There are four short pieces in this collection, all loosely entangled, somewhat concerning the new year — when I started writing this I called it “New Year’s Essay” in my notes, but it stopped being an essay halfway through and started doing whatever it wanted. I guess it now occupies a space between the short story and a personal essay. “Roaches and Foie Gras” is an introduction to the whole piece - in it I describe a chance encounter between myself and a cheerful cockroach as the legion of bacteria in my gut decide that they are going on strike.

“Meandering Through Time” is a small description of last four years, and an introduction to two creatures (a dog, and a sparrow) who changed me. The third piece is called “That Year That Must Not Be Named (But To Fear Naming Is Probably Self Defeating Anyways)” and is about 2014 specifically — my suicide attempt is mentioned. To fear dealing with, and saying explicitly, that I tried to commit suicide, seems to me to be self-defeating and probably useless anyways. Until I figure out what I’m going to do with that event in my life, with whatever knowledge I may not have gained (perhaps the experience taught me nothing), I am going to try not to be afraid to mention that it happened, and to work through in writing what it could mean.

The fourth part, “Hairy Cyborgs” is sort of a funny interlude. It’s about being an artificial being growing natural hairs. I am reminded a lot of Commander Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation when I think about being a hairy cyborg. He also could grow hair, in an attempt to aspire to humanity. It is ironic, when in many ways, I prefer to aspire to be a cyborg.

The last part, “Electric Starlight”, is a reflection on “humanity”’s destruction of the planet Earth. It’s about taking all of the rhetoric of ecological and environmental activism and advocacy and trying to localize it to my own person and my own “individual” actions. The piece is also a declaration that I want to move away from phenomenology, at least for the time being, and focus more on my position as a cyborg networked with absolutely everything else — especially the environment, and what powerful humans historically have deemed “nonhuman” — the Great Divides that post-humanism and non-humanism try to complicate and problematize interest me more than the study of phenomena. “Electric Starlight” is about 2015, where I am and what I am affecting and being affected by. The last three pieces of fiction I read were Bloodchild by Octavia Butler, Contact by Carl Sagan and The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin - these heavyweight champions of fiction deal with first- and post- contact between what is considered human/familiar/being and the alien/other/unbeing. I hope 2015 brings me a little more of that alien darkness and a little less of that “civilizing” light.

Roaches and Foie Gras

It’s the 2nd of January of 2015 and I hold my head just above the toilet bowl, a hollow croaking sound echoing out of my belly as I hurl bits and pieces of onion confit and duck foie gras. The French-style delicacy my mother carried on a plane from Montréal to Anguilla did not survive in my digestive system, slowly making its way back up my oesophagus. I had food poisoning a few weeks ago, which may explain why my stomach can’t handle these “rich” foods — my mother asks me if I am having an allergic reaction to the dirty martini my sister’s boyfriend whipped up just before the hors d’oeuvres were passed around. I did not try the martini. I don’t drink much alcohol in general. As I told everyone on New Year’s Eve, I really don’t have a taste for it.

So here I am, with my head in a toilet bowl, retching and feeling wretched. A cockroach is walking leisurely behind the toilet seat, its large red antennae wiggling in my direction. It probably senses (smells?) that I’m throwing up odorous and interesting food into the toilet. The cockroach seems unperturbed by my presence, otherwise. In this house, I’m am the stranger, the cockroaches’ guest.

My grandmother built this house in the early 90s. She is not here this winter, but she used to spend all her winters here, a typical North Hemisphere snowbird fleeing the cold to an island that barely survives the inconsistent onslaught of global tourism on its economic, environmental, and socio-political systems. My grandmother used to say: I did not build a hotel when she described her house on the sea, and she succeeded in keeping her son and her grandchildren out of her life, until she felt like parading them like a fashionable accessory in front of other snowbirds on the island.
The cockroach behind the toilet seat wiggles about, seemingly calculating and aimless at once. It is not interested that I am throwing up my mother’s delicate little hors d’oeuvres that crossed the Atlantic to get into this toilet bowl.

Meandering Through Time

I used to compile lists, at the end of each year, of events that occurred that (maybe) changed me. As I’ve jumped blogging/website platforms over the years, I have archived posts offline, and those lists have disappeared from my public websites, perhaps for the better. As I consider 2015, I feel mostly the superficial relief of the new year: I know better than to expect progress or amelioration — but what I can depend on is that everything changes eventually.

In 2010, what affected me the most was losing my place at one of the top engineering schools in the country. Recovering from that blow to my confidence is still a work in process, five years later, though moving forward becomes easier and easier daily.

In 2012, the phenomenon that affected me the most came in the form of a not-so-small german shepherd/husky/border collie/labrador mutt with shiny black fur and big glorious ears. I called her Luna and she was a ball of happy, determined energy. I had her for four months after I rescued her from the SPCA - but I was forced to relinquish her when I could not keep her aggressive tendencies under control and she attacked small dogs (and not so small dogs) at an urban dog park. After she hurt two dogs, leaving their humans furious, I was told to prepare for legal action if I did not have Luna put down immediately. Leaving her at the pound, where she would be evaluated and destroyed, was a decision that broke my heart. I still have nightmares where Luna asks me how it is possible that I left. How can I rationalize my crimes against her, when she was at her most vulnerable, when I did to her the thing she feared most of all?

In 2013, another small stray was brought to me: this time a sparrow nestling a few days old that my brother found desperately trying to survive in a construction zone during one of the hottest days of a muggy Montréal summer. I called and called shelters, inquiring about wild bird rehabilitation and tried my best to keep the little creature alive. Wildlife rehabilitation centres dans la région de Montréal were uninterested in urban sparrows (an invasive species in North America) and told me most of the time the sparrows brought in were killed, or died within a few days anyways. But eventually this little sparrow began to heal and recover, eventually she even decided to sprout feathers. It took me less than a week to teach her how to fly. We affectionately called her a “flying blimp” (evidently I’m not the greatest teacher of winged flight) or Golvan, a word that means “sparrow” in Breton. Golvan liked strawberries, listening to AC/DC and the X Files. She began coming on walks with me where she would fly around (unleashed) and in her braver moments she ineffectually attempted to socialize with neighbourhood birds who found her puzzling and bizarre. I attempted to let her free more than once, but I think she realised how pampered she was, living most of her life indoors with me. She was also socialized to humans, which meant she acted like I was her family. I could not teach her bird speech. It was Stockholm Syndrome, or imprinting as we call it with some animals - eventually she began to identify with her “captor” (me) and found me reassuring to be with. Eventually, I thought of Golvan as my tiny, loud, sassy friend. I hope she considered me a friend, despite the gulf of biology, ideology, and culture that defined me as human, and her as bird.

One morning, in October 2013, I woke up to the sound of silence and realised Golvan was not singing as usual. I found her curled over herself in the little straw birdhouse she spent the night in. Her eyes were closed and she was no longer breathing. I don’t know what happened. A biologist friend commented that because she had been separated from her sparrow family at such an impossibly young age, she may not have developed the proper antibodies and immunities to diseases birds are prone to. That is one theory. I don’t have any others.

That Year That Must Not Be Named (But To Fear Naming Is Probably Self Defeating Anyways)

The year 2014 was similar in theme to the previous four — a lot of loss — but there was a breaking down of old friendships and relationships which seemed to increase the burden of life’s usual struggles. Many foundations crumbled beneath my feet, exacerbated by a decline in mental health that saw me becoming abusive, frustrated and frightened. I tried to commit suicide in the summer.

I keep returning to that decision to die, like an electrified moth banging against a lit lightbulb. I tried to commit suicide and it didn’t work. I’m still here because of the grim magic of stomach pumps and being force-fed activated charcoal. I spent the next weeks, months, wondering if I should be angry at the fact that I tried to die or angrier that I was brought back. 2014, I suppose, will be the year I tried to kill myself. Even in my lightest moments, when I was actually joyous, those moments succeeded to demonstrate how many shadows I have poisoned myself with, and how much work must be done yet to reconcile those shadows with my identity and purpose. In the months since my journey there and back, I’ve felt sanity slip away often during everyday life, in a similar way sanity becomes malleable while watching a movie or reading an engrossing book. Ursula K. Le Guin confirms this phenomenon in her 1976 introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness:

In fact, while we read a novel, we are insane — bonkers. We believe in the existence of people who aren’t there, we hear their voices, we watch the battle of Borodino with them, we may even become Napoleon. Sanity returns (in most cases) when the book is closed. (n.p.)

The book never closes and every morning a new page begins. I want to scream instead of falling asleep — scream so loud that I awaken from this dream and shatter my pungent humanity from its stupor. I need to deal with this impulse. I keep myself busy. My imagination takes over and even the busiest of stresses cannot iron out the uncertainty of being alive. Six, seven months, since that day have not made me wiser. I seem unable to regret the attempt, though I have tried to stay compassionate to those who were hurt by it, and chose to either lash out against me, or pull away. I seem to be frequently overwhelmed with “empathy” but greatly lacking compassion towards myself — perhaps also towards many others.

It is not time, that weird meandering stream, but people, ideas and writing that has given me some measure of strength to lean on, to temper my desperation for solitude, rage or peace. Our various attempts to be life forms alive together and coexist — in literary and anti-literary ways, across the machinery of the internet, through videogames and art, through favouriting selfies of queer and not-queer cuties on Twitter - those are the restorative balms of 2014 that I will bring with me into the new year.

Hairy Cyborgs

I keep pulling out hairs from a mole on my chin. The hairs erupt daily, in pairs or in threes, from the brown, raised patch of skin, the size of a matchstick’s head, on the right side of my face where my jawline meets my chin. When I ask to borrow my sister’s tweezers to pull them out, I jokingly tell her that I am pulling out Baba Yaga’s hairs. The cleverness of my little quibble pleases me a little too much (indeed, here I am writing about it some time later). My sister, however, is unfazed, and tells me: “you gotta do what you gotta do”.

I didn’t think I considered the hairs weeds to be pruned. I’m not ashamed of them, or particularly worried about their appearance. My eyebrows are far more out of control, besides, those bushy little caterpillars munching on my brow, but apart from the odd urge to bleach them bright yellow, now and then, I don’t usually bother them. However this prickly roughness on my chin seems to perturb me daily, especially in its tenacious ability to keep to a schedule: every few days on the clock, two or three new hairs pop through my skin in a few patterns I’ve learned by heart through repetitious pruning. I tend to think and read with my hands near my face - the sensory discordance of having a few (tiny yet somehow gargantuan) sharp shafts of hair frustrates me when I pass my thumb against my chin and feel Baba Yaga’s witchlyness reaching through my skin. I realised, a little shocked by my own slowness at arriving to this conclusion, that I only have the illusion of a smooth face and jaw, just like I carry the illusion of smooth legs, armpits, toes, and private areas. Tweezing out hairs is like waxing or shaving - the outcome is a state only made possible with various technologies and cultural understandings that mould the physical.

The cyborg age is here and now, everywhere there's a car or a phone or a VCR. Being a cyborg isn't about how many bits of silicon you have under your skin or how many prosthetics your body contains. It's about Donna Haraway going to the gym, looking at a shelf of carbo-loaded bodybuilding foods, checking out the Nautilus machines, and realizing that she's in a place that wouldn't exist without the idea of the body as high-performance machine. It's about athletic shoes.

"Think about the technology of sports footwear," she says. "Before the Civil War, right and left feet weren't even differentiated in shoe manufacture. Now we have a shoe for every activity." (Hari Kunzu, “You Are Cyborg”, Wired)

I have deluded myself into believing that either of these states, smooth or hairy, are “natural” or more aesthetically pleasing. Hair on my head is considered to be a useful plant, like roses or lawn grass[1], whereas hair on my chin is considered a weed because I was born with (dysfunctional but ever present) ovaries.

I will try to be more mindful of Baba Yaga piercing through my skin. Perhaps I will let these hairs grow, in an exercise to curb or think through my compulsions — perhaps I will even attempt to cultivate a garden of weeds on my face. Eventually, hair that has pierced through skin doesn’t need to be so sharp anymore. My sister said: “you gotta do what you gotta do” and she is right. I, however, don’t think I’ve actually reflected on this impulse to pull my chin hairs out. Why do I do it? What urge does it satisfy? Why is that urge there — and why do I think the hairs in that particular spot are so problematic? I sit here, writing about my chin like a weed garden, and find it ironic that I’ve always had a great fondness for weeds, those maligned herbs that sometimes have magical stories hidden in human folktales. If Baba Yaga is putting hairs on my chin, maybe I should stop cutting through the garden and listen.

[1] I have a vicious and unrepentant hatred for lawns and lawnmowers.

Electric Starlight

As I type these words the sun has set and plunged the island into a buzzing darkness. Quite a few moths and other large flying beetles have crashed into my laptop screen, following millennia of instinctual behaviour right into my essay.

It’s a reminder that even my presence here on this rocky land covered in plants and bugs is greatly affecting the small ecosystem cricketing, chirping, and buzzing around me. Bats fly overhead. Earlier, just after dusk, I thought I heard the neighbour’s rooster cawing at one of the stray kittens hiding in the carcass of a stumpy coconut tree by the road. The goats that used to roam free along the hills here are all kept inside enclosures now, probably because of all the development for the new resort built by Jeffrey Fieger down the road. Earlier I walked over the hill and absorbed the nightmarish network of mansions built on the beachfront. I felt a pang of nostalgia for when I was younger and went to watch the goats roaming, eating, and sometimes fighting all along the rocky hills. I was raised in the downtown, urban centre of Montréal. To follow goats around, completely free of any obvious herding influence, was the kind of idyllic experience that made me believe in the stories I’d read of old rural farms and farm animals. I couldn’t really explain why the roaming, eating goats gave me so much pleasure to watch and follow - it was perhaps the novelty of interacting with life forms I had never seen before, free of human influence and direction. Like many children I played at being a lion or a wolf. By following goats around, I was living a kind of play where I could try, for a while, to become a goat.

Humans crash into habitats and destroy them with their presence — the environmental product of our existence is littered with broken glass and plastic bags collecting on the shore and along roads. Though I know this anger to be a little futile, I am furious with the rampant beachfront development that has robbed the Long Bay goats of their home (and likely cost the Anguillan goat-herders quite a bit).

Sitting here, with my laptop attracting moths from the shrubbery, I am altering the insect’s environment enough to disorient and damage it. Moths have delicate powdery wings. A crash into the liquid crystal display (LCD) of my laptop is damaging enough - this electric starlight, though pretty useful to counter my poor eyesight, is deadly to the grey, silvery moth that crumples, disoriented, on my computer. I panic for a bit, and try to refrain from touching it - my touch will not help - but I worry about it lying upside down, its wings pressing against the keys of my keyboard.

Eventually, with halting, jerking difficulty, the moth flutters away in the gale of a northeastern storm that may be arriving tomorrow, or the day after. This indulgence of writing on my laptop, outdoors, at night, in the strong, mosquito-less breeze, has a negative impact on many of the life forms in this small part of the world. And for this particular moment, I haven’t even really considered the costs and environmental consequences that go into building, powering and maintaining this small MacBook Air. It’s a machine that hides the machinations of the technological industry so well, sitting pristinely on my lap, glowing in the dark.

I’m taking into 2015 a strong impulse to consider, reflect and investigate my own relationship with the world. This does require a few shifts in my previous ontological reflections, especially in my reflections on phenomenology. I seem to have a much easier time working with theories that surround and interact with post-humanism, at least for now, as well as an increasing interest in the thought that follows being/becoming around and tries to deal with that enormously treacherous dichotomy - if there is anything that helps me deal with the idea of investigating yet another bloody binary it is Donna Harroway’s acknowledgement that the world is “much messier than that”. There is a massive urge to polarize the world into binaries, as if the world, or even the much smaller phenomenon that categorizes human experience can be broken down into two massive distinctions that can then be assembled into a hierarchy.

New Year’s Resolutions are never kept, as the cliché goes, but for 2015 I want to move away from phenomenology, at least for the time being, and focus more on my position as a cyborg networked with absolutely everything else — especially the environment, and what powerful humans historically have deemed “nonhuman” — the Great Divides that post-humanism and non-humanism try to complicate and problematize interest me more than the study of phenomena. Other concepts that I think need to be researched further and explored this year are the concepts of praxis especially in how it relates to my own presence on Twitter as a unwitting participant in the “reality television of real people” that Twitter enables (go read Mattie Brice’s work, especially the writing published in the last year, if this interests you as well). It is inherently related to consumption, a keyword I keep finding in all my reflection and writing on Minecraft and the real world so far. I am especially interested in the perhaps tenuous and complex links between consumerism and accessibility, which relate especially to the way safer spaces and communities are shaped by the kinds of media (tweets, blog posts, essays, books, oratory youtube posts) that are posted to the internet as “consumables”.

I want to undo this human skin and break down the boundaries between the soles of my feet and the rough, stony dirt — I hear Tanya Tagaq’s Uja, Flight or Fracking, or even her songs Gentle or Caribou - I think of the way she undulates, screams and sighs. 2015 will not be a year about finding humanity or common ground, at least not in my writing. It will be about blurring through and bursting presumptions of naturalness and immutability. It will be a year of listening. It will be a year for differences and paradoxes, strangeness and darkness.


Further Reading

My "Best of" 2014

A photo of Gersande's face.

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