The Strand Magazine: SPACE | Vol. 62, Issue 5

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Dear Reader, What is space? From finding safe spaces, to taking up space in the world and society, and even to considering the ethics of space exploration, we are always inhabiting space and space is always affecting us. It reflects us, curates us, harms us, and accommodates us—just as we do to it. Our fall magazine contains 12 pieces, each concerned with aspects of an intangible and nebulous concept: space. We have pieces that range from Tamara Frooman’s personal essay on emotional geographies to James Newell’s found poem, which utilizes dialogue from the TV show, Star Trek. We have reflections on safe spaces on campus, living as a woman of colour in an “inclusive” community that is unwelcoming to you, and taking up bodily space in a world that demands smallness and able-bodiedness. A special thanks to my fantastic team for offering their time, expertise, and care to ensure that our magazine is the absolute best that it can be. Thank you to Keith for your hours in the office, your patience, and for being calm while I freak out over page count. Thank you to Hadiyyah for editing all our pieces with love and enthusiasm. Thank you to Leo for your sharp editing, emotional support, and for telling me “yeah we can do that” even when I make the most ridiculous suggestions. Thank you to Amy and Ilya for providing most of the wonderful visuals in our magazine—it truly would not be the work of art that it is without you. And, of course, thank you to our wonderful contributors, artists, photographers, and the rest of The Strand’s masthead for their support and passion over the last month. I hope you enjoy our first magazine of the year. Peace, love, and everything else, Rebecca Gao

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Table of Contents 04

SAFE PASSAGE

Tamara Frooman

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ANGER

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THE ETHICS OF SPACE EXPLORATION

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Beck Siegal

Tara Costello

THE POLITICS OF SPACE

Vibhuti Kacholia

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TAKING UP SPACE

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FAITH, OR LACK THEREOF

19 22 24

Meg Jianing Zhang

Gillian Chapman

OUR OWN SAFER SPACES Sai Lian Macikunas

MICROCOSMOS Khadija Alam

EXITING THE SHADOWLAND, ENVISIONING UTOPIA Dhvani Ramanujam


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SPRING CLEANING MY SORROW

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BOLDLY GO

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PAIN, UNSEEN

Latisha Lobban James Newell Ellen Grace

Editor-in-Chief Rebecca Gao

Cover Art Amy Jiao

Managing Editor Leo Morgenstern

Table of Contents Photo Ilya Sarossy

Features Editor Hadiyyah Kuma

Visuals Mia Carnevale, Amy Jiao, Hana Nikcevic, and Ilya Sarossy

Senior Copyeditor Sandy Forsyth Design Team Keith Cheng, Rebecca Gao, and Amy Jiao

Copy Team Khadija Alam, Julianna He, Abbie Moser, Emma Paidra, Eden Prosser, Faith Wershba, and Meg Jianing Zhang


S A F E PA S S AG E Words by Tamara Frooman

Content warning: suicide and selfharm In French, there is a saying: l’appel du vide, the call of the void. Traditionally, it refers to the edges of cliffs or the wrought iron fences of balconies, the reflected beam of oncoming headlights scintillating in the swerve of the solid asphalt line, the vertigo of uninhabited space between the particles that separate you from the world. I wonder, too, if it refers to other empty calls, from drugs and cuts and cigarettes, to the spaces between my cells that make me, me. These spaces are voids within me I have tried to fill. The spaces between me and the world were never an issue like the ones inside my body. I sense the void in the emptiness within. What traumas still linger in my 4

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cells after scars have healed? At her daughter’s wedding, my great-aunt spoke about trying to fall in love with San Francisco, a city she had always hated, for the sake of her daughter. About her attempts to navigate the geography of hills, the ups and downs she undertook knowing they would be in vain. She said her daughter made her reevaluate assumptions. Not every little girl wants a pink room. Not all pain can be prevented. Some children won’t stay close to home. Not all wounds can be healed. In my mind’s eye, I trace the pathways that neurons ignite when they fire. In doing so, I dispatch another flash of synaptic signal along the trail, reinforcing it. Each return reverberates more habitually. These passages are physical, located in real space di-


minished somewhere behind my eyes. I picture them like a system of interlocking highways, not abandoned but empty. I am the only vessel who navigates here. The roads most repeatedly traveled are regularly repaved. When turnoffs become less frequented, they crumble into disrepair. The space in my brain somewhere behind my eyes diminishes. I wonder about patterns of thinking, about how they manifest physically in these passages in my brain. Are the self-destructive passages wider because they were more recurrently travelled? Do they take up more space? My grandparents’ divorce initiated a split that ricocheted around the Great Lakes. My mother and her siblings set off like billiard balls, stillness turned to mobilized inertia. My mother never speaks about the rupture. I used to say who would want to die unscarred and I meant it about cigarettes but I didn’t consider the cellular level. I didn’t know I would face the repercussions of a body scarred from the inside out. I meant it about the surface of my lungs, but I did not think about the folds of my brain. Are there scars etched there, transferred after fading from my skin? Once suicide has been an option, the passages in your brain where neurons fire never fully close on that destination, they just narrow, no longer the preferred route but forever the first exit sign. My cousins and I collect the pieces of our mothers’ lives. We feel the rupture. Sometimes these things skip a generation. My mother told me she was afraid I would turn out like my father’s sister, her mother, her grandfather—these ups and downs an all-too-familiar, jolted pattern. Are the spaces inside me spiraled into my DNA? I put things down my throat because other passages were closed off to me. Deep-throating blunts that

scorched the length of my larynx, swallowing blood, spitting out my own insides, chunks of skin, dry-heaving, vomiting again, raw like the walls of muscle you scraped against without warning, fingers grating against parts of me I avoided, virgin skin hoarse for years afterward. I penetrated my skin instead, blood seeped through seething vinegar lacerations, sizzling. There is no visible evidence of the event, but the echoes are housed somewhere, traced in neural geographies. In Montana, at another wedding, my great-uncle spoke about his daughter as a child, adventurous and glowing. I didn’t recognize her in Montana, but I recognized her in his stories, swimming in the Great Lakes at my grandfather’s cottage. The girl in my great-uncle’s stories was the same girl I remembered splashing by the docks in a wide brimmed sunhat. What moved me were his memories of her, carefully preserved. Ones her husband did not know. What moved me was seeing her dance with childhood friends under stars, under string lights on the mountain. What moved me was Montana, a landscape that meant nothing to me but everything to these distant relatives. My brain’s pathways are wellversed in suicidal ideation, like I was carving more than just my skin, I was carving pathways in my grey matter as well. Invested but volatile, I still don’t trust myself not to jump, cut away from the world at the nearest exit sign, gearshift on autopilot into death drive. The skin heals but the spaces inside don’t stay full, you have to keep filling them. L’appel du vide still sizzles somewhere behind my eyes. At my step-grandpa’s third wedding, he told me stories about my parents. I had known about the Massachusetts rain at their wedding, guests sheltered under the tent in the field, water pooling at their feet. I had not FALL 2019

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known about the fireflies. The fireflies, according to my step-grandfather, were unlike anything he had ever seen before—or since. The whole field flooded with them, a sea of light, pinpointed. How could I risk children inheriting these spaces between my cells where something should be? Could I ever forgive myself if they did? Could I ever forgive myself if I didn’t? Sometimes these things skip a generation. I can’t unwind the empty highways

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from my DNA, but I wonder: could I run power lines alongside them? Coil in string lights for my children to dance under? Not all pain can be prevented. Not all wounds can be healed. But I will try in vain to navigate the geography of these hills, these ups and downs for my children, to gift them with a landscape of illuminated pathways spiraling around them, anchoring us in a constellation of pulsating particles.


ANGER

Words by Beck Siegal Photo by Ilya Sarossy

I’m not mad at the Jehovah’s Witnesses Who stand under my window They believe in god There they are I do my homework and watch them from up high It’s getting dark out there I’m not mad at the fire truck That keeps me up at night Someone’s driving it It’s the same fire truck I think That blocks the believers from my view I’m not mad at the homeless person who follows me to my door God, I’m not mad at her I’m not mad at the world And her hold on me I’m not mad at– There’s something in the bottom of my ribs that feels like rage I’m not mad at the dripping coming from the bathroom It was dripping after I showered too The dripping distracts me from my book But my book does not need to be read But I could turn it off if I wanted I’m not mad But I feel like throwing up And yelling at the Jehovah’s Witnesses For believing when I don’t I’m not mad at myself For whispering a curse after the quieting siren It keeps me up at night And I’m not mad at myself For being mad at myself For being mad at the truck with its driver And the believers with their literature And the dripping Dripping Dripping I’ll turn it off FALL 2019

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Words by Tara Costello

It’s not all stars and galaxies I took an astronomy course because, like most humanities students, I needed to fulfill a breadth requirement, and space sounded cool. I ended up finding a second-year course called “Life on Other Worlds”. The course focused on the multidisciplinary study of space through the lens of finding life on other worlds. I took the course to check a box for graduation, but it ended up being one of my favourite courses I have ever taken because of the thought-provoking ethical questions we considered. I will never forget the last lecture when my professor, Dr. Michael Reid, made an announcement that immediately received 8

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a round of applause: “Close your laptops; this won’t be on the final exam. We are finally going to talk about aliens.” Not to discourage anyone from taking the course, but there are a lot of things you need to know about life and other worlds separately before you can talk about them together. You need to understand the constituent parts to understand the last lecture, or, more accurately, to understand where to go from there. Space exploration was founded on a bed of nationalism, and the current rise in the public’s interest in space is also due to nationalism. When talking about


the beginnings of space exploration, it is impossible not to mention “The Space Race”, the competition between Russia and America over who could have the most “firsts” in the realm of space exploration. This Space Race, and its subsequent victories for astronomy as a science, happened during the Cold War when Russia and America were already at odds. The Moon landing was a monumental event in American history, not just because of the accomplishments in science and math that led to it, but because it was American. The Moon landing is also the first notable instance of space colonization. Nationalism did not drive space exploration solely because it was a way to prove that Americans were better than Russians (or vice versa). Space exploration also provided more physical land to claim in the name of the nation. The public was invested because space exploration was an opportunity for manifest destiny. Since the riveting discoveries of the sixties and early seventies, American public interest in space exploration has diminished because many viewed the Moon landing as the conclusion to the Space Race. NASA cut funding to its SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) program in 1993, so funding for the search for life on other worlds has since come from private companies. Citizens hold an enormous influence over the future of space exploration because it is paid for with their tax dollars. When the public loses interest in space, space programs are cut. However, it seems that American public interest in space is on the rise, according to a June 2018 study performed at the Pew Research Centre. The study polled 2,500 Americans and found that 72 percent of Americans believed it was essential for the United States to lead the world in space exploration. Only 58 percent shared this view in June of 2011. For context, in the time between these two polls, India successfully launched an interplanetary orbiter

on their first try, and Japan landed the first operational rover on an asteroid. Not even two weeks after the results of the poll were released, President Trump announced the creation of the Space Force, a section of the military that would help re-establish “American dominance in space”. Trump’s reasoning behind the Space Force is that he does not want other countries, such as Russia or China, to be ahead of America. Trump’s plan to militarize—and essentially weaponize—space is a terrifying reality, FALL 2019

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brought on by the growing connection between nationalism and public interest in space travel. Higher public interest in space exploration creates the possibility of reviving the search for extraterrestrial life and provides more funding for space exploration programs. However, it also pushes a Nationalist agenda: which country will obtain the next “first”. Furthermore, climate change is an increasingly important item of political discussion, but it is a problem for our planet. So how does it relate to space? First of all, it is essential to understand that space exploration is a very young discipline, in comparison to ancient subject areas such as math and literature. The very first images of Earth as seen from space were taken in 1966, and the iconic image of The Blue Marble was captured by the Apollo 17 spacecraft on December 7th, 1972. Before 1966, nobody knew for certain what the Earth looked like; our grandparents grew up without that image of The Blue Marble. Photographic imagery of the Earth has evolved into one of the major types of climate change evidence because it’s easy to see the melting of arctic ice when comparing more recent images of the Earth with older ones. Some imaging satellites can take an even closer look and track the disappearance of specific glaciers. These images portray the undeniable physical effects of climate change. Image technology can be used to advocate for climate change action, but the search for another habitable planet can make the need to advocate for climate change action seem nonessential. The search for another habitable planet encourages the idea that we may have a “Plan B” if this world gets destroyed. This concept is dangerous because if it appears that we have a backup plan, then people may not care as much about saving this planet. It is common knowledge that climate change is mostly caused by “the one percent” abusing natural 10

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resources. The problem with having a backup planet is that, when it comes time to jump ship, the one percent may just be the first and only people who can afford a rowboat. Finding water on Mars is great, but if we start getting ideas that this means there are other habitable planets out there, then the people at the top of the capitalist ladder who are enabling the destruction of our planet will continue to do so. Space exploration has allowed us to look at the Earth critically, but it has also subconsciously encouraged the belief that there is a backup plan, a backup plan that is beneficial only to those who cause the most damage and leave before suffering the consequences. There is a lot more to space than stars and galaxies, and a lot more to space exploration than biology and physics. The study of space produces new ethical considerations that affect the future of our planet and the future of space exploration itself. Space exploration is meant to explore what is beyond our planet, but what we are looking for has implications and consequences that affect us more closely than you think.


Words by Vibhuti Kacholia Photos by Ilya Sarossy

I first learned about the concept of space, especially creating and taking up space, when I joined student government at Vic in my first year. The idea was revolutionary to me at first, but I’ve watched incredible student leaders throughout the years work through the delicate relationships between power, institutions, and politics to create space for students

who are not traditionally represented at the table. I asked some student leaders across campus: What does space mean to you in your capacity as a student leader? How does your identity inform your perception of creating and taking up space? This is what they said: FALL 2019

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Ikran Jama, Arts and Science Students’ Union (ASSU) President

Space is about belonging. Physically, space takes its form through welcoming places on our campus, granting students the ability to have their voices heard. As President of the Arts & Science Students’ Union, I am fortunate to have found my sense of belonging in Sid Smith 1068, and I am perhaps even more fortunate to have been granted the capacity to foster a similar sense of belonging for others. Undoubtedly, space also goes beyond the physical, and often reflects measures of self-worth and capability. Through my experiences as a member of underrepresented communities, I find that spaces may sometimes turn into places of judgement, where I must fight for people to hear the value in what I have to say. Spaces should intentionally be created to emit feelings of empowerment and confidence, one where individuals are able to feel included. That’s why space is all about belonging.

Josh Bowman, University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) President

Space means creating an environment where folks can share their lived experiences, organize and connect with one another, while also recognizing that identities such as mine are afforded privileges and advantages systemically; understanding that taking up space means I am impeding others from being comfortable sharing their lived experiences. The UTSU needs to create space for folks to motivate on behalf of their communities—we can’t dissuade ourselves from solutions like these by believing that we know best, always. We don’t. I think that the UTSU has always struggled to find its place without taking up space; when I was elected as President, I wanted to talk to communities instead of trusting 12

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in my own ability to work on behalf of them. Their experiences are the ones that need to be spotlighted; their initiatives are the ones that need to be supported; and their priorities should be given to those members of the University administration with the institutional power to make that change. I would always prefer to create rather than take up space. It’s important to first acknowledge what my identity is: I am a straight, cis-gendered white settler. I acknowledge that, as a straight white man, I do take up space. Places which are inherently representative like the UTSU, should represent the diversity of lived experiences in its membership. As a straight white man, I am not this person and cannot be this person. I can always do better, and I will try my best to be receptive to those who can help me along the way. As a student leader, the most important thing I can do is listen.

Lucinda Qu, Community Organizer

Two things: there are spaces you make and spaces you take. There are physical and relational elements of spaces that people can (un) intentionally co-create together—which are more often replicative of what already exists elsewhere, but sometimes can also be unique and liberatory [sic] for people who are excluded elsewise. Then there are spaces you take up, knowingly or not. And there are ways of taking/giving up literal, as well as intangible, space which makes it such that there is more or less for other people to want to take up, too. Especially when you’re a “leader”, you can centre and decentralize other people when you decide how much you talk, how you talk, and what you talk about, for example. One can position one’s self such that they are authoritative and no one else or everyone else can be.


Identities and the experiences that extend out from them that happen when you’re in a space where everyone there shares formative lived experiences, as well as when you’re the only person who looks or sounds like you in a room have been fundamental in shaping these ideas.

Lina Maragha, University College Director, UTSU

My understanding of space in my capacity as a student leader is a seat at the table. I believe when spaces are created, they are opportunities to share individual thoughts, vocalize opinions, and participate in decision making processes which may impact our colleagues. My identity as a straight, able-bodied woman present me with a unique set of privileges which have facilitated my journey and lent me to where I am today. In my role as a director, I try to proactively remain cognizant of these privileges when I participate in group conversations, be-

ing mindful of who is not at the table but should be. Ultimately, space is granted to individuals in different ways as a result of our varied lived experiences.

Cheryl Quan, LGBTOUT Executive Director

As an LGBTQ activist, space, to me, is the capacity to be visible. It means making my identity known in places where I probably would not have been able to many years ago. It means being loud, so that people can no longer ignore my community, even if it means making some uncomfortable. My identity as a racialized, queer, and nonbinary person means that space is not something I was ever taught to take up. Having grown up as a minority in most spaces, I have had to learn how to find and create my own. It is through that marginalization that I have learned that it is my right to create my own. These interviews have been edited for clarity and length. FALL 2019

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My decision to gain weight Words by Meg Jianing Zhang Content warning: discussion of extreme dieting and weight loss I never thought about my weight until the summer before high school. I was an utter disaster in gym class, petrified by the beep test, a trial of endurance that forces unlucky participants to race against a progressively faster beeping sound. And so, I thought to myself, “Well, why don’t you take up running until September? You can get into shape and prepare for your first semester.” I wasn’t overweight by any means. I was 5’6” and weighed 135 pounds, smack dab in the middle of “normal” according to the Body Mass Index. But as I struggled to run even a kilometre, I began to feel uncomfortable by what I perceived to be a flabby midriff and jiggling arms and thighs. Little by little, the thought entered my head, “I really want to lose all of this.” Now, for better or worse, when I 14

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put my mind to something, I don’t stop until I get what I want. But it was clear that summer that I didn’t know what I meant by losing it all. I ran for two hours every evening throughout July and August of 2016. I limited myself to boiled vegetables (no oil allowed), lean plant-based protein, and carefully measured portions of rice (I purchased a food scale). By the beginning of September, I had gone from weighing 135 to 115 pounds. I went down two clothing sizes. Despite this dramatic weight loss, I remember not feeling any satisfaction. There were still parts of my body that were too big for my liking. From that point forward, the size of my body was always on my mind. I always felt too big, like some cancerous tumour metastasizing beyond control. In high school, I incorporated HIIT workouts (High-Intensity Interval Training) into my daily routine. I downloaded a calorie counting app on


my phone and made records on a spare sticky note every time I ate something. (I recently found one of these notes with a series of two and three-digit figures scrawled all over it. Apparently, a handful of strawberries is 30 calories.) I rejected all beverages that contained calories. Having snacks and eating after dinner became unfathomable concepts. I went through periods where any fatty or oily foods made me gag. I felt a small twinge of pleasure each time I went to bed hungry. In the summers of grade eleven and my first year of university, I lost my period several times. I was constantly exhausted. My bones ached like nothing else. It wasn’t always like this, however. For the next couple of years, I oscillated between periods of “normal” eating and then moments of complete asceticism. Sometimes I felt okay, and other times, I felt awful. I didn’t have any grand revelation about my dietary habits until this summer. Studying for the LSATs was incredibly stressful and when I get anxious, I lose my appetite. I struggled to eat more than a meal a day. Oftentimes, I could only get down a smoothie or two. By the time I finished my exam on July 15, I weighed under 110 pounds (considerably underweight by BMI standards). It suddenly hit me. I shouldn’t be this small. I shouldn’t feel this frail. I thought to myself, “Well, you have to gain some weight.” But I hardly knew where to begin. Turns out, eating a burger and fries once a week or drinking the occasional root beer float is not going to magically reverse years of restrictive dieting and unhealthy exercise. I realized to gain weight, I had to eat at a caloric surplus every day. And for me, this meant eating more than three meals a day. Little by little, I incorporated a fourth meal, daily desserts, and

one or two snacks between every large portion of food. I say little by little because I didn’t realize how mentally challenging this whole process would be. I didn’t expect to be my own worst enemy as well as my biggest fan. It’s safe to say that I was (and on a bad day, still am) terrified of allowing my body to take up space. I was sickened by the thought of growing my body and filling up the world with my person. There are still days where I look in the mirror and wish I could be smaller, have less of me on my arms and my hips. There are still moments where I think about my flesh as something abject, something that needs to be erased. Indeed, it is mindboggling how sometimes an ideal female body is barely having a body at all. While challenging in many respects, this whole journey has been incredibly rewarding. Turns out, you perform so much better in every aspect of your life when you grant your body the fuel it deserves. In 2012, I struggled to run one kilometre. After four years of low-calorie meals and intense exercise, I could barely do five kilometres without getting winded. This year, I ran 11 kilometres at once, a personal record, and more importantly, felt more energetic and exalted doing so than I’ve ever felt. It is relieving not to think about food all the time. And when I do eat, I’m no longer doing the math of how many calories are in X amount of a portion size. I try my best to eat to complete satiety. From August to the time I am writing this article, I have gained around ten pounds (I am just above 120 pounds). My goal is to gain another five pounds before I assess how to proceed from there. I know the road is still long and difficult, but I am excited to see where it will take me. I’m so thankful to finally allow my body to flourish. FALL 2019

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FAITH, OR LACK THEREOF Using religion to fill an empty world When I was in Germany two summers ago, I visited Peterskirche, one of the most stunning churches in Munich. I was awestruck by the shimmering gold of its high altar, the swirling colours of its Baroque ceiling frescoes, and the sunlight streaming through its windows. Despite its expansive and airy interior, there was a fullness there, as though the church was charged from wall-to-wall with the presence of the divine. And yet, if I had visited just a year later, I would have felt around me only empty space. The story behind this change is convoluted, but I should begin by establishing that my relationship with Christianity is a strange one. I was not raised in a religious environment; in fact, I was surrounded by rigid atheism until I moved away for university two months ago. But I always held a muffled belief that there was something more to the

world than the material—something unseeable, and yet perhaps more real than anything else. In retrospect, there is an explanation behind this lurking belief. For many years, the world was an empty place to me, a vast space lacking meaning or direction. I learned later that this was rooted in my troubled mental health, which has been with me since I was too young to know it as anything other than a vague sense of strangeness, as if one of the wires in my brain was faulty. That wire might have always been there, but only when I was thirteen did it start to flicker, and then spark, and then burst into a flame that would raze through the rest of my life. I began a journey downwards—at first, I thought I had only tripped, but it soon became terribly clear that I was falling down a hill, and then down a cliff to which I could see no bottom.

Words by Gillian Chapman Photo by Ilya Sarossy 16

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From then on, I lived in a state that I still don’t have the vocabulary to describe—it was bleak and disturbing, excruciatingly silent. A great shadow swept through the world and stripped it of its contents, stripped the ground of its vegetation and the sky of its stars. All around me was empty space, and I was suffocated by the sheer volume of it. *** To cope with this terrifying new place, I looked to things outside of it—things I thought might exist somewhere beyond its atmosphere. And I reached out and found something that reached back and found me: God. He was the first sign of life I had encountered in a world otherwise barren, and the more I learned about Him, the deeper my desire to believe grew. He was constant and unmoving, always offering unconditional and

endless love—He was a hiding place to which I could go just as I was, without needing to cover any part of myself. My life began to rest on a foundation of complete dependence on what I knew was the sole source of light in the darkness. My faith in God gave me comfort, security, and relief. The pain of the world was only temporal, only material. I hid away from it in the sanctuary I had built around my belief, and all the terrestrial suffering fell away to reveal light. That light poured through the world, and just like the Flood, it swept away all that was rotten and painful and made everything anew. *** I never wanted, nor expected, to lose this faith. Being stripped of the thing that formed the structure of my life, the base from which I understood and ac-

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I reached out and found something that reached back and found me: God. cepted the world in all its difficulty and terror, was unimaginable to me. But it happened. The ultimate collapse was the culmination of a long accumulation of doubt, fed to me by my skeptical family and friends. But, shrouded as I was in my desperate dependence on my belief, I was blind to its decay—and so, when everything did give way, when my sanctuary crumbled beneath its own weight, I was shocked. The evidence had pierced the illusion; I could no longer believe in something that centuries of reason and science had disproved. The scope of the disaster became clear only when I pulled myself up and began to survey the rubble. I was consumed by an acute, pervading sense of loss. The light that had filled the world

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vanished from it in an instant, leaving in its wake that same empty space. *** If I had visited Peterskirche last summer, after my faith had faded, I would have been gutted by its vacancy. Its beauty would have been made nauseating by its lack of life. It would have been a temple built for a dead thing, a memory of a vanished light. I am still grappling with what it means for the world to be an empty space. What can I fill it with? Can I fill it with anything at all? Or should I just accept it for what it is—space without structure, space without explanation, space without meaning?


OUR OWN SAFER SPACES Words by Sai Lian Macikunas Photo by Hana Nikcevic

In March 2017, I started a fight in the Facebook comments section for an article in The Varsity called “In Search of a Safe Space”. In this article, “a safe space” was used to refer to “a comfortable study area for finals season”. I was young, and mad, and it felt like the right thing to do. “Safe space” is a term that, especially two years ago, was gaining traction on campus. It refers to a physical space that prioritizes the comfort, safety, and voices of the marginalized, most often for LBGT+ people. A “safe space” is different from an accessible space. Often for safe spaces to be effective, they must be accessibility-forward, but unlike accessible spaces, there are no concrete physical specifications that their accessibility can be measured against. The goal of a “safe space” is to be a place where people feel safe. A “safe space” needs maintenance and an infallible structure. It is not something that I believe can exist in an ideal form. Another term gaining traction is “safer space”, which is a space that strives towards the ideals of a “safe space” but acknowledges its own possible failings. You’ll also hear about “brave spaces”, where inhabitants are asked to acknowlFALL 2019

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edge their discomfort and approach difficult topics with courage and responsibility. The terminology is splintered because we’re constantly trying to riff on or improve our past ideas. I don’t believe that student spaces are “unsafe” for any purposeful reason, but my point is that they are, indeed, unsafe. By “safe”, I mean a physical area where an individual can reasonably expect to be accommodated, treated with respect, and protected from violence or harassment. Hence why I’m embarrassed by my reaction to that article, even if I still think it was justified. That title made it feel like my experience was not worth considering, like it was alright to co-opt a term invented and used by marginalized communities and use it as a cute buzzword. At the time, and even now, I don’t think I’d say I feel safe on this campus. How could I, when this university’s institutions and groups refuse to condemn white supremacy, refuse to have any meaningful discussion on de-gendering public structures, and have extremely lacking university policies on sexual assault? How could I, on this campus completely devoid of mental health resources during what has been recognized as a crisis? I think these areas of focus reveal enough about me to show why I’m mad, because I’m personally impacted by all these failures. Not everyone is like this. It’s easy for some people to exist and feel safe and well-represented by the groups that steer important aspects of their lives. However, goodwill isn’t enough to make that true. Let’s consider Victoria College, specifically Caffiends, the student cafe in Old Vic and a mentioned location in “In Search of a Safe Space”. Caffiends is a student volunteer-run cafe. The volunteers are trained to use the equipment, maintain safety regulations, and use any additional tools they may need for their job. As well, Caffiends has 20

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a considerable sustainability initiative and uses sustainable practices and hosts events to promote more earth-friendly ways of living. Despite interacting with the public, however, Caffiends volunteers are not asked to do any form of equity training. It is assumed that all the equity screening and training that needs to be done with volunteers is part of the hiring process or maintained by the Caffiends Co-Managers who are obligated to attend some manner of equity training. This isn’t enough. If I don’t personally know the people on shift, I will not be gendered correctly. It’s an easy mistake in a stressful environment, I know, but even if I am visibly wearing a pin with my pronouns on it, I will inevitably be reminded that my identity in this space isn’t mine, but to be decided by any stranger who looks at me. I think that, combined with some of the invasive and discriminatory questions I’ve been asked in Caffiends (not by volunteers, but without any degree of intervention) is what really set me off. This is not to say this was a justifiable reason to start an argument on Facebook, but what I want to note is that the argument was never about me specifically asking Caffiends for reparations. This isn’t just about Caffiends, it’s about governing bodies at Victoria College, or even UofT. Any long-standing structure has had something like this fall through the cracks. People have stories about The Cat’s Eye, The Strand, VUSAC, the Dean’s Office, VCDS—all of these structures have often, without meaning to, harmed someone. It can be deliberate and malicious, but most of the time, I’d guess it’s because incidents were not discussed in an open, honest way. There are no easily accessed records of how any campus group, especially UofT admin groups, approach accountability. Back then, two years ago, I remember these feelings as a conversation I felt

uncomfortable continuing but obligated to start. Whenever I raise these sorts of issues, people ask me what I think we should do because they don’t want to assume my needs, but in asking me for a full solution they expect me to completely anticipate and accommodate their preferences and needs. They’re asking me to do the work before they will recognize that I need help. It’s on me to do all the empathic thinking to bridge the gap. Why is it always on the people harmed by structures to provide a better way of life? Why do I have to have a complete solution in order to start a conversation? Why isn’t it enough for me to just say “this makes me feel uncomfortable and unsafe”? Will a discussion fix anything? Would you have considered this point if it impacted you, and not me? What if I was more like you? This is not a solution. This is not a concrete step towards action. A safe space needs to be maintained to stay safe, and it can’t fully be safe for you unless you have power in maintaining it. If you hold power in a space, including the ability to hold people accountable for their wrongdoings and to change the environment to suit your needs, you can guarantee your own safety. You can guarantee you will be comfortable, accommodated, and heard. If you do not have power, you can’t ensure this, and even if you do, you can’t guarantee it for other people. You can’t know what they need, or what makes them comfortable. Safe spaces only truly exist as you yourself create and curate them. We can always look to make spaces safer, more accommodating, and more aware. Most importantly, we need to be publicly facilitating discussions about the safety of the people within the space. But to assume safe spaces exist implies that the work is over, instead of constantly ongoing. FALL 2019

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Words by Khadija Alam Illustrations by Amy Jiao

my ceiling isn’t very interesting considering the amount of time I spend staring at it hours upon hours tracing constellations hoping to make some sense of the bumps and fissures splattered up there maybe I should paint something on that blank canvas to keep my mind from wandering maybe hang up a rotating solar system to dangle in front of my face so I can feel like a child again but that would require getting out of bed and I can’t do that the sun is still asleep I should be too but my mornings consist of a vast nothingness an unfortunate reflection of the rest of my day so here I lie staring at the door out the window telling myself everything’s fine at the clock back to the ceiling

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eyes shifting everywhere except there on the other side of this immense cosmic ocean is a desolate vessel I blink and I can see the captain she has my mouth but not the swollen bloody flesh from the obsessive chewing she has my eyes but not the deep violet canyons beneath them I blink and she’s gone and the spaceship is just a plain old desk


with books sprawled about in stacks of stories with note-scribbled margins and some spines still uncracked eight-year-old me would be overjoyed eighteen-year-old me is just overwhelmed I feel like cervantes’ naive knight and eliot’s etherized patient and flaubert’s self-destructive damselin-distress I guess I just don’t feel like myself half-drunk coffee cups splayed about giggling to each other laughing at me

because it’ll be regurgitated anyways so I’ll try to regurgitate information instead from the dense journal articles I can’t seem to swallow or digest I can see it all the coffee cups the plates the thoughts the feelings I can see it all the way from here so far away five feet away five feet too far it’s far too easy to just stay here let my mind wander where my feet won’t take me busy my brain with the galaxy on the ceiling maybe I should hang up a rotating solar system but that would require getting out of bed and I can’t do that

because I don’t understand any of my readings because I have three papers due next week and I can’t summon the will to write any of them plates of food I can’t stomach I can’t be bothered to eat

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EXITING THE SHADOWLAND, ENVISIONING UTOPIA Reconciling kink and BDSM with my racial and cultural identity requires different spaces—and bigger dreams In these last few years, I have discovered so much about my own body. This vessel is where I am reborn, over and over. The body is important to me, because of what it is capable of. It holds secrets. It holds power. It is a creator and receptor of intimacies that can’t be expressed in speech alone. It was a few years ago, towards the beginning of university, that I discovered in myself a desire to explore BDSM and kink in real life. Or rather, the desire had always been there. Growing up, I knew I had interests or curiosities that were unconventional (perhaps a euphemistic way to put it). But I wasn’t sure how exactly to express, let alone pursue, my desires. I grew up in a mostly South Asian neighbourhood in Mississauga, a sheltered environment. I lacked resources and people I felt comfortable turning towards for support on this subject. While I had good friends, I didn’t know how they would react. I assumed— wrongly, I’m sure—that I was the only person in my neighbourhood and community who felt like this. I turned to pornography as a source of pleasure and learning, an outlet that, while useful, I still couldn’t help feeling ashamed to use. University became a beacon of hope; a chance to live away from home and to engage with sides of my sexuality I had long desired to explore.

Words by Dhvani Ramanujam Illustration by Amy Jiao 24

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I began to use apps and websites like Whiplr and FetLife to meet up with potential play partners, most of whom turned out to be white. A disturbing amount of racial fetishism took place in the sites that I frequented, but also in my real-life interactions. I’ve been subjected to a myriad of comments from white men, ranging from being called “Daddy’s Princess Jasmine,” to, perhaps most revoltingly, being told the stretch marks on my back looked like I had been “lashed like they do to women in Saudi Arabia.” After a while, I became sort of numb to these exchanges. A necessary trade-off for the pleasure I desired, I reasoned with myself. I also reasoned that this sort of stuff can, and does, happen all the time in regular dating too. Being a part of a community that maybe had more awareness about consent, does not stop racist white people from being racist white people. My sexual experiences in the bedroom were often littered with microaggressions that left a bad taste in my mouth, but I learned to swallow. After a while of mainly limiting the kink part of my identity to the bedroom, I started to become more interested in participating in the wider, kink+BDSM community. I longed for more kink-positive friendships, people I could seek advice and comfort from, and a chance to explore my exhibitionist side, too. But I


have learned that it is not easy to navigate the kink community in Toronto as a South Asian woman. There aren’t a lot of us who can go around and publicly disclose these desires with a sense of safety and confidence. Sex clubs or fetish events in this city can be overwhelmingly white. Even in a city as diverse as this, the people I interacted with who were comfortable enough to open up about participating in BDSM seemed to be mainly white.

non-distinct. Sometimes I think about growing my profile and posting more explicit pictures and videos, like a lot of other young women on the site do. It’s not uncommon to come across young women with over 20,000 followers on FetLife. But then I am haunted by a recent story that unfolded on FetLife two years back: a young South Asian girl in Britain with a large following was blackmailed by an older man she met on the

And I myself am still not comfortable being freely, publicly open about my identity. In the kink spaces I do frequent, I’ve sanitized my race and ethnicity in an effort to stay hidden, and therefore safe. Online on FetLife, I avoid disclosing my race and religion in my profile. I don’t show my face in any pictures. When people message me, I use a play name that is racially neutral,

site. They had exchanged messages, and when she felt more comfortable, they spoke on Skype and exchanged personal information, including her real name. But when he later became jealous of the attention she received online, he became controlling and threatened to expose her profile—including the sexually explicit photos she had posted—to her family, unless she followed his rules. (When she FALL 2019

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didn’t listen to him, he eventually followed through on his threat.) She wrote a journal entry on her profile about what transpired, the impact that the event had on her relationship to her family, as well as her mental health. Though the community was very supportive of her, and her parents were much more empathetic than she had expected, it doesn’t erase the trauma and betrayal that she experienced, through no fault of her own. The nightmare scenario she experienced serves as something of a nightmarish warning to me whenever I desire to become more vocal in kink spaces. An ugly, small voice whispering to me, “You are not awllowed to take up residency in this kind of world, unless you are willing to face all of its consequences. You are not allowed to pretend to be “fearless” when you are so obviously fearful.” I am full of fear, but full of hunger, too. Yearning for more has become my de facto state. Recently, I saw photos online from Faete, a fetish dance and play party that happens every few months in the city. I felt envious of all the people dressed up in their fetish gear, looking kinky and beautiful, and perfectly content to have their photo taken and posted for anyone to see. When I do come across public profiles—whether on FetLife, or Instagram, or some other platform—of a woman with a similar background to mine, I am weirdly, unfairly jealous. Somehow this brown woman is able to publicly exhibit her sexuality, regardless of the personal and external consequences she must be facing. I wish I could allow myself to freely engage with my exhibitionism, whether through nude photo shoots, or attending more fetish events. I’m tempted to participate in more of these events, to maybe show my whole face and body in my online profile. But then I think, what if my family found out? How would they react? They are the most important thing in the world to me. I cannot willingly alienate them. I think about the story of that 26

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girl on FetLife constantly. Even though I was entirely sympathetic towards her, I know that if the same thing were to happen to me, I would only blame myself for the consequences. Because the ‘damage’ is preventable, right? It is preventable if I can somehow find a way to suppress my desires. So instead, I dream. I dream of a community I can truly belong to. I dream of spaces where queer, kinky BIPOC folks can gather freely. Where we can have meaningful discussions about the intersections between kink and race (among other things). Where we can talk about sensitive, charged topics like raceplay in a nuanced way, without being surrounded by opportunistic white folks who only use the concept as a cover for their racism. A space to hold each other, to be held, and to heal from collective traumas. I dream one day of attending a space like Faete and being okay with being publicly photographed. I dream of one day hosting my own fetish dance party, one where BIPOC folk can come together, and simply dance, openly, lovingly. In the hope of liberation. And sometimes, when I’m feeling especially hopeful, I dream of a moment: one in which my family can embrace this side of me, and with pride too. This moment I long for most is probably bound to remain just that: a longing. But the places that I dream of? Surely they exist. Maybe I’m just not looking in the right places. I don’t know. But it’s difficult to find each other because it’s understandable why many of us stay hidden. Our bodies are more subjected to surveillance, to the politics of respectability. Fear, shame, ostracization, and violence all exist as potential consequences of exposure to our families, communities, society at large. I straddle the line of wanting to be true to myself and wanting to please my family, as many racialized people do. But I have to be hopeful, right?


Learning to let go of toxic griefÂ

Words by Latisha Lobban

Content warning: violence, violence against women, and suicidal thoughts The effects of a traumatic incident can long outlast the incident itself. Flashbacks and emotional trauma can reverberate through a victim like the aftershocks of an earthquake. My natural disaster came in the form of an assault by my ex-boyfriend. He shook my head with a fistful of my hair that he held and pummeled my face into the ground. This beating caused a power outage in my mind. The attack from my ex-boyfriend didn’t feel traumatic initially. It felt like

a fight. A disagreement. A relationship gone awry. We had broken up less than two weeks before he assaulted me. In a way, I had still considered him my best friend. My partner. My person. I held on to this positive perception of him to distance myself from the monster that attacked me. I used this contrived version of him to reconcile the way I understood his abuse. It allowed me to keep loving him while I suffered from the physical symptoms of the concussion I sustained. But I could not logically operate in this cognitive dissonance. The pain from my migraines came in waves and the sound of his voice reverberated with FALL 2019

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My emotions were shallow, but icebergs of grief stood below the surface. terror. Everything was emptied from my mind except visions of the way he had grabbed me and the pain that shot through my neck—these were my aftershocks. Afterwards, I felt afraid to go outside because I thought that he might attack me a second time. When I went outside, innocuous motions like the sound of leaves crunching beneath someone’s feet or the wind through the branches of trees became threatening because they represented a danger that I couldn’t see—a danger that I assumed was him. In every crack and crevice loomed flashbacks or judgments or thoughts of potential danger. I avoided the location of the attack altogether because it triggered anxiety. I re-experienced the whole incident in this way for months and re-imagined myself as the victim whom he overpowered. My flashbacks and paranoia were both symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which I was diagnosed with two months after the incident. The Canadian Mental Health Association defines PTSD as a mental illness that can occur after exposure to trauma. A traumatic event is one that is “very frightening, overwhelming and causes 28

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a lot of distress. Trauma is often unexpected, and many people say that they felt powerless to stop or change the event.” According to this definition, I was the picture of traumatized. Not only did I suffer through the traumatic event, but the symptoms of PTSD also. Psychiatry.org noted that the symptoms of PTSD are inclusive of “intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings related to their experience that last long after the traumatic event has ended.” Struck with agoraphobia, I stayed enshrouded in my bedroom for two months after the assault. Flashbacks of the physical pain I felt still haunt me during triggering circumstances. Psychiatry.org expanded on the behaviour of people diagnosed with PTSD, that they “may relive the event through flashbacks or nightmares; they may feel sadness, fear or anger; and they may feel detached or estranged from other people.” In addition to feeling fear and sadness, guilt also clouded my mind as I experienced the symptoms of PTSD. I felt guilty toward my past romantic relationship because I abhorred a man that I once loved. I felt embarrassed because I trusted and gave my body to someone who ended up assaulting me. I could not


have fathomed that he would do such a thing. I longed for what we once had but also resented my desire for it. My ex-boyfriend monopolized my thoughts. Anger, resentment, fear, and sadness permeated in my mind. These emotions festered like an unhealed wound and further poisoned my thoughts. They consumed me and occupied my mind. Still, I buried them deep within myself until darkness coursed through my whole being. The space within my body became toxic to my existence. Clinical psychologist, John Welwood, elaborated on the weighty texture of the space within us in “On Psychological Space”: “When we are sad, space is heavy and oppressive, seeming to press down upon us— it is hard to get moving, the body feels denser, the pull of gravity seems stronger, and space is thicker around us.” The space within my mind felt heavy and oppressive because it constantly reflected my sorrow. My emotions were shallow, but icebergs of grief stood below the surface. This contributed to the density within my body. I housed so much negativity that I did not have space for rational thoughts or positivity. Having PTSD decreased my autonomy in my own thoughts. I often suppressed all thoughts of my ex-boyfriend because I feared the intrusive flashbacks of his assault. I contemplated suicide to silence my mind. But I knew that I did not want to die, I just wanted to be at peace. Sleep was an alternative to death, but my anxiety would not allow me the luxury of its comfort. So I closed my eyes and cried instead. I realized that I cried out of regret and sadness; it was a part of my grieving process of letting go of my relationship. It allowed me to release my feelings tangibly and created empty space in my mind. I mourned the person that I thought my ex-boyfriend was and the future we had planned. As I released my attachments to my

ex-boyfriend, I was also left with feelings of emptiness. Who am I, if not the woman who is loved by him? Who am I, if not an assault victim? This lack of identity became the crux of my healing. I did not know what to do with this emptiness that I could not fill. I was not used to the uncomfortable quiet of shifting emotions. Welwood describes the emptiness as open space: “From a Buddhist perspective, our basic nature is of the essence of open space, which allows for the seemingly inevitable confusion that human beings fall into when they try to avoid or solidify this space, out of fear or ignorance; and the possibility of freedom and liberation.” Open space both terrified and excited me. I searched outward for answers on defining my identity in my closest friends. I always felt more freedom after I talked about my grief, but I also felt like I burdened my friends. Talking unloaded painful emotions onto my friends, who carried them willingly. They listened, reflected, and sat with me in my misery. As I healed, I refocused my process inward and began to meditate. While meditating I allowed my mind free range to experience the depth of my anger. I visualized seething red light as anger consumed me, even if only for an hour. Over and over I pictured every manner I could fathom to inflict pain on my ex-boyfriend until this became a mundane, vengeful act. I held on to my anger to justify my loss. But holding onto anger for the person I thought he became did not benefit me any more than holding onto the relationship I thought we once shared. Slowly, I unpacked my emotions and untangled them like extension cords stashed in a long-forgotten drawer. I sifted and sorted through them, discarding whatever no longer empowered me. And I found something close to a quiet freedom. FALL 2019

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Look at it. Burnt, pitted. The mindlessness Vacant contentment, I KNEW But they’ve erased it. Edited, adjusted, subverted me, but I won’t forget! That man on the stage, the human brain That popinjay Only my brain— What is brain How can he die? Can I survive without him? The flesh and what you call the personality A living mass who can find no rest A HOLE IN SPACE A body is a hole in space— Of the mind: death There is no pain… No pain. Does this make such a difference? You can’t do it, No! I must I must surrender myself A brain, a brain. A mind without me If the image wasn’t so ugly It’d be laughable— Ugly. That’s an honourable title. You’re a sick man now, sir He’ll have all that inside him There’s no roomAlmost as if he were two Keep closing, keep closing He’s too close— He burned up My negative self. I could have called you friend— But permit me the glory of the kill Instead. Two men different, but a body is A hole in the universe. Not, not a hole A door and SPACE, THE FINAL

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We heard that you might have rooms for us: No room. No, no room. But I want to be Free and unchained. The human body My mind—I want to be Not of the body Like a chain, one break And it all collapses— No room: you killed him (murderers!) Oxygen and nitrogen atmospherecan we breathe? No life forms. No air… Possibly hidden in the box There! What is it A light rising what is it Is it a hand? Stopped in space, There’s a strange cloud IN MY MIND Round-trip time Calm, calm. He’s beginning to sleep again. The hand descends— We’re burning up Sleep forever, forever, and forever We’re burning up You need sleep… I’m losing an officer Space

collapses

I can’t let you force me down there. I may not want to leave, not yet. I may want another place. I’m just not sure yet— No time: Sentimentality, mercy The emotions of the emotions of Joy to you, friend. You will know the peace. It’s a proven killer MURDERERS!

MURDERE—

Completely uninhabited. Desolate, but rich. There’ll only be one of you in the end. Pray that you die easily. Space the pain is gone closing you must open my mind How can he die? Can I survive without him? Words, phrases, and sentences taken from Star Trek, 1966 to 1969.

Words by James Newell Illustration by Mia Carnevale FALL 2019

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PAIN, UNSEEN Recalculating my body and my pain My therapist tells me that when you picture your body in your mind’s eye, everything is not of equal size. The average person will picture their head as much bigger than it is because they spend much more time thinking about their head than the rest of their body. My perception of my body is recalculated every morning. If my left shoulder feels bigger than my right, I think that somehow everyone can see this. I can’t imagine anyone looking at me and not sensing the swelling and burning I feel inside or not being disgusted by the arched-over shape my body has taken. But, in reality, I look the same as I would if I didn’t have a chronic illness. If I don’t have my shoulders or my hands taped up, I don’t feel I have the right to ask for a seat on the subway. I’ll get off the train and wait for one to come where I can see a vacant seat. I am late to class; I don’t have enough water since I wasn’t expecting to be on the train this long. I can only carry so much at one time, there is no way I could fill my bottle all the way up and carry it all the way to school. Needing to sit down has thrown off my perfectly calculated sustenance for the ride. I feel like I am the one who needs to vacate and find another space, not that the spaces around me need to learn to be accommodating. I am scared to ask someone for a seat, I don’t like asking people to carry things for me, although I’m sure they don’t mind. I am stuck in a mindset of “I’m young, this shouldn’t be happening to me, asking for help is

Words by Ellen Grace 32

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giving in.” If I don’t give in, it is not real, I am not sick, I will wake up one day and this will all be over. Since I look like a healthy and active young adult, it’s easy to occupy the persona that I am given by the gaze of strangers. The girl they see looks like she could run for miles, like she could run away and find a place of her own. I wish I could. I go to a bookstore and, for the first time ever, I see a section on Disability Studies. There is a spot on the shelf for the writing that I have not yet been able to produce; a spot for the people who have expressed what I still find inexpressible. I pick up a copy of Sonya Huber’s Pain Woman Takes Your Keys, and Other Essays from a Nervous System, go to a coffee shop down the street, and start reading. The cake I ordered comes on a plate that is too heavy for me to carry, the chair I sit in is not high enough and the table isn’t at an angle where I can use it to help me hold the book up. I am upset, but I’m also ecstatic because I feel more seen than I have in a long time. What you mean is, “There is a secret door we all must enter, and I am entering it, and it is painted in luminescent colors that I am drawn to describe but I cannot.” What you might mean is, “I am less afraid to die because I am dying.” Sonya Huber speaks to me from what she calls the kingdom of the sick. She tells me that I am not the only one beginning a journey into this domain. There is a place here, and I will slowly allow my body to be in it.



VOL. 62 | FALL MAGAZINE


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