STRAND VOLUME 61 | FALL MAGAZINE
fragments Dear reader, Our lives are made up of fragments: in the ways we recall specific moments; in the ways we envision the people we know; in the ways we express ourselves. A memory can never be as linear as the experience itself. Instead, we remember certain pieces—what was spoken, what was seen, what was felt. These fragments are what we’re left with at the end of the day. We tell stories to weave them together, to make sense of them, and, ultimately, to hold onto them. In our Fall Magazine, thirteen captivating voices piece together their own fragments through personal essays, poetry, prose, and photography. We begin with Maia Kachan’s reflection on having learned from the women they met during their time in an inpatient ward and end with Kayleigh Birch’s short story about a neighbourhood gathering for the annual blooming of a flower. In between, we have stories that discuss where we come from, what we leave behind, and what we gather along the way. A special thanks—to Jay, for his countless hours spent planning and designing; to Rebecca and Harrison, for working with our contributors to develop their writing; to Nate, for initially suggesting our theme; to all of our contributors, copyeditors, illustrators, photographers, and the rest of our masthead, for their hard work and support throughout the process of putting together this magazine. We present to you Fragments, and hope that you find a piece of yourself within these pages. Sabrina and Ainsley Editors-in-Chief
Maia Kachan Molly Kay Noah Kelly Hadiyyah Kuma Sanna Wani Maria Zelenova Georgia Lin
editors-in-chief Ainsley Doell Sabrina Papas
senior copy editor Tamara Frooman copy team Alyssa DiBattista Sandy Forsyth Rebecca Gao Noah Kelly Arin Klein Amelia Martinez-White Abbie Moser Harrison Wade
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20-21 22-23 24-25 26 27-29 30-31
design team Jay Bawar Sabrina Papas
cover illustration Aliya Ghare visuals Misbah Ahmed Melissa Avalos Mia Carnevale Keelin Gorlewski Molly Kay Anastasia Kozachinskaya Hana Nikcevic Yilin Zhu
Tamara Frooman Ellen Grace Mena Fouda Hana Nikcevic Rehana Mushtaq Kayleigh Birch
Finding intersectional feminism in the psych ward
written by maia kachan
illustration by misbah ahmed
Content warning: mental illness
or comorbid addiction issues, and all were recently at a fragile intersection that had led them to need inpatient psychiatric care. Even with the heaviness of the things that led us to be locked inside a hospital, there were times when it felt surprisingly similar to a summer camp, albeit one for sick people. The bright yellow art room was where I found myself every evening, painting the sky with acrylics on my notebook paper and relishing in the messiness. When the art room closed and we had taken our nighttime medication, we would sit in the common area together. In between episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, we complained about the drowsiness from our Seroquel or our trazodone. How slow our world felt compared to the outside one. A psych ward is like an airport, or the subway, or a laundromat. It brings together a random collection of people with one thing in common and puts them in a transient space. This liminality was one of the most magical things about that place, because it made it easier to really, truly hear people. To listen to myself. I cried in front of those women more times than I have with almost anyone in my life. I stayed
The days leading up to my psychiatric admission feel more like a movie that I’m viewing rather than moments I’ve lived. I look back and watch the sleepless nights, racing thoughts, 20-kilometre walks, and intense mid-afternoon sadness like it’s someone else’s life. When I’m telling the story of how I walked myself to the psych hospital, I can laugh with my friends about the ways I flirted with all the emergency room doctors and spent my night in observation writing poetry on the walls. It’s only funny when it doesn’t feel like my own life. I arrived at the hospital three days after my 21st birthday. The morning after my night in observation, I was shuttled up the elevators to the ninth floor: a women-only inpatient unit. I spent 13 days in the hospital during the worst heat wave this summer. In a freezing cold, air conditioned bubble in the sky. A curious thing about struggling with an episode of severe mental illness is how quickly my life became
the first thing you learn in the psych ward is that everybody has a story up late giggling with my roommate who was in her mid 30s, an early child educator from North York. I learned how to make a dreamcatcher from an Indigenous patient who ran a workshop and brought materials from her community that we all paid her for. I spent an evening excitedly waiting with the rest of the ward to congratulate a young patient for attending Narcotics Anonymous for the first time, guided by an older patient in our unit. Slowly my world began to grow back, as my body and brain were cared for and tended to. I spent hours in group therapy confronting my own experiences, memories, and awareness. I wrote 41 pages in my journal. I realized that I was, in fact, not terrible at visual art. I slowly stopped being scared of the turbulent life I had left behind, and began to ache for a world that transcended the walls of the hospital.
smaller. I withdrew from everyone except my closest circle, who I clung to tightly, anchoring me in reality. It becomes easy to wallow in the thought that parts of your identity are falling away. I felt lost in my identities as an engaged student, a poet, an activist, a friend, a daughter. Mental illness is all-encompassing in how it takes over your mind, your body, and your life. The first thing you learn in the psych ward is that everybody has a story, and that those stories will gradually leak out of you and fill the five-foot space between your bed and theirs. Psychiatric inpatients are some of the best storytellers that I know. It isn’t my place to tell their stories, because then they wouldn’t belong to them anymore. I naively expected inpatient to be like Girl, Interrupted with me playing the part of moody Winona Ryder. The reality of serious mental illness and trauma quickly came crashing down on me in the women I met. Many struggled with housing insecurity, most were people of colour and part of the LGBTQ community, some had cognitive disabilities
I was released on a balmy Tuesday afternoon with six bags and a brain buzzing with follow-up care, resources, and friends. I was stabilized by an incredible women-led psychiatric care team, who worked far beyond the mechanics of their jobs to help me. 5
I credit the community of women in my unit with building my world back up again. Some of them I still talk to, others I probably won’t see again. But I left the hospital with the invigorating optimism that I had the tools to manage what will be a lifelong struggle with a chronic mental illness. My first night away from the hospital, I ached for the shifting community I had grown with and lost. I still hold their stories softly in my exploded brain, with all the new directions they taught me, to grow, challenge, and change my understanding of the world.
time, everyone is able to learn true empathy for people. Before I went to the hospital, I was an activist for issues related to queerness, dis/ability justice, and racialized experiences. I studied equity studies and lived within a community that was constantly discussing our privilege. I think we need to work harder to truly break down the differences between sympathy and empathy in our continued work to make our feminism intersectional. To challenge our perceptions of class, and illness, and the faces we put on the movement to break down the stigma of mental illness. The stories we hear are of people who overcome, of people who struggle periodically, of whiteness. This is not my story, or the stories of the women I loved and grew with this summer. I can’t deny that my ability to tell this story is a privilege, as are the many other experiences that have shaped my identity and made it about more than my struggle with mental illness. It’s August now, and I’m sitting in a coffee shop watching the cute barista and drinking an iced Americano. I have free access to my medications, and I was able to not work full time and to focus on my health during the summer. I have the money to transit to my mental health appointments. I have privilege in many more ways than I can count, that allow me to help manage my health. And even with all of these measures in place, I still struggle. I want to build a feminism that is a process, one that considers the depth of my privilege and works to understand that using my voice erases the experiences of others. But I do know that every time I pass a shelter or transitional housing space, I wonder if one of the incredible, strong women I learned and grew with lives there. I look for them everywhere: on the subway, at my school, in the hospital parking lot. And I wonder if they’ll ever have a platform for their story to be heard.
It’s almost September, and I’m getting ready to go back to school for the final year of my BA. I have an overwhelming feeling of being so incredibly old—as if my body bore the brunt of harrowing waves in my past four months of summer. It feels almost cavalier to move back into the sphere of academia, where we spend so much time thinking, not acting. My degree mostly involves thinking about books and lives. How trivial it is to be moving backwards to theorize about the stories of people I feel so inherently connected to, who I consider many of my dearest friends. It’s strange how such a small piece of my life had such a huge impact on its direction, but it’s hard to quantify the multitude of ways it has since my stay. When we think about fragments, we often consider small moments to keep and save for later. My inpatient stay is a moment that will always exist at the front of my mind in my politics, my skills to manage my mental illness, my ability to do a 1000-piece puzzle in a day, and the photos that pop up on my Instagram feed, tracking the incredible lives of the women I stayed with.
when we think about fragments, we often consider small moments to keep and save for later
I wouldn’t wish an inpatient psychiatric stay on anyone, but I would hope this: that somewhere, some-
Tracing my digital footprint
In defence of the tape covering my webcam
written by molly kay photos by hana nikcevic
For Christmas last year, I was gifted one of those plastic sliding webcam covers. “I know you’re really into cybersecurity and stuff,” said a family friend, grinning as they handed me the package. “When I saw this, I just knew I had to get it for you. I figured you could finally take that ridiculous piece of tape off of your webcam.” This piece of tape that they were referring to had been on my laptop ever since Mark Zuckerberg uploaded a photo of himself to Facebook in June of 2016—wherein a piece of tape can be seen covering the webcam and microphone of his MacBook. The photo instantly went viral, prompting think pieces and online posts about why every social media user should be following in his footsteps. And Zuckerberg wasn’t even the first to do so—both former FBI Director James Comey and computer analyst whistleblower Edward Snowden had also already spoken out about the tape covering their webcams. Sure enough, this sparked an online frenzy. My social media newsfeeds exploded with memes about “The FBI Agent Currently Watching Me Through My Webcam” and “My Smartphone Is Listening and Targeting Me With Ads.” Although a lack of privacy while engaging with social media had become ubiquitous in the average millennial conversation, those of us who actually heeded the cybersecurity warnings were
called out for our “paranoid” antics. If you use Facebook, you should definitely be worried about data privacy. Especially since last spring, when the Cambridge Analytica data scandal compromised the personal data of up to 87 million Facebook profiles. The London-based political firm had been hired by Trump’s 2016 electoral campaign as a tactic to profile the American electoral body in order to influence voter behaviour. User data had been harvested through a personality test app called “thisisyourdigitallife.” Only a few months later, this wide-scale hack has been, for the most part, forgotten. It was recently reported that Facebook would only face a 500,000 pound fine for the scandal, which is marginal, considering the 5.1 billion dollars in net income they made last quarter. The Cambridge Analytica scandal is only one of Facebook’s most recent privacy scares. In September of this year, for example, a different security breach “allowed hackers to control the accounts of up to 50 million users,” reported CNBC. “Our investigation is still in its early stages. But it’s clear that attackers exploited a vulnerability in Facebook’s code that impacted ‘View As’ a feature that lets people see what their own 8
profile looks like to someone else,” Guy Rosen, Facebook’s VP of Product Management, wrote in a newsroom blog post. “This allowed them to steal Facebook access tokens which they could then use to take over people’s accounts.” “We face constant attacks from people who want to take over accounts or steal information around the world,” wrote Zuckerberg in a Facebook post. “While I’m glad we found this, fixed the vulnerability, and secured the accounts that may be at risk, the reality is we need to continue developing new tools to prevent this from happening in the first place.”
tween my knowledge of cybersecurity and my daily use of apps like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Realistically, I know that covering my webcam with tape, using anti-tracking web extensions like Privacy Badger, and making my social media accounts private doesn’t do much more than lull me into a false sense of online security. There have been times where I’ve sworn off social media completely, only to come crawling back out of necessity, or, in some cases, boredom.
How much does Facebook really know about you, anyway?
For fear of sounding trite—or perhaps just like my mother—I won’t comment on the harsh psychological effects of excessive social media usage, or of the 24-hour news cycle. What I will say, however, is that I’ll continue to reconsider the ways I engage with social media, and I’ll definitely still think twice before clicking “accept cookies” in order to gain access to a website. “Facebook’s entire existence is predicated on tracking and collecting information about you,” wrote MOTHERBOARD journalist Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai in their e-guide to using Facebook safely. “If that concept makes you feel creeped out, [then] perhaps you should quit it. “But we also understand…that many people want or have to stay on Facebook to do their job or stay in touch with their family,” Franceschi-Bicchierai added. “And, after all, quitting Facebook is the ultimate first world privilege. For millions of people around the world, Facebook is the internet.”
Is there really a way to use Facebook safely?
I came across a video called “How to find out what Facebook knows about you,” featuring CNBC Technology Product Editor Todd Haselton. In this video, Haselton walks users through Facebook’s settings to show you what the social media platform knows about your interests based on your interaction with ads on the site. The results on my account ranged from somewhat true to disturbingly accurate. For example: horoscopes, newspapers, chihuahuas, and emergency rooms (not too sure about that last one, but I’m thinking it’s probably because I’ve been watching a lot of Grey’s Anatomy lately). I sometimes wonder how, knowing all of the risks associated with social media use, I still find myself logging online for hours every day. There is certainly a type of cognitive dissonance be-
School is making me boring written by noah kelly illustration by keelin gorlewski
I read something I wrote two years ago when I was polished with optimism Uninterested in my own naivety— wrapped in the known.
I fall asleep reciting physiology vocabulary and I’ve been asking questions that I have no interest in. My brain is porous and possesses unending potential for the osmosis of beauty But it’s been sucking up gene transcription regulation or how to medicate central vs. peripheral diabetes insipidus. I’m living for my to do list while my psyche is exploring where I’d rather be— with Willow and Dom watching the light fade into newly emptied bottles saying big things in little words or Home-home, by the river or on the dirt road where you can see the stars best. Where I’m Known. But the work has taken my words from me. I remember when I used to write— when lamplight was gracious and warm when we would read by the water before breakfast when knowledge was a derivative of curiosity. Now, all I have time for is a command-f and a Google of my mental symptoms.
I’m afraid that now, school has made me boring. The acquisition of knowledge has touched down on my collar bone, hooking itself into my grooves— pulling me to a slouch. Anointed by hundreds of hours behind a desk grinding for an opaque goal, gifting me with my first panic attack —and feeling stupid for feeling this way. I should’ve just worked harder.
The place of pastiche in an intercultural environment The isolation of Guyanese culture
written by hadiyyah kuma illustration by mia carnevale On a school bus ride in grade four, my friend Emily decided it would be fun if we all said our names in our native language. Hers was Spanish, my other friend spoke Punjabi, but when Emily looked at me, I froze. I only speak English, and I knew that Guyanese Creole would certainly not impress them. So I pretended I spoke Spanish too, and repeated exactly what Emily had said. Most people think I’m Indian or Pakistani. People tend to assume I can speak Hindi or other South Asian languages. I don’t know any Hindi, save for a few words I picked up from my grandfather or from watching the same films over and over. People are confused when I tell them I’m Guyanese, because most of them don’t know where Guyana is. Someone asked if I was from Ghana. It’s understandable—Guyana is a small space on a large continent called South America, nestled between Brazil, Suriname, and Venezuela. Some members of my family have tried to make the distinction between being Indian and being Guyanese. However, I think there’s a difference between making a distinction and
denying the root of your actual culture. We are Indo-Guyanese, which means our ancestry can be traced back to India. Some of our language is inspired by Hindi terminology, such as “Didi,” which we use to refer to an older sister. These traditions are mixed with other traditions from around the world to create a pastiche of identity. The West had a big influence on the way Guyanese people view their culture. My parents grew up listening to country music because that’s what played on mainstream radio in Berbice, the region they grew up in. People I’ve grown up with always seem surprised that I know the words to Johnny Cash songs. Peers in my ninth grade drama class chuckled when I said that I loved listening to The Beatles. I think it’s confusing for people, even Guyanese people, to live in a society with traditional roles but still be somewhat attached to Western media. In the tenth grade, I found out that one of my classmates, whom I’d known since sixth grade, was half Guyanese. I didn’t know that
other Guyanese people existed. He and I engaged in a few discussions about Guyana, which mostly deprecated the country—and, by extension, ourselves. I realized we were both coming from a place of deep disappointment about the terrible things happening in our home country. It wasn’t a disappointment in the people or the culture—it was anger for the oppressive systems that had been put into place. “Colonialism ruined the entire world,” he said to me, and I said that there was no fact as obvious as that. Meeting another Guyanese person allowed me to be more open about who I was when people asked, if they asked. I had a friend in high school who told me I sounded “white” on the phone, but acted “brown” in person. Yet, he said, I was his “favourite brown person.” Which translated to: I was the only brown person in our grade. I sound “white,” I suppose, simply because I don’t have a recognizable accent. Sometimes I hear the Guyanese cadence of my voice that non-Guyanese people will never hear. My acting “brown” meant my actions were small and I was “nice.” I radiated Asian warmth. I could find it in my heart to resent that if there were no truth in it. I get that warmth from my mother and my grandmother and I embrace it. My friend didn’t understand the nuances of growing up Canadian and having an Indo-Caribbean cultural background, and how could he? At the University of Toronto, I find I am part of the pastiche of interculturalism: people from all over the world. No one I’ve met here really understands themselves deeply. I think we’re too young to feel that way, but today, it doesn’t pain me to explain what I’m made of.
As a Guyanese woman, I have a rich cultural background. The embarrassment I felt speaking Guyanese Creole is long gone; I can speak it with my mom and my family whenever I like. I try to incorporate my culture into my writing by depicting people of colour instead of white characters, holding the understanding that this is only a telling of a story. I think that is important. What people read is viewed through the lens of their own story, not mine. Only my family and I will share the innate sense of culture we’ve grown up with. The Bollywood films, food, Islamic practice, and Soca music have combined in a unique way that is all ours. That is what my culture is to me. I know that not everyone’s family feels that those are things of value, but that’s alright. When I look at the people around me today, on subway cars and in lecture halls, I know they all have their own unique combination of culture that they carry with them; some may view it as baggage, but even so, it is meant to be a shared load. It takes a special kind of strength to carry it together.
I meet Yoko Tawada and ask her, “How many languages make a tongue?” No, let me ask again. Where does the word live? Yes, I guess nowhere is not wrong. Nothing asks for wrongness. Yes, nothing asks to be spoken. But we call for it anyway. No, no one is named your kin. But you call for them anyway. Just try to hear this. Here, this. This heat is spreading quickly. This heat is spreading. Quickly. Did you catch it?
written by sanna wani illustration by misbah ahmed
Why consent in the age of #MeToo extends to virtual spaces
Digital damage written by maria zelenova
Content warning: sexual assault, sexual harassment
by the constraints of professionalism, his persistent advances quickly became outright predatory. He never would have dropped his pants and shown me his penis in the break room at our work, but being tucked away behind his phone screen made him feel that he was well within his right to bombard me with those images. This incident is just a small fragment of the harassment (and assault) that I have experienced. I didn’t think too much of it because I did not deem it worthy of my attention, but it is wrong to underestimate the psychological damage that persistent online harassment can cause. In hindsight, Ryan’s behaviour was derogatory—he knew full well that I did not consent to his actions, but that did not stop him. And despite all my passionate advocacy for believing survivors, I still do not feel justified in bringing this experience into conversations about sexual assault. There is an incessant voice in my head insisting that I am overreacting, that what he did is nothing compared to the suffering of sexual assault survivors. While retelling this story to my friends and family, I was met with choruses of “Why didn’t you just block him? It was literally that easy.” Except that it wasn’t. Ryan was my friend, and I desperately wanted to believe that he wasn’t a creep. It isn’t easy to cut someone out of your life, and the magnitude of his predatory behaviour took time to process. Upon my return from Europe, I did end up reporting him to my former manager and the Human Resources department of our company. To my knowledge, he got to keep his job. I can imagine Human Resources singing the familiar tunes: “Well, he didn’t technically assault her,” and “She doesn’t work here anymore, anyway,” and “He’s a solid guy, let’s not ruin his life.” Within our broader conversations about consent and the #MeToo movement, consent in the digital space must be addressed with more rigour. Too many of us have stories about receiving unsolicited nude photographs, being harassed on various social media platforms, or being stalked. For all their convenience, dating apps such as Tinder are also notorious for becoming platforms for creepy behaviour and harassment. And yet, so often we dismiss these experiences, burying them under piles of “It wasn’t that bad” and “Others have had it worse” and “If it bothers you that much, why don’t you just block them?” But at their core, all of these justifications are just another mode of victim blaming. We have to stop deflecting responsibility from those who prey on their victims online. I sincerely want to see the scope of conversations about consent expand to include the voices of those whose experiences with sexual abuse begin and end with violation of consent online. Otherwise, we are dismissing an entire demographic of victims of sexual harassment and letting their experiences fade into oblivion.
I’ve always considered myself a passionate advocate for dismantling rape culture and believing survivors of sexual assault. I have marched, protested, participated in social media campaigns, and volunteered for an anonymous helpline at Planned Parenthood for two years. And yet, I find it tremendously difficult to hold the men in my own life accountable. This is particularly true when facing unwanted sexual advances and otherwise creepy behavior on social media platforms. I find that even after the #MeToo movement gained momentum and more and more survivors began to come out with stories condemning prominent public figures of sexual assault, we continue to push the voices of those whose experiences begin and end with violations of their consent and privacy online to the backburner. This neglect is a fragment of a broader issue: the culture of victim blaming is particularly pervasive online. Telling a victim of online harassment to “just block” the predator carries the same tone of victim blaming as asking a victim of assault “What were you wearing?” My own encounters with digital predators have felt insignificant in light of more salient stories of survivors, and I often feel that I have no right to bring them up in conversations about consent. Last summer, while on vacation in Europe, my phone kept lighting up with notifications from my former coworker Ryan: he was repeatedly sending me unsolicited photos of his penis. I never asked for them—I had asked him to stop, told him that what he was doing made me feel uncomfortable. He dismissed my concern, citing my past flirtatious behaviour, as if flirtation alone warranted bombarding my phone with unwanted nudes. Blocking his number or reporting him to the Human Resources department at our place of employment never occurred to me; I’ve experienced much, much worse than what Ryan was doing. I didn’t think to mention the situation to my friends—it seemed so mundane—until one day, during a lunch in Rome, one of them saw my phone light up with yet another photo. Both of my (male) friends were outraged by Ryan’s audacity, and suggested that I block and report him immediately. With my consent, they sent him an angry message saying that if he does not stop immediately, the screenshots of our conversations will be reported. To my horror, his response was, verbatim: “Grow up. Take responsibility. Just this conversation is making me horny,” followed by yet another photo of his penis. Ryan was someone I had considered to be a friend. We worked together for a while and texted frequently, and he would often drive me home from work. He was funny, friendly, and lighthearted. And he was right, I did occasionally flirt with him. But once my tenure at my workplace ended and he was no longer bound * Names have been changed 17
fluxed my experience of a tangible disapora written by georgia lin illustrations by melissa avalos At a strip mall in Clarenville, Newfoundland, an elderly white man stops to ask me if I’m from the Philippines. I respond with a no, as one of my colleagues chimes in, “She’s from Ontario.” On Charles Street East, Toronto, a man stops me on the sidewalk and insists that I write his number down in my phone because he “loves Asian girls.” My fear of potential danger takes precedence over my disgust, so I record his number and walk away. My identity is starkly shoved at me without gentility when I occupy white spaces as a racialized woman, often with mostly white peers. For the eight years I sang in a children’s choir, there were always only a handful of racialized folks performing alongside me. We were privileged enough to sing around the world, our destinations adding to the dots creating the dots of my diaspora. As a 17-year-old who believed the world could mould to her, I meandered around Eastern Europe without thinking too much of racialization; instead, I was utterly confused about the Orthodox church services where we sang mass. Attending an expatriate church service in Moscow was the first time I had heard the word “communion,” and watching my peers know exactly when to sit and stand with the reverend was dizzying. I saw rosary beads being sold for the first time at the bottom of the Hill of Crosses in Lithuania. I climbed the hill and stayed quiet as a friend explained to me the basics of the Holy Trinity. In Russia and the Baltics, I left still not knowing the Lord’s Prayer but without experiencing a racist incident—a tradeoff I had not yet come to value. My parents do not subscribe to any partic-
ular religion, only abiding by Buddhist traditions when following the old guard of Chinese customs. The sites of worship I was most comfortable with were found on the tea-rich mountains of Taiwan, where bright red temples with dragons encircling their awnings stood waiting for incense-lighters to arrive. My mother would wish for my good grades, I would wish for my health and heart. I don’t think she ever prayed. We travelled on high-speed trains across our island, drinking sweetened winter melon tea and eating shaved ice on rickety plastic stools in crowded night markets. My childhood in Taipei appears to me like puzzle pieces: I can combine moments and items, like playing the Mandarin version of Monopoly on my grandparents’ cool linoleum floor or listening to the garbage trucks blast “Für Elise” on their routes, but none ever quite create a full tapestry. I often want to leave all of myself in Taiwan because I convince myself it is where I am most comfortable. However, when skincare saleswomen comment on how I look and sound like a foreigner to try to appease me into buying a sheet mask, I am reminded that my emigration has left me splintered across continents. Whenever I see a glass bottle of peach Snapple iced tea, whether it be at an airport cafe during a Dallas layover or on the bottom shelf of a Pusateri’s produce aisle, I am reminded of the 7-year-old living in Manhattan who collected Snapple bottle caps to show off their facts. She sits on the second floor of the Morningside Heights branch of the New York Public Library poring over novels of a language she has just learned, where she first got the idea of becom-
ing an English and Philosophy major. In second grade, North America was fresh with every Junie B. Jones book I borrowed to read on my daily subway rides downtown. I remember the kindness at neighbourhood bodegas, the wonder of boutique gift shops, the convenience of sweetened teas at the now-defunct Deluxe Diner, and I can almost justify my hope in America. Whenever I rattle off a bubble tea order in English instead of Mandarin, saying “tapioca” instead of 珍珠 sounds mangled. The reflective glare of domineering motorcycles revving in downtown roads pales in comparison to the masses of “scooters” found across Taiwan. They take precedence over cars with designated parking slots and traffic stops on major boulevards; their imbalance terrifies and thrills me when I’m whizzed down a wide country path without a helmet in a rural province, or when my grandmother crisscrosses through gridlocked vehicles to take me to lunch. I bring back so little of myself—the one who gorges on pineapple cakes and recites the 12 Chinese zodiac signs in perfect rhythm—to a life marked by subway delays and unopened emails. One where I am always
acutely aware of my racialization, my subtle English stutter, my shifting Mandarin terminology, and my omnipresent anxiety. At Cha Cha Matcha in New York City, the cashier is shocked that we are both named Georgia. Under the soft glow of lettered neon signs backlit against millennial pink walls, I grab a handful of sugar packets with “I love you so matcha” emblazoned in green calligraphy. On a walking tour of Riga, Latvia, I overhear a group of tourists speaking Mandarin with Taiwanese accents. I smile to myself, and listen to their conversation about the cobblestone paths as I sweat in my pale yellow polyester polo uniform. I stop a woman in a wide-brimmed hat with a camera slung around her neck and ask her in Mandarin, “How do you like the city so far?” After a second of surprise, a few of the group gather with excitement to conduct a conversation in which they think I live in Latvia as a Taiwanese student, to their amazement. I inform them that we are currently travelling on a choir tour, but I was born and raised in Taipei. The excitement my response elicits is everlasting in my memory.
Reconciling the unforgivable written by Tamara Frooman 24
Content warning: alcohol, substance abuse, suicide, selfharm, mental illness
highest standing in three advanced classes, creamy cheques transferred from Canadian currency directly to the state of Maine. I’m the best of both worlds, I remember saying. Carefully cultivated A+ reputation and I can captivate a whole room at a party—the police car that arrested me just another punchline: license plate 420-666. But it was an accident, anyway. Not my fault I didn’t know about the 38 percent, didn’t realize New Year’s Eve shots would set off sleep attacks like fireworks in my narcoleptic brain. Who would want to die unscarred, I remember saying. It was all just an accident—wasn’t it? “How do you recover from 17 years down the drain?” I wrote at the time. “19 years and nothing to show for it,” I wrote at another. At ten, I requested a pocket knife for my birthday, and it wasn’t an accident, was it? There’s only so many times I can type “I’m sorry, if I die it wasn’t on purpose” in 4 am overdose iPhone notes without wondering if maybe this time it was. Electroconvulsive qualified ideation certified hotlines
There is not much I remember when it comes to alcohol. I don’t remember the precise moment I stopped drinking. I don’t remember when I started or when it became a problem or when I realized it had become one. I piece together a narrative from missing memories, my own life narrated by others. Larger gaps increasing in frequency, blackouts I escaped to. In retrospect it seems insidious. Escalating through high school and culminating at 19 when I obliterated four or five nights a week—until New Year’s Day waking up in my mother’s sweatshirt, encrusted in my own vomit on the kitchen floor. My father had babysat me until 5 am, she told me. I was a mean drunk. I thought I could leave that all behind when I quit, but I’ll be picking up the pieces for a long time. How do you reconcile the unforgivable? Who was I? Who was that person—the one who I was when I said drinking was the only way I could feel happy? I remember saying it but I no longer know what it means, how it relates to the way I conceptualize myself now. When I drank I chiseled off parts of myself I may never get back. When I quit I left splinters of myself behind, discarded on the cutting room floor. But I am struggling to recognize the person in those pieces, the one who articulated herself as never-once-got-detention-but-got-suspended-fordrinking-on-school-property. Not really “caught” so much as “saved” from my own activated charcoal naivety of drinking on meds, not knowing to check for interactions, 98-percent-sobbing-on-the-F-wing-bathroom-floor-GPA because I thought I was going to die or because I wanted to die and because I thought my mother was an angel, a hazy figure above me. I don’t need to remember her expression; I know what it was. Resurfaced in the hospital, IV-hydrated ivory vision, both parents at a loss again. My dad said: “Vodka and tequila, not a good mix,” but I only ever drank rum, graduated from Kraken to 151. And anyway it was the meds, the ones my doctor had not bothered to tell me could increase blood alcohol content by 38 percent because I was 16 and it shouldn’t have been relevant. The numbers added up at the time, but that was before I lost myself inside them. Fast-forward ten months to another me, still drunk and crying, parallel lines as evidence of my unhappiness, still fresh. Another ashen expression on my mother’s face from a 2 am American police car. I paid off the fine from my arrest with grade 11 scholarship money,
The numbers added up at the time, but that was before I lost myself inside them. sobbing incoherent on a pre-dawn golf course in the rain cigarettes in the distance like fireflies borderline all night and fading quickly now moods like constellations I had to tightrope between I woke up in a room I did not know existed with a guy on a mattress and I don’t know what happened and now I never will ceramic shards smashed on cement floors in my brain flickers snippets snapshots flip through more pages in time dissociated moments tracing pocketknife parallels, a physical manifestation of my mind. Fragmented. Fragments of memory from drunk nights and days, fragments I split off from myself to survive, fragments of thoughts I tried to drown. Was I drowning myself in the process? Diluting myself did not drain away the numbness, it just deleted me. I thought it gave me substance but it only was—an excuse to hide parts of me away, separate slivers safe in my self-erasure. I’ve been reeling myself back in for two years now. I am learning it is okay to be my own leftovers in the wake of a tempest. I can be recovered from the discards on the cutting room floor. Who am I now? A patchwork of cracks and crevices still, but at least my mortar is my own today, not distilled. 21 25
Intersections written by ellen grace illustration by anastasia kozachinskaya 22
I take words and write them down, more often than I should. I wish I could write down and remember everything. Certain words put together compel me to write them down and keep them forever. There are notes in my phone with phrases that begin unfinished ideas, which in the moment I believed would lead to later creation. On my way to school, the subway car was empty except for me and two other women. I smelled the coffee they were drinking and wished I had some of my own. I heard one of them say to the other, “Go and read and see friends and meet people and you have your baby.” Seemed like an easy decision to me. I imagined her in a large home in the countryside surrounded by friends as she grew more and more visibly pregnant. She sat and read, and her family made her meals from scratch, and they all dined together and discussed the world, this new baby who will be entering it, and how they can improve it. I thought of a situation so different from my current reality, of what it would be like to be this woman right now. Although this stranger is likely not the woman of my imagination, one who is living the life of pregnant luxury, I got enough of a glimpse to envision a story. An overheard conversation becomes an intersection, caught between the linear story of my life and the story of theirs. I am drawn to these excerpts, these tiny flickers of the lives of others. They are fun to live in for a moment, to imagine what life would look like if I was the one speaking the overheard words. I heard a man on the bus repeating over and over to himself the phrase “old strawberry road.” I wrote it down with the thought to look it up later, and then I forgot about it for months. I found the note later on and had to try to remember where it came from. His words had become my words to decipher and contextualize. There is an Old Strawberry Road in California; maybe he has been there, or wishes to go. There is a song called Strawberry Road by Sam Phillips about fading dreams and running to love. Maybe he had heard it before. Maybe it was nonsense. Maybe those words existed for him as a way to interpret his current reality. For me, they became a memory, constantly rewritten every time I reread that note. I wonder where he is now, and I still wonder what those words meant to him. As a writer, I am always concerned about where my creativity comes from. I want my work to be so
deeply my own that when words appear in my head I worry that they belong to someone else. I worry that if I write from those appeared words, someone will come out and say those words were not born in me but were only planted there. They will claim them as flower because they planted them as seed. I also wonder what pieces of my life I have the right to tell. An overheard conversation becomes an intersection, caught between the linear story of my life and the story of theirs. They have become part of my life experience. Does that give me the authority to take in what I heard and bring it elsewhere? I listened to a woman talk about curing cancer with magnetic bracelets. I heard her friend answer that everything causes cancer nowadays, so “what’s the point?” I thought about my mom’s cancer, and I felt anger rising within me. What if she believed in the power of a special bracelet, as opposed to the treatments that saved her life? Are there people out there dying because they believe what this lady believes? Who else is she preaching to? I thought about whatever company told her that magnetic forces would save her life and took her money. Later on, I realized that the idea of curing disease with a bracelet probably brought her hope, or some mangled version of it. A magic cure-all object sounds nice, really. These fragments always lend themselves to judgment. I wonder why someone would talk like that, why someone would live that way, what happened to them for their life to reach that point. I compare using the smallest context, as if one conversation can present the whole of a person. The stories of strangers are not my stories to tell. I cannot rightfully know anything about them from hearing them talk for such a small amount of time. The story I can tell is of my reception and absorption of these words, and of how these strangers shift and affect my thinking. I heard boys on the subway saying the girl that their friend brought to a party was not hot enough. I wondered what they thought of me, and of my body. From them and their words, I wrote about how I will never be one of those girls, the kind that guys on the subway call “hot.” It is something I wish I were born into but not something I should try to control. What I take from these words does not really reveal those who said them. They mattered to me in that moment because of who I am, and who I was then. They tell of the reasons I wrote them down, and the reasons I thought I should keep them for later. They are not a way for me to understand a stranger; they are a way for me to understand myself.
written by mena fouda illustration by anastasia kozachinskaya
mplicate om co e h T plicated natu c e ve ov The eo off llo d naturre There is a saying in Arabic that roughly translates to: the gates of heaven lie at the feet of your mother. A strange phrase, she always thought. Categorizing her mother alongside heavenly bodies, or notions of angels and eternal happiness, was not something she could ever do. She loved her mother so much, but they often fought. The criticism and the insecurities and the doubt that slipped from her mother’s lips suffocated her. They could be so happy sometimes. She would trudge home after a long commute and her mother would see the look of exhaustion on her face. She’d open her arms wide. Her warm embrace felt like floating on your back in an ocean, somehow fully at peace and not at all scared of any waves. Just calm. There were other times where they’d be fine one moment, talking about cute guys on the street—but suddenly it was as if the woman beside her who had been laughing would become someone else. Someone who emerged whenever their happiness was at its peak, intent on making her daughter feel unloved and not good enough. She
never expected this side of her mother. Like floating on your back in that ocean and then being hit by a sudden thunderstorm. Her theory about why her mom was always so fluid in her emotions was that maybe she was just jealous of her relationship with her father. The man that she could have a normal conversation with—no shouting, no hurtful words. She grew up her entire life hearing people exclaim, “You are your father’s daughter.” She considered this to be a compliment and wore it as a badge of pride. Her friends would tell her that she was lucky to have a mom like hers. Her mother was always bubbly in public, never without a smile on her face, the “cool” mom. She’d reply with things like, “Yeah, yeah… She’s great. You know who else is really cool? My dad. He’s always travelling to different countries. He buys me things. I only get to see him a few times a year cause he works somewhere else, but he really sees the best in me.” She would repeat that like a mantra to anyone who cared to listen, letting people know that she definitely had
a favourite parent. She never felt any regret saying those things. Never wondered if perhaps her mother was quietly listening. 18 years ago, when her daughter was first born, she was in labour for nearly 11 hours. Can you imagine 11 hours of pain? And before that, nine months of discomfort, mood-swings, and cravings for strange foods that she had never even thought about before? But all those thoughts went away when her daughter was born. She wasn’t able to hold her newborn girl at first due to complications. Her baby was placed in an incubator for an entire week. Alone, in a prison of plastic and a jungle of tubes. She had severe blood loss. Her husband ran from hospital to hospital, looking for donors. When she took her baby home for the first time, they decided to give her a name that represented how they felt—“a gift from God” is what her name translates to. Sometimes, she didn’t really act like a gift. She was fussy, she cried all the time, her face was swollen from crying all the time. Time didn’t change anything. Her daughter was closer to her father, always choosing to sit in his lap during family dinners. Always crying when he wasn’t home. Always teaming up with him to play cute little pranks on their relatives. At some point during these years, her husband was briefly arrested by Egyptian authorities. He, along with some journalist friends, had dared to voice his critiques of an unjust government. She had to take care of their three kids during this time, and it wasn’t easy answering their questions. “Where’s Baba?” On a business trip. On a vacation. Visiting some relatives. “When’s he coming back?” Soon. Maybe next week. Next month. When the authorities finally released him, they made a collective decision to leave the country and go someplace safer. She packed up her clothes. She sold all of their furniture. She said goodbye to her family and her friends and her job as a teacher. When they arrived in Canada, she tried to learn English as best as possible. She went to an ESL class. “I’m making so much progress,” she would say to herself. But then she would mispronounce a word, and her kids would make fun of her. She would sit alone, saying that same word over and over and over, trying to pronounce it the way they did. But it was hard for her tongue to change its patterns, to become accustomed to a new alphabet. When her children asked for help on their homework, she was lost. She herself couldn’t understand. When she attempted to explain the inner workings of long division, her daughter would scoff and tell her “That’s not the way Mrs. Brown taught us.” Time passed, as it always does. Her husband’s qualifi-
cations did not satisfy the standards of this new country, so he took a position overseas. She was left with her three children, a minimal understanding of how the country worked, and a lot of loneliness. When her daughter was a teenager, they fought. It’s not like she wanted to fight with her, she just wanted so badly to protect her. Her daughter would wear a t-shirt in the middle of winter, and this is something that angered her—how dare she not protect herself from this weather? She was going to get sick, her body was fragile and so weak. And if she got sick, she would have to witness her baby girl sneezing, coughing, shivering, crying. Like a baby, alone in an incubator. She didn’t want to see her daughter like that ever again. So she would yell at her. “Go upstairs and change right now.” Her daughter would frown. “You can’t tell me what to do!” She would reply, “Someday when you have a daughter of your own, you’ll understand.” And her daughter would say, “Dad would never tell me to change. He loves me no matter what I wear. I never want to have a daughter if I treat her the way you treat me.” It went on like this for years and years. They hurt each other, but then they would make up one morning over a cup of Turkish coffee. Then they would disagree about something trivial. One of them would make the other cry. There would be a half-apology, but that apology wasn’t good enough for one of them—so they would fight again. Ten minutes later, they’d both be in the kitchen warming up leftovers and laughing. There is a saying in Arabic that roughly translates to: the gates of heaven lie at the feet of your mother. This is all she can think of during her mother’s funeral. Strangers come up to her and give her hugs. They tell her she must have been so lucky to have a mother like hers. She agrees with every single one of them. She tells anyone who will listen about how brave her mother was, raising three children in a foreign country, seeing them at their best and at their worst. At the end of the day, she still finds that phrase to be a little strange. She doesn’t really care about a distant continuation of life. If paradise exists, then great. But that place would never offer any the same happiness she felt when she and her mother would drink Turkish coffee together. To her, paradise didn’t lie at the feet of her mother, but rather in her arms. All of those memories of hugs and unconditional maternal love; all of the memories of trivial fights and unnecessary shouting, all the mispronounced words and all of their laughter. Sequenced together, they create something more precious than heaven could ever be: a portrait of her mother, as deep and as beautiful as an ocean.
An ode to my mother and father written by rehana mushtaq photo by molly kay
In every home I’ve visited, whether an aunt’s, an uncle’s, or a cousin’s, the mantelpiece holds a picture of their ornamental day, the consecration of a union between man and wife. The woman dressed in white, ordained in gold, with white flowers in her hair, smiling through the faded image taken long ago. Lips coated in a red lacquer. A man by her side, dressed in black, stepping forward and holding her hand tight. In my own home, we have a picture of my mother and father posed against lush sky-blue curtains. My mother wears a sari, white and simple, hanging from her thin and model frame, absolutely pristine. My father by her side, slick, posed expectantly. A perfect pair in a perfect image that almost doesn’t seem real. There is no family in sight, nor is there true vestige of a celebration. To reduce my parents’ love to an image constructed as such is deceiving, as their love was paramount to something else entirely. My father and mother eloped in June of 1992. The real pictures of that day were vibrant. My mother and father were dressed in neat, ordinary clothes, and they were shyly smiling, awkwardly beside one another. In my travels to Sri Lanka, I’ve gone into the very living room, in my uncle’s home, where those photos were taken. It is adorned with a picture on the wall of a painted girl with a pink dress and hat. My father gave it to my mother when she still lived with her brother and his wife, before they were married. This sheepish moment bore a vibrancy that they couldn’t have possibly captured in the grandeur of a wedding. It solidified their five years of courtship, from Iraq to Sri Lanka, passing love letters, to a few snaps of sweet and candid love that only belonged to them. Of course, beneath this innocence, there’s more—for an elopement is never just a day of thoughtless glee. Within Sri Lanka, even with its staunch attachment to Buddhism, exists a diverse body of people. My mother is a Christian, my father a Muslim. Although these traditions coexisted, my parents’ decision to bring them together would have been contentious. My parents married in secret to consecrate their love and commitment to one another, but in doing so they left those traditions, embedded and beholden, behind. Immigrating to Canada and bearing two children who were removed from tradition created something else entirely. In this environment I felt it was impossible to place myself wholly into any surrounding. There was no place for this incoherent energy. An anxiety. A sense of loss and of confusion—an odd divide that has been pulling at my family structure since before I was born. My parents were forced to elope, because what they were together
wasn’t considered right by their families and by the norms they were raised with. Now, although they’ve made it as right as possible, it seems we’ve lost something. We grew up in a rather secular household, but we were still attached to these pieces of a past, as one can only escape one’s past for so long. And yet, we were cut off. I never learned about religion at home, but I was given pieces of it that my parents held onto as artifacts. Never opened, but shoved away in the back of our closet, were a Quran, a taqiyah, and prayer mat. I never knew who brought those items into our home, but they were kept through 18 years and four new houses. Tucked away in my mother’s purse is a pendant of Mary. When I woke up early enough to watch, I could see her light a candle and silently mark herself with the sign of the cross. Before I went off to university, my mother gave me one of her two golden charms modeled after the Quran; the other she kept. It was smaller than a pinky nail and tied around a thin golden chain. She told me to keep it close to my heart so that I would be protected always. My father had given these to my mother before they were married. The extent of my knowledge on Islam then was a single prayer, the Shahadah. When I was in immense pain, I would hold it and repeat it to myself: lā ʾilāha ʾillā llāh muḥammadun rasūlu llāh I never felt any connection in a communal service, either in a mosque or a church. There was always a sense of never quite belonging. But there was something about the images: the feeling of stepping into the world of a church, seeing either its grandiose or humble holdings, and touching the holy water and performing my own sign of the cross—I thought of my mother. When I read a book that had prominent Christian imagery, or even when reading the Bible, I found something fulfilling. In my repetition of the Shahadah, I thought of my father. Both parents holding steadfast against whatever storm sprung their way, together. The secularism I had been accustomed to distanced me from the culture and the community, but in those moments I could attain an understanding just by seeing and touching what my parents had let go of. By stopping to take a look at these moments, rather than focusing on what has been lost, I now see something else. I see the perseverance of my mother and father’s spirit, vibrant and daring to hold onto what they treasured most. In that I see no trepidation. I see the power of blood, selfmade.
written by kayleigh birch illustration by yilin zhu
The sun, when it came time for it to set, made a grand spectacle of trickling its golden light over Playa del Ray. It seemed to roll down the bluffs of Vista del Mar—where the ocean spray became tiny houses, made with love— radiant rays pouring and fizzling and crackling into a barely-there purple dusk. Ma placed the glasses on the counter far more gently than Jaime ever could, as his hands were twice the size of hers. She poured the honey whiskey with careful intention, watching the melted rosin kiss the oneounce line before making her first trip. Jaime checked the windowsill, then the clock, then the front porch one last time before leaving the door wide open, inviting in the warm summer air. He picked up a few extra chairs and placed them around the windowsill before returning to the coffee pot. “It’s a helluva lot nicer than that last place, no?” Jaime was right. The porch, although rich with crunchy brown plants and chipped dollar-store paint, felt more home than anywhere else at the moment. Inside, the rooms were outlined with silky mahogany. The windowsills were caked with the powdery leaves of dried lavender. His eyes continued to glance into the kitchen, meeting the clock, before peering out of the window and down the road. “They’ll be coming any minute now,” he said, containing his excitement. Ma nodded silently, snapping open a fan decorated with little gold pieces and ruby-red flowers, waving it gracefully every so often with dainty, sun-spotted fingers. She was draped in a confusing cardigan for July. Jaime guided her to the chair closest to the window, balancing a thick cup of Folger’s, which nearly spilled as Andrew poked his head in the door. “I didn’t miss it, did I?” he asked with wide eyes. “Hello to you, too.” Jaime laughed heartily as he led him in, patting Andrew’s back slightly too hard. “But no, it’s lookin’ like it’s got a little performance anxiety this year.” “I’m sure if we just stick it out,” Andrew began as his eyes trailed to the honey whiskey, then to a nodding Jaime, “it’ll outdo itself.” “Here’s to hoping.” Jaime replied, clinking glasses with Andrew and tasting the warm amber. “You boys are so dramatic,” Ma nearly shrieked. “It happens every year. What makes you think that this time will be any different?” “Aren’t you excited, Ma?” “Of course, don’t be silly.” Her fanning
slowed down to an occasional pitter-patter that clinked the sliding gold rings on her fingers. She was silent for a moment, staring at the windowsill. The stairs needed to be redone: the terracotta shell seemed to be cracking. There were no fireflies, but there were crickets somewhere far off in the distance as more neighbours locked their front doors, starting across and down and up the street. “You better bring more chairs,” she advised. “It looks like the party’s getting started.” Some neighbours brought fruit plates and coffee creamer and tiny brownies meant for no more than two bites. Some even brought their own chairs to pull up in a sunrise shape. Sunshine through them, fiery gems for you… The conversation was sparse and lingered in the rolling ocean fog, a sense of gentle excitement filling the room. In the afterglow of half-drunken smiles of anticipation, “Freewheelin’” and “Déjà Vu” hummed in the background, the clock in the kitchen ticking on as a fifth pot of coffee was filled to the brim. Only for you… When James Taylor came on, Miguel danced with Mary. Even Ma twirled gracefully around the room, still fanning the heat gently away. Just for a little while, in the limbo of something spectacular, everything was easy and clean and right, as the clock in the kitchen struck a few minutes after midnight. A collective hush held the room, as everyone at once knew it was finally time. Chairs tightened toward the windowsill, as the living room was now filled; the adults put down their cups as kids jumped up and down with excitement, their bedtimes long past. Jaime, though a grown man, reached for his mother’s hand. You best walk her way and watch it shine… In a tiny potted plant, the green shell of the night-blooming cereus shyly began to blossom, peeking yellow leaves before the main attraction: a blooming sphere, no bigger than a baseball, soft and white and the embodiment of short-lived love. The crowd was entranced, and no one dared to break the silence until Jaime stood up. “I’d say,” he began, holding up a cup of coffee, “that this is the best bloom we’ve ever had!” Everyone cheered and watched the remaining flickers of the flower, where, even just for one night, love was small and close and real. And watch her watch the morning come…
VOLUME 61 | FALL MAGAZINE