By Maanasi Shyno
Art by Shena Han
It is hard to believe that this is the 23s final edition. When we began in 2020, I really could not imagine what our little project would become. Now ten editions later I sometimes am overwhelmed by the feeling that Spare Rib is some of the most important work I’ll ever do in my life. It is so bittersweet to leave, to enter a new era in our friendship, away from how it all began.
This piece is a series of letters to the four 23s who have been my partners since day one.
We’d been parked in front of my dorm for hours, unable to say goodbye. The sun was setting, but there was so much to say after the trip to the ArtsEmerson Theater, so many tiny, precious memories packed into one day. We felt the need to turn them all over in our hands, laugh together at the mishaps and madness.
We talked about the new friendships we saw forming and the inside jokes that were cracked. Something new had blossomed in our tiny passion project, a little spark of togetherness so tender we ached to see it ignite. We had no idea then how quickly it would spread, that the sense of community would become everything to us.
Somewhere amidst our rumination, I said I could die happy tomorrow. It was a dramatic thing to say, but I remember you knew exactly what I meant. You have a way of asking questions, of explaining your thoughts and weaving everything into a beautiful realization. There is something to discover in every conversation, a new road that emerges in the unending journey we are traveling together.
There were many discoveries that night in the car, but the simplest was that we had built something precious. In the heat of a challenging existence, we had found ways to create something worth living for, something life-giving. It dawned on me that we do not have to do big things to change our lives, to create a microcosm of joy. I realized the impact of every small action, which rippled onwards, splashing onto shores I didn’t know existed. And suddenly, everything we did was aflame with purpose. I kept thinking, this is why I’m doing this. This is why I do everything I do.
There is a specific joy to learning that there is so much to hope for, that even the flutter of a butterfly’s wing can move mountains and create storms. In the darkest moments of existential dread, this realization calls out to me. I am forced to see all the light in the world, not as something which simply exists, but is created. This joy of this finding has spread into every corner of my being. It has lingered like a whisper, infused into every moment since.
We all stood in awe as you blew into the wood stove, kindling the dying embers into robust flames. A group of ribbers had been trying to start a fire for the last 30 minutes to no avail, but you got it going, explained to us that fires need breath. Warmth spread throughout the cabin and you made sure it would last the night. There’s a reason that everyone says that they’d hope to be with you if they were marooned on a deserted island or living through an apocalypse.
It has been a blessing to be able to work with someone as capable as you, someone who holds everything together even when it looks like it is bound to fall apart. Creating a spark is easy, but there is a lot of love that needs to go into tending a fire once it catches. In reflecting on how far we have come and in my prayers for the future, I wonder how do we keep a dream burning? How do we survive?
Recently, when we talked about the beginning of Spare Rib, you said “we invented because we loved.” In a college not quite made for us, we needed a place in which we could express ourselves, learn freely, and laugh wildly. We loved our vision, and we loved what it could become for us if we only tended the soil in which it was planted.
Today we are still working, still fanning the flames, no longer of a vision, but a robust, flowering reality. When I think of you heating up that cabin, laughing and happily explaining the process to us, I think to myself that what is watered will continue to grow. When we are around the right people, when we love each other and what we gather to do, the stars need not align perfectly. What we have loved into existence, we will love into survival. We will teach each other and pass it down, we will adapt and evolve.
Lately, many members have told us they don’t know what they’ll do once the 23s are gone. And we all smile and say the same thing: that they will do what this community has always done. They will love so they will invent. They will worry and then remember. They will think of you and breathe life into the fire again and again. The flame will rekindle and they will survive.
We all breathed a sigh of relief when we finally got through our list of things to talk about during execs. We were on track to finish our second edition. It was proof that Spare Rib was not going to be a one-time thing, that we were building something that would last. As happened often during the early days of the magazine, there was this sense of awe that settled in. Suddenly you said, “Guys, we should be friends, why aren’t we friends?” and we all burst out laughing.
We were friendly, but not quite friends yet. It was an interesting relationship to have read someone’s most intimate poetry, but not know if they had any siblings or why they chose their major. And slowly, we grew closer. How could we not, pouring our passion into Spare Rib? Pulling all the stops to scrape together every edition like our lives depended on it?
Your question has stayed with me for years because there was a specific, unassuming knowledge in it: that friendship and fun should always be part of the equation. You truly embody this practice. You make us smile endlessly with your fun facts. The way you accidentally derail meetings always brings us closer and closer. (One week as we were bonding over childhood injuries I thought to myself, this is what feminist community means.) Whether it’s organizing a family dinner for those who don’t have anyone visiting during family weekend or teaching everyone to knit just because you can, you are always making everyone feel essential. There’s so much we began doing to build community that can be traced back to your simple question.
Today what attracts people the most to Spare Rib is that we are a community first. To those who aren’t part of our organization, community might seem like it should be a luxury, something that isn’t quite as important as what we are struggling for. But you have taught me and so many others that community is a necessity. That joy is the whole point.
I think without you, I would have worked myself to the bone, I would have given myself until there was nothing left. But instead I opened my eyes to the abundance of happiness in this world, in the small microcosm of Spare Rib. I opened myself up to receiving and found myself full and happy and surrounded by love.
We were sitting on the couch in the NAH basement, trying to compose an urgent email. I tossed out random lines while you threaded them together, trying to find the perfect combination of words. But we couldn’t figure out how to catch recipients’ attention without sounding super desperate. Laughter bubbled between us as we tried capitalizing and then adding emojis. With every line, we cracked up more and more until we teared up. When we finally finished, I told you I was embarrassed to put down my contact at the bottom and let everyone think I had written the email myself. You grinned and said “don’t worry, we can put mine too.”
In that moment I thought about how much I love working with you and how it was one of the last times we’d sign off on something together. Whenever I want to bring an idea to life you are my very first call. You bring so much to the table, but it isn’t your skillset or your track record of getting shit done that makes me think of you first. It’s the way you never shoot down wild ideas and always ask “okay, so how would we do that?” It’s the way you are willing to do things that have never been done before, how you’re not afraid to put your name on something a bit ridiculous. There is something about this that makes me believe in our ability to create new ways of living in this world, of building new ones, of doing the impossible. You make me believe in my own visions and the futures we imagine together.
Anytime I work in other groups on campus, I always realize that there is something different about how we do things in Spare Rib. There is a shared understanding and respect and love that is embedded in everything we do, a feminist ethos as you call it. In my conversations with other ribbers, everyone has struggled to describe exactly what this looks like or where it comes from. It is indescribable, impossible to put into words. But when I try, I think about you.
Working with you, and all the others, has changed what dedicating yourself to a cause means to me. And now that I’ve experienced collaborating in this way, I don’t know how I’ll go on and do good work with anyone else. Sometimes I imagine I won't. I imagine we will find ourselves in the same city, with a new idea, ready to start all over again.
I had a lot of dreams for this piece. I thought I’d finally be able to put into words every strong feeling I’ve had about all of you and this community we’ve built together. I thought I’d explain all the way I’ve been reading the work we do through Lorde’s idea of erotic work, how it has tapped into something deep within me and how connected I feel to all of you. I thought I’d write poetry.
But four drafts and several bouts of embarrassing prose later, I find myself back where I started: grateful and in awe to call you all my friends. One of my professors is always talking about a group of activists that she was a part of in grad school, people she considers her kin and to this day fill her with joy. And that is exactly how I feel about you. Years from now, when we are scattered across the country, doing different work in new communities, I will always be talking about you. I will trace my lineage back to you. A group of feminists who created with love, centered joy, and imagined better worlds.
Thank you for being my people. I pray my existence will run through yours over and over again.