“And I Inhale Again” – Nahomi Amberber

Babe-in-the-Woods---Selina-Vesely-(2015)

I lay myself down in between you
And us
And inhale.
You do not smell like home
Like they said you would.
You smell like old pine trees and the mud they root themselves in,
And I inhale again.
I begin to weep and you ask me why;
“You smell like land unconquered,” I say.
“You smell like a dream.”

these words by Nahomi Amberber were inspired by the work of Selina Vesely

“Beige” – Jo-Ann Zhou

Icy-Void---Selina-Vesely-(2017)

The oddest thing about this new land was the blandness of things constructed by people. She remarked on her first day that all the houses were more or less the same colour. They were brown or grey, or varying combinations of brown and grey. Occasionally a house would have a colourful door. She learnt about a third colour, beige, that described most of the houses in her new land, and she decided it was also the best way to describe the food.

All the food was varying shades of brown and beige. Potato. Bread. Noodles. Meat. Repeat. All brown or beige. Sometimes there were splashes of red for things that were supposed to taste like tomatoes, like this sweet concoction ketchup, but it really didn’t taste like tomatoes at all. Apparently there were colourful foods in this new land too but someone told her that not everyone could afford them.

By far the best thing about this new land were the colours in the trees and on the ground. In summer, there were so many shades of green. It seemed almost a shame that there was just one word—green—to describe all of these magnificent colours, as if a mere word could capture the magic of this land of forests. Back home, all the trees and bushes were the same dull matte green covered by a thick film of grime. In retrospect, maybe her old land was best described by that new word, beige, when it came to the flora.

She was pleasantly surprised by the explosion of oranges, reds, yellows and purples that came in autumn, another new word, and was amazed by the new textures of the leaves which crunched beneath her feet. When winter came, the newest word of all, the white was blindingly beautiful; she wanted to touch it all the time, except that it was cold and afterwards her hands would turn red.

The white stayed for a very long time, much longer than the greens, the oranges and the yellows. She could tell her parents were getting impatient with the white and browns. How dull this was, especially next to the brown houses and the brown food, they complained. They missed the colourful houses, the colourful foods. They missed seeing plants all year round, even if they were dull matte green and covered in grime. Sometimes they were so sad they would cry, or yell at each other, or call family back home to cry and yell. She thought about how happy they had been when they first arrived, when the colours were there to welcome them.  She was certain that there were still colours out in the woods, and she decided to go collect some to make her parents happy again.

Down the road from her new brown-and-beige house was a little pond covered with a thin layer of grey-white ice. The ice, which had previously been solid white-blue, had begun to turn into lacey webs, peeking through to still dark grey water. She peered over the side of the pond and spied some reds and oranges. The leaves from autumn! They were still there, in the dark grey water, just beyond the thin white ice. How lovely it would be to rescue the trapped colourful leaves from their cold wet prison, and bring them home to make her parents happy again. She would dry them off and make a bouquet, she decided. Slowly, she shifted herself down, sliding her purple boots onto the grey-white ice, over to the edge of the dark grey water, when she heard a CRACK beneath her feet.

The local newspaper tweeted the next morning: “Illegal immigrant, aged 6, dead in Greenpoint Pond.”  The comments read: “serves them right anyway, they get what they deserve,” “now deport her family before they get on our EI.”

 

these words by Jo-Ann Zhou were inspired by the work of Selina Vesely

 

From the author: Aside from the ending, the rest of the piece is actually based entirely off of my own personal experience; even though I was born in Canada, I moved abroad to Peru when I was a baby (thus the inspiration for the “beige” land, since Lima is very dusty) and moved back when I was five years old. So, even though I’m “Canadian” I still feel as though I’ve lived through the “immigrant experience” since I had to learn the language and get used to the new food and customs. I wanted to write a piece that conveyed the mixed emotions of arriving in a new country: the excitement of discovering new things  but also missing certain things from home. As a kid, that also meant watching my parents work through those emotions too, which I partially conveyed here. The jarring ending is a second commentary on my experience as a “kind of immigrant”; most of the time I love living in Canada and have a great sense of wonder and respect for it, but this is occasionally jolted by rude comments from strangers who don’t think that immigrants belong. The juxtaposition is meant to show the reader how jarring these comments can be, as they often come totally unprovoked and with no context.

“Passage” – Jess Goldson

Icy-Melt---Selina-Vesely-(2017)

The young woman clothes herself in fall colours year-round. Something about being surrounded by hues emblematic of death gives her a sense of peace. Enrobed in maroon, and burnt oranges and umbers, she feels a crispness in her step, a frail assuredness. As she treads through autumn, flattening the leaves, she, too, finds herself bent backward. Snowflakes descend, stifling the last breaths of crunching leaves — disembodied trees. Sheets of ice overwhelm battered leaves, soothing and preserving their bruised tissues. Although she anticipates destruction, winter heals her.

 

these words by Jess Goldson were inspired by the work of Selina Vesely

 

“Healing” – Shagufe Hossain

Chelsea Rushton_In Which God is a Woman, part ii 300 dpi

It is not the same, the rain here and the rain there. Even though the sky is heavy with untold secrets the same way. Even though when the clouds breathe, they breathe tears. Even though it falls, as it does everywhere. It is not the same. I suppose it can never be the same in any two places. But it takes a while to know the difference.

People are people and places are places. But the earth breathes differently when water touches it, depending on where it is. Sometimes, touches make it shiver and shrivel away. Or don’t make it any more or any less than it is. And sometimes, touches make it come alive. You can tell how the water makes the earth feel from the way it smells.

It is the same with people. You can tell how touches make one feel from the way they smell. There is either the distinct fragrance of desire or the distinct odour of disdain. Or sometimes the distinct scentlessness of indifference that makes your feel like you have anosmia.

That is the worst of the lot. No stench. No perfume. Just scentlessness.
But it takes a while to know the difference. Nonetheless, it falls. Everywhere.

And sometimes, as it falls, it stirs a storm.

There is a storm in you and there is a storm in me.
You have blizzards that are icy. Cold. They stir broken pieces of glass that cut through the heart, leaving you wounded.

My storms are warm. They stir something soft. Clouds that melt, pour water. Heal.

Your blizzard is what you seek refuge from. Sometimes. My storm is what you seek refuge in. Sometimes.

I don’t know if your storm reflects my soul or your soul is reflected in mine. But there is a storm in you and there is a storm in me. And I hoped, maybe, if you saw the storm in me and I saw the storm in you, we would know some calm in each other. That is why I offered you my storm. So you would find some solace in mine and I would find mine in you. So none of us would have to hide. And both of us, maybe, would begin to heal.

 

these words by Shagufe Hossain were inspired by the work of Chelsea Rushton

“Caged” – Francine Cunningham

Chelsea Rushton_Vesper xiii 300 dpi

we’ve never seen the sunset,
just the reflection of it
on the mountains
our windows face

we could drive to the other side of the island,
i guess
we’ve talked about it
packing a picnic
blanket
all of it
but we’ve never done it

tonight, we sit on the patio
bathed in the noise of buzzing mosquitoes
loud and piercing when too close to the ear
the smell of citronella not helping,
it never does

the light fades on the mountain side
pink
gold
light and then dark green

when twilight envelopes us
we rise on stiff legs
hobble to the bedroom
silently undress
i don’t know anymore in which emotion we look at each others bodies
indifference, boredom,
maybe even hatred
sliding under stiff sheets offers
reprieve
and in the darkness our dreams take hold,

what wondrous things they are

 

these words by Francine Cunningham were inspired by the work of Chelsea Rushton

“Taste of Leaving” – Jess Glavina

majkapincik

The off-whites of your apartment
The buzz of your kitchen lamp
The halo it casts around your red hair as we wait for your friend

The fewer days you have to leave, the slower it feels

The essentials:
The two people you must say goodbye to.
The books to return. The one to get back.
The borrowed transit card. The money you owe.

I leave like I came
Moving alone through the city
A zigzag
Promises spoken lightly
turning to finishing nails in my pocket

these words by Jess Glavina were inspired by the work of Evelyn Bencicova

“White Light” – Charlotte Joyce Kidd

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To have your body be struck by a force that comes from completely within itself

To know that you cannot save yourself from it

That in every silent second lurks a light that will hit you between the eyes from behind your forehead

That cold will come in waves and shivers will grate the underside of your skin

That something will gurgle up through your trachea until you are sobbing not because you are sad but because the sobs have always existed inside you and want to see day

To try, desperately, to stave it off, to force it down with anything that you can grab and pull into yourself, through mouth and eyes and nose

So that it explodes in the seconds between: the moment when your feet touch the ground, before you have reached for the curtains

Light brighter and sharper than the sun you were trying to let in

Assaulting your eyes without your permission

Shaking your body like a silent church organ

This thing that is you now

That feels like it will not leave

It will

I promise

 

these words by Charlotte Joyce Kidd were inspired by the work of Evelyn Bencicova

“Goodnight (Again)” – Ajay Mehra

The Door of No Return_hires

I’m sad I saw you.

I’m sorry. I’m happy you’re happy. I’m happy. You’re happy.

Old pictures are magic. Memories are magic. Disneyland and imagination and the faces in your messages are magic. Everything is magic except now.

I’m sorry I left. I’m sorry I came.

I met a very beautiful woman at bridge two years ago. We see each other often. I should have said.

I wanted to see you.

You walk the same. I think I do too. I saw a video of me and I knew it was me. I miss you more everyday.

You were so beautiful.

Goodnight (again).

 

these words by Ajay Mehra were inspired by the work of Shanna Strauss

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.