving forward (graduate school, a changing body, moving into a new apartment, leaving behind my career in the Jewish community…) and at same time the whole world was on pause with the pandemic. It was 0 and 60 at the same time. I’ve never been a succinct person, but Nicole is and she took all of that and gave us our first theme.
The story of our second theme is quite different. During one of our meetings, we all shouted out a set of opposites that we thought sounded cool, and ended up with a list of about 17 sets of opposites. A couple of months later, everyone got three votes, and the winning pair was one inspired by a line in an X-Men movie. Inspiration can come from anywhere.
The fact that there is a second theme at all, that my friends and I are still dedicating so much of ourselves to this project, is so much more than I expected when I mentioned this idea to my boyfriend off-handedly that one fateful day. It is definitely a lot of work, but somehow building the momentum that got us here was easy. Branching out with this blog, the newsletter, and who knows what else, I am even more astounded at how much can be accomplished once you manage to take a first step. So if you have the time and the idea, pursue it. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised!