Permission, by Saskia Vogel, follows a grieving young woman who learns something new about love from a dominatrix in this haunting and erotic debut. It’s a kind of love story about three people sick with dreams and expectations who turn to the erotic for comfort and cure. As they stumble through the landscape of desire, they ask themselves: how do I want to be loved?
Discover Permission through the excerpt below and read on for Saskia’s thoughts on the passage.
When Orly was done, they sat together for a while, by the open window, the breeze blowing in a direction that brought the sound of the ocean inside. She asked him to face her. He kneeled, but she asked him to sit. She wanted them to be eye to eye.
‘I met someone,’ she said.
And he knew she meant the neighbour girl. Orly was on the sofa where the girl had slept. Strange to see the girl inside, in his home. He’d waved at her every day and the gesture had seemed to frighten her. He’d taken it as a good sign. Orly had chosen a location where people weren’t interested in being neighbours. But then she’d appeared on Orly’s sofa, and he’d rushed out of the house on his way to work, not wanting to wake her.
‘We didn’t talk about this,’ Orly continued. ‘What would happen if we brought people over who we didn’t already know. I told her what I do, but I left you out of it.’
Piggy thought about his separate lives. His office jobs, his service to Orly. The distance he enforced between himself and his work colleagues, never letting them get too close unless he trusted them to be in his inner circle. He had enough friends now who shared his interests. He was too old to watch his mouth during his leisure time. When he felt social, he wanted to be able to make jokes at his own expense and trade tales of mishaps on the road to getting here in the same breath as he explained the perfect blend for burger meat at a barbecue. He had spent too long holding back and keeping things down.
‘You must really like her.’
‘More than I think I was prepared to.’ Orly paused. ‘She’s going through a lot.’
Something dropped inside him, and the words came out harsher than he expected: ‘Not another project.’
Orly looked hurt. ‘This isn’t like Kashmira. I took her on because she said she wanted to learn from me. Echo, she interests me. I wonder what she’ll be like if we play.’ She squeezed her eyes shut and smiled.
He didn’t want to encourage her fantasy about this new girl. When she dreamed, it was potent, easy to get swept away. Part of her genius, he thought, was her imagination, but when she fantasized, she also lost her connection to the world around. He wanted her to stay with him in this conversation. He thought about Kashmira, who had been her assistant a few years before. Initially sweet, and eager. But when Orly let her get more and more involved, taking over the sessions Orly was supposed to do with him, he felt left behind. And then it became clear that Kashmira only thought about the money: she had seen what Orly had and wanted it for herself. She didn’t care about the work, the connection. She began poaching Orly’s clients, using Orly’s name as a reference, without her blessing. And one day there was no Kashmira anymore. Orly had asked him not to stay in touch with her at least for a while, as a courtesy. Thinking about the possibility of another girl spending time with Orly in the house – another project girl – it occurred to him that his hurt about Kashmira was really about something else. He said, ‘You’re supposed to protect me.’
He liked the way Orly listened. Taking in his every word.
‘You’re right,’ she said. ‘I promise I won’t be careless.’
When I set out to write Permission, I wanted to write a story about love and desire, in general, and about BDSM relationships in particular. Thinking of 50 Shades of Grey, I wanted to tell a story that shows a different kind of dominant and submissive relationship, one that felt truer to what I know about this community. I was interested in exploring the careful communication of fears, hopes, and desires that is vital to any relationship, but is perhaps trickier or scarier to navigate outside of a traditional romantic or erotic relationship.
In this scene we meet Orly, a dominatrix, and Piggy, a submissive foot fetishist who is her longest-standing client but also a man who has recently started subletting Orly’s spare room in the suburban Los Angeles home in which she runs her business. Over the years, they’ve developed a tender friendship. Though it isn’t necessarily romantic, their relationship is intimate and erotic, and they care about each other as people. Because they are learning how to share a domestic space as old friends while also managing their dominatrix-client relationship, things get complicated when a new romantic interest—Echo, Permission’s main character—enters the picture. Orly is falling for Echo, the enigmatic neighbor whose father has just died. Piggy is wondering where this will leave him; Orly’s infatuations have put strain on their relationship in the past.
I wanted to share this vulnerable, private moment between Orly and Piggy to show two people who are committed to learning how to meet each other’s changing needs and how to care for each other through life’s ups, downs, and many surprises. If they can succeed, anyone can.
To continue reading, purchase your copy of Permission here!
Saskia Vogel grew up in Los Angeles and currently lives in Berlin, where she works as a writer and Swedish-to-English literary translator. She has written on the themes of gender, power, and sexuality for publications such as The White Review, The Offing, and The Quietus . Previously, she worked as Granta magazine’s global publicist and as an editor at the AVN Media Network, where she reported on pornography and adult pleasure products.
Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley Hall, by Suzette Mayr, follows Dr. Edith Vane, scholar of English literature, who is contentedly ensconced at the University of Inivea. Her dissertation on pioneer housewife memoirist Beulah Crump-Withers is about to be published, and her job’s finally safe, if she only can fill out her AAO properly. All should be well, really. Except for her broken washing machine, her fickle new girlfriend, her missing friend Coral, her backstabbing fellow professors, a cutthroat new dean – and the fact that the sentient and malevolent Crawley Hall has decided it wants them all out, and the hall and its hellish hares will stop at nothing to get rid of them.
Discover the world of Dr. Edith Vane by reading the excerpt and Suzette Mayr’s thoughts on the passage below.
She hears the dripping. A steady drip of the tap in the bathroom across the corridor. A drip that intensifies, pokes into her concentration, fragments her midnight genius. She pushes the exams away, stands up from her desk, slips her keys into her pocket.
She pushes open the washroom door into moonless black. The sound of water running from a tap. She flicks on the switch. Only one fluorescent light flickers on. The ceiling gutted and cavernous.
Her heart startles, clatters in her chest.
A woman in a yellow dress bends over the sinks. Coral, rinsing her mouth.
Coral’s hand stops, mid-rinse, her hand still cupped over her mouth, water drip-dripping, her bloodshot eyes gazing at Edith through the dim reflection in the mirror.
– I’m sorry, Edith half shouts. – I didn’t know anyone else was in here. You scared the stuffing out of me. Coral! You’re back, she sighs. – You’re back from the hospital. I’m so glad to see you.
Edith sighs again, holds out her hand.
Coral’s hand stays cupped to her mouth.
– I was so worried about you, Edith says.
Vestiges of water curl down Coral’s forearm, drip from her elbow into the sink. Edith drops her hand.
Edith knows it would look stupid to leave the bathroom without using it, so she shuts herself into a cubicle, shoots the bolt of the door, and pulls down her pants. Sits down.
She hears the faucet turn on, then off. Then on again.
She pees, wipes, stands up, and refastens her pants. She swings open the cubicle door.
Coral is still standing there, her back still to Edith. Her hair straight and shiny as a red toy car.
Coral’s fingers over her mouth, red.
– I like what you’ve done with your hair, says Edith. – The colour, I mean. Or maybe it’s the light in here. Is it?
Water drips from Coral’s hands, rivulets in the sink.
– Have a good night, whispers Edith, and she scuppers out the door without washing her hands, her urine-speckled fingers firmly pushing into the middle of the orange poster that trumpets PleaseWash Your Hands.
What I wanted to do with Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley Hall was explore the nature of horror and the uncanny but in a less predictable horror setting.
What’s really interesting to me is the notion that at the foundation of the “uncanny” is the familiar made unfamiliar, and that horror isn’t necessarily about big flamboyant moments, but the subtle tweaks to the normal so that the normal becomes less and less recognizable, more destabilized, and the peripheral begins to upstage or even overtake the centre. A university campus as a setting was the ideal place for this kind of writing experiment and exploration because university campuses have so many Gothic tendencies. Classic gothic stories often feature an old building filled with secrets. There are many, many secrets hiding in any university building, no matter how new that building might be. My main character, a stressed out professor named Edith Vane, is preyed upon by her building’s secrets. The building strips away the fragile pretense she has been desperately using to protect herself, and reveals the familiar as creepy, insidious, and maybe even terrifying.
To continue reading, purchase Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley Hallhere.
Suzette Mayr is the author of four previous novels: Monoceros, Moon Honey, The Widows, and Venous Hum. The Widows was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book in the Canada-Caribbean region, and has been translated into German. Moon Honey was shortlisted for the Writers’ Guild of Alberta’s Best First Book and Best Novel Awards. Monoceros was longlisted for the Giller Prize. Suzette Mayr lives and works in Calgary.
Pillow, the titular character in Andrew Battershill’s Pillow, loves exotic animals, which is why he chooses the zoo for the drug runs he does as a low-level enforcer for a crime syndicate run by André Breton. He doesn’t love his life of crime, but he isn’t cut out for much else, what with all the punches to the head he took as a professional boxer. And now that he’s accidentally but sort of happily knocked up his neighbor, he wants to get out and go straight.
But first there’s the matter of some stolen coins, possibly in the possession of George Bataille, which leads Pillow on a bizarre caper that involves kidnapping a morphine-addled Antonin Artaud, some corrupt cops, a heavy dose of Surrealism, and a quest to see some giraffes.
Dive into Pillow by reading the excerpt below followed by Andrew’s comments on the passage.
The crime syndicate Pillow had swiftly and easily and sadly flowed into after his neurologist had told-not-asked him to retire made a lot of noise and very little money, and was skewed heavily to the crime end of organized crime, rather than the organized side.
The head of the syndicate was a mid-sized player named André Breton. He and his boys bought and sold drugs, made book, loan-sharked and had started two riots for fun. Breton’s syndicate were mostly recruited from his days as a Marxist firebomber in Paris. They’d done low-level hack terrorist stuff until they caught too much attention and bolted the country for a spot in the superstructure and the cash to pay for pretty paintings. Breton was supposed to be a tastemaker: rich people called him in to tell them what art to buy. He used it as a way to launder money and move bribes.
Most of the time, the Breton crew hung out and got high, talked about their dreams and played parlour games until Breton gave them something to do. And tonight what Breton had given Pillow and Louise Aragon to do was guard-dog a deal to buy some stolen coins.
As often happened, Pillow ended up having to wait around outside his apartment, kicking the toe of one shoe with the heel of the other, as he waited for his ride to some place they hadn’t bothered to tell him in advance.
Most of what Pillow did was watch people exchange money. He’d make collections and stand behind Breton at deals, watching the cash and making sure nobody got out of line. It wasn’t usually to muscle anybody. He was supposed to be a former boxer, violence just an impression he made. The heavy wet work was handled by Breton’s two favourites, Don Costes and Louise Aragon.
Pillow was in a very minor, but reasonably comfortable, spot in the organization. He knew what he was to them and what he wasn’t: he wasn’t particularly useful but he had uses; he wasn’t exactly trusted but he was liked; he wasn’t going to make much money but he wasn’t going to cost them much either. Plus, he had used to be a celebrity, which is always worth a very sad and very tiny bit.
After what felt like a long time, Louise Aragon pulled up in a car so old and so black and so heavy it might actually have been a Model T. She screeched to a stop and kicked the huge, steel passenger-side door open. Pillow swung himself into the car and settled in already slumped.
‘How do you do, Pillow?’
Pillow stayed still, suggesting a shrug with just the way he breathed. ‘You have really flexible legs.’
‘Thank you, sir. I’ve never stretched a thing. Sometimes one is just a marvel.’
Pillow nodded evenly, then turned to look at the dark sky framed by black metal through plate glass. He felt the car moving under him, in the way that you can feel things that move faster than your legs carry you and it just feels like sitting down.
Louise was one of Breton’s go-to people. She was thirty-some- thing and half-sad in that way fun people without a whole lot of luck get. She was the kind of friend Pillow had, which is to say a very friendly acquaintance.
‘Do you want to know where we’re going, Pillow?’
‘I’m more curious about those legs – you don’t stretch ’em even a little?’ Pillow feinted like he was going to tickle her leg, reached up and snapped her bra strap when she brought her hand down to defend the leg.
Louise laughed. ‘Bark like the dog you is, Pillow, bark like the dog you is.’
‘Does introducing you to your wife buy me any leeway, Louise, huh? I think it gets me a little and I take space where I find it. Space is everywhere, and we need every little, tiny inch of it.’
Louise flapped her hand like it was a talking human mouth, or possibly a very stupid and hungry bird mouth, then she put both hands back on the wheel and refocused on her incredibly erratic driving.
Pillow rolled his shoulders back and took to stretching them. His shirt lifted up, and Louise poked his bellybutton. She had her bangs pulled back tight. Her haircut looked like a wave that had been ironed.
‘So, just to get it out of the way,’ she said, ‘we’re going to Mad Love. And as always, I am deeply sorry.’
Mad Love was the bar where a good deal of the money and brain cells Pillow had held on to after fighting had gone to die. It was one of the dingiest places he’d ever seen or smelled or touched. The place, like a lot of things, gave him a headache that would make other people’s headaches jealous.
‘Well, that’s a bummer. I guess you should maybe tell me what I’ll be doing there.’
‘What you always do, my man: look tall and try not to fall asleep.’ ‘I don’t look tall, I am tall, and I don’t make any promises about sleeping.’
Louise screeched the car to a stop in an alley that looked like every other alley. ‘Can you at least promise to dream well then?’
Pillow pulled one long strand of hair loose from her head and let it flop unevenly down the middle of her face. ‘For you, I’ll try.’
Louise looked at Pillow for an extra second and smiled at him in the way you’d smile at a picture of a really cool building that’s already been torn down.
My default answer to the question, “What do you hope readers take from this book/passage?” is whatever they want! I’ve always thought that once your book-children go out in the world, they’re full-grown adults. Part of the fun of reading is the freedom to interpret books however you want to, and part of the fun of writing them is seeing what people take away from it.
So, sure, my default answer is cop out (a sincere cop out), but in this case I have another one. What I hope people take away from this book, and this passage of the book particularly, is Pillow the character. While this is a novel about a plot to steal a valuable coin from a group of Surrealist poets in a crime gang, what this book is really about is Pillow, a broken down boxing champion looking to find love and take as many trips as he can to the zoo.
Fun fact, I initially wanted to call this book You feel me?, and was promptly informed that this is an aggressively terrible name for a book. Pillow, the title, emerged after all the major edits had been done on the manuscript, and, after a long time of having no idea what to call this book, we settled on the final title weirdly quickly, and it just felt right. The longer I worked on this book the more I realized that Pillow, the character, is the emotional heart of the book.
Andrew Battershill is a novelist from British Columbia. He was the co-founder ofDragnet Magazine and the fiction editor ofThis Magazine. He was the 2017-2018 Writer-in-Residence at the Regina Public Library, and the 2018 Writer in Residence for the City of Richmond. He lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Y, by Aaron Tucker, follows J. Robert Oppenheimer: reluctant father of the atomic bomb, enthusiastic lover of books, devoted husband and philanderer. Engaging with the books he voraciously read, and especially the Bhagavad Gita, his moral compass, this lyrical novel takes us through his story, from his tumultuous youth to his marriage with a radical communist and the two secret, consuming affairs he carried on, all the while bringing us deep inside the mind of the man behind the Manhattan Project.
Discover Y by reading the excerpt and Aaron’s thoughts on it below.
They stayed at Perro Caliente for two months, and during that time he and Kitty would ride together under the heat of pride and competition across the hardest New Mexico trails, each admiring the other’s meagre movements of control, a flex of legs rarely aided by spurs in the stirrups, instead a light tap with the side of a palm or tug upwards on the reins, their mutual wonder a recognition of each other’s shared muscle memory. She was there even though she was married to another man; in fact, he knew Kitty’s husband, Richard Harrison, a friend and doctor, and the two men would sometimes share notes and drinks in the restaurants near Berkeley, spaces crowded with noise. Yet he didn’t feel the yank of guilt and instead relished his and Kitty’s overlapping, a low and constant rumble like the engine of his exquisitely curved Chrysler coupe as he drove Kitty around, the speed of the big car accented by his half-attention to driving and her describing how the two of them would soon stride into rooms together, powerful and charming and overwhelming. Although she was married, he would burst into parties pronouncing her his fiancée, and Kitty would emerge, inflorescent, from behind him, bursting out in unthinking laughter, her body unconfined by the distant and overwrought movement Jean showed even in hesitating when turning the kettle on, Kitty bathed in the scent of orchids, the large petals drooping over his thin fingers as he thrust the flowers excitedly towards the hosts. He would overhear her tell her friends, “I simply adore Robert,” and knowing that he was listening, would explain how he would expand when he was in a conversation, become as large as the room in the way that a soft bulb glows and settles over every person and thing.
They remained that way all through the summer, winding through the pines and spindly birches that blanketed the mountains, only stopping to build a secluded fire, eat and, sharing a sleeping bag, groan against each other, “Robert,” him above her and her hands clenching and pushing him further into her, “Robert,” the stars just above them, white, large, blossoming. She told him how brilliant he was, how he was going to conquer the future, that she would conquer it with him, barbarians consuming mussels soaked in garlic butter and leeks, duck confit piled beside black currants, drinking the best wines of every city, of every decade, and he saw in her imagery sattvic, Krishna explaining the best of the three kinds of food,
Where vigor, life, power, comfort, health Content are strengthened, food Bland, solid, cordial, savory Is relished by the good,
and she repeated to their guests at Perro Caliente, to an amused Katy after she handed back Kitty’s underwear, left at her ranch home, looking at him with bemusement and caution, and Kitty left that August pregnant with their son, Peter.
Although Y looks like a piece of historical fiction on its surface, in my mind, its heart is the love triangle between Robert Oppenheimer, his wife Kitty and his mistress Jean Tatlock that is the affective centre and prime mover of the work. It is through Robert’s relationships with these powerful and engaging women that his own perspectives of the world, and his actions within, come to bear. While Jean and Kitty are not opposites, they do represent two separate and appealing paths for Robert that roughly parallel his feelings about his leadership of the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos and the subsequent use of the atomic bomb: Jean embodies much of the doubt he has about himself and his work, while Kitty is more aligned with his ambitions and sense of patriotic duty.
The second chapter, from which this excerpt has been taken, details Robert and Kitty’s blossoming romance. Importantly, the two bond over their mutual love of New Mexico and horseback riding, and their passion for each other is crystallized in the beginning of their bold and unapologetic affair. For me, this passage shows how the two are unbridled and completely enamoured with each other, providing essential nourishment for the other; yet, the relationship is not quite equally symbiotic, even from the beginning. Kitty has to fold parts of herself into Robert’s ego and drive, become his wife and put aside her own dreams, and, despite her immense love for him, there is a well of tragedy there. She empowers Robert, but Robert drains a key energy from her.
As well, the passage reflects a further contradiction and tension within Robert: his respect and care for the New Mexico landscape that he also destroys by leading the Manhattan Project. The incorporation of the poetry here reflects Robert’s interior struggles and his constant turning to the texts of his life for ethical and spiritual guidance.
Aaron is the author of two collections of poetry, irresponsible mediums: the chesspoems of Marcel Duchamp and punchlines, as well as the two scholarly manuscripts Virtual Weaponry: The Militarized Internet in Popular Cinema and Interfacing with the Internet in Popular Cinema. His current collaborative project, Loss Sets, translates poems into sculptures which are then 3D printed; he is also the co-creator of The Chessbard, an app that transforms chess games into poems. In addition, he is a lecturer in the English department at Ryerson University.
Queen Solomon, by Tamara Faith Berger, chronicles the erotic awakening and mental disintegration of an intense young man who meets Barbra, an Ethiopian Jew, when she is brought into his home by his father for the summer. Terrified of Barbra and drawn to her in equal measure, our narrator finds himself immersed in compulsive psychosexual games with her, as she binge-drinks and lies to his family. Seven years later, as our narrator is getting his life back on track, with a new girlfriend and a master’s degree in Holocaust Studies underway, Barbra shows up at our narrator’s house once again, her “spiritual teacher” in tow, and our narrator finds his politics, and his sanity, back in question.
Get a taste of Queen Solomon in the following excerpt, and read Tamara’s thoughts below.
Ariane worked with me during sex to change my ‘bad thinking.’ She actually called it ‘traumatized thinking’ – a need to smother all my bad thoughts with sex. Ariane said I had textbook sex addiction, that my shame from Barbra and the failed way it ended meant, in fact, that I hated myself.
For two years, okay, this is what me and Ariane talked about. I mean, this is what we worked on during sex. I didn’t tell Ariane that it was not always therapeutic. In fact, some- times it even made me feel worse. Like, Ariane would tell me in sex to go slower and why, and then harder and why, how to lick her, how to suck her and why and why. I secretly did not always subscribe to her method, even though I did like that we had a lot of sex.
What Ariane ﬁxated mostly on about my relationship with Barbra was that she thought that I thought that Barbra wanted to be submissive because Barbra explicitly told me to hurt her.
‘I was mistaken about that,’ Ariane deduced. ‘Barbra was obviously not a submissive.’ Ariane said that what we did was s/m 101. She said what Barbra did is called ‘topping from the bottom.’
Uh, does ‘topping from the bottom’ mean you make up all the rules? I wanted to ask her. Does ‘topping from the bottom’ mean that the knife is always truly yours?
I did not tell Ariane about our speciﬁc scripts. I did not tell Ariane about what truly happened at the ending. I told her my scar was from surgery when I was fourteen after I broke my collarbone. I told her, in general, that Barbra asked me to do something and I did it. I told her that we didn’t really have to say yes or no. It was a system, I explained, of complicit synchronicity. Ariane scoffed. She continually tried to school me. In sex, she said, the woman must lead.
‘This is ancient knowledge. Stuff the Tantrics believed.’
Did the Tantrics believe that a turned-on and traumatized woman could be actually violent? Tantric is outdated, I thought. What did they know about consent?
Ariane assured me that my true self was not chauvinistic.
She said that all real men worshipped cunt.
Ariane said, ‘If you love cunt, you actually have to know how to treat it. If you love cunt, you have to know your way around its complex abyss.’
Sometimes I thought Ariane only liked me because I made her feel worshipped. I loved Ariane’s body. She was long- armed, big-nippled, bluish-skinned. When we had sex, I usually licked her pussy for an hour. Between Barbra and Ariane, I’d practised cunt-licking. Girls always said that they loved my way of licking. I always signed my name on their thighs. I licked them and tricked them, massaged them and slapped them. Pussy foam, pussy oil. I liked period pains. I got off being smothered. I liked to see girls get really wild. Licked-open cunts liked to get really wild.
I told the cunt to sit on my face.
I said to the cunt, please hump my whole head.I loved cunts lodged with matter. I loved a maw full of cunt on my pillowcase.
I would like readers to get a rise out of this section, to get a little dizzy between the head and the crotch. At first, the terms are flipped around victimhood, setting up a guy who has been sexually traumatized while Ariane, his girlfriend, is the dominant sexual presence. As this section progresses, the reader learns that the narrator had an S/M relationship with Barbra years ago where he was clearly in over his head. He is thus stuck between two dominant female lovers, while he remains linguistically in charge. I actually wrote this section as an ode to cunnilingus, and that’s how I would love to have it stand, yet I’m also aware that there’s some pretense in my narrator’s braggadocio.
What I’d like readers to take away from this section is that sex gives us knowledge. Ariane says that if you love cunt, you have to know your way around its “complex abyss.” While Barbra, the hidden character in this fragment, seems to have taught the narrator everything he knows: how to ‘top from the bottom,’ how to play mind games in sex. Mind games go with cunnilingus.
I hope that readers can overcome any aversion to a male narrator synthesizing his lovers with the word cunt. I love the power of this word. I think it consistently grows in erotic and syntactical meaning. Cunt is hot and “lodged with matter,” as my narrator understands.
Tamara writes fiction, non-fiction and screenplays. She is the author of Lie With Me (2001), The Way of the Whore (2004), (republished together by Coach House Books as Little Cat in 2013), Maidenhead (2012) and Kuntalini (2016). Her fifth book, Queen Solomon, was published by Coach House Books in October 2018. Maidenhead was nominated for a Trillium Book Award and it won the Believer Book Award. Her work has been published in Apology, Canadian Art, Taddle Creek and Canadian Notes and Queries. She has a BFA in Studio Art from Concordia University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia.
Amanda’s newest book, Disfigured, is a compelling look at fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm to Disney, showing us how they influence our expectations and behaviour and linking the quest for disability rights to new kinds of stories that celebrate difference.
Read an excerpt below!
Look at you, getting coffee, getting groceries, going on trips in an airplane. Pretending that you’re as able-bodied as the rest of us! It’s all just so inspiring.
At the beginning of Captain Marvel, Carol Danvers is disabled in several ways. She has amnesia and can’t recall her life beyond the six years immediately preceding her present. As the film progresses, we come to understand that she is also intentionally being disabled by her captors, the Kree, who are dampening her powers by keeping them artificially restrained.
But Carol, as most superheroes are wont to do, wrestles her way through to a happy ending. She does this both physically – through wreaking joyous, unrestrained havoc on her enemies – and emotionally, by distancing herself from the wild, perseverant machinations of Yon-Rogg and asserting her right to occupy her body and power in whatever way she sees fit.
I don’t have anything to prove to you. I don’t have anything to prove to you. I don’t have anything to prove to you.
I whisper the same thing to myself at night. The ‘you’ wears many faces.
Once, while I was sitting at my desk during lunch period in fifth grade, a student sitting beside me asked if I could reach under my seat to grab her pencil, which had rolled under my chair.
‘She can’t,’ my red-haired nemesis said behind me. ‘She’ll have to bend over and take the pickle out of her ass first.’
The rage that came over me was immediate and hot, overwhelming. I slammed my chair back into her desk so hard that it tipped her own desk over, pushing her so the chair she sat on teetered back on its hind legs. Wobbly and ready to collapse, exactly the way I felt. Her laughter was immediate, tinged with surprise and a sliver of terror. I heard the rest of the class laugh, too. Twenty-seven years later, I can close my eyes and hear that laughter exactly as it sounded on that day so many years ago.
I have never wanted to be a superhero, or a demon, something other than I was, as much as I did in that moment. To push the chair away from my desk and turn around and send that girl sweeping up through the air and back against the wall so hard that her skull cracked; to see her face split open upon impact and watch the blood and the brain matter trickle out down her cheeks. I wanted to stand over her as she screamed and grind her face into the floor. I wanted to turn an arm back toward the rest of the class who had laughed with her – who had always laughed with her – and do it to them, too. I wanted to see them cower, to see them lose themselves in awe. I wanted them to cry and scream and beg for mercy.
But I also wanted to be right to withhold that mercy – I wanted my anger to be justified, to make sense, to be understandable. To mete out punishment that was as clear and unbiased as that from a goddess. I wanted them to love me, to be terrified of me, to want to be me. I wanted all of this even though I knew, already, that in a few years I would go to a different high school and meet other people and move on from this part of my life. I wanted all of this even as I gasped in my rage and pulled my chair back up to its regular position and heard the girl behind me right her own desk and chair, her laugh shaky and hard. I wanted all of this through the rest of that afternoon as I stared at my desk red-faced and hot.
I wanted all of this through the next day, and the next, and the day after that one and the week after that. Limping through the hallways, limping through my life.
I have not stopped wanting all this.
Eventually I moved on to high school. I met other friends; life was indeed different. I travelled and lived in different cities and had lovers and felt beautiful and many of the things I had wanted came true.
I still have not stopped wanting all this. These triumphs, these vindications.
I go back, and back, to that day. I still want them to love me, even though I know it isn’t worth it – even though I know, more importantly, that my anger and rage at the unfairness of it all is directly tied to the fairy-tale/superhero lens through which I was already, unconsciously, viewing the world. If my world was unfair, surely that meant that things would swing back around eventually. Surely events would put themselves to rights, surely I would get my happy ending, too, even if it took a little while – because isn’t that what happened in all of the stories I was told? Life could be unfair but the world itself was a fair place. Be good, do good work, and you would either be rewarded or find the strength within yourself to put your world to rights. That’s just how it went.
I didn’t fantasize, back then, about what the world might look like if it actually was fair, if there was no need for superheroes at all. I didn’t imagine what life might have been like in a world without bullying. I took it for granted that the bullying would come, because I walked differently and occupied a different space and the world I lived in told me that was what happened to bodies that were different. It seemed easier to imagine a world where I had magical powers than a world where different bodies just existed together side by side.
The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. In an article for nbc’s Think on the famous quote from Martin Luther King – a quote that was itself inspired by a sermon by the nineteenth-century clergyman Theodore Parker – writer Chris Hayes notes, ‘The claim expresses a specific kind of informed optimism, an eyes-wide-open faith in humanity. Obviously, there is evil and trial and tragedy and hatred all around us and yet good, ultimately, does prevail. In the same way you can’t tell the earth is round as you walk on it, the trajectory of history is imperceptible as we struggle through it; but rest assured its contours are there.’
What happens, though, when your eyes have never been wide open in the first place? If you are a disabled person whose life has been one sidelined narrative after another – the disfigured witch or the monster or the dwarf, the ill child as beatific sacrifice so that her parents might see God and better themselves – where is the moral arc of your own story?
The arc of the moral universe bends toward justice, but sometimes that arc takes a preposterously long time. And in the world we’ve built, it’s easier for us to imagine that only superheroes – or perhaps fairy godmothers — can bend the arc for us. Everything else just takes too long.
What might it have meant to me – at eight years old, at ten – to know, deep in my bones, that I didn’t have anything to prove to the classmates who told me that I walked funny, who sneered at the way I ambled through class? To understand that I wasn’t waiting to become a princess or a superhero or even waiting for an unconventional rescuer, but instead was not in need of rescuing at all because there was nothing wrong with my body?
What does it mean for me now, at thirty-seven, to understand that the world still sees my body in this different way? As a disabled woman, I am at once hyper-present and completely invisible. My limp can at times be mild, and so I can sink into the background – an undercover agent in the able-bodied world, which is a kind of superpower and disguise that doesn’t feel quite right, although it feels better than those long-ago days at school. My disabled body, bereft of both fairy godmothers and superhero change, is either an object of pity or an object of tender fascination, but rarely something other than that. We are sad Tiny Tims or we are everyday superheroes, inspiring those who can walk and run just fine with our inhuman strength in completing the impossible ordinary. Shopping in our wheelchairs, walking with our canes. Navigating the world with our guide dogs and scooters and other supports – augmentations that aren’t sexy like the claws that come racing out of Wolverine’s hands or the arc reactor in Ironman Tony Stark’s chest or the impossible body that gets to be Steve Rogers’s, but are nonetheless that we use to make ourselves be more.
Building a world that either accommodates these tools or makes it so the tools aren’t necessary in the first place (why the need for a body that can fight wars if you build a world where there are no wars?) is a particular kind of magic, it would seem. One that still eludes us all.
A little over two years ago, I walked to work at the hospital one day and felt, as I battled the wind, the familiar words that pound through my head on a regular basis, in rhythm to my lopsided, hurried gait.
You don’t walk like everybody else.
YOU DON’T WALK LIKE EVERYBODY ELSE.
It’s not unusual, this refrain. I think it every time I hear my footsteps on the ground. I hear it every time I catch my body passing by a window. And yet, for some reason, that day something changed.
It’s not that you don’t walk like everybody else, the little voice continued. It was my voice speaking something I had known all along.
It’s that no one else in the world walks like you.
Why did it take me thirty-five years to realize this? Something to do with the way we tell stories – something to do with how we understand the body in both its regular variety and in what we perceive as its superhuman form.
‘We are capable,’ writes Tobin Siebers, ‘of believing at once that the body does not matter and that it should be perfected.’ And so we fantasize about eradicating disability in the same way that we fantasize about superheroes and magic – taking it for granted that the different body is aberrant in the same way superheroes are aberrant, gifts though these differences may be; longing for an act through which we will individually restore the world because systemic overhaul is too grand an undertaking. We’re all for subverting stories until the subversion requires a change in the real world that involves work, at which point we fall back to our regular narratives and look to the one who’ll come to rescue us. We take it for granted that the world is flawed and in need of a Captain Marvel to save it; we take it for granted that the disabled body is a bug in the system and do not, instead, celebrate its difference as a feature.
But my walk, my legs, my body – I am, all of me, a feature. (We are, all of us, a feature.) I have no fairy godmother because I have no need of one. I am not waiting for an unconventional white knight to come crashing up a causeway to my castle because I have seen the castle and its darkest heart and nothing in it scares me anymore. I have no need of rescue. I want more than the stories that posit the strong as those who survive and protect the rest of us. I want stories where people are not applauded for embracing difference but instead reshape the world so that difference is the norm.
I have nothing to prove to the world because the world has everything to prove to me. It is the world’s responsibility to make space for my body, my words, my lopsided gait – our bodies, our words, our ways of moving through the world – to hold my childhood dreams of being a princess and a superhero close and help me understand that there is no need to want to be either. To start telling different stories about a body that might just look like mine, and reshaping the world to fit them.
I am already enough. There is no need to be more.
Amanda Leduc’s essays and stories have appeared in publications across Canada, the US, and the UK. She is the author of the novels The Miracles of Ordinary Men and the forthcoming The Centaur’s Wife. She has cerebral palsy and lives in Hamilton, Ontario, where she works as the Communications Coordinator for the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD), Canada’s first festival for diverse authors and stories.
To kick off National Poetry month in April, we turned to Paul Legault to share an excerpt and a reflection on a poem from his new collection, The Tower, for our Weekend Poetry series. Read on below for what he had to share!
“A Prayer for My Dog” is based on a W. B. Yeats poem titled “A Prayer for My Son”. Basically, the mystical Irish senator prays for a guardian angel to watch over his crying baby (so he can get some sleep). I don’t have a son, but in the great queer literary tradition (see: Gertrude Stein’s Basket) I have a dog.
Joseph and I got a puppy when we moved in together in Bushwick, right after Enlightened was cancelled, so we named her Laura Dern. What else do you need to know about this poem? In The Walking Dead, my favorite actor on the show, Danai Gurira, plays a katana-wielding badass. What else? There’s this beautiful W. S. Merwin poem called “Place” that starts “On the last day of the world / I would want to plant a tree.”
Love makes you think about the apocalypse, because it gives you this mission: protection, which is to say the protection of your loved ones against the worst thing that can happen. I wish there were guardians to protect everyone on the Earth. We’re in the midst of a pandemic. There is a climate crisis that threatens to kill millions more. Trees and we are in a bad position. It is easy to love animals. They just are. Us too.
Paul Legault is the author of The Madeleine Poems (Omnidawn, 2010), The Other Poems (Fence, 2011), The Emily Dickinson Reader: An English-to-English Translation of the Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson (McSweeney’s, 2012), Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror 2 (Fence, 2016), and Lunch Poems 2 (Spork, 2018). He also co-edited The Sonnets: Translating and Rewriting Shakespeare (Nightboat, 2012).
POP, by Simina Banu, delineates the intensities of a volatile relationship through a variety of lenses.The book invites the reader to journey both forward and backward in time, to retrace steps, solve word searches, and hold pages to the light.
Read on for a taste of POP and Simina’s thoughts on the poem ‘Critical Failure.’
POP began as a hodgepodge of short, fragmented pieces trying to capture moments of shifting emotions. In a sense, they were all failures. I attempted a variety of poetic forms searching for a structure that fit the feeling, but nothing quite got there. With time I realized that part of what was interesting was the failure itself—the varied, increasingly desperate attempts. Emotions could not be contained in the structure of a poetic form just as the relationship which had sparked them could not be contained and structured. It was this realization that led to the premise of the section titled ‘on separating from our poem.’
I’ve always been interested in the various rules and regulations of poetry: the sonnet, with its alternating moments of stress and unstress; the haiku, at once huge and tiny; the epic, with its mythical narrative arcs. I enjoy the way structure collaborates with the words themselves to create multiple layers of meaning. My favourite development, however, is when the poem breaks free. I am reminded of Phyllis Webb’s brilliant ‘Poetics Against the Angel of Death,’ where the speaker navigates—and escapes—all structural constraints to achieve a kind of liberty that is only emphasized by its formal demolition. I aimed toward a similar liberating energy in my work, to take a wrecking ball to past attempts at confinement and rebuild anew.
Simina Banu is a writer interested in interrogating her own experience with technology, consumerism, pop culture and the poetics of (un)translation. Her poetry has appeared in numerous journals, including filling Station, untethered, In/Words Magazine and the Feathertale Review. In 2015, words(on)pages press published her first chapbook, where art. Her second chapbook, Tomorrow, adagio, will be released in 2019 through above/ground press. POP is her first full length collection of poetry. She lives and writes in Montreal.
In slippery, exhilarating, and erudite prose, The Eyelid revels in the camaraderie of free thinking that can only happen on the lam, aiming to rescue a species that can no longer dream.
We couldn’t wait to ask S.D. Chrostowska a few questions about her new dystopian novel.
Q. What drew you to write this story?
A. Resistance to the warped values dominant in our society: the need to cut down on sleep to get ahead and stay ahead, the wish to be “on” 24/7, without downtime if possible, so as not to miss out. Also, the realization that, in a mere matter of decades, our relationship to the material world has fundamentally changed. Humanity pictures itself no longer the rational master of nature, but its nightmare. Humankind is a bad dream. And finally, it was the state of emergency in France and the “political warming” of Western societies. The verities of yesterday no longer comfort and the new conflicts don’t map onto classical ideologies. Many of us are groping in the dark. A fading horizon and social instability favour dreaming dangerously. I’ve come to the conclusion that dreamers, most of whom are neither closet revolutionaries nor terrorists, are our only hope.
Q. How is ‘daydreaming directly subversive’?
A. In daydreams, we often claim what reality denies us. We are happier, loved, rich, and famous. No matter how much we can buy to make ourselves happy, our need for happiness, expressed in daydreaming, is not satisfied. The imagination is basically creative. Felicity and optimism have become obligations because we are given the tools to fulfill them: consumer goods, media, pills. Our reveries are to some extent captive to this well-oiled system of gratification and self-fulfillment. They thrive on it. But they also subvert this order by their transgressive nature, their lawlessness, taking what in reality is not ours. Daydreams are not completely bound by the rules of existing society. They slip through its cracks. And if they are not, then they are the imagination’s placeholders for emancipation, mental spaces when we alter reality and can rehearse the good life, the promise of which the market has largely betrayed. The dreaming that interests me is social: dreaming of a better world for all, not just oneself. Social reverie is the imaginative “imperience” of collective freedom to the real experience of oppression.
Q. What would a state have to gain from eliminating sleep?
A. Lack of sleep dulls our mind, not just our reflexes. As we let down our guard, we become more available to production and consumption, and politically more docile. Work that is repetitive, mechanical is not too affected. Our choices as consumers are increasingly made for us by the internet anyway. Deprived of sleep, we not only become irritable, we also lose our ability to think and act rationally and critically. More complex mental operations suffer. Coffee and other stimulants might save the day for a while. Without them to compensate for sleep loss, waking life quickly becomes a confusing mess barely held together by routine and habits. Going through the motions, we resemble the autopilot machines we imagine taking over menial work for us so as to liberate our attention for being better consumers, well informed, more up to date, and trendier. The market and thus the state, which is not ideologically neutral, gain by having most brains run at less than their peak capacity while keeping us maximally occupied.
Until the economy makes inroads into our dreams, sleep remains a restorative withdrawal from the ceaseless solicitation which, for better or for worse, is an integral part of a global economic order that at the end of the day benefits very few. Asleep and dreaming, the affluent and the destitute might resemble each other. Their sleepless nights, however, could hardly be more different. A gulf separates the everyday worries keeping them awake at night. If sleep unites us, insomnia divides us.
In dream states we are free and suffer no lasting consequences. Human consciousness itself appears to be a kind of dream, an emergent property of the nervous system. Only let’s not fetishize dreams if it means closing our eyes to the miseries of reality. Dreaming is not a solipsistic refuge. But we must sleep on the problems with society before we can find solutions to them. And, to fix things, we need to be awake.
S.D. Chrostowska is Professor of Humanities and Social & Political Thought at York University, Toronto. She is the author of Literature on Trial: The Emergence of Critical Discourse in Germany, Poland, and Russia, 1700–1800 (2012); Permission: A Novel (2013); and Matches: A Light Book (2015, 2nd enlarged ed. 2019), and co-editor of Political Uses of Utopia: New Marxist, Anarchist, and Radical Democratic Perspectives (2017). Learn more about S.D. Chrostowska.
The Pine Islands, written by Marion Poschmann and translated by Jen Calleja shows how a bad dream leads to a strange poetic pilgrimage through Japan in this playful and profound Booker International-shortlisted novel.
Curious to read more? Get a taste of The Pine Islands through the excerpt below!
When the curtain went up the actor was already standing in the middle of the stage. He wore a floor-length brocaded robe with a wide cloth sash passed around his waist, an enormous bow tied at his back. The years behind the white make-up couldn’t be discerned from the back of the auditorium. Delicate features, red lips, a visage of consummate elegance. He held a fan in his hand, and when it began to stir Yosa gripped Gilbert’s arm and held on to it. Gilbert stiffened, looked past Yosa and attempted to watch the action on the stage. He made an extreme effort but was unable to determine that anything was happening at all. The actor moved at a snail’s pace, he turned around himself infinitely slowly, put his foot forwards once extremely cautiously, let the fan sink a tiny fraction. If it was supposed to be a dance it was the most tedious dance Gilbert had ever seen, no mean feat when dancing was overwhelmingly boring for the spectator in the first place. Mathilda had once coerced him into accompanying her to a ballet performance, and he swore to himself after the first ten minutes never to go again, in case of doubt he should undermine his good nature, be tough, say no, he tormented himself through the whole one and a half hours, fidgeted in his seat, sucked on boiled sweets and at least succeeded in making sure Mathilda never approached him with such a suggestion ever again. However, when he compared the European ballet with the Japanese kabuki dance, ballet was frankly thigh-slapping, popular, primitive entertainment. The kabuki dancer moved in millimetres, he required many minutes to open his fan even halfway, it was like watching an amoeba for entertainment, and Gilbert clawed his hand – the small, cool hand of the Japanese man clasped to it – into the armrest, and bored his fingernails into the velvet.
Suddenly the curtain fell. Gilbert had managed to grasp not the slightest narrative, no progression, but Yosa relaxed, drew back his hand and informed him that the first piece had come to an end. It had been a quarter of an hour at most, which had nevertheless felt like an infinite expanse of time. The Japanese audience members sitting around them unpacked picnics and consumed them without leaving the velvet seats. Yosa offered him a small, sweet, rubbery ball made of rice flour wrapped in a salty oak leaf. Gilbert ate the sweet, leant back in his seat, listened to the prattling, boisterous multitude, and in a single blow he was pervaded by the tense anticipation of the audience. The Crossroads of Illusions – this is how Bashō had felt as he bid farewell to his previous life and was resigned to the idea that he would hike 3,000 miles. The practice of hiking as a journey through life, meaning that one stands at the crossroads and is able to choose whether one goes or stays, whether one keeps dreaming the dream one is currently dreaming or exchanges it for a different one. And, according to the teaching of Buddhism, when measured against the eternal truth, one choice is as unreal as the other. Gilbert now waited for the curtain to rise again. He was ready to give up all resistance. But he primly put his hands in his lap so that Yosa was unable to touch him.
The actor was now wearing a white robe with a hood that completely covered his face. He also concealed himself behind a parasol, which he half closed, then opened again, put down in the scenery, then picked back up. It was snowing on the stage, the actor’s feet, wearing white, split-toed tabi socks, pushed through the sparse flakes, the stand where he kept placing the parasol was covered with paperboard depicting a snowdrift. The set emitted an altogether depressive atmosphere, and Gilbert wondered whether this performance was really the best thing for Yosa. He himself was now eagerly waiting for the actor to take off the hood and once more show his feminine features. The slow-motion effect, he now realised, solely served the intensifying of a quasi-sacred concentration. And, in fact, the hood did eventually fall back. Gilbert clenched his hands together, eventually the white robe fell and unveiled flame-red brocade, there were multiple costume changes without a pause in the dancing, indeed two dark figures scurried around on the stage who, in their dark clothing, weren’t really there at all, and who, behind the slowly rotating parasol, released the actor of the sashes, the belts, ripped the upper layers of material from his body, and he burst out from behind the parasol in completely new garments. To Gilbert’s astonishment the costume changes took place in a matter of seconds, a real metamorphosis which called for an extraordinary amount of dexterity on behalf of the helpers, and enormous agility on the part of the dancer. His respect for the performance grew, because this finesse was also manifested in the gentle, slow-motion movements. He wasn’t entirely sure whether the woman on stage, whose intricate gestures he had grown to admire, should be the one he fell in love with or actually the man enacting this extraordinary control of his body, or whether he didn’t much more wish to be this lithesome actor himself, or, more specifically, to possess his exceptionally stunning beauty. Gilbert furtively tried to hold his own hand in such a perfectly graceful way in the dark auditorium, the way the dancer demonstrated, so utterly enticing, so convincingly feminine, which no woman on this planet would have been able to accomplish. Dear Mathilda, he formulated in the silence, it was an ambivalence that no one could match up to. No one at any rate who was real and alive.
Continue reading by purchasing a copy of The Pine Islandshere!
Marion Poschmann was born in Essen in 1969. Recognized as one of Germany’s foremost poets and novelists, she has won both of Germany’s premier poetry prizes. She is the author of four novels, the last three of which have been nominated for the German Book Prize, and she won the prestigious Wilhelm Raabe Literature Prize in 2013. The Pine Islands is her first novel to be translated into English. Learn more about Marion.
Jen Calleja is a writer, musician, and literary translator. She has translated works by Wim Wenders, Gregor Hens, Kerstin Hensel, and Michelle Steinbeck, and her translations have been featured in The New Yorker and The White Review, among others. She was the inaugural Translator in Residence at the British Library, and her reviews, articles, interviews, and essays have appeared in the Times Literary Supplement, Modern Poetry in Translation, Brixton Review of Books, New Books in German, and elsewhere. Her first poetry collection, Serious Justice, was published by Test Centre in 2016. Visit her website and follow her on Twitter.