Blog Series

Shameless makes me hopeful for today

September 12th, 2019     by Jessica Balmer     Comments

Illustration: Beena Mistry

For our fifteenth anniversary we’ve reached out to the Shameless community and asked what the magazine has meant to them. What has Shameless meant to you? Talk back to us on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. Read past entries in this series: Melinda Mattos, Marta Balcewicz, and Manisha Claire.

When I start thinking about Shameless and how great it is, and how necessary and amazing, I don’t believe I’m alone in thinking “I wish I had Shameless growing up.” In fact, I know I’m not: it’s an impressively frequent refrain that I heard from various folks while I was the reviews editor (2010-2014) and in the years since, and that sentiment, however it’s phrased, has become the shorthand for my feelings/its impact.

This is actually a fairly logical way to think about many of the awesome things that come into our lives. When something amazing enters, of course we wish we’d had it sooner: more amazing is more amazing. Obvi. But for those people/publications/places that stand out to our current selves as a “Oh, if only this had been available” for our younger selves, well, there is a particularly soft spot in our softest of spots for those wonderful things.

There is a bittersweet romance to this hindsight, for me at least. A clear distinction between what was and what could have been. A break. A before and an after. Wondering if I’d known about it sooner somehow my past/my progress to this point would have been… I’m not sure what: Easier? Maybe. Less fraught? Surely. Less shameful? Less hurtful? Hopefully. That’s the romantic part. The hope that I could have changed my past.

I think Shameless, both the magazine and its community members, is magically affected by being surrounded with so many folks who share this retrospective reverence; and somehow this enables Shameless to be so fluid and so current and so present.

I remember one issue during my time on the editorial board where we were working on a feature on Indigenous Sovereignty. Epic! Amazing! As frequently happens, things were moving along, but the article wasn’t coming together as idealized or expected. Deadlines were creeping up, and this piece was not taking shape in the best way: the focus on due dates and getting something done and ‘good enough’ was beginning to overshadow the content and the process.

So often, that’s just life (or at least publishing). Things creep up, time flies by and we get things done to get them done. And it’s only after they’re done (and in this case printed and shared with the world) that the flaws/errors/hurts perpetrated as a result of the rushing/getting it done surface. It’s only in hindsight, either because of our own spontaneous self-reflexivity or more often, because someone else shares how they were hurt as a result of our mistakes, that we realize where and how we went wrong (sometimes how irreversibly, embarrassingly, guilt-riddeningly, shame-inducingly wrong).

But that isn’t what happened. Instead of letting the tidal pressure of ‘getting it done’ carry us forward ignorantly but punctually to the issue print date, the editorial board just pressed pause. Despite deadlines, despite production plans. We recognized that if we truly wanted to work in solidarity with our community members to produce a piece (especially on this topic) that would satisfy our commitment to justice and shared liberation, that it would take time and look different and be ready when it was ready. And it was.

Where anywhere else this would have resulted in hard lessons learned, or “wish I’d known better” reflections (and harm and guilt and more), with Shameless, that magic, that collective romance and hope, allowed for action and reaction, change and growth, learning and unlearning to happen in and at the same moment.

As a reader of Shameless since its debut, and as someone who pitched several stories before submitting my application for section editor, I had always admired Shameless as a publication that was so timely, its pieces so immediately necessary (at least once, an idea I pitched for a future issue was declined because it was already being featured in the current one!).

Shameless models a reimagining of the present; a right now learn something and do something attitude, so that we don’t have to look back at the past to do better tomorrow, we can look closer and be better today.

For many of us, we have learned our politics and our identities and built (and burned) relationships by applying to the future all our lessons learned in hindsight. All the harm and regret, the before informs the after. And we’re better for it. And while we may not have had Shameless as we grew up, we have it now! And have had it for the past 15 years! So we are now the better for it and ever better with it.

Shameless does not just change as a result of hindsight or in retrospect; it is present and fluid and growing and changing just like its literary and live body. Rather than accept the boundaries by which most publications are simply and literally bound, Shameless does what is best in this moment, for us in this moment. The necessity of Shameless is in teaching that there doesn’t need to be a past littered with pain-then-regret, mistake-then-apology.

I think being witness to and participant in this shift from regret in hindsight to focus and commitment in presence is the greatest personal and professional impact Shameless has had on me: to embrace change and evolution in the present, however messy or uncomfortable; to sit with and breathe in and support those around us through the present (be it writing a feature or building a partnership or working a job).

I think it’s exactly why Shameless was unique when it debuted 15 years ago and what continues to set it apart today. Shameless is not just stellar content. It is process (the way this content is crafted) and community (the beautiful people who shepherd it from first idea through final edit). Shameless makes me hopeful for today. Now that’s romantic.

Tags: body politics

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