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Summer everlasting

Reflections on time and its flashes

Summer everlasting

On my last night at home, walking up the street with my sisters, I felt the air turn. It rained earlier that day; the storm drains were thick with bloated apples and poached leaves. In this way, the end-of-summer shift came and then it stuck. 

For the past few days I’ve acted like an idiot, going up to people and saying, ‘It’s all over, I can’t believe it, I blinked and it was gone!’ But I mean it every time. Summer ends and everyone fakes bemusement. We love to tell each other about it, commiserate, look at each other and throw up our hands: how did this happen! How did we let it happen, again?

In early August my family drove over to Prince Edward Island, as we’ve done for over a decade, where we prostrate ourselves under the red sun and eat shellfish. I wrote in my journal every day, sitting on the beach. I recorded minutia: woke up (okay sleep), made coffee (bitter), went swimming (cold but no jellyfish), ate peaches (ripe). When I read the entries now, sitting on my bed in Toronto, I can close my eyes and feel it — the security of a routine with only good steps, the sanctity of unconditional time. But then I’m back in my apartment, my roommates are playing Red Dead Redemption 2 in the living room, it falls away again. 

I stayed at a friend’s cottage for a few cold days in June. It sits on a Québec lake, rimmed with pine trees and rich liberals’ summer homes. We sat on the screened-in porch every evening, candles melting down to the table, bugs humming dumbly beyond the light. For dinner, we made zucchini peeled off into long, aquatic strands; corn, peaches, and cheese tossed in a wide bowl; and fresh pasta inlaid with tiny tomatoes and showered with green herbs. I ate it all and hardly felt fat after. Drunk in a wicker chair, I remember thinking: if I have kids, they won’t have this. 

Last December I applied for an academic excursion to Germany, when my hair was still falling out and my life felt very narrow. In May, I sat on a plane beside strangers and woke up in Frankfurt. We went to learn, so I listened in community centres, felt engravings on synagogue walls, and walked with eyes up. We ate Friday dinner at a Chabad house and I listened to the Rabbi’s daughter speak five languages through her tiny mouth. Then everyone got drunk and we struggled home. Was that me? Walking around Berlin with wet feet?

This July I turned 21. I went to Halifax to see my friends from high school: a splintery group of girls-now-women with boyfriends and jobs and vague plans. They live in lofty student houses that make my Chinatown bedroom seem small and mean in comparison. The heat slouched over us all weekend, so we slept with the windows open. Everyone goes to the same bars in that city, where unwashed girls in barrettes sit pressed up against one another in booths, eyes blurry. I see myself there: opening birthday presents beside a lake, wearing a bathing suit in the backseat of an ancient Volvo, flinging myself into people I love… somehow it happened and then didn’t. 

Walking around the neighbourhood I grew up in feels like pulling weeds from a vegetable garden. One pull: this is the store where someone, who in joyful delusion I loved, works. Another: this is the church where, in a white dress, I took first communion. The minutes all roll together and over themselves. I look up and the sun’s moved, look down to more green. Time isn’t graceful but nor is it cruel; it’s an endless, uncaring unfolding. Is 21 too young to feel swept up? 

I spent my last June and July in Israel, trying to learn Arabic. My dorm room had metal shutters and a special area with a blast-proof door. On Saturdays I walked to East Jerusalem, where the shops stayed open, and I drank orange juice in cafés cornered by electric fans. I took a bus to Bethlehem and felt despair eat into my feet, my breastbone, my hips. If you stood in the right place, the horizon never ended — but if you stood in the wrong place, it never started. All I saw everyday was the same beige-brown landscape over and over. Looking at it made me panic. The heat made me panic. I stopped eating and started running. I changed my flight, I left early, I still dream about it. 

When I got back from Israel last August, I spent most of my time on my mom’s front porch. I drank wine out of plastic Ikea cups and slept during the afternoons, curled up on a tiny chair like a dog. I tried to wash it all off me, spread out my hair and pick out the rotting strands. My skin, tanned and freckled from the desert, flaked off. And my hair did eventually fall out that winter anyway, from what my doctor called a “latent trauma response,” what my hairdresser called “too much bleach,” and what my mom called “well, what do you expect?” But everything else stuck. 

It’s tempting to put bookends on things, keep the unruly standing straight, etc. While I know anyone can turn a few flashing moments into a line, forcing teleology onto my life doesn’t make me feel more secure about it. Did May lead to June? Did Frankfurt lead to Summerside? Masada to Tel Aviv? Try all you want, but I’m not believing it, Bibi, baby! 

So this is all I can say of the past four months: I spent a lot of time in my underwear, I felt devout joy and divine sadness, I would not do it over, but I know I will live it again. 

Summer’s nearly here — let’s look for love!

Let’s talk about sex for the last time this school year

Summer’s nearly here — let’s look for love!

People talk about getting to the various ‘bases’ of sexual interaction as if just anyone could waltz onto the field and pick up a bat. Chuck the ball, go the whole nine yards or so. But not everyone’s a star pitcher or batter — they may not even have tickets to the game. No — some of us need directions to even find the stadium.

If you’re like me, someone whose experience in the field begins and ends on the screen, at best you’ve watched a game or two in your free time. Maybe even watched a few plays before bed — or, let’s be honest, more than a few if you’re feeling festive.

Either way, there’s a solid chance, even from an outsider’s perspective, that despite lacking experience, you do know how the game works, whether you believe it or not.

See, everyone exists as a node in a network that connects each of our intricate relationships with one another. But certain relationships, because of pesky human society, become something beyond just another connection — they become a symbol, an image.

Virginity, marriage, and even the idea of being exclusively committed to another human being exist simultaneously for ourselves and for others. And as if we were chefs looking for seasoning in the pantry, the keen of us might look at this and say, “Ay, there’s the rub.”

That’s the crux of the issue with not getting into relationships: thinking you can’t play the game. Putting up walls, relying only on yourself, overly depending on a partner — they are all symptoms of attachment to a prescribed image.

I would wager that a significant part of feeling apprehensive about relationships is not your fault in the slightest. Because in most cases, a truly good, and dare I say, healthy relationship, romantic or not, begins with believing that you’re worthy of one. Not in fitting some image of what a relationship ‘should’ be.

And I’ve found that the moment you realize this, you start giving yourself opportunities to get in base and give it the ol’ college try. You play the game at your own pace, in your own league.

In the end, who cares what the professionals do?

It only matters what you do.

This new year, resolve yourself to get into a game or two. And if you’re scared, just know, dear reader, that I’m in the same boat, striking out more than I’d like to admit.

So come take a few practice shots with me. Slap on the equipment even if it doesn’t fit perfectly. Probably lose a few here and there, but eh, who’s counting? Play your cards right, and kid, you might just hit it out of the park without ever having touched a damn base.

My career-ending injury

How I — sort of — cope with being forced to quit the sport I love

My career-ending injury

Think of your favourite thing, the thing that you love most in the world, that you look forward to every day, and that makes you feel like the best version of yourself. Now, think of what would happen if you were told that you could never do that thing again. Ever. How would you feel? 

I used to be a varsity athlete — I’m still getting used to saying that. 

I was a fourth-year field hockey player and captain of the Varsity Blues field hockey team. I was also a member of the Canadian National Indoor Field Hockey Team. Everything I did in my life revolved around field hockey: when I slept, what I ate, when I studied, and who I spent my time with. All of that changed, though, following a 2018 preseason match, when an elbow smacked my skull and I suffered my fourth concussion. 

Nobody thought it was serious. My prognosis was that I’d be back on the field in a month or less. However, dark-room recovery days turned into weeks, which turned into months. Before I knew it, the 2018 field hockey season had ended without me ever stepping on the field and a month later, I had finished my fall semester the same way I had started it — with a headache. This concussion was serious.

I had spent the fall contemplating my future with field hockey. I always figured that I’d recover, even if it wasn’t as quickly as I wanted, and eventually return to play. My plan was shattered during a routine doctor’s appointment this January. I sat frozen as my doctor repeated, “You can’t play field hockey anymore.” 

I don’t remember much about that appointment or the days that followed. I was numb. Conflicting emotions of relief and misery clouded my consciousness. I felt free without the burden of field hockey but I was also gutted because my life as an athlete — the primary way in which I had defined myself since I started playing competitive ice hockey in third grade — was over. 

My life was irreversibly changed, but I wasn’t ready to accept it. At first, I didn’t tell anyone the doctor’s verdict — not even my parents. Whenever I ran into someone I knew, I would pretend that everything was fine and that I’d be back to field hockey soon.

Then I got anxious. I had to tell my coaches, my teammates, then eventually, everyone who knew me as ‘Julia, the field hockey player’ that I couldn’t play anymore. Informing my team was the hardest. I knew the concussion wasn’t my fault and that I couldn’t do anything to change my situation, but something about writing my retirement email made me feel selfish. Was I letting my team down?

After quitting the team, I completely removed myself from all things field hockey. My wound was too fresh and I knew that any reference to field hockey would send tears streaming down my cheeks. During those weeks, I felt the void that field hockey left behind — I had free time and no way to fill it. Sometimes I’d break down. One night I dreamt that I was sprinting down the field, and when I startled awake in the middle of the night, I realized that my dream was as close as I’d get to the real thing ever again. Another night, I found myself deep down an internet rabbit hole of concussion horror stories and I panicked thinking that my symptoms might be permanent. I cried myself to sleep. 

It’s been three months since I was told that I’d never play field hockey again and I still struggle to navigate the awkward in-between condition of remaining an athlete on the inside while adopting the lifestyle of a non-athlete. Sometimes, talking about field hockey is too hard, but that doesn’t mean I never want to talk about it. 

As I write this, half my team crowds my living room. I chatted with them for a while, but they’re preparing for an upcoming tournament and since I’m not on the team anymore, I feel uncomfortable participating. There’s no handbook on how to do this. All I can do is what feels best each day. Sometimes that means being around field hockey, but sometimes it means pretending I never played at all. 

More than anything, this experience has been extremely isolating. My team, my community, and my home were ripped away from me in what felt like an instant. I was alone. 

I know that other athletes go through this, but I don’t know any personally. I couldn’t shake the feeling that nobody understood what I was going through. Everyone reassured me that I was doing the right thing — easy for them to say — but I struggled to believe them. How could quitting field hockey possibly be the best thing for me?

I think it’s the “never” part of the doctor’s verdict that frustrates me most. I have more free time than I’ve ever had, but I’d give it all up to play in one more game, one more practice, or even one more drill. I spend a lot of time scrutinizing the decisions I made throughout my injury, torturing myself over the ‘what-ifs’ and trying to come up with a scenario where this all didn’t happen. I wonder about what the rest of my field hockey career would have looked like, but since everything I had hoped to achieve is now certifiably impossible, I often feel like my inability to achieve my goals diminishes the success I did have throughout my athletic career. It makes no sense, but sometimes, that’s just how I feel. 

Having said all this, I still struggle with concussion symptoms every day. Even though it feels like the end of the world now, I know picking my stick back up would mean risking lifelong damage. That doesn’t make it any easier. I have no future plans to play and maybe that’s a good thing. 

Before my injury, I had planned to play my fifth season for the Varsity Blues and then continue to train with the Canadian Indoor National Team to qualify for the next FIH World Cup. All I know now is that I have to return to school to complete my undergrad next fall. Maybe by then, I’ll figure something out, or not. We’ll see. 

My field hockey career may be over, but the rest of my life is just getting started.

How to put your life together in seven easy steps

Shine, thrive, and be your best self

How to put your life together in seven easy steps

On several occasions I have been called out for doing “the most” when it comes to school. I take a full course load and I am involved in extracurriculars and volunteer activities while somehow managing to have friends, get a full eight hours of sleep every night, and maintain a 4.0 GPA. Sounds impossible, right? Fear not, you too can have it all — it only takes hard work and seven simple steps.

1. Overthink everything. Break down every idea you have until you hate it and move on to the next until you have exhausted all other options and go back to your original idea.

2. Make time for a weekly existential crisis. What is all of this for? Is U of T worth it? Should I have gone to Ryerson? Will I need to cure cancer to get into grad school? Should I join another club to make it look like I’m a well-balanced student even though I’m already on the brink of collapse? Probably.

3. Make coffee one of your main food groups. My preferred type of coffee is iced regardless of the weather, since it wakes you up and gets you ready to go instead of making you want to curl up into a ball. Also, something about coming to class every day with an overpriced cup of iced coffee just gives off a Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada vibe.

4. Live at the library. I really have brought a blanket to Robarts before. I genuinely don’t understand people who study at home — I still think this is a myth. Surround yourself in the monstrosity that is Robarts Library, with its grim interior and fluorescent lights — it’s just awful enough to make you work extra hard so you can leave as fast as you can instead of watching pointless BuzzFeed videos all day.

5. Learn the art of making lists. I make lists for my lists. I have two calendars in my room — plus an agenda that is colour-coded and organized by type of activity. School gets a section, friends get a section, and even going to buy toilet paper gets a pretty glittery pen colour in my agenda. This way, when people in class look over at you, they think you’re just a busy queen who had no time to waste.

6. Be impatient in every moment. There is always something more you could be doing — and should be doing — to get to whatever goal you’re trying reach. Half the time, you don’t even know what that goal is, but the long line to your aforementioned Starbucks coffee from Robarts between classes is definitely directly hindering your dreams.

7. Do one thing that makes you feel like you have your life together. Even if everything else is a mess around you, if you feel like you’re a boss, you’ll give that energy to everyone around you. I must have my life together if I have a fresh set of nails done, even if I haven’t washed my hair in a week. Life is, after all, about balance.

Why my best friend from college and I are not even friends on Facebook anymore

Let’s talk about sex, the friend zone, and overdue apologies

Why my best friend from college and I are not even friends on Facebook anymore

Dear MG,

I decided to address you formally, mainly because of privacy concerns, but also because a cozy “Hey buddy” probably won’t work for us given the length of time we’ve been verified by Facebook as strangers.

I’ve known you since October 2010, the first day of college, when everything was still open to possibilities. A cohort of art students treaded on cigarette butts outside of the library, smiling at each other as we sought out a sense of belonging. Among those smiling faces, I took a long hard look at my face, as I looked at yours — a heart-shaped face circled by a coarse beard and wild hair ­— and thank god I used to dig that hippie-dippie sort of thing. There was a second of irregular heartthrobs that now aches for a lifetime.

Being a racial minority and an international student in the conservative UK where xenophobia still flares, I found it hard to blend in, even at a liberal arts school. Not to mention, my lack of interest in shopping and money for dining further excluded me from many social occasions. My friend zone had always been stylishly exclusive, by which I mean its membership included a total of two. And you made the cut. Yay!

It is thanks to you that for a large part of my college life I succeeded in feeling like I truly belonged. I felt British. I felt in. I had a good-looking British guy who wasn’t ashamed of being my friend, who phased in and out with all kinds of girls but never fell out with me. I thrived on that and rejoiced. Even though there were moments when we could have turned that friendship into something else, for example, the night when you crashed in my dorm room, and we shared my single bed. You tossed around against my back while I faked snoring, but I made sure that nothing happened because I didn’t want to be phased out. There was never a day when I wasn’t grateful to you for having my back, and even with so much effort on my part not to distort our friendship, I guess it did evolve into something else. After the night of our sleepover, we became each other’s sexless innkeeper who always had a room available in each other’s hearts.

In second year, we moved in together as housemates. You came to my room in the middle of the night, venting out frustration over being in the midst of three girlfriends. I retaliated the next day by perching on your bed and lecturing you for hours on end on some pretentious crap I’d read. We went to classes together, drew penises in the snow collected on random cars, bought Nutella crepes from Christmas market stalls, and raced to town for buy-one-get-one-free Cornish pasties together. Being together, I felt safe. I felt at home. And in such togetherness, I omitted the possibility of change as we geared toward the end of college.

One night, we went home and laid on the slope outside our house, looking at the night sky. I was stoned, and you were drunk. I complained about how now that the city council had finally fixed the street lamp, I could no longer see the stars. You offered to stone the lamp so it would be out again. And we laughed, one head against the other, hands in arms. It was cold and then there was warmth as you turned your head toward me and said, “A, between us, possibility is never off the table.” But like the night I turned you into the sexless innkeeper, I pretended to be too stoned to remember. A couple of weeks later, you got into a new relationship. Only this time, you didn’t phase out.

But how would I know?

I made fun of you in front of your girl like I was really your sister, like no matter what I did, nothing could break us. You were pissed off at me for my disregard and picked a fight with me for someone you’d picked up from the Mac room only months ago. I reacted badly and eventually developed an eating disorder. By the time you cooled down and told me your concerns about my health problem, I was as enraged as I was mortified. I thought I did a good job hiding it, and even if I knew how to seek help, I certainly wouldn’t have asked for it from you. What I didn’t know was that beyond the anger and mortification, I was hurt.

We went on without speaking to each other during the last month before our graduation. I moved out before the end of the tenancy and refused to pay you my last share of the water bill.

Two years since then, the girl you picked up from the Mac room is still in the profile picture on your Facebook account from which I have long been removed. And yet, even now when I type M in the search bar on Facebook, your name is still the first one that pops up. It hurts knowing that these disconnected years have rendered me entirely irrelevant to you. But I hope you know that I’m really sorry and I am grateful to you for our great ride once upon a time.

Regards,

Ali Hendricks

Anger becomes her

The only thing we have to fear is injustice

Anger becomes her

When I was a child, I learned how to turn anger into sadness. Rather than being angry that I had to follow my mother’s rules, angry that my sisters wouldn’t share their toys, or angry that every teacher set impossible standards for me, I swallowed my outrage and got sad instead. Anger felt inappropriate.

For one, I was a child. I didn’t have the right to feel something so strongly, least of all to direct it at those with power: at parents, and older sisters, and teachers. And for another, I was a girl. Boys yelled and threw things when they were upset, but I was a girl, and I was good. If I was good, I could not be angry. And so, with that logic, I snuffed out anger and let it cool, until it became sadness. And I have carried that sadness with me all these years.

Over time, I continued to turn grievance into sadness. With each passing year, my anger became so foreign to me that I relinquished it to whomever opposed me because I had no idea how to wield it. I let an academic advisor convince me to drop out of a program, her words sharp and dismissive as she declared that my situation was hopeless no matter how hard I worked. I let old friends discredit and humiliate me until I became a fraction of my former self and heard the unmistakable din of clipped anger in their voices, because even my sadness offended them. Once, I even let a manager at a retail job convince me that my outfit was unacceptable and that I should know better, despite the fact that other girls with more acceptable bodies were wearing the same pair of leggings I had that day. And each time, I let someone else be angry, so I could be sad. I was good, and if I was good, I could not be angry.

I didn’t want to be angry.

I didn’t want to be an angry woman.

And as I got older, I didn’t want to be an ‘Angry Black Woman.’

Serena Williams, fined and ridiculed for her anger at an umpire at the US Open, is the most recent example of the ‘Angry Black Woman’ trope in full effect. The ‘Angry Black Woman’ stereotype aims to define all Black women with anger as overly aggressive and unbearably ignorant.

A product of slavery, this term normalizes a Black woman’s rage by suggesting that all Black women are angry, and therefore that our anger doesn’t mean anything. Though society scorns all women who lack the docile complacency that it prefers, historical perceptions of Black women as mammies and, in more recent years, other ‘sassy’ characters trivializes our emotions in a way that differs from those of non-Black women. Our rage is either too aggressive to bear or too comical to be taken seriously. In either case, it becomes something to mock, and so do we.

I’ve experienced this mockery in spades. I’ve been considered angry simply for sharing precise and critical opinions in a loud voice with a neutral expression. And, in contrast, I’ve added a smile and watched my opinions lose credibility because I was ‘sassy’ now. But all of this does not make me sad anymore. Now, it makes me angry.

Anger, like sadness, is our heart’s way of telling us that something is wrong. I believe they come from the same place, but simply brew at different temperatures. Sadness should come from things that need to be felt, things that are true and cannot be changed — loss, illness, and the like. But anger should come when there is injustice or unkindness.

When someone has been treated unfairly, they shouldn’t have to hold that in for any reason. Anger is a part of the human experience, an emotion that we all feel, that we all should feel. Anger is something that no gender or colour or age group gets to monopolize.

There are wonderful articles, and books, and speeches that discuss how women’s anger has been driving so much change in the past few years. There are movements, and protests, and challenges to ideologies that have maintained their legitimacy for centuries.

But it still isn’t enough.

There is still so much to be angry about.

Social movements are only possible because of the people who feel strongly enough to continue pursuing what is right. Even if you’re not a woman, you should be able to see the injustices that women face. And if you’re not a Black woman, you should learn to be aware of the extra challenges we face and so on and so forth until we are all angry for everyone, and the injustices that oppress us and those we care about, and even those we don’t know. Anger is just an emotion, and we shouldn’t be afraid to witness it or to hold it inside of us. Instead, we should welcome it with open arms and listen to what it has to say.

You can be good and be angry at the same time.

Students on their first month abroad

Students on their first month abroad

Never as bad as it seems

Studying abroad taught me new ways to fight my anxiety

My first month abroad did wonders for my anxiety, but not in the ways that you would expect.

I decided to spend my third year at Sciences Po in Reims, France. I used to live in Lyon as a child, I spoke (decent) French, and I was familiar with the French culture. However, there are some key differences between moving to another country under the protection of your parents, and having to do absolutely everything by yourself.

French bureaucracy is notoriously slow and my experience was no different. Everything took longer than expected and the extent of the paperwork, online applications, and inefficiency was mindboggling. In addition, the French bureaucrats present every step of an administrative process with the seriousness and severity of a dictatorship.

“I need to do this, or I will be deported,” ran through my mind on a regular basis. Every time I received an email from a French government agency, my heart would skip a beat, and I would read and reread the vague French wording like it was an encrypted message. “If I could find the answer, the thought ran, I might be able to escape the horrific, anxiety-inducing cycle of bureaucracy.

But eventually, I started to realize that nothing was as serious or as final as it seemed. Despite the harsh and strict wording on the administrative websites, the people were — for the most part — understanding, patient, and flexible. And eventually, I found myself saying, “I’m sure it will be fine either way.”

As it turned out, optimism was the best cure for my anxiety. Instead of thinking of all the ways that my life could go wrong, I thought about all the benefits and the possibilities of it already going right. Studying abroad is a naturally stress-inducing experience, even for someone like me, who was going back somewhere I actually knew.

In all honesty, having to face the anxiety that came with completely uprooting my life and taking it somewhere else was really daunting. But the experience and confidence that my time abroad has given me is amazing. Even if it has not always been a complete success, at least I now know better for next time.

I grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina and my family still lives there, so coming to Toronto was in itself an experience studying abroad. However, it was a similar situation, where I was born in Canada, and I returned to Canada each summer — I knew the language, the customs, and the culture. Yet I had the same kinds of anxiety, the same now-or-never behaviour, that I have only managed to fight by continuing to push myself to keep doing these kinds of challenges. It’s not easy, and it very well might not be permanent, but each step provides me with the audacity to take the next. As someone who suffers from anxiety, pushing yourself to go abroad and furthering your world perspective is a great weapon for continuing to fight the good fight.

— Jillian Schuler


Sea change or ‘wee’ change?

Navigating life, traffic, and self in Edinburgh

Seconds after congratulating myself for ‘understanding’ Edinburgh, I wandered into the headlights of an oncoming taxi. “Bud, where did you come from?” I thought, as I scrambled onto the sidewalk and tried to block out the ensuing chorus of beeps, sneers, and obscenities.

I had glanced to the left before initiating my jaywalk: a simple yet deadly mistake in a country where cars come at you from the other side. Clearly, I still had a lot to learn — which is why I went abroad to begin with.

After nearly three years in the city, I fled Toronto for one simple reason: I was getting too comfortable. I had a great group of friends, decent grades, and a grasp of the landscape. But that was the problem — I was siding with the status quo too much, sleepwalking around campus, and defaulting into the same old routine. I needed something new.

I figured that the best way to reset and gain perspective was to travel. I knew it might be tough, stressful, or lonely, but I knew I’d get something from it. Or, at least, I hoped I would. Furthermore, I didn’t prance off to some exotic location; my trip saw me fly from Halifax to Edinburgh, Scotland. In other words, I travelled from one coastal university town to another — hopefully drunker — coastal university town.

But that was the idea. I wanted to experience new things, sure, but I didn’t want to plunge myself into an unrecognizable, far-flung universe. For me, shuffling off to, say, Warsaw or Moscow or Cape Town would have been very bold, but not very smart.

Edinburgh seemed like the perfect pick: the history runs deep, the scotch flows fast, and the school is second to none. Scotland and Canada have myriad links — my home province, Nova Scotia, translates to New Scotland in Latin. And I’d also be close to some great travel destinations.

So, after mulling it all over, I decided to buy the ticket and take the ride.

It’s been fantastic so far. The culture shock has been minimal. Of course, the slang is odd, the people are new, and the food is different, but that’s part of the fun. Grappling late at night with the notion of haggis and debating at what point you’re qualified to say ‘mate’ instead of ‘man’ is what makes exchange so entertaining. All the new stuff keeps you on your toes, analyzing and questioning and learning as much as possible.

It’s a great reminder of that sacred rule: never get too comfortable. When I did in Toronto, my ability to scrutinize, explore, and be creative atrophied. I became a ‘wee’ bit arrogant, and my drive to change — to grow — was muted.

The signs can be subtle, sneaky, and gradual, but they can also come right out of the blue — horn honking, headlights on, middle-finger up. Either way, it pays to be wary and to do what you can to maintain perspective and humility through it all.

— Ted Fraser


Freedom in France

Learn a new language for phone plans and food

“Did you know I went to Europe?” I shout to my last remaining friends as they get in the car and drive away from the ditch on the side of the road they have abandoned me in. “Did I mention that I studied abroad in France?” I say, as my family signs the papers removing me from their will.

Though I may have no love left in my life and no home to go back to, I have zero regrets about the month I spent in Tours, France, a little city a few hours south of Paris — which I also went to, in case you were wondering.

As a disclaimer, I fully wore rose-coloured glasses during the entire time I was abroad, wherein I studied French and ignored all my problems. I’m also very aware of the luck that is inherent in getting to fly across the world and muck about for a month. With that being said, perhaps this mediocre chronicle of my adventures can be my way of ‘paying it forward’ — the least I can do is to allow less fortunate folks to live vicariously through my glamorous Parisian escapades.

I arrived in France thinking that I could coast on my high school language skills, and I ended my first day sobbing in bed, clutching my French for Beginners dictionary. Who would have guessed that French people exclusively spoke French?

What brought me to the point of uncontrollable tears was my attempt to buy a phone plan. More than food, shelter, and clothing, this is the most important thing you can do in a new country, and also something that will completely destroy you if you can’t speak the language. Never have I been a larger advocate for a universal language than when I was trying to figure out how to say ‘data’ in French. Luckily for me, I had arrived with some other U of T students who were actually fluent and I placed my life in their hands. I was pressured into buying a slightly more expensive plan, but that’s just a part of the Experience™.

From that disastrous beginning, I realized that I probably needed to learn the language, which wasn’t too difficult seeing that I was in France and enrolled in French-language courses. What further motivated my desire to learn French was my need to be able to understand menus, so that I would not accidentally order raw meat.

And that was how I passed my month. I spent the days learning French, the nights tasting wines, and the weekends getting lost in Paris. I celebrated la Fête nationale by the Eiffel Tower and I biked the countryside visiting châteaux. I met people who have remained my friends to this day.

As I’m writing this in my room surrounded by dirty plates and textbooks, I realize that I probably peaked that summer. But it will all be worth it when, one day, I’m old and gray, sitting by the fireplace, and showing my 10 cats pictures of the most delicious pasta I’ve ever had.

— Josie Kao

This winter, the time is nigh to catch your feelings

Let’s talk about sex, ‘Netflix and chill,’ and cuffing season

This winter, the time is nigh to catch your feelings

The cultures of the world have changed much in the 700 years since feudalism was Europe’s ‘hot new gift’ to society. If you ripped a fourteenth century peasant out of their straw-thatched home and somehow got them on Twitter, you would probably be solely answering frantic, God-fearing questions for the foreseeable future. 

But after careful translation and explanation, one thing would still be abundantly clear: humans are and always will be walking contradictions.

Human languages are efficient at describing everything except the ironically unplanned ‘love child’ between our grey matter and the fact of the matter: love, and its adjacent cousin, intimacy.

Based on the millions of artifacts, documents, and tweets produced by us since time immemorial, you’d think that our willingness to admit how caught up we are in love would somehow ignite a sense of cultural candour. But no — the peasant would certainly agree — that would be too simple for us.

Even in our most intimate moments, when we’re allowing someone new purchase into the most vulnerable parts of us — in every sense of the word — humans get afraid. 

Humans reacting negatively out of fear? What a hot take! But really, our collective unwillingness to vulnerability is a bit of a cultural phenomenon. 

Take ‘Netflix and chill,’ by which the bashful — I mean uncreative — mask the embarrassing advent of planned or possible sexual intercourse with dinner and a movie. 

Take the idea of ‘cuffing season,’ when for a whole five or more months, we collectively use cold weather and seasonal affective disorder merely as a complex gateway event for prospective coitus.

It’s one thing to commit to watching Disney’s Mulan, but if you’re using it as an excuse, like so many of us, to sugarcoat your vulnerabilities instead of ‘getting down to business’ to defeat some ‘buns,’ that speaks to a common impulse. 

It’s in our nature to be skeptical — our mere existences are extant proof of that. It’s kept us as a species alive for a couple hundred thousand years.

Though we’ve learned to put aside our inward urges to create the civilizations and institutions that make us distinct from our feral ancestors, these are failsafes of a much different time. We feel the need to give ourselves excuses to be intimate, instead of just being intimate, simply for fear of being hurt. 

And if you think these symptoms of our fear — our ‘Netflix and chill,’ our ‘cuffing season,’ or whatever other excuses we may conjure up — seem inconsequential, they are only the tip of our anxious, dubious iceberg. 

I’m aware that I’m preaching to the choir; this isn’t news to anybody.

What should be, though, is the realization that we have the capacity to resist this side effect of fear that’s been homebrewed inside of us for millennia. It’s an audacious, courageous claim to choose trust over skepticism, to be vulnerable even when you aren’t ready for it.

And I don’t blame anybody for their doubt. Many cultures, including our own, gladly trade and reward empathy for cold exactness. The world is such a hurtful place that it’s practically revolutionary to be sincere.

It’s high time for us to break down the walls we’ve become so accustomed to building. Watch your movies because snuggling is the best, or because the plot is airtight, or because it gives you an excuse to procrastinate, or just about anything other than denying yourself your right to candour.

I’ll level with you — odds are not in your favour. You will get hurt by being wholehearted. And you probably already know that.

But I say that it’s worth it. 

Suffice it to say, our world is not that of our forebears. Singlehandedly, humans forged societies with opportunity for class growth, the existence of equity, and the chance to diversify our narrow, single-world views. Being frank and heartfelt could be the next insurgency that brings us to be better than we ever were.

Even if it’s one small opportunity — one TV show, an obligatory date, a conversation you’re beating around the bush for — there exists a space for frankness that we can fill with probity.

And maybe if we’re broken when we come out on the other side, the cracks in our façades may give way to a better foundation that will last us for generations to come.