5 Flaws Of The Trigger Warning Critic

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This article contains references to a variety of forms of abuse. 

I do not have the privilege to consider discussions of violence as intriguing places to display my intellect. I do not have the privilege to enter these talks as though it’s a game, to ‘play’ and say things in the tone of a dramatized television series politician before leaving the ideas behind when I exit the arena. 

Instead I teach and I speak and I read and I write and I talk and I laugh and my body is still injured by the lazy romanticizations of violence from people who consider it meaningful because of its perceived deviance and sense of foreignness from their experiences, like the teenage boy who thinks he will become a man the first time he has sex. I am patient and I learn and I speak to paid listeners and I meditate and I fight and I exercise and I control addictions to substances or work or hobbies or people and I am still haunted by ghosts and still I react to conflicts in public that others have the luxury to laugh off. 

Look at the people around you. Whether you are on the bus or at work or in line or in class or at the gym or in a library or in a grocery store or on the sidewalk many of the people around you do not have the luxury to ponder the presence of violence because they are hurt, trying to heal, about to be attacked again. 

I often see groups of people who have not been injured ruminating among themselves over how violence feels or should feel or if it exists at all. Never do these talkers consider to ask the person with the snapped rib if their pain feels real. The argument seems instead that it is impossible to break a bone if the person speaking has not had their bones broken.

Whole cities, planets, must not exist to these people.  

Survivors of violence do not have the luxury to engage in such conversations about the illusory nature or impact of violence because we are busy tearing off band-aids and pouring peroxide over wounds or wincing as wrists are pulled and re-broken. We do not consider to ask one another for proof because we have seen the x-rays.

Right now, you likely can’t tell which person around you is surviving violence because we have learned that hiding the tangible evidence of the faults for those who have attacked us is more important than our well-being. Complicated by the fact that Canadian society prefers to punish those who have been attacked than to address those who attack others, we blend. Because so much violence is also not as tangible as a bruise, hiding it is easier than you might think.

While many of these survivors around you listen to the opinions of those who have not been hurt about the proper ways to heal, know they do not take them seriously when they choose to philosophize about the existence or impact of violence. Let’s say a few volleyball players who have never played hockey suggest that hockey should be banned from television because it is too violent. In the least, they suggest, remove all checking from the sport. As a hockey player, how seriously do you take their opinion?

“I often see groups of people who have not been injured ruminating among themselves over how violence feels or should feel or if it exists. Never do these talkers consider to ask the person with the snapped rib if their pain feels real.”

1. The first glaring flaw of the anti-trigger warning speaker is that they believe their opinion to be binding. How seriously do surgeons take the advice of people who have never studied medicine? 

2. The weakest and least creative arguments use violence as seasoning. Ask a survivor how much violence improved or ‘exoticized’ their life. How appreciative they were for the growth provided by the experience. The impulse to use trauma tourism as an attempt to expand the perceived depth of one’s personality or work is a mistake. Put in the work or do not touch the subject. 

3. The laziest flaw of anti-trigger warnings is a confused connection to censorship. This is the volleyball player who, when a goalie asks for a helmet, suggests that goalies should not wear helmets because they won’t play if they wear them. Besides ignoring the request, this reaction is based on a bizarre logic and seems inspired by a fear of complexity, more designed to rationalize intellectual laziness than to resolve an urgent problem. 

“A few volleyball players who have never played hockey suggest that hockey should be banned from television because it is too violent. In the least, they suggest, ban checking from the sport. How seriously do you take their opinion?” 

4. The thin foundation of anti-trigger warning advocates is the suggestion that it is possible to speak about a topic without being political. That language has the capacity to be objective-as though omission and history and socialization are separable from experience as a socialized person speaking a language. This is particularly embarrassing to hear when the people are speaking English. Ask nations across the world how they came to learn this language

5. The person without a history of violence who resists trigger warnings suggests that the bodies around them do not matter as much as the protection of their isolated beliefs. Neurologists have demonstrated that memory of pain and language registers in the same part of the brain as does immediate physical pain.   

The last objective of any serious critical discussion should the impossible attempt to exempt ourselves from complicity through passionate defenses of laziness in order to avoid fixing a critical problem. Passive inaction is required for many forms of violence to continue. Don’t be an accessory to murder because your ego was too threatened to adapt.

To the anti-trigger warning camp: grow out of the lazy philosophical presumptions of being able to speak for ‘all’ and ask how to become the accomplices of survivors in your classrooms, in your workplaces, in your romantic relationships, and among your friends, who may not have felt comfortable sharing their history of trauma with you. If they don’t want to talk about it, don’t probe. If they do, help them to destroy the insecure ways of socializing people that has normalized and required violence to exact legitimacy (see: mass incarceration; we’re legitimate because we attacked ______ to keep you safe). This philosophy of power has trickled into the structures of our social relationships.

These models of social power relations are outdated and will be crushed. What side will you be on when they are history? The side furiously suggesting that they were not affected by words? Or the side that acknowledged the humanity of those around them and who worked to dismantle the violence that they internalized, from where their luxuries were drawn?

“The last objective of any serious discussion should be the impossible attempt to exempt ourselves from complicity through passionate defenses of laziness in order to avoid resolving a critical problem.”

I want to conclude with a complication of the “survivors” I’ve been using in this piece. I am referring to survivors of violence. I am a ‘survivor’ of child abuse. I do not aim to speak on behalf of all child abuse survivors. We are nuanced. The last time I checked, for example, a cousin of mine was abusing women in the way that he was abused by a woman as a child. I would likely be doing the same should I have lived through his exact conditions because conditions are largely responsible for the development of abusive behaviours (to avoid pain). I fail and I have failed others and I continue to fail for a variety of other attacked groups. Accepting the imperfections of my attempts because of my status as a nuanced human being seems vital to moving forward, toward healthier and less-violent ways of organizing and relating to each other. Protecting self-assessed conceptions of my illusory perfection through passionate defenses of laziness does not.  

If you are unable to move past the guilt, and you are not a person dealing with trauma, know that we do not take your tantrums on violence seriously. You may threaten us. You may even attack us. Know that these reactions prove that our society relies on violence when it does not want to do the work of fixing a complex problem. Aligning yourself with passionate laziness is a bad look. Engaging with complex issues requires patience, and we are ready for you to learn how to be an accomplice and join us in the fight. Know that we will also be complete without it.*  

The colour, “bla bla bla,” was provided by illustrator Marie Mainguy, who does not necessarily endorse the opinions of the author

Recommended works that continue this discussion

Video:

Siede, Caroline.”Sarah Silverman Sides with College Students in the Great PC War,”A.V. Club, 16 Sept 2015.

What’s The Deal With Trigger Warnings?, PBS Idea Channel, 16 Sept 2015.

Text:

Ahmed, Sara. “Against Students,” The New Inquiry, 29 June 2015.

Carter, Angela. “Teaching with Trauma: Trigger Warnings, Feminism, and Disability Pedagogy,” Disability Studies, (35), 2, 2015.

Livingston, Kathleen Ann Livingston. “On Rage, Shame, ‘Realness,’ and Accountability to Survivors,” Harlot, (2), 2014.

Mate, Gabor. List of articles

Mate, Gabor. In the Realm of Hungry GhostsVintage Canada, 2009.

On Silence and Domestic Abuse

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I was fifteen years old when she told me for the first time. I had asked her how she was doing. She looked squarely into my eyes, which look exactly like hers, and said words that she would go on to repeat many times: “I am waiting to die.” She said it in her usual way: tired yet hard and brazen. No tremble, no sadness. Defiant eyes. She didn’t say it to complain, or to illicit pity. (Though that’s what the others sometimes said about her.)

Most grandchildren don’t expect to hear that kind of language. Not me. I was fairly certain I knew why she said it. I knew about the angry welts on her body from his hands. I had been there once as a small child when he grabbed her by the hair and smashed her head toward the corner of the wooden cabinet. It was the last thing I saw before she pushed me out of the room and closed the door with her falling weight. I knew that she had been the sole breadwinner her whole life, working manual labour to put food on the table, to pay for her children’s school fees, to unwillingly fund his addictions to gambling and prostitutes, cigarettes and alcohol. (This later came to include funding his child support payments for those illegitimate children that we didn’t talk about but whose mouths were also fed by her hard work.) These, after all, had been the constant realities of my life as I flitted in and out of their home, not quite innocent enough to escape their burning silences but thankfully spared from the fits of rage and violence that I knew existed underneath. But I still had to ask her “Why?” to hear it from her own lips.

“Because my health is clearly worse than his, and at this rate, the only way I will find peace away from him is when I’m gone.” She was in her mid-seventies at this point.

“But if what you want is to be free of him, isn’t there anything we can do other than wait? Can’t you get a divorce? Can’t you move out and stop living with him?” I asked. Visions of my grandmother as I had never known her, happy and carefree, danced before me.

“There’s no point.” She seemed instantly to regret saying anything, shooing away my questions and telling me that I wouldn’t – couldn’t – understand. There was too much I didn’t know. In my teenage mind, I felt patronized. What was she keeping from me?  

I asked my mother. I asked my aunts. I got mixed responses. From “We’ve tried. We’ve offered multiple times to move her out, but she won’t leave. And he won’t leave either,” to the more frightening, “She’s past the point of moving on. There’s nothing you can do for her now.” I felt impotent. I thought about those defiant eyes; that hard stare that she gave him when she wordlessly served him his breakfast, lunch and supper which she cooked from scratch, no matter how bedridden the doctors told her she was. Diabetes, hypertension, a heart attack: nothing could stop her from keeping him fed. It seemed impossible to understand – if she wanted it to end, why didn’t she just walk away?

Ten years have passed since she first declared to me that she was waiting to die. Her body is older, closer to the relief she seeks and further from us who love her.  On a warm January morning this year, she told me yet again, “My bones are very tired. I am waiting to die.” And for once, finally, she was ready to say why.

“My father had wanted to choose a husband for me, as was common in those days, but I was headstrong and insisted on marrying your grandfather out of love. We had known each other since we were children; we grew up as neighbours. My father relented and we got married. The first couple years were okay. We had your aunt and your mother. But then, things started changing even before your uncle and aunt were born. You know already: gambling , alcohol, prostitutes. I had to start working, and then I had to work more and more. We were getting poorer and poorer…at some points we were barely eating, and we had to pull your aunt out of school. My father tried to loan us money but your grandfather always spent it all. Since I’m a woman, my father couldn’t trust me with money…he always gave the loans directly to your grandfather. But it was always gone before it ever reached me or the children, and I could never pay my father back, no matter how hard I worked.  I could barely put food on the table with my salary. He eventually had to cut us off because he realized that any cent he loaned us would be a cent wasted. He passed away before I could ever pay him back, before I could ever apologize for costing him so much and for having wronged him so greatly with my choice of husband.”

Before I could say a word, she continued.

“My mother was much more sympathetic. She moved in with us to care for your mother and her siblings so that I could work more hours. Sometimes, I would have to go away for days at a time. She always begged me not to go for too long.”

Tears were falling down her cheeks.

“One day, your great-grandmother got sick while I was gone. She must have been in her late 70s and she was such a tiny, frail person. Your aunt took her to the doctor’s, where they diagnosed her…”

The tears came stronger; her words almost a whisper.

“With an infection that came from untreated chlamydia. Your aunt had to translate the doctor’s questions as to how on earth a woman at that age could have contracted…”

She paused. The realization dawned on me.

“…a venereal disease. And that’s how I found out that he had been raping my own mother for nearly twenty years.”

She took a pause. We blew our noses, and wiped our tears.

“She said she never told me because he threatened her by saying that if she ever told, he would hurt me and the girls. Of course, by that point he already had… your aunt and uncle were forced onto me by assault. I didn’t want to have any more children after your mother was born. And my little girls… I could only protect them when I was home, but when I wasn’t around…Your mother was seven years old when she came crying to me when I got back from work. She said she had been bent over, feeding the chickens when he came over and…and…”

She couldn’t finish.

“He used to break broomstick handles over your mother’s head for her insolence. But she always fought back. Not like your great-grandmother. She was so tiny, so meek…I can never forgive myself for any of it.”

My ears felt like they were ringing, my chest felt heavy, my eyes were stinging. Three generations of women before me had been abused by the man who was sitting on the other side of the house…

Except that he wasn’t. He wasn’t on the other side of the house. Somehow, in all our sadness, we had missed the sound of his footsteps approaching. He was suddenly standing there, in the doorway looking silently at our puffy eyes and runny noses.

As our eyes met, he said, “Did you read the news about the EU?”  

I was incapable of saying a word. I wanted to get up and punch him in the face. I wanted to lash out and scream at him. I wanted to push him down the stairs, out of the house and away from all the people that I loved.

I looked at my grandmother. The defiant eyes were gone. She did not look scared of him: she looked scared of me. She gave an almost imperceptible shake of the head as if to say “Don’t.”  I thought I understood. He had already ruined everything that was sacred to her…her mother, her father, her children, herself. If I said anything, he would be on her as soon as I left. I kept my mouth shut. Once he had crossed to the living room, she whispered that I must promise to never never breathe a word to him about it. I promised, frightened of what he would do to her.   

I spent much of the next twenty four hours horrified. I tried to convince her that we needed to make a plan to get her away from him. She was infuriated by my many suggestions.

“You promised me you wouldn’t make a fuss!”

When it was clear that I wasn’t intending on giving up, she took me aside and looked me in the eye.

“I’m not afraid of your grandfather. He can do nothing worse than what he has already done. So stop trying to ruin everything. I was foolish to think that you would ever understand.”

I was so confused. I had thought that she didn’t want me to say anything precisely because she was afraid of the violence he might cause.

It has taken me a long time for me to understand why she hasn’t left. I see now that my grandmother has had very few choices in her life…but her choice to stay or leave is hers to make, not mine to make for her.  So much has already been taken from her. Who am I to take away her one last choice to solemnly await death? She has decided for herself that while on earth she cannot escape the madness and guilt of his doing. No physical distance from him can set her free from her anger towards herself. She seems to choose to be within hating distance of him so as to concentrate all her silent fury outward, instead of in. As much as she hates him, I feel she hates herself more for not having been able to stop him. She comes from a generation that doesn’t believe in counselling, so I have no way to help her shed her guilt. Instead, she waits for the end.

these words by Jo-Ann Zhou were inspired by the colour of Raphael Varona

these words by Jo-Ann Zhou were inspired by the colour of Raphael Varona

On Art and Relationships: “Extending the Pattern”

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word by Josh Elyea 

colour by Mojo Wang

          Jane knows that compartmentalization is the key to a healthy relationship. She’s put all the little boxes where they belong, and for God’s sake, she’s going to leave them there.

          Jack says the simplest things in life are the most insidious. Comfort, for example. No good can come from comfort, he says. He’s speaking while deftly disassembling a French press that hasn’t been cleaned in months; Jane is only half listening, since she’s just put on Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros and is ruminating on the late singer’s post-Clash career with a keenness she’s not able to summon for the tired lecture aimed in her general direction. Rather, she’s enamoured with the sound quality pouring from their new BOSE Sound System. You really do pay for quality.

          It’s only after a large purchases, like a new BOSE Sound System, when Jack and Jane fight about money. It’s only in those moments that Jane’s chosen profession matters; only after the limited square footage of the apartment has been claimed, carefully cordoned off with a clear presence on either side does it matter what she does for a living. Jack wouldn’t go so far as to suggest she do something else with herself; no, he’s fairly certain art is where she belongs. He’d sure to like to see her make some money from it though, and he’ll be damned before he feels awful for saying so. Or, at least, that’s how this argument went the last time they had it, and the time before, and before…

          It’s not like Jane is overburdened; student loans notwithstanding, she owes a few hundred dollars on a VISA and has an unpaid cell phone bill in collections (she’s only recently stopped receiving calls where a bland, deathly voice asks “Hello, may I speak with Mrs. Jane _____ about an outstanding and quite frankly egregious debt…”). Other than that, she doesn’t owe a cent to anyone. So she’s just getting by right now – so what?   

          Often, Jane wished Jack would try and understand what it meant to be an artist, what it meant to try and create something from nothing. She wished he wouldn’t stare so obviously when she said she didn’t make much progress on her novel that day, and that he wouldn’t move with such reluctance when removing his credit card from his wallet to buy things like BOSE Sound Systems. Hell, she wished he’d stop buying things like BOSE Sound Systems so she didn’t feel so indebted to him, so she didn’t feel like she owed him anything.

          Jane looks towards Jack and sees there’s a torn piece of wallpaper where the counter-top ends; looking behind it, she can see that the little black and white boxes don’t end where they appear to, and the pattern extends far beyond her cursory understanding of it.

 

See more colour by Mojo Wang

 

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 breakups: “Almost”

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word by Hannah Chubb
colour by Stephanie Rivet 
 
I don’t care what anyone says, it’s the almosts that hurt the most.
breakups 
It kills me to watch this go down the drain.
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You must have dipped your tongue in ink before you said those three words because I can’t find anything strong enough to erase those eight letters. My mind is black and blue with thoughts of you and my sclerae scream red because I can’t categorize these feelings I have for something I may have just created in my head.
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You were almost there.
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I have no label for you and it hurts because I need to know that I’m not delirious and that my feet were on the ground. I swear to god I remember yours being there next to mine because your shoes were too-white and the left one was always undone and I just wanted to tie it back together for you but I didn’t know how to say it.
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I almost told you.
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I swallowed a different brand of turquoise pill than you did and I never knew why but maybe that was the problem. Mine came on a shelf and killed the pain while yours was handled by grimy hands crusty with tangerine-tinted drugstore lipstick and made you feel anything at all. You always swallowed more than you should have but I let you because I didn’t even know that version of you and maybe you never wanted to know me anyways. I guess I’ll never know if you wanted me to stop you.
 breakups 
You almost felt like reality was enough.
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We never held hands but we spoke in colours and sometimes you walked me home at night. Your mother never knew my name but your roommates sure did because your yellow walls were thin and your voice is loud when you drink enough to drown the monsters in your skull. I swear I could have slayed them but our time ran out too soon.
 breakups 
You almost asked me to stay.
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I almost did.
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Your mother should have named you Almost because I think that’s all you’ll ever be. I can’t stand you and your stupid razorblade tongue of promises slicing down my already raw throat. I think I belong up North because my head is a messy Aurora Borealis of the colours you used to turn my skin before you left and everything around me turned to black. I tried to be your fuchsia sky but you never told me you were colourblind.
 breakups 
I am a catastrophe of colour aching for the comfort of canvas, but darling, almost is just never enough.
 

 

9 Ways To Get Your Groove On

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word by Charlotte Kidd

colour by Jason Middlebrook

1. Meet a guy who builds things. It’s refreshing because he can get out of his head. Now, you can be in Sex and the City (rather than a looped Woody Allen movie, as has recently been the case).

2. Realize that refreshing is a reductive way to describe a person. On the second date, he takes you dancing. As if he existed in opposition to all previous men. As if he was made to fill a gap in your life, like water. Realize this when he is just as funny and charming and soft with you on the second date as the first. Realize that the way he handles the world is gentle, and kind, and generous.

3. Spend a day in bed with him. Listen to all the sad songs. Be cushioned by happiness, sensitive to the songs but never touched by them. Wonder why you’ve never listened to sad music when you felt light.

4. Ask him to build something. Not just dinner (he’s done that already) but one of the things he really makes. Something to hold.

5. Write him a song of gratitude for the thing he made; a perfect painting on an imperfect round of wood. And for the story he tells you, about recovery.

“Idle hands are the devil’s tools,” he says, in all seriousness. Where you would have once scoffed, you instead take his un-idle hands into your own.

6. Dance to your new story, dance to the details, get down to the grit. Marvel at how much you can enjoy something so pedestrian as a slow dance; you didn’t ever think you could love someone you weren’t competing with. Dance to nothing really being extraordinary and nothing being truly ordinary.

7. Keep grooving. Find that it’s easy to bring him flowers if he’s had a bad day. Make him laugh. Plan special things for his birthdays. Not so easy to wash his beard out of the sink, un-dog-ear the pages after he’s read your books. Hard to convince him, after another sale goes south and another one of his pieces ends up in a half-born graveyard, that he does not need to go out and find something to make it easier.

8. Dig out the thing he made. Blare music, emotions of the song intruding your feelings so that there isn’t enough space for them. You are not sure how big they could get if you let them expand. Wonder when he’s coming home. Wonder if he’s coming home. Say he is.

9. Dance to the sound of a door closing. Get down to his footsteps. Feel the rhythm of him coming back to your arms. Dance for the boy who makes things. Groove to the people whose lives are complicated but who touch the soft and fleshy walls of the world with the least pressure possible. Get down to him, in bliss and imperfection. 

When the lights go out

middlebrook

word by Josh Elyea

colour by Jason Middlebrook

What do you do when the lights have gone out? 

You take a walk. Not outside, where the autumn has turned leaves red and a familiar chill has crept into the Montreal wind, but rather inside: you take a walk through the desolate hallways of the mind. It’s best to ignore the part of your consciousness that tells you this is just your mind imagining itself – you can’t know what the inside of your head looks like – and continue to press deeper into the increasingly detailed world of your brain.

The further you walk, the more you notice the darkness; it’s not apparent at first, but before long you can’t help but see that in all these rooms, in all these wrinkles and rooms and chambers and palaces and dungeons that are dedicated to the things you cherish, the lights are out.

After wandering the halls for a while, you begin to wonder whether your brain works the way it used to; you find yourself pondering whether  these rooms can still light up in the way they did when you were young, when things were simple and you didn’t feel so used and so jaded.

You might make an effort to stop in each of these rooms and flick the small switch that hangs precariously on the darkly-papered walls; you might find yourself taking note of which lights shine bright and which bulbs now seem dim, and what this says about how you value the things stored in each room.

You’ll wonder what all this has to do with your addiction to entertainment, and whether there’s irony to be found in the fact that the room dedicated to Friends shines brighter than the room dedicated to your friends. This might be coincidental, but you can’t really know because you’ve never taken the time to understand irony.

You’ll begin to wonder where all the colours of your mind went, and what it says about you as a person that you don’t even have the requisite neuroelectricity to power the bulbs in the rooms you deem essential, those dedicated to creativity and personal fitness and Bob fucking Dylan.

You’ll ignore the advice of the people closest to you,  who tell you to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and focus on getting ahead by doing what you can. You’ll try and tell them it isn’t as simple as flicking a switch; by this point, you despise the colours of your mind, and you’re used to life without the lights on.

It’ll start small. You’ll find a room, somewhere deep in the right hemisphere of your brain, where a bright yellow light burns from behind a tightly locked door. Inside will be a book or a movie or a song, maybe even a person  or a pill that’ll walk with you, to remind you that there’s still vivid colour to be found, if you only take the time to turn on the lights.*

 

See more art by Jason Middlebrook

 

 

 

 

Never been here before

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word by Jacob Goldberg

colour by Joe Hengst

The flight attendant looks at my carry-on like it’s got four heads. ‘It’ll fit,’ I tell her confidently as she lets me pass through jet bridge, windowless and quiet. A considerable gap between the walkway and cabin has me thinking that there should be a warning sign somewhere. So, I watch my step. The stewardess, black and shapely, smiles at me. I have to walk with my right shoulder toward the tail of the plane so I don’t hit those already settled with my bag.

            It fits in the overhead compartment above my seat, which I share with a woman of about 25. Her nail filing looks like she’s playing a small violin and we exchange smiles when I sit down. The stewardess over the intercom welcomes us to American Airlines and asks for our attention as we prepare for takeoff. I remove my headphones but mostly hear my neighbor and her nails. At the stewardess’ direction, I open the In Case of Emergency pamphlet located in the pouch in front of me. The pamphlet’s spine feels fresh. Inside, images accompany the text. One picture, detailing the protocol for a water landing, has people fastening their life jackets; their cheeks are loose, their eyebrows steady, and their mouths unopened. I quickly put the booklet back in the pouch.

            The plane stops at the takeoff hash. I look out the window and make eye contact with my neighbor.

            ‘Hi, I’m Calvin’ I say.

‘Stacey, sorry about the nail filing. It’s a bit of a nervous habit,’ she adds with an uncomfortable smile.

‘Don’t like flying?’

‘Rather be on the ground,’ she says as the engines crescendo.

‘I’ve never flown before, actually. Are you afraid of heights?’ I ask, immediately wishing I hadn’t.

‘Never?’ The plane jerks forward and she grabs the armrest between us. ‘I just don’t really like takeoff is all.  Why now?’

‘My brother lives out in Seattle and he’s getting married.’ Outside, I see LaGuardia flitting past us, and I wonder how long the runway is.

‘Oh, you’re getting married?’ She asks, her eyes closed, hands gripping both armrests, body frozen to the seat.

‘No, my brother is.’

When the back wheels come off the ground, I feel the plane’s tail swing underneath and Stacey says, ‘Oh.’

            Stacey is busy grabbing the back of the seat in front of her. We pass through some clouds, which from the ground I’d never imagine would be so dense and unwelcoming. The plane feels like a rickety train. Before this flight, I’d think of overcast, opaque skies in terms of an absence of sun. But on this side of the clouds you realize that it’s just the presence of clouds; the sun is always shining. The view from my window looks like what I was taught to believe Heaven looks like.

            And so the plane continues to climb, and the blue of the sky turns from baby to turquoise, climbing higher to navy, and now stars pepper the sky and I look at my watch and it’s only 3pm.

From the author: “I guess the question to ask is: How do you deal with people who are scared?  Do you let them fall deep into their phobias?  The artwork moves from mimetic to surreal, vertically, in the photo, and I thought it would be fitting if the plane that Calvin and Stacey were on flew right into space.”

See more colour by Joe Hengst 

Blowing Smoke

michaelward.jpg5

word by Grant McLaughlin

colour by Michael Ward

Every time I see that sign, I can’t help but wonder what was the conversation behind that choice.

Could they honestly not come up with something better?  In all their brainstorming sessions, was that really the best in show?  No one involved thought for even a moment that maybe they should go with something more eye-catching?

‘Cause I’m not gonna lie.  I can rattle of all kinds of better ideas.  It feels like every time I’m there I come away having thought of yet another superior choice.

Is there honestly someone out there who grew up dreaming of the day they would be the proud proprietor of this: a tiny island of a shop amidst an ocean of parking lot swept up on the side of the latest superhighway.  A forgettable piece of detritus that they could finally call their own.

Wouldn’t want to ruin that with a memorable moniker.

The lack of creativity is extremely galling.  We already know that all we’ll find inside are shoddy sunglasses, miniature American flags, and a shit ton of cheapo cigarettes.  That Family Feud list of things that no one needs.

The least they could do is dress it up with a better sign out front.  A façade on the façade, if you will.

Are they describing the activity?  What you’ll be buying?  Just in case their patrons are so slack-jawed as to need the extra hint.

It could be a command.  An imperative order to any who find themselves wondering what they should be doing with their lives.

Or maybe it’s simply old school arrogance.  A belief that through their very existence they will be patronized.

“In my mind, it’s always been a concession.  They know the tides of history have come out against them, the studies are damning, the fix is in.”

It’s a white flag.  A desperate plea.

We don’t have a good reason to convince you, but we’re hoping you’ll do it anyways.

A discount name to match our discount product for you discount people and your discount dreams.

As rallying cries go, it isn’t terribly inspiring.

But I keep coming back, so I guess it doesn’t have to be.

 

 

“Everything Will Be Great”

michaelward2

word by Kate Shaw 

colour by Micheal Ward 

spinnign no, spinning how long have i been here thirty minutes? an hour? i think it’s been hours

Stop counting the seconds and try – just TRY – to act like a normal human being and enjoy yourself.

 it’s so loud here and i think i’m going to fall over why am i lauhging

That happens. Things are funnier when you’re drunk. Just calm down; most people take laughter as a good sign.

 i want to leave

            You’ll regret it as soon as you get to your room.

 but i’m not having fun i want to go tobed

It’s not even 1. Hayden won’t be home yet, and then how will you feel?

 i don’t um, it doesnt matter

You’ll feel like an idiot for leaving early and being home hours before your roommate. It does matter.

        Why didn’t you talk to her? She was being friendly.

i don’t…i can’t! i can’t think and it is is so loud

You don’t have to think, just talk to someone. Standing mute by the wall is a shitty way for you to start the best four years of your life.

i can’t do this alone

So find someone to talk to!

 no no i can’t be here alone, at this school

Well you are. And everyone else is dealing with it without any problems.

 i know

            Have another beer.

i dont want another i want to go

            You’re being ridiculous.

 

[At this point you push off the wall you’ve been clinging to for what has only been, in actuality, about forty minutes. Your senses are shocked by the rush of gravity that pulls you side to side, lower and lower; your body has become a pendulum and you have no control. Someone helps you stand and you just laugh. Once you’ve collected your swinging limbs and whatever scrap of composure you can find, you start a determined march out the door and down the stairs (you only trip once).]

 

[Getting across campus to your dorm takes five minutes or maybe thirty, and there are silly slobbering messes of students strewn across the paths like litter. You laugh at them too, although you don’t know why.]

 

[Climbing the stairs to your floor appears to be a seemingly insurmountable task, yet somehow you find yourself curled up (giggling) on your bed so you must have accomplished it somehow. It’s this moment when you finally stop laughing. In the dark, Hayden’s empty bed comes fuzzily into focus.]

 

i dont know how todo this

I don’t know how to do this.

 

 

From the author: “There are two kinds of social messages I wanted to address with this piece: The belief that alcohol necessarily leads to “a good time,” as depicted by the artist, and the fallacy that everyone at university is adjusting to their new lifestyle immediately (and better than you). For me, the Bud Light ad on a random street corner spoke to the omnipresence of the belief that life is more fun when you’re drunk. I thought there was a dissonance to be captured here: the true experience of a first year student at university versus the societal messages he or she has internalized about what the experience should be, which ultimately break down.”

 

On the painter: “Phyllis Lutjeans, Museum Educator and former curator, has said of Ward’s work: “Although Michael Ward may be called a neo-realist painter his work can ultimately be described as abstract realism. The picture image is photographically realistic, but within the context of the painting his compositions are complex and almost abstract. Deciphering the work section by section one sees how a multitude of individual complete compositions are put together to form the entire work. For me the viewer is confronted by a realistic image that puzzles us and clearly tells the story simultaneously.”