New prose by Annie Rubin, “We Are Survivors”

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It felt like dying, only you’re expected to reincarnate much faster: rapid loss of breath, chest heaving to compensate. Dizzy. The room would fade in and out. I watched myself descend into fight or flight, an encumbered observer over my own body.

At fifteen, I asked to be separated from that part of my identity rooted in fear. Was it possible to unlink? Could I attain the division of self: an existence without the weight of imminent extinction?

My father felt it too. He brought me tea one night, bourbon and honey. It Will Help You Sleep, he promised. What If I Die, I asked. You Will, he said. But Not For A Long Time. We Are Survivors, You And I.

They gave me Zoloft to stop the shaking and Seroquel to help me sleep and Prozac when I had the urges to go to temple when it rained and they gave me Lexapro for the side-effect depression. They gave me Klonopin and Ativan and Valium and Xanax was my favorite; it made the room spin the least.

The effort was in solid determination to mute what so viscerally tied me to my ancestors: that brink-of-death anxiety we all know so deeply. It ebbs and flows through our veins tethering us to each other, the Jewish people.

Maybe we didn’t speak Hebrew at our Seders but the bloodlines flowed. We were descendants of those lucky enough to hold on, who knew they had to keep living. At family gatherings, the room would get silent. Why Is Our Family So Small? someone asked once. The Rest Of Us Were Killed.

But the drugs seemed to perpetuate more drugs; we were desperate for some kind of medicalized solution, capitalizing on our ingrained identity. Could we learn to escape? Or to ever quell the pharmaceutical self?

The healing had to begin through the (re)discovery of voice. Shrouded by years of institutionalized hate, the beauty of our culture must manifest itself in celebration, unapologetic lighting candles and sharing kindred spirit. Singing and loving and never- forgetting, we must come out of hiding. I want to hear each voice.

this prose by Annie Rubin, “We Are Survivors,” was inspired by the art of Christine Kim 

From Annie: “This work is inspired by the image of a character looking poised and overwhelmed, the base, supporting a dilapidated castle. The figure represents the protagonist’s Jewish ancestry in the strife and struggle of the Jewish people, who bear a weight that has been carried through generations. Striking colours provided a glimmer of hope through the subversion of institutionalized hatred, confiding in the expansive possibility of self-expression.”

On Desensitized Violence: “Muted Colours”

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word by Annie Rubin

colour by Mojo Wang

There was no one in Bill’s house to turn off the TV when channel four came on. We thought of him as some sort of guru: he told us of kidnappings; of guns and knives and fires and what it meant when there were people on roofs about to jump.

It happened when we were in our sevens and eights that we realized we could press play when mom was in the kitchen. Imaginations were running crazy and fueled by these wild images that kept flashing across the screen.

My brother always liked video games. There was this one where you got to steal cars and ride away, hair all wind-swept. It was cool to be able to drive a BMW even on a screen where his fingers turned the wheel with a flick of a button.

The rest of us were playing hide and seek where the floor was lava. No one ever found out what happened when you touched because maybe your shoes were fireproof, you grew wings, or we just didn’t want to think about the truth. Mom would be in the other room watching the news. We’d ask to sit on her lap and she’d usually put on PBS but that day she was in a trance, eyes fixated on the screen. The television was on mute but you could still hear shouting.

The walls were this grey even though I swear they were melting that day we couldn’t walk outside because of the smoke. They don’t give you a trigger warning on the streets of Manhattan. We were six and eight and felt too much older.

Close your eyes, she said to me, holding a cupped hand over my face to shield from the screen, the same way she had done at the movies when couples started kissing. I held my breath, too.

 

 

From the author: “This portrait of muted colours evoked desperation and frustration. The arms reaching out to grab hold of the figure whose muscles are exposed inspired a piece that targets vulnerability. The story tries to raise questions about exposure to graphic images, and question the idea of whether vulnerable children should be censored from the media. Ultimately, begging the question of whether striking headlines are desensitizing our population and how to cope with horror on the news.”

On Beauty Standards: “Deep Hues and Curves”

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“Deep Hues and Curves”

It was her thirteenth birthday and she’d asked for red lipstick, strapped heels, and an appointment to have her eyebrows waxed. We went to the mall together to try on dresses for the celebration. She wanted pale blue to match the balloons.

She picked one with a frill along the neckline that accentuated her small waist and cut off above the knee. She had flat-ironed her springy brown hair and twirled a smooth lock around her finger as she gazed at me from the floor of the changing room.

“This would look better on you,” she moaned.

I winced. What was unbelievably clear to me seemed positively inaccessible to Ella. How would she react if I told her she looked like Brooke Shields in the pale blue—smooth-skinned, perfect frame?

What I would give to look anything like that.

Instead I mustered a weak, “I like it.”

I saw a spectrum of colour in her eyes.

She shook her head and tossed the dress to the ground. We finally settled on a violet strapless cocktail dress that draped across her body regally.

I came over early to help set up. Her mother asked me to tie the knots as she inflated helium balloons. I watched Ella stride down the living room stairs in the purple dress, lips tinted bright red, eyes lined, she flashed me the kind of grin that said you’re in on the secret.

I smiled back, twisting the elastic of another balloon around a ribbon and letting it float to the ceiling.

How reassuring it must feel to be factory-made.

“Let me do your hair!” She sang, running her fingers through my messy blonde.

I followed her upstairs, where for a moment as she braided, I watched her lock eyes with herself in the mirror. The colour drained from her face and she looked away, turning back to me. “Will you help me go blonde?”

It was somewhat an absurd request, but one to which I was compelled to oblige. The title of best friend came with great levels of moral responsibility.

It was five and guests were supposed to arrive. Her mother was frosting the cake in the kitchen. It was chocolate, Ella’s favourite. She proceeded to dip a slim finger into the bowl of frosting, receiving a glare in return, and a harsh murmur of disapproval. Promptly, she ran her hand under the faucet, sugar dissolving in water, before turning back to me.

“She’s right,” Ella whispered.

I didn’t ask about what.

“I don’t need it.”

I found myself by her side for the remainder of the evening. It felt natural, shadowing her: my image of womanhood. She grasped my hand as she blew out her candles.

After her mother sliced the cake, I watched Ella stare at the plate placed in front of her. She prodded the chocolate with a fork, all the while inhaling the wafting smoke of blue striped candles. Not once did I see her lift the fork to her mouth.

word by Annie Rubin

colour by SHAKA

From the author: “Adolescence is the time when our ideals of beauty are explored most thoroughly. As we grow, we learn about ourselves through our parents, our friends, and through what we see in the media.

Often, though, we are our own worst critics—what we see in the mirror is far more flawed than what our friends might see when they look at us.

Each of us are made up of many colours, and once we begin to accept our uniqueness, we can rest as confidently as this figure sprawled upon her couch.”

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Le théâtre des opprimés

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Le théâtre des opprimés, présenté par l’association des étudiants arabes (ASA), est un spectacle en deux actes ayant la fonction de poser d’importantes questions sur les rapports entourant l’oppression – sans toute fois prétendre avoir des réponses. Le spectacle mets en scène oppresseurs et opprimés et vers la fin de la représentation, des spectateurs sont invités à recréer des scènes en tentant d’améliorer le sort des personnages opprimés.

Cette technique interactive – développée en 1971 par l’activiste Augusto Boal – mis de la fébrilité dans l’air, le public ayant eu l’impression que ses interventions pouvaient avoir un fort impact sur la manière d’aborder le rôle des genres dans la famille, du profilage racial ou du harcèlement public au coeur des scènes.

Les membres du public trouvèrent de nouvelles façons d’interpréter les scènes du point de vue des opprimés sans toutefois changer radicalement les traitements prodigués par les oppresseurs. Les harceleurs publics continuèrent d’harceler leurs victimes malgré les réponses renouvelées de ces dernières et un officier de police qu’on confronta à la présence possible de motifs raciaux derrière l’exécution de sa fouille répondit:

“Et alors?”

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La décision de l’Association des étudiants arabes de rendre chaque personnage multiple est intéressante. Tous tentent vivement de trouver la paix tant dans leur vie privée que leur vie en société, mais n’y arrivent pas toujours. Ce qui pose plusieurs questions: est-ce que l’oppression entoure seulement l’existence des oppressés mêmes ou en sommes-nous socialisés pour en être tous porteurs?

Comment réduire la souffrance lors de situations oppressantes lorsque l’oppresseur semble insensible aux appels de l’opprimé?

Bien que le rôle du Théâtre des opprimés n’était pas d’apporter des réponses concrètes, l’expérience qui se veut une opportunité d’humaniser l’humanité a su soulever des questions majeures.  L’association fait du travail important à Montréal et nous attendons leur prochain événement avec impatience.

Laurence Dauphinais – Montréal

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Review: ASA’s Theatre of The Oppressed

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The Theatre of The Oppressed, put on by the Arab Students’ Association, was a two act show that served to ask important questions about interactions on oppression – without claiming to have the answers. The performance intertwined lives of the oppressed and their oppressors in an interactive way: upon closing, members of the audience were invited to recreate scenes where they felt harm could have been reduced by taking the place of an oppressed character.

The innovative technique – developed in 1971 by activist Augusto Boal – brought tangible excitement to the audience. The feeling seemed that these new interventions would make a significant change in the scenes on gender roles in the family, racial profiling, and street harassment.

Audience members brought new ways of interpreting the scene from the oppressed, although bringing little change to the treatment by the oppressor: street harassers went on harassing, regardless of new responses from the harassed. A police officer was confronted on the racial motives of a search. The officer’s response?

“So what?”

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Valuable lessons come from the ASA’s decision to portray all characters in a multifacted perspective, each struggling to find a balance of peace in their home and public lives, raising many questions: is oppression simply ‘around’ the oppressed, or is everyone born with it? How do we reduce harm in oppressive situations, when it seems that, however the oppressed responds, the same treatment seems to occur?

As the group proposed, the Theatre of The Oppressed was not to provide prescriptive solutions for change, but rather to raise awareness and pose questions while ‘humanizing humanity.’ An important group doing important work in Montréal – we look forward to their next event.

Allison Kutcher, 23 March 2015, Montréal

Image credits: Arab Student Association of McGill