In Closer, journalist Sarah Barmakuses a blend of reportage, interview and first-person reflection to explore the cutting-edge science and grassroots cultural trends that are getting us closer to the truth of women’s sexuality. Closer reveals how women are reshaping their sexuality today in wild, irrepressible ways: nude meetings, how-to apps, trans-friendly porn, therapeutic vulva massage, hour-long orgasms and public clit-rubbing demonstrations – and redefining female sexuality on its own terms.
Discover Closer through the excerpt below and read the author’s thoughts on the passage.
The women in the room don’t come from especially repressive households. For the most part, they hail from Toronto, Etobicoke, Guelph – in a province governed by a lesbian premier, surely among the most progressive places in the world for girls to grow up. Some have suffered trauma and molestation, but not all. What they share is a secret. This special thing that is supposed to happen in the bodies of ‘normal’ women – ideally in a shower of stars and rainbows and wow – refuses to happen, and they don’t know why. Some can’t touch themselves. Some won’t let anyone perform oral sex on them because they think their privates are ‘weird’ and ‘dirty.’ A couple of them have ‘gotten there’ – but only if their partners aren’t in the room.
There is no pill they can take, no doctor they can see. The secret compounds with age: the older they get, the more some figure they should just let the whole thing go. To some, too, it feels self-indulgent to even complain about such a thing. What’s an orgasm, anyway? Just a momentary pop that disappears as soon as it’s begun. It’s not a real problem. Yet all these busy, seemingly practical women are here.
‘I am afraid to have an orgasm,’ says Denise. She leans forward, her bangs hanging over reddened eyes. ‘I’m afraid of losing control … I think I’ve come close, maybe. But I stop myself, because I’m afraid.’
‘Yup. Anybody else?’ asks Jansen.
Hands go up around the room.
A half-century ago, the story goes, there was a sexual revolution. Skirts got shorter, rock ’n’ roll got louder and sexuality was freed from its chains. We could pinpoint the exact moment, if we like, to 1956, when Elvis Presley caused a ruckus by gyrating his pelvis on black-and-white television: his hip-thrusting was so dangerous that the cameramen on The Ed Sullivan Show were instructed to film him from the waist up. Or maybe the revolution really happened in the sixties, when the birth-control pill was approved in the U.S. (and eventually Canada), permanently disentangling the act of intercourse from its most common hazard – pregnancy. In theory, it freed millions of women to do the thing men had always felt free to do.
From that decade onward, human sexuality was set loose to do its freaky, funky thing. Freudian psychology and the collective hormones of young baby boomers combined to liberate sex from the repressive jail it had been held in throughout history. It was all Ursula Andress in a wet bikini on the beach and copies of Playboy in the dentist’s office and Alfred Kinsey and Woody Allen telling us everything about which we were once, but no longer, afraid to ask.
Cut to a couple generations later, and our modern world is pure sex. Images of graphic coupling (or tripleting, or quintupling) are instantly available at the touch of a smartphone. The average music video has more high-definition close-ups of glistening, naked glutes than porn had in the seventies. Indeed, porn has become our mainstream aesthetic. Our ideal body is one that is sculpted, tanned and hairless – ready for nudity at a moment’s notice, as if a tripod, some Klieg lights and a mustachioed director are always lurking around the next corner. In other words, the world couldn’t get any more liberated than it already is, and if it could, one wouldn’t want it to.
Reality, however, is more complicated. Although we appear liberated on the surface – our clothing, our language and our media are more explicit than ever before – many of us feel overwhelmed, struggling to make space for our individual sexuality among so many idealized images. And if the person you ask is a woman, it may not be clear what the sexual revolution did for her.
When I began researching the differences between female and male sexuality for the book that would become Closer, I started by trying to understand why so many women have difficulties with orgasm, while most men barely have to try (many men have to try not to!). It’s an obvious point of difference. Trying to get at its root wasn’t going to be easy. But it was little more than a fascinating biological and social conundrum. It was a curiosity to bring up at a dinner party. It was only when I walked into the workshop/support group for women who have never, ever experienced an orgasm before, which was held at the women, non-binary and LGBT-friendly sex shop Good For Her, that I knew this was also a story: it had real people, emotion and consequences. The problem ran deeper, into personal trauma and deeply held belief systems. Yet those who suffered from it rarely talked about it. The day I came home from that workshop was when I realized that this book wasn’t just a curiosity — it was important. By beginning the book with that scene, I hoped that readers who might be skeptical that orgasms were worth a whole book would immediately see that there is genuine suffering there, and paradox. And that some who might relate to those women would appreciate seeing it represented.
The Crash Palace is a funny, moving, and surprising novel by the author of the Amazon First Novel Award–nominated The Milk Chicken Bomb. Audrey is unlike any character you’ve met before, and you’ll love being along for the ride.
Audrey Lane has always loved to drive. Anytime, anywhere, any car: a questionable rustbucket, a family sedan, the SUV she was paid to drive around the oil fields. From the second she learned to drive, she’s always found a way to hit the road.
And now, one night, while her young daughter is asleep at home, Audrey is struck by that old urge and finds herself testing the doors of parked cars in her neighbourhood. Before she knows it, she’s headed north in the dead of winter to the now abandoned Crash Palace in a stolen car, unable to stop herself from confronting her past.
In the middle of NonFiction week we wanted to sneak in a preview of Andrew’s much awaited forthcoming novel. So read on and meet Audrey for yourself in the following excerpt and enjoy Andrew’s thoughts on the passage.
She followed a washboard gravel road up and down a ridge of hills. A long line of parked vehicles ran up the edge of the road. She parked at the end and got out. Old pick-up trucks, little hatchbacks, old station wagons with ski racks. After a while she started passing orange trafﬁc pylons. She smelled grilling meat.
In a gravel parking lot, people in orange vests stood around a propane BBQ. A man in a cowboy hat was grilling burgers. Audrey saw a knot of people standing up at the top of a little ridge above them.
She hiked up through the brush. People were standing behind a line of orange ﬂuorescent tape, in a clearing between pine trees. Just past them was a stretch of gravel road. An S-curve switchback, a short straight- away, and then a ﬁnal curve before disappearing back into the woods. The gravel was brown and fresh, deep and scored with tire-marks.
She stood in the small crowd and was going to ask someone when she heard the engine.
She heard the engine and the conversation died down. Everyone stood quietly and then the car came around the corner. Taking the curve hard, back end drifting out in the soft gravel, kicking up a great cloud of dust. The driver shifted down through the S-curve, then revved up to pick up speed through the straightaway. Came close enough that Audrey could see the two of them in the car: two motorcycle helmets, a driver and a passenger, their heads bobbing back and forth through the curves. The car roared past, picking up speed, a Japanese sport sedan with a big spoiler, bright blue, the windshield, doors, hood, fenders all covered in stickers. It roared past and everyone cheered and they heard it shift again for the last curve and then it was gone, around the corner into the trees, the engine noise fading.
The cars came one after the other, a few minutes apart. All of them tackling the S-curve and then the short straightaway before the tight turn disappearing into the trees. Each of them a little different. They at- tacked the ﬁrst curve aggressively or cautiously. They didn’t all drift out on the ﬁrst curve. She saw them pick different spots to shift and rev.
The cars, the Subarus and Hondas and Ford Fiestas, got close enough each time for Audrey to catch a quick glimpse of the drivers and co- drivers in their matching helmets.
She watched twenty cars go by and at a certain point started cheering with the rest of the crowd. Cheered when the cars came into the curve, when they came by close enough to see the helmets, when they sped up through the straightaway and then disappeared around the other curve.
A big man in a denim jacket turned around and beamed at her. ‘That was a good day of racing,’ he said.
‘Yeah,’ said Audrey. ‘Absolutely.’
I grew up outside of Okotoks, Alberta, which is just inside the first rises of the Rocky Mountain Foothills. East of you is flat prairie and west are the higher and higher foothills. There’s a network of roads through those western hills—not a grid but a series of meandering routes that twist along the contours of the valleys and coulees between Highway 549 and Kananaskis Country. When I was a teenager I had a 1985 Dodge Ram with a second-hand stereo duct-taped to the pull-out ashtray. I’d put on a cassette and drive west into that maze of roads and see where I could end up that I’d never been before.
As an adult living in Calgary I didn’t drive for years. I missed it tremendously. I loved getting other people to tell stories about driving when they were younger. I had a friend who’d bought and sold $50 junk heaps throughout high school and I had a friend who’d been a crew driver in the Oil Sands.
Eventually I started driving again and I even moved out of the city back to Okotoks. I spend a lot of time driving now, although most of it is commuting slowly up and down Deerfoot trail, which is not as exciting as turning off onto an unknown gravel road somewhere southwest of Bragg Creek.
The parking spot next to mine at work belongs to a software developer named Eric. Eric drives two cars—a heavily-modded Japanese hatchback and an even more customized left-hand drive race car. Both of them are covered in decals and in immaculate condition. After work he’ll often be down there tinkering with something. I was talking with Eric one day and he told me about the different racing clubs he’s part of—his drifting club and his rally club. And that conversation—helped out by some of the rally club websites he recommended to me—became a key piece of the puzzle for Audrey, and turned into the Elbow Falls Rally Race.
Andrew Wedderburn is a writer and musician from Okotoks, Alberta. He graduated from the University of Calgary in 2001. His stories have been published by filling Station and Alberta Views Magazines . His debut novel, The Milk Chicken Bomb, was published by Coach House Books in 2007. In 2008 it was a finalist for the Amazon / Books in Canada First Novel Award, and long-listed for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. As a musician and songwriter Wedderburn has written, recorded and toured extensively in the groups Hot Little Rocket and Night Committee, releasing seven full-length albums over the last two decades. Andrew Wedderburn currently resides in Okotoks, AB.
Fairy tales shape how we see the world, so what happens when you identify more with the Beast than Beauty?
If every disabled character is mocked and mistreated, how does the Beast ever imagine a happily-ever-after? Amanda Leduc looks 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.
Discover Disfigured through the excerpt below, followed by Amanda’s thoughts on the passage.
Years after I first saw the Disney film, I read the Hans Christian Anderson version of ‘The Little Mermaid.’ Now, all these years later, I find myself focused on this image: the mermaid, mute and heartbroken, arcing that one long dive into the sea. She has been mutilated in a number of ways: her tail and tongue taken from her, her ability to connect with others stolen from her as a result of the witch’s machinations. She has no hope of convincing the prince in this story, bedazzled as he is by the beauty and charm of his new bride. She is made, by virtue of her disability, less than what he might desire.
How should we take this, in this world of modern-day story- telling? Perhaps it’s unrealistic to think that a different outcome could have visited this story, especially given the era of its provenance. (The rudimentary beginnings of European sign language were just entering infancy during Andersen’s time.)
Still. Surely the Little Mermaid and her prince could have learned sign language, of a kind, or communicated through gestures? Did no one in the palace think to teach the ‘little dumb foundling’ how to read and write? In the Disney version, Ariel physically signs a contract with Ursula in order to give up her voice. Couldn’t she have written Prince Eric a note?
But fairy tales have historically been concerned with morals – and historically, morals have concerned themselves in a very particular way with the disabled. Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid, as we’ve seen, is one of those people who might never reach the top of the social ladder, no matter how much they try. (The glimmer of hope at the end of ‘The Little Mermaid’ seems to me so faint as to not be a glimmer at all.) Disney’s Ariel, by contrast, not only manages to regain her voice; her other disability – the immobility afforded by a mermaid’s tail on land – is eradicated by her version’s happy ending. At the end of the Disney version, Ariel has legs, her voice, and her prince. The original mermaid, by contrast, dies with none of those things.
So, suddenly we have two versions of the tale: one in which the disability is vanished and the abled body reigns supreme, and another in which the disability is permanent and leads to grief and suffering. Where is the space for disability as a simple fact of life in a scenario like this? If Ariel couldn’t hope to get her prince when she didn’t have legs and/or a voice, what hope could a disabled girl like myself have for a life that was free of torment and bullying unless she was free of a limp and had all of her faculties intact?
In this excerpt from my book, Disfigured, I’m exploring what it meant to me to become acquainted with the Hans Christian Andersen version of ‘The Little Mermaid’, after having grown up on the Disney version. Specifically, I’m looking at the ways in which the Andersen tale highlights so many things about the disability experience without ever explicitly treating TLM as a disability story—the Little Mermaid is made to suffer, and undergo trial through virtue of experiencing disability, in order that she might one day shed her mermaid’s tail for good and walk permanently on land as a human.
So many of the narratives that we tell in our fairy tales, Hollywood stories, and other mainstream media follow this same kind of structure, where people are made to experience disability as a kind of “flaw” in their character or as a kind of punishment. And often, the only way that we’re made to understand someone’s triumph in a story is through eradicating the disability in some way. In the case of the Disney version of the Little Mermaid, Ariel gives up her life at sea—her family, her friends, and all she’s ever known—in order that she might be a human, that she might walk on two legs. In the Hans Christian Andersen story, she gives up her very life itself in order to protect the human man she’s come to love. The understanding in the Andersen tale is that she is broken because she is disabled and can’t speak. In both stories, even though they have very different endings, it’s taken for granted that the Little Mermaid cannot have what she wants with the body that she has—she must change in some crucial way in order to get her happy ending.
When people read my book, I’d like them to think about the ways in which we often ask characters to do or say or fit into impossible ideals in order to achieve their happy endings. All too often, we associate a happy ending with a certain degree of physical prowess—someone is pretty, or walks on two legs, or doesn’t have the kind of “difficulty” in their life that we often associate with disability—because we assume that a difficult life is somehow not worth living, or not worth as much happiness as a life that is free of these complications. But what does it mean when we re-imagine what a happy ending might look like? What happens when we read and tell stories and understand that happy endings and happy lives are not made less so because of complications—but that, instead, a story becomes all the richer for the specific disabled joys that might live inside it?
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 Menand 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.
In Curry,Naben Ruthnum grapples with novels, recipes, travelogues, pop culture, and his own upbringing and depicts how the distinctive taste of curry has often become maladroit shorthand for brown identity. Curry is a dish that doesn’t quite exist, but, as this wildly funny and sharp essay points out, a dish that doesn’t properly exist can have infinite, equally authentic variations.
Get a taste of Curry in the following excerpt, and read Naben’s thoughts on the passage below.
The second curry of note I’ll mention is Homecoming Shrimp Curry, which has become the staple meal I associate with Christmas in the Ruthnum household. It’s shouldered aside kleftiko and a Persian fish dish with a walnut stuffing as the go-to son-pleaser for my annual returns home, and my parents like it just as much as I do. It’s a deep greenish-brown, a shade you don’t often see in Indian restaurants outside of perhaps a saag: while Westerners may like brown food, they don’t like it to actually be brown. The sauce has a density earned by its ingredients and process: Mom makes the masala with large, motherfuckering onion chunks that would be the star of the dish if the sauce didn’t take a midmorning whirl through the food processor before being returned to the pan. The huge shrimp, decanted frozen into a colander from a frozen bag, like chilled practical effects from a 1980s alien-invasion movie before the sauce catches up to them and they’re subsumed into the curry, white and pink peaks in the murky simmer.
Time and varying heat are key to this dish’s success, a daylong process of heating, settling, cooling, and boiling whose alchemy seems beyond science. That’s often part of curry narra- tives, too: the ineffable, inexplicable Eastern magic performed on electric Western stoves. Top British chef Heston Blumenthal, on his television show In Search of Perfection, where he sought to make perfected versions of classic dishes such as hamburger and steak by seeking out their ur-versions and distilling histor- ically successful processes into a measured, modern method, had scientists do a study on the use of yogourt in the marinade for chicken cooked in a tandoor for his tikka masala episode.
While it was proven that yogourt vastly aided the marinade’s absorption, they couldn’t figure out why. It just did. While this made for an irresistible y[ moment, and I don’t doubt Mr. Blumenthal’s standards or the BBC’s scientist-hiring resources, it strikes me as odd that what seems like a simple matter of chemistry and biology should be insoluble.
There’s no magic or formula involved in the time and heat factors of Homecoming Shrimp Curry, but there is particularity. As in many immigrant households, one of my parents prepared food in the morning and reheated it throughout the day, the knobs on the stove and eventually the button on the microwave enduring twists and pokes as mealtimes came around. In the case of this curry, the multiple simmerings are what elevate it to Christmas dinner and my first off-the-plane meal. The basics are simple, and as I can’t think of a good reason not to include the recipe, I’ll give it to you. Here’s a direct paste of the email that Mom sent me so I could botch the making of the dish:
I called to inquire about the accuracy of this recipe, and it turns out my recall was wrong: Mom does food-process the onions before the cooking starts, not after. The pureeing-of- the-completed-sauce thing comes, I realize, from a Gordon Ramsay chicken tikka masala recipe I used to make all the time when I lived in Montreal, with a roommate who had a Cuisinart. Mom also leaves out the bit about time lapses and reheating throughout the day, but that’s hard to quantify on the page. I don’t follow the turmeric-fry step of the recipe-seems to me that the shrimp cook so fast, they should do it in the gravy where they belong. Then again, my dish somehow isn’t a patch to Mom’s: this is a trope, yes, but it remains true here – I know I can fix it if I master the timing.
There are some moments in this recipe that an Indian- cuisine purist would find harrowing. For example, the ‘fish curry powder from Superstore.’ At the popular food blog Foodàó, Bay Area food writer Annada Rathi rails against these concoctions: ‘That’s when I feel like screaming from the rooftops, “Curry is not Indian!”; “Curry powder is not Indian!”; and “You will not find curry powder in Indian kitchens!”’ She’s certainly been in more kitchens in India than the zero I’ve entered, so I’ll take her word, but I’ll tell you this: every dias- poric kitchen I’ve opened cupboards in contains curry powder, even if it is a home blend of dry spices tipped into an old Patak’s screw-on glass jar. Rathi isn’t a hardliner – she goes on to note that ‘in the course of this article, it has dawned on me that “curry” is the most ambiguous and therefore the most flexible word, a broad term that conveys the idea of cooked, spiced, saucy or dry, vegetable, meat, or vegetable and meat dish in the most appropriate manner available.’ The spectacular imprecision of the term speaks to its ability to encompass centuries of food history, cooking, misinterpretation, and rein- vention: it’s truly the diasporic meal, even when it stays at home. Curry is only definably Indian because India is a country that has the world in it.
There is a truth to the tropes of cooking and homeland and curry, but it can’t possibly contain the entire truth: the overlaps in this conversation between writers like Lahiri, Koul, and me are vast, covering our relationships to our parents and a land we barely know compared to the countries where we wake up every day. In the details, the distinct efforts to set personal experience apart – my insistence that Mom has no kitchen secrets and that cooking was never meant to be a key to the exotic but a passage to adulthood, Koul’s universal reflections on whether there is a point when one ever stops needing one’s mom, Lahiri’s foray into cookbook learning – are there, but I wonder if they are present for readers who are drawn to and receive these pieces. Are the brown, diasporic readers looking for commiseration? And are the non-brown ones looking for an exotic, nostalgic tour of a foreigner’s unknowable kitchen? The short answer, I believe, is yep.
This recipe comes at the end of a section of Curry where I discuss the homeland-authentic-magic of the cooking of brown mothers, in reality and in writing. I recall having a tough time with this part, in that I was pointing to a repetitive trope that I found confining, but with the awareness that I was also talking about the lived truth of many diasporic eaters and writers.
That’s why I chose to discuss a curry that had a particular significance to the patterns of my life and to my literal homecomings–home for me being not India, not Mauritius, but rather unexciting Kelowna, B.C. The recipe, pasted verbatim from an email of my mother’s, gave me a chance to talk about curry powder, which is commonly targeted in food writing as being inauthentic and something that no real Indian would ever use. If that’s true, then my family is even further from India than time and geography would suggest, and I’m fine with that. The movements of diaspora and food culture, and the different labels that are appended to spice mixtures ground in Indian factories to be placed on Western grocery shelves are more interesting to me than enacting an authenticity that may have little to do with me, a Mauritian-Canadian whose family cooked with what we could access.
There is an accidental mother’s-magic-trope in here that I’m embarrassed to have missed at every stage of publication, except when I was asked to excerpt this recipe section for a magazine: Mom didn’t include any amounts next to the ingredients. This is a recipe you have to freehand and make several times before you can get it exactly right.
Naben Ruthnum won the Journey Prize for his short fiction, has been a National Post books columnist, and has written books and cultural criticism for the Globe and Mail, Hazlitt, and the Walrus. His crime fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and Joyland, and his pseudonym Nathan Ripley’s first novel appeared in 2018. Ruthnum lives in Toronto.
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.