This morning I stopped to see clouds breaking over the mountains,
the same as in a dream, but clearer, pellucid, light
and shadowy at once, light gray, a sweet white.
This morning I stopped to see clouds breaking over the mountains,
In celebration of all things art, Room collective member Rose Morris spoke with illustrator, writer, and animator, Aminder Dhaliwal. Originally from Brampton, Ontario, she currently lives in Los Angeles where she works as director of Disney TV Animation.
Sophie Buddle has been a performing stand-up comedy since she was only fifteen, and after nine years of grinding it out at open mics and comedy shows, she's now a writer for CBC's sketch comedy series, This Hour Has 22 Minutes. Sophie and Mica discuss how she landed the gig, what it's like to be in a writer's room in 2018, and why the Louis CK drama has affected her very personally. Also covered: are comedians REALLY the worst people to date? And what escapist TV shows does Sophie recommend we indulge in? All this and more in this sweet treat of an audio program!
We all want our brains to feel good, but sometimes they are stubborn and silly and uncooperative and BLEGH WHY. Writer and wonder-woman Rachel Jansen knows all about this, and she's hear to give us the scoop on OCD, anxiety, and why getting medicated was the right choice for her.
If a collection of poems can be a page-turner, then Tara-Michelle Ziniuk’s third poetry collection, Whatever, Iceberg, is just that. Whatever, Iceberg chronicles an all-too-familiar queer romance interwoven with polyamory, single parenting, chronic pain, poverty, and aging. Despite the specificity of Ziniuk’s writing, the collection remains relatable for anyone who has ever been in a badly timed romance or burned by a lover. The book avoids narrow identity-based writing while still exploring themes that spill out of queer life.
In Whatever, Iceberg, Ziniuk evokes the undulating emotions of a lover who is made to feel secondary to another—more prioritized—romance. In “First Thursday,” Ziniuk describes feeling as a romantic placeholder: “You bring me temporary tattoos of roses when you return from your trip. / You tell me to close my eyes and apply one when I do. In another city, you partner / inks her arm in needles and blood. Outlines of roses rise from her pale skin. I won’t / know this until months later. My face flushes, / twice.” Ziniuk’s speaker feels cherished, and then embarrassed, after realizing another lover has been permanently marked while her own tattoo will wash away in a few days.
The knowledge that the relationship explored throughout Whatever, Iceberg will inevitably fail looms over the collection. Ziniuk offers the reader heartbreaking metaphors and snapshots laying out the slow crumbling of the love affair. Describing a moment of quiet intimacy, she gives us vivid images of the fragility and the tenderness between the speaker and her ex-lover: “Sun-bleached brown / wicker snapping between our fingers, / our fingers intertwined like wicker about to snap.”
Ziniuk uses the metaphor of an iceberg to describe many things, perhaps most strikingly the emotions of her ex-lover. The title of one poem, “I Have Never Been an Iceberg” could have been a back cover blurb for the book. Whatever, Iceberg is a beautiful, messy, insightful description of a lover who admits nothing about themselves, written by a lover who admits everything. Ziniuk captures the joy and frustration—diving into both physical and emotional pain—that comes with loving someone who is doing a terrible job at loving you back. She aptly displays the complexity of the situation as both deeply enticing and repellent. Ziniuk gives of the gift of a true response to false love.
jiaqing wilson-yang is a transsexual writer living in Toronto. Her work has appeared in Room, Maisonneuve, Ricepaper, Poetry Is Dead, carte blanche, and the Toronto Star. Her novel, Small Beauty, won a Lambda Literary Award for Best Transgender Fiction.
While reading GG’s new graphic novel, I’m Not Here, I was reminded of a short story by Delmore Schwartz, in which the narrator goes into a cinema and, much to their amazement and dismay, finds that the film being screened is of their parents’ first meeting. Knowing the sorry end to that story, the spectator must nonetheless sit through the film as a sense of helplessness and alienation sets in.
The protagonist of I’m Not Here is also drifting between memory and waking life. She lives in the suburbs and is torn by restlessness and a sense of daughterly duty. Her immigrant parents appear in ghostly sequences, trying futilely to heal their own trauma. She is haunted by her inability to rescue or satisfy them. There’s a galactic emptiness and a profound dignity to the narrator as she shuttles through spare rooms, empty suburban streets, searching.
What gives I’m Not Here its tension is the narrator’s struggle to find a sense of home. Throughout, the concept of home is unstable. Her adulthood apartment dissolves into her childhood home. She sees her father driving on an empty street. He treats her like a stranger and asks her for directions home. The narrator’s mother laments her own immigration: “I shouldn’t have come to this country. I gave up my old life.” In the present tense, the narrator can’t find her house keys and is effectively locked out of her own home; in a flashback to childhood that reverses the scenario, she longs for freedom and one day leaves her family home through her bedroom window. This tension between longing for freedom and longing for home runs through the entire book. The trauma of immigration and the painful passage of childhood into adulthood resonate powerfully through this metaphor of home.
The spare and superb black and white drawings radiate dreaminess and a melancholy reality. The sparse text requires the reader to become active. I’m Not Here is indeed a dance between disappearing and appearing. The narrator, a photographer who develops her own photographs, appears herself in the opening panels in progressive shades of grey, like film revealing its latent images in a chemical bath. Full of mystery, I’m Not Here asks the reader to fill in gaps. We are plunged into the very rootlessness the narrator is experiencing herself.
At the heart of I’m Not Here is a rejection of meta-narratives, of spelling out “why” we become who we are. In its place is the master narrative’s reverse: the worship for tiny things. GG gives this ephemera a royal treatment, suggesting that the stuff of everyday life is life and deserves our reverence: the vein-like structure of grape stems, the 1980s puffy font on a vending machine, the Chinese characters on a plaster bandage package. Through GG’s narrator, we get the luxury of observing the world in minute detail, an awakening experience.
The cinematic quality of I’m Not Here is heightened by the blackout pages between sections that often arrive unexpectedly at emotional climaxes, artfully denying the reader easy resolutions. These intermissions produce the sensation of sitting in a dark cinema after a stunning movie has just ended. I’m Not Here is a starkly beautiful graphic novel about yearning, home, and escape.
Lauren Kirshner’s novel, Where We Have to Go, was a finalist for the City of Toronto Book Award. Her short stories and non-fiction have appeared in publications including The Globe and Mail, Hazlitt, and Carousel. She leads the Sister Writes program and is an assistant professor of English at Ryerson University.
In most books of short stories, there are two or three pieces (if you’re lucky) that stand out, define, and carry the rest of the collection. The other pieces become background music, unobtrusive but inconsequential. In Dina Del Bucchia’s collection, however, there simply are no B-sides. Each of the fifteen stories, mostly populated by female protagonists at less-than-perfect moments in their lives, show the work of a generous writer committed to creating characters unapologetically being themselves in all their flawed, misguided glory. These are irresistible, if not exactly admirable, women: the kind you gossip about and wish you actually knew.
In “Haul” and “Cold Cuts”—two of the darker stories in the collection—a high school freshman and an unemployed twenty-something each go to extreme lengths to fill a void in their lives. The unnamed character in “Haul” is obsessed with creating haul videos based on her endless fashion shopping expeditions. She frantically tracks her views, likes, and comments, as her closet bulges with her purchases and her schoolwork suffers. Her goals: “stay organized, make good impressions, try hard, be seen.” The imagery in the final paragraph of the story, the girl’s body “fully woven into the tangle of textiles,” is chilling.
The other, Natalie, “young and from a broken home,” has been without work for some time after being fired from her print shop job for creative use of the photocopiers. Not willing to rely on her live-in boyfriend’s income to buy groceries, she is determined to be productive: “We need to keep ourselves fed, and I’m a go-getter, but no one around seems to want to acknowledge that.” Natalie’s unusual version of productivity—a kind of entrepreneurship in her estimation—involves crashing funerals and stealing food. When a near-fatal accident interrupts her go-getting behaviour, the callous Natalie is shaken, but seemingly undeterred.
Other stories in Don’t Tell Me What to Do feature women searching for release from their present unsatisfactory circumstances, frequently involving the men in their lives. In the collection’s title story, Alex is a young woman living in a small, slow Alberta town with her much older boyfriend, Robert. They spend evenings at Gus’s bar getting drunk, and Alex’s boredom with her provincial existence and its lack of fun is palpable. When she discovers Gus’s hidden stash of coins, she makes off with thousands and heads for excitement at the West Edmonton Mall. Alex’s efforts to avoid capture and enjoy her brief moment of freedom and adventure are humorous, strangely laudable, and definitely sad.
In the collection’s final story, “The Gospel of Kittany,” a model-turned-cult leader instructs one of her disciples as they look at photos of her female followers on social media: “‘Look at these women,’” she says, “‘Really look . . . See them’.” And that is exactly what Del Bucchia requires of us when we read her brilliant fiction debut.
Dana Hansen is a writer, reviewer, and professor in the English Department at Toronto’s Humber College. Her criticism has appeared in Quill & Quire, Literary Review of Canada, The Winnipeg Review, the Chicago Review of Books, and elsewhere. As the editor-in-chief of Hamilton Review of Books, she lives in Waterdown, Ontario.
Kim Fu is a Canadian-born writer, living in Seattle, Washington. Her most recent novel, The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore, was published in February 2018, and her previous novel, For Today I Am a Boy, won the Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction and was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award. Fu’s debut poetry collection, How Festive the Ambulance, received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, and includes a 2017 National Magazine Awards Silver Medal winner and a Best Canadian Poetry 2016 selection. Fu, our commissioned author in the winter 2018 issue, spoke to us about writing, her featured story, “Liddy, First to Fly,” and her advice for emerging writers.
Molly and Mica chat about the innate humour of farts, how Molly came to earn a rep as the "masturbation girl" in her poetry circle, and why pussy is probably the best word for vagina, so long as it's not weaponized against you.
In the title essay of Sarah de Leeuw’s compelling new collection, Where it Hurts, a young mother new to a northern British Columbia town is nervous when a stranger asks to hold her baby. Too polite to say no, the young mother watches as the woman—whose name is Cowboy— grabs the baby and bounces her up in the air. For a moment it seems the woman will drop the infant. But, as it turns out, the woman is imperiled herself. In a few months, she will appear in the newspaper, found murdered on the side of The Highway of Tears.
Such fleeting, haunted connections, and a tone of aching love, run through the essays in Where it Hurts, many of which share the theme of disappeared women. These women include Cowboy, along with nameless vanquished girls—the faces on the backs of milk cartons—who were abducted, murdered, or died young, in summertime teen prime. De Leeuw makes these lives visible through soaring lines that are poetic and visceral, like teenage girls “all lanky limbed in jeans a size too small, hair . . . shining elemental with peroxide gold.” Where statistics about human tragedies can leave one numb, de Leeuw’s luminous concrete description jolts with riveting clarity and empathy. It forces your attention on that hurt, and on the spaces and unanswered questions these women’s deaths leave behind.
Some of the women come from vanishing communities: old logging towns, truck stops at the top of the Stewart-Cassiar Highway—shuttered when the resources ran dry—and post-industrial northern townships, where, as she writes, a film festival comes by every two years. De Leeuw, a human geographer, poet and non-fiction writer, connects these dwindling towns to marginalized lives, subtly showing how remote geographies can make lives more prone to erasure. De Leeuw’s writing is a hedge against these women’s lives fading, combining images of corporeal decay (“plastic bags, snagged on brambles and translucent as lungs”) with the organic and beautiful (“soft mauve lilac flowers”). While elegiac, de Leeuw’s pencil has a fiery point and her writing is a revocation of silence. “Inquiries result in findings,” she writes, “and findings can be documented and published and circulated so people pay attention and search for solutions.”
The essays in Where It Hurts are deeply felt, original, and a moving requiem for lives extinguished too early to have left a trace. De Leeuw writes with love and conviction while also asking important questions of the reader: how do we live with the empty spaces death makes? And as the living, how do we honour, and fight for, the women these empty spaces represent?
Lauren Kirshner’s novel Where We Have to Go (McClelland & Stewart, 2012) was a finalist for the City of Toronto Book Award. Her fiction and non-fiction have appeared in Hazlitt, Elle Canada, and The Globe and Mail. She is the founder of Sister Writes and assistant professor of English at Ryerson University.
Currently on Newsstands
Room 41.4, Emergence
Edited by Alissa McArthur
In this issue:
Tharuna Abbu, Farah Ali, Kristin Bjornerud, Michelle Chen, Nomi Chi, Morgan Christie, Kim Fu, Hannah Graff, nancy viva davis halifax, Ceilidh Isadore, Liz Kellebrew, Jo Lee, Kris Ly, Melanie Mah, Sara Mang, Katie McGarry, Estlin McPhee, Triin Paja, Loghan Paylor, Nagmeh Phelan, Oubah Osman, Lisa Rawn, Yvonne Robertson, Erika Thorkelson, Cara Waterfall.