Category Archives: Fall 2014

Help me, I’m 20

Growing up, I was always very excited about the idea of my “twenties.” Network television had led me to believe that this would be the prime of my adulthood, when I would have the freedom I so desperately desired, be strangely attractive, and get up to all sorts of shenanigans with my friends, all while obtaining some sort of glamorous job that would fall under broad categories like “publishing,” “journalism,” or maybe even “law.”

The twenties are a messy time — we’re trying to fit ourselves into the role of young adult that hasbeen assigned to us, without any definitive understanding of what that means.

The difference between where we’ve been and where we find ourselves now comes down to our newfound ability to shape the direction our lives are going to take. Often, small hurdles get in the way of seeing the bigger picture — university can seem like a blur of malnutrition and sleep deprivation, small moments of camaraderie mixed in equal part with isolation and indecision. We may not have the answers or be prepared to admit them honestly, but less awkward than our teenage years, we are equipped, at the very least, with perspective.

It is no easy feat to navigate, and it’s different for everyone — but what follows are a series of observations, questions, and rants from my experience of the enigma of young adulthood.

What’s for dinner?

Or, the sometimes more accurate, what is dinner? I think most people would agree that food is pretty great. In an ideal world food can provide elements of nutrition, happiness, and that sometimes evasive thing called social interaction. Yet with the often draining existence that is student life, food can become a chore — something that takes up time and money that no one seems to have to spare. Eating in a nutritionally sound way is often forgotten in the flurry of busy schedules and, as it turns out, it is impossible to survive on nothing but coffee for a startling amount of time.

“What’s for dinner?”

Can I afford to go out tonight?

A wise friend once said, “The irony that between the money I spent on coffee and the money I spend on alcohol I am literally pissing my savings away is not lost on me.” It’s hard to budget in a way that takes into account future savings when we’re so caught up in either the world of library cramming sessions or stress relieving nights out — not to mention cost of living in a city as expensive as Toronto.

Although budgeting is a hard skill to master, it is one that needs to be developed, and fast. The “work hard, play hard” philosophy brings all kinds of results —and one of them is a decidedly lighter wallet.

“Can I afford to go out tonight?”

We should grab coffee sometime!

At any given time, it is only possible to maintain so many close friendships. It often feels impossible to make time for your current friends, without even taking into consideration keeping up with your old ones.

Friends start to grow apart. The tricky thing is that often the friendships we lose are the ones we told ourselves we wanted to keep. As we get older, we gravitate to those people who we spend the most time with — either because of a shared area of study or simple proximity. We make endless coffee dates, but sooner or later accept that the friends that are meant to stay just will.

“We should grab coffee sometime!”

What are you planning on doing after finishing your degree?

Most of us get better at providing an answer to this dreaded, ominous question the longer we stay in school. You either tell them something that sounds good to avoid judgement or explain your actual dreams only to be told that there’s little chance you’ll achieve them “in today’s market.” Another good option is to say, “Oh, I’m just considering my options right now.” Perhaps you, like me, entertain an option that includes dropping out of school and maintaining a small but peaceful sheep farm in New Zealand.

Few of us leave this school with the degrees we initially envisioned we’d have, and even fewer enter the workforce in careers related to their studies. At the end of the day, we’d all like to be happy, and know that we’ll be steadily employed in a few years — if only this was an acceptable response.

“What are you planning on doing after finishing your degree?”

How’s your love life?

This question can be dangerous for two reasons — either you’re still navigating being single, or are in an established relationship.

In the first case, there really is no great way to answer the question — you’re left with trying to find a middle ground between “I’m just having fun and not worrying about it right now” and “I’m going to be alone forever.” In the second case, you’re put in a position of evaluating how serious your relationship is, where it’s going, and how this person is going to fit into that whole adulthood thing you’re working on. Is what you’re doing matching up with what everyone else is? Are you meeting the standards set by your friends, family, and nosey acquaintances? And like, have you tried that whole Tinder thing yet?

“How’s your love life?”

Alternative environments

Toronto is a city undergoing constant expansion. It seems that each year more high-rises are being constructed, roads are being paved and re-paved, and untouched green space is slowly shrinking against the expanse of glass, concrete, and steel. In a burgeoning city like Toronto, creativity is imperative in integrating greenery in unlikely places — and as the city grows, so does its network of alternative green spaces.

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Greenery at the Toronto Sculpture Garden. RUSABA ALAM/THE VARSITY
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At the gates of the Toronto Sculpture Garden on King Street East. In 1981, the City opened the garden across from Cathedral Church of St. James. RUSABA ALAM/THE VARSITY
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Looking out to the hallway on the top floor of the Earth Sciences building. RUSABA ALAM/THE VARSITY
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The Earth Science Building greenhouse houses a diverse variety of plants. RUSABA ALAM/THE VARSITY
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On the roof of the Earth Sciences Building in one of three greenhouses open to students on weekdays.
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Indoor bamboo garden in the foyer of the Terrence Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research on College Street. RUSABA ALAM/THE VARSITY
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A view of Nathan Phillips Square from the Podium Green Roof. RUSABA ALAM/THE VARSITY
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Succulents in the rooftop garden at Toronto City Hall. RUSABA ALAM/THE VARSITY
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Inside Palm House at Allan Gardens Conservatory. RUSABA ALAM/THE VARSITY
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Visitors at the Palm House at Allan Gardens Conservatory. RUSABA ALAM/THE VARSITY
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In the Palm House at Allan Gardens Conservatory. The Palm House was built in 1910 and is designated under the Ontario Heritage Act. RUSABA ALAM/THE VARSITY

Chessboxing, anyone?

Some people stubbornly insist that there’s no sport out there for them. They’ve tried the usual suspects, from volleyball to tennis, to no avail. For these people, there exists a far greater realm of possibilities than those that the traditional sporting world offers — one of the best examples being hybrid sports. The realm of hybrid sports may not seem particularly active beyond the soccer-baseball days of middle school gym class — but, in fact, there are several activities, which fuse together sports to create new niches within the seemingly static world of sport. With the popularity of hybrid sports on the rise, the possibilities for bringing creativity to your athletic endeavors are endless.

Chessboxing

This sport fuses both physical and mental energy into one grand performance. Opponents face one another in alternating games of chess and boxing. For anyone doubting the seriousness of this sport, the World Chessboxing Association (WCBA) will hold the 2014 International Chessboxing final on December 13 in London. Unfortunately, competitive chessboxing has yet to secure a hold in Canada, but the hybrid has enjoyed growing popularity internationally since 2011 — so perhaps the Varsity Blues Chessboxing team is only a couple of years away.

Foot-volley

Beach volleyball is taken to a whole new level with this combination between volleyball and Association football, aka soccer. The sport is established enough to have tournaments in the United States and South America — which is where the sport originated. The name is a little daunting — do you use your feet, hands, or none of the above? — but essentially, footvolley means that the use of your hands is allowed in soccer. The annual Pro Footvolley Tour features the top 20 professional footvolley teams in the US alongside guest foreign teams, primarily from South America. Canadians are tragically not part of this event, but fear not footvolley fans: you can watch the competition on TV from the comfort of your couch.

Joggling

For most runners, listening to music is ample entertainment for their daily jaunt. However, if you find yourself getting bored during that last kilometre, then perhaps joggling is the solution. As the name implies, joggling combines elements of jogging and juggling. Torontonian Michal Kapral put Canada on the map by setting the Guinness World Record for joggling in a full marathon in 2007. Much like chessboxing, joggling requires physical and mental endurance, including some serious multitasking skills, but it would certainly allow for some added enjoyment as you run at the Athletic Centre (though the jury’s out on whether you or those watching you would have more fun). If you’re a daredevil, you can work joggling into your winter run along the icy paths of Queen’s Park.

Graffiti city

Behind Augusta Avenue and steps away from Queen Street East is Graffiti Alley, Toronto’s hall of fame for urban art. It’s not very big — you can walk through the whole network of interconnected back-alleys in ten minutes, but it tends to take longer. Like an art gallery, every new addition to the wall of art in Graffiti Alley compels you to stop, stare, and take pictures.

That’s what people were doing when I arrive there on a Sunday afternoon. A man, his wife and their young toddler are taking pictures. They had parked their Cadillac in one of two parking spaces in Graffiti Alley. The mother points out colourful fish and larger-than-life portraits done in neon colours to her daughter.

Graffiti Alley in Kensington Market. JENNIFER SU/THE VARSITY
Graffiti Alley in Kensington Market. JENNIFER SU/THE VARSITY

The debate surrounding graffiti is an old one: is it art, or the mark of renegade rabble-rousers? Is it art because it’s the mark of renegade rabble-rousers, or in spite of that?

In the middle of the day, Graffiti Alley seems as far removed from subversion or rabble-rousing as a visit to the Art Gallery of Ontario. It is an institution, comfortably integrated into Toronto’s cultural landscape. It’s the background of countless political rants on the Rick Mercer Report. The surrounding shops have integrated graffiti into their signs and buildings. The Hideout on the corner of Augusta Avenue and Queen Street East, for example, features a graffiti octopus whose tentacles crawl onto the brick wall of the building.

SPONSORED STREET ART

The City of Toronto has not been averse to integrating graffiti into its local landscape. Ever since Richard Florida’s seminal work Cities and the Creative Class in 2005, in which he argued that it was imperative for economically successful, post-industrial cities to be friendly to cosmopolitan, creative citizens, Toronto has made an effort to include public art into its urban landscape.

JENNIFER SU/THE VARSITY
JENNIFER SU/THE VARSITY

Some of this integration in done by charitable and outreach organization. StArt, or StreetArt Toronto, is a City-sponsored “pro-active program that aims to develop, support, promote and increase awareness of street art… while counteracting graffiti vandalism and its harmful effect on communities.” StArt funds initiatives that support this mission, providing up to $40,000 per project.

At the intersection of Woodbine Street and Queen Street East, a mural of brightly painted trees and birds reads: “Mural made by Art City in St James Town children and Youth and Grade Two’s at Kew Beach Public School.”

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JENNIFER SU/THE VARSITY

Art City in St. James Town is an NGO (non-governmental organization) “committed to providing after school art programs to the children and youth of this community.” The charity fosters creativity from an early age, investing directly in Toronto’s cosmopolitan future.

About twenty minutes north of the Kew Beach Public School mural, at Woodbine Street and Gerrard Street East, is the abstract mural of MEDIAH, principal artist of IAH Digital. Walking north on Woodbine Street, you enter a three-dimensional time-lapse of a street artist’s life, second grade to adulthood, all in under 20 minutes. The intersection of art and local, community-based activism creates success that you can watch unfolding on the streets of Toronto.

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JENNIFER SU/THE VARSITY

And yet, written a little nearer to the bottom of the Kew Beach Public School mural are the words, “If you see graffiti please call Art City.” StArt, too, distinguishes between street art and “graffiti vandalism.” The choice of words draws a clear line between commissioned work — street art — and unplanned additions — vandalism. The request places the onus on citizens to distinguish between the two; which some might argue should not be separated to begin with.

As Florida argues, the distinction is economically strategic. High quality street art from people like MEDIAH makes the city more vibrant, and vibrant cities attract young, working professionals.

DISCREPANCIES IN REGULATION

However, even MEDIAH had to start somewhere — and sitting down to speak with the artist reveals that the infrastructure necessary to foster artistic development in Toronto youth is still lacking, despite programs like Art City St. James Town and StArt.

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JENNIFER SU/THE VARSITY

“StART is a great program for promoting street art but it isn’t geared towards developing future artists,” says MEDIAH. “[I]t’s really for artists [who] are already established. Toronto lags behind many European cities in terms of artistic opportunities and training for young artists.”

Opportunities for young artists are scarce. “For example, when I was coming up I had to do my work without permission in order to be seen. Imagine if I had to wait for a Gallery to recognize me as a teenager and then expose my work. It wouldn’t have happened, ” he explaines.

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JENNIFER SU/THE VARSITY

The individuals in charge of graffiti regulation can also be problematic. The job of distinguishing between art and vandalism falls under municipal jurisdiction. Under the City of Toronto’s Municipal Code, graffiti vandalism, as opposed to graffiti art, “is defined as any deliberate markings made or affixed on property that is not currently exempted or regularized by the Graffiti Panel.

The City has created a Graffiti Panel to make these distinctions, but it also relies on citizens to report graffiti vandalism, without delineating very clearly between vandalism and art. It’s a problem MEDIAH himself has encountered in his career.

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JENNIFER SU/THE VARSITY

“The common layperson doesn’t know the difference [between graffiti vandalism and graffiti art],” says MEDIAH, adding, “For example when I was working on the RADI’AAL ENCOMPASS, a major underpass mural for the City of Toronto, I had residents call the police on me… even though I was [half] way finished one side of the bridge. Who in their right mind would paint a 96 feet mural for free in broad daylight without permission?”

MEDIAH attributes this to the lack of understanding the public has when it comes to distinguishing between the types of graffiti work, “The more public art projects that are funded by Street Art Toronto is the more the public will begin to understand the distinction between graffiti art and vandalism,” he adds.

LIMITED OPPORTUNITIES

Without appropriate public education or funding to legitimize street art in the city, the road to making a living off of street art is a hard one — much harder than a 20 minute stroll up Woodbine Avenue. If an artist is good enough to be commissioned, they’re allowed to express themselves. Anything less is prohibited.

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JENNIFER SU/THE VARSITY

“My experience was fairly difficult as a young artist,” MEDIAH explains. “I was only into graffiti at the time so there were no opportunities to be recognized professionally other than the 416 graffiti expo and Flexpo Graffiti Fair, both organized by an outdoor signage company called MURAD.

“Only certain graffiti artists were hired to do murals for Murad so that left young up and coming graf writers like myself out in the cold. Also, the graffiti scene was a lot more competitive and cut-throat. We really had to pay our dues to fight for our place in the scene.”

The journey to recognition was incredibly challenging, “It was a hard fought fight for legitimacy and respect from the established elite. After being dissed, dragged into bigger crew politics and being hated I kept painting, and improving year after year. Twenty years later and I’m now part of the established core of ‘older’ graffiti writers. In simple words, it’s been tough,” says MEDIAH.

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JENNIFER SU/THE VARSITY

He attributes this, in part, to the infancy of Toronto’s street art scene. Of course, becoming an artist in any field is not easy, and while activist projects funded by StART Toronto are helping to ease the path, there is a long way to go.

A sharp divide exists in Toronto between street art that is acceptable, and street art that is not. There is graffiti for Cadillac families to muse at on a Sunday, and there is graffiti that is considered to be the mark of a low-income neighbourhood — they are each art in their own way, existing side by side and sometimes merging onto one another in a tense intersection of social and economic divides.

Letter from the editor Fall 2014

Making a magazine boils down to a series of choices. 

Months ago, when we began the process of producing the pages that you now hold in your hands, we had a vision. Naively, we thought it would all turn out according to the blueprint. The final product reads nothing like those expectations — just like, if I’m being honest, my life today bears almost no resemblance to the vision I had for myself at the start of university four years ago.  Continue reading Letter from the editor Fall 2014

Sharing spaces

We’ve all cohabitated at some point in our lives, whether it was with parents, roommates, siblings, or a beloved Schnauzer-Bichon mutt. Sharing a space with others comes with challenges and frustrations as you navigate the politics of bathroom rules and sleep schedules — but it can also bring great comfort and memories (often involving wine).

Parents/roommates

I live at home with my parents, although I did the whole residence experience first year. The year apart gave us space from each other and time for them to realize I was an adult. Now my parents are like a hybrid of housemates and family, most of the time solely with the benefits of each. They grocery shop for me and take care of my dog, while leaving me space (literally a whole level of my house) for friends and homework. They throw parties and invite my friends, we go out for dinner on the weekends (during which I pre-drink), and their odd commentaries give me ideas for essays and Varsity articles. This arrangement is working for us, but I think that’s mostly because I don’t have younger siblings, our house is large enough for distance from each other, and I can walk to class in 10 minutes. I don’t think many students can even dream of having such an ideal situation, or parents as liberal as mine.
— Christina Atkinson, third-year, economics

Sinking

I once shared a bedroom with a bathroom attached. My roommate and I got along very well, and it was like any other bedroom. There was a nightstand in between the two beds, a shared closet, and a dresser with a mirror — the usual things. There was just one difference: the sink was in the bedroom — not in the bathroom. When my roommate came home at 4 am (he was a perpetual partier), the light over the sink turned on, the sink powered up, and I was awoken from my slumber. Some days, I just stayed awake until my morning shifts at 6 am. I tried explaining my situation, but he would not change his ways. Eventually, I gave in and just started partying with him. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

— Chuck*, fourth-year, neuroscience

Pranking phase

When I was 11 and my little brother was 7, we had what our parents will ominously refer to as our “pranking phase.” Our final “prank war” lasted about a month and featured stunts where he removed all the furniture from my room and replaced each item with a small replication in the form of a drawing. Finally, after he had smeared peanut butter and jelly all over my prized record collection, I went a little too far. My brother is both claustrophobic and terribly afraid of being buried alive (too many horror movies growing up). One night, I snuck into his room and placed a refrigerator box over his sleeping form, which I then weighted down with books. I waited for a bit, and then played loud, sad, music that I thought appropriate for a funeral. To this day, I have never heard someone freak out quite so loudly or intensely. Needless to say, our parents put locks on both of our doors.

— Sarah Niedoba, fourth-year, book and media studies, arts & culture editor at The Varsity

Many-legged insects

For the past four years I’ve been an occasional roommate with my best friend. I usually stay at her place on the nights that I can’t stomach my commute, or when we have an irrepressible need to sing the Gilmore Girls theme song proudly off-key. We’ve spent many a night drinking wine and dyeing our hair — which, remarkably enough, is not always the best combination.

I’m incredibly grateful for her generosity all these years. Her new apartment however, comes with some unexpected guests. A few weeks ago we were having a deeply moving girls night, sitting on the floor with a bottle of Naked Grape and Rent turned up to full-volume, when suddenly I felt a million tiny legs crawling over my foot. I will readily admit that we shrieked as we scrambled off the floor and away from the half-dozen, many-legged insects. We massacred most of them with a tissue box and flip flop, but one was too terrifying to take on. We now consider him the third roommate.

— Samantha Relich, fourth-year, criminology, magazine editor at The Varsity

Rodent roomies

Following a year in residence, I moved into a two-bedroom apartment with a first-year friend. Our friendship survived three years of happily living together (not always an easy feat), but that’s not the subject of my anecdote. Sometime after moving in, my friend and I found ourselves housing more roommates than we ever intended.

After several weeks of thinking we saw things moving out of the corner of our eyes, we finally laid eyes on our first mouse. For the next several years of living together in our quaint apartment, we would come upon mice almost daily, running along the walls of our bedrooms and across the kitchen. They lived inside our stove and would often make appearances in the presence of guests. While our friends would always rave about how adorable our apartment was, the vast mice population put us constantly on edge, eventually driving us out of the space.

Our relationship with the mice was a mix of occasional, misguided affection — I wrote a few poems about them and my roommate fondly named them — and of panic and anxiety. One unforgettable encounter occurred while we were watching a movie in my friend’s bed in the dark, and watched in awe as a mouse crept in her doorway, its silhouette flying what seemed like five feet in the air as it fled in terror at the sound of our screams. I have several memories of standing on the islands of our furniture, watching mice scurry into the small holes along our walls. I have yet to see a mouse in my new living space, but there are several at The Varsity office, so, unfortunately, a sense of withdrawal from my rodent roomies is not yet a concern.

— Danielle Klein, fifth-year, English and Jewish studies, editor-in-chief at The Varsity 

Misery and a mirror

When I was rooming with an old friend, we lived in a small studio apartment where there was very little personal space. One time, she came home from a party and she was in tears, holding a mirror. I was fairly confused by the scene before me. It turned out that she had picked up the mirror from the stairwell — and we needed a mirror, so stumbling upon this free one seemed really lucky. But she was also upset, and hence crying, because of a guy that had broken her heart. We spent the night celebrating the free find but also lamenting the lost love. It’s one of the best and most tragic memories I have of living with her.

— Mirror Mirror*, fourth-year, criminology at UTM

*Names changed at students’ requests.

On the move

Alexander Marshall, a third-year student at Woodsworth College, checked his Facebook to find an unexpected message waiting in his inbox. It was from a former classmate whom he had known years before when the two were attending an international school in Bordeaux, France. Included with the message was a photo of Marshall as a young boy with a group of other children.

“She asked me, ‘is this you? I haven’t seen you for about 10 or 11 years!’” he recounts. The message went on to say: “I remember your name. I still have a picture of you.”

Serendipitously, as it turns out, she was once again a classmate of Marshall’s — this time at the Univeristy of Toronto, hundreds of thousands of miles from where they had first met.

Depictions of reunion in film and television are often dramatic scenes marked by a swelling orchestral score as one character’s eyes meet another’s across a crowd. This particular reunion, despite a lack of a background score, was in many ways as implausible as something out of a cinema.

Hailing from places as far-flung as Iran or Brazil, or as a familiar as the US, U of T’s international student body — which, at 10,276 people, makes up 15.3 per cent of the total undergraduate population — represents a broad diversity of experiences. Individuals who grew up in a culture that is not their parents’ for a signifiant portion of their childhood years are called “third culture kids.”

The world is undoubtedly expansive and would not seem to lend itself well to intersecting paths on a mass scale. Yet, if mapped out across time and space, individual lives cross and connect with more frequency than could be imagined.

FROM MOVE TO MOVE

Marshall was born in Chicago to a British father and Norwegian mother, though he only stayed in the US for a matter of months before getting on a plane bound for Holland as a baby. It was the first in a series of moves tranversing both oceans that would take him to France, India, Shanghai, England, Hong Kong, and finally, Canada.

The extent to which Marshall seems to find himself stumbling in and out of relations with former acquaintances is staggering. 

Though they were never particularly close, Marshall and Steve Shi, a third-year Rotman Commerce student, had also met before they ran into one another through a mutual friend on Bloor Street last year.

Shi, who was born in Vancouver in 1994, is the son of Chinese civil engineers who had found work in Canada. He left Vancouver quite young for Singapore before continuing on to Hong Kong and Shanghai.

Like Marshall, whose father is an international commodities trader, Shi’s father was also the catalyst for transplanting the family over the years. “Every time he found a better opportunity, he would just go for it. I don’t think he was concerned about moving too much,” he says. 

Shi admits that the pace of travel throughout his childhood impacts his recollection. “It’s kind of hazy, to be honest,” he says of recounting his childhood years and the many temporary locations. 

It was in Shanghai that Shi attended an American international school while his brother attended the British international school with Marshall. 

TRANSIENT HOMES

Another expat, Jerome Newton, a fourth-year student at Trinity College, was born in the UK in a small town of less than 100,000 called Southport, about a 40-minute drive from Liverpool. But he has spent relatively little time in his country of birth — making “home” a rather challenging concept to articulate. 

As a word, “home” bears all kinds of subjective significance, especially for someone who has spent most of their life in international transit. “I suppose home would always have to be where my parents lived,” Newton responds after careful consideration. “Home changes all the time it’s not the UK anymore, and it hasn’t been for many, many years,” he adds. 

Like many of the university’s international students, most of his younger years were spent travelling, following his family from place to place, continent to continent. His father’s job has required constant relocation and meant that, growing up, Newton was only ever able to spend three to four years in a single country.

Newton explains that the constant movement quickly became a part of his identity, particularly in his love of travel. “I find it comforting to travel,” he says. 

Before arriving in Toronto in the fall of 2011, Newton had spent short blocks of time in the UK, New Zealand, Australia, and Singapore, where he graduated from high school at the United World College of South East Asia. 

CONSTANT CHANGE

Ironically, it would be Marshall, now one of Newton’s roommates on campus, who would provide the initial social link between the displaced Brit and another globetrotting student named Jamieson Wang, also The Varsity’s video editor. 

Wang’s family left Tokyo before she was born, returning to her mother’s native Singapore so that their daughter could claim citizenship. Like both Newton and Marshall,  she spent little time in her birthplace before moving. Her father works for Singapore Airlines, which has required him to shuttle between sales offices across Asia during Wang’s childhood. 

Change was a constant fixture in her life, even during periods where her family was settled. She described the experience of international school as perpetually in flux. “Having new kids every year was so common, and having your friends leave every year was so common,” she says. 

“I got used to [moving] very quickly,” she adds, “I kind of knew that it was what I had to do.”

She attended schools in Japan, Indonesia, South Africa, Spain, and finally returned to Singapore to graduate from the Overseas Family School. 

Wang and Marshall met during his frosh week in 2012, when she and Newton — yet to be introduced — were  already in their second years at U of T. Though she would not meet Newton through Marshall until 2013, the two were separated by only eight kilometres for a year in 2009 when he was down the road at United World College. 

It was in Japan at the Nagoya International School (NIS) that Wang crossed paths with third-year student Yukari Kosaka. Unlike the others, Kosaka stayed at NIS from pre-school as a toddler through to high school. “It was a tiny, tiny school, probably around 300 from preschool to high school, and I graduated in a class of 17 students,” she describes. 

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Jamieson Wang & Yukari Kosaka. RUSABA ALAM/THE VARSITY

Wang was not in that graduating class; nevertheless, the two recognized one another when, years later, Kosaka enrolled at Woodsworth College. Across continents, this small group of people has managed to bump into one another time and again, and inevitably coalesce at U of T — but having engaged in so many communities, knowing others across the globe is normal for these students. While this repeated shifting can be polarizing, for many internationals, the act of moving has become an important constant in their lives. 

Rachel Hillcoat, a political science and international relations student enrolled at University College and former classmate of Kosaka and Wang, was born in Canada but moved with her family to Japan shortly after. She describes experiencing a sense of disparity between her cultural identities. She hopes to eventually find a career that allows her to move around a lot, ideally between her two homes in Canada and Japan.

“Probably because of my upbringing, I definitely see myself moving around a lot in the future,” she says, adding, “I don’t think I could ever stay in one place my whole life.”

Mixing magic

Sometimes two music genres can come together in an unsuspected merger of minds that results in a novel, exciting mix sure to delight listeners of both sounds. Other times, two genres come together and we’d all rather forget that they did. Here’s a rundown of some artists who made mixed music magic ­— and others who should probably stick with what they know. 

Hits

Ed Sheeran — “I See Fire” (Kygo Remix) 

Norwegian musician and remixer Kygo isn’t the first producer to incorporate tropical tones into electronic music. However, his experimentation with folk and country songs tips into a completely different territory. The final products are downtempo and minimal tracks with a pop that makes them a great fit for a beach setting.

Future Islands — “Fall From Grace”

Post-hardcore and new wave never met in the ’80s, but Future Islands asks, why not now? The tour de force track on the band’s latest album Singles reunites two long-lost siblings separated in the punk movement, juxtaposing distorted guitars and raw vocals with eerie synthesizers and percussion.

M83 

Electronica, shoegaze, and ’80s music are the cornerstones of M83’s long career. Most known for their mainstream breakthrough album Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, the innovators of synthesizers in shoegaze provide a clear medium between rock ’n’ roll and electronica that is often hard to find.

Foreign Beggars — “Contact”

These UK rappers took the dubstep movement to new heights when they added their bombastic personalities and vocals to the wobbly basslines of producers like Skrillex and NOISIA. Foreign Beggars, among others in the UK grime movement, embraced the opportunity to amplify the volatile elements of dubstep to greater heights with an added rap vocal.

Joanna Gruesome — Weird Sister 

A flurry of different genres from noise to punk rock to indie pop feature in this musical project. The culmination of this mixture is often abrasive but not without ear-catching pop tendencies. Oscillating between these two modes is often a hard task, but Joanna Gruesome effortlessly wields explosive punk rock with catchy indie sweetness.

Misses

Avicii — Hey Brother

While the attempt at combining the highly marketable genres of indie folk and stadium house is admirable,  the track “Wake Me Up” off Avicii’s album lacks the build-up need for a wow-worthy dance track and misses on the opportunity to incorporate the choral vocals or intimacy of indie folk.

Avril Lavigne ft. Lil’ Mama — “Girlfriend (Remix)”

It’s not exactly outside of the box to pair rock music with rap music. In fact, it’s been done several times quite well. But this pair’s attempt to meld the genres really fails to keep any of the redeeming qualities of pop rock and just becomes a generic pop song for Lil’ Mama to lay some vocals over.

Skrillex and The Doors — “Breakn’ a Sweat” 

Part of a project to pair DJ/producers with musicians of an older generation, this track just falls flat. It doesn’t stir up any kind of nostalgia or reminiscent feeling regarding The Doors or make for a meaningful experiment. A few bells and whistles circle round a synth line sandwiched with a carnivalesque guitar riff. It’s a miss — but I would have been intrigued to see the interaction in the studio on this one.

Nelly ft. Tim McGraw — “Over and Over”

If you are going to make a valiant effort to bring rap music closer to country, firstly, good luck, but secondly, good idea to call Tim McGraw. Unfortunately, I would hardly describe what Nelly does on this track as rapping. The song might actually benefit from Nelly just stepping right out of the track altogether, but then it probably wouldn’t count as cross-genre.

Punk Goes Pop

These compilation albums bring post-hardcore and screamo bands together to cover current and classic pop tracks, but quite often the result is simply comical and ultimately results in completely devaluing the efforts of pop rock and pop-punk. The whole album follows the following format: clean vocal verses, breakdown, and comical throat vocals choruses.

City of neighbourhoods

The corner of Homewood Avenue and Maitland Street is a complicated one. Looking north towards Wellesley Street, a nearly 40-storey condominium looms over historic brick apartment buildings. South towards Carlton Street, the Allan Gardens Conservatory greenhouse shelters homeless people from the rain. In the mornings, condo owners drop by Red Rocket Coffee on their way to work while young students play tag outside of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School. At night, transgendered sex workers meet their clients along Maitland Street. The view from my bedroom window shows Toronto — old and new, wealthy and poor — all coinciding along one street. 

In our city of neighbourhoods, people often define themselves by where they live, and for good reason. With unrelenting condo development, a single city block can double in property value practically overnight. With more immigrants than almost any other city in the world, you can hear several different languages just by crossing the street. The boundaries between Toronto’s neighbourhoods matter in our day to day lives.

 After several years of living in Toronto, when I finally ventured east of Yonge Street, I landed at the intersection of three distinct Toronto neighbourhoods: Church-Wellesley Village, St. James Town, and Cabbagetown. These neighbourhoods share much more than geographical boundaries: historically, this corner of downtown has been home to Toronto’s poor and marginalized communities. From those similar beginnings, these three neighbourhoods have evolved in stark contrast to each other, reinventing themselves to adapt to Toronto’s ever-changing population.

CABBAGETOWN

In a city where green space can be hard to come by, Cabbagetown houses boast beautifully landscaped front gardens. The streets east of Parliament Street are lined with mature trees. It’s a quiet, family-oriented community, but it’s also only a quick ride on the Carlton streetcar to the bustling downtown core. Riverdale Farm and the Toronto Necropolis draw a steady stream of foot traffic to local, independently-owned businesses. The neighbourhood flag — featuring a bright green cabbage — flies above many homes along the streets. 

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The Toronto Necropolis, shown here, is one of Toronto’s oldest cemeteries and the final resting place of many of Toronto’s prominent individuals, such as the first mayor William Lyon Mackenzie, and, more recently, federal NDP leader Jack Layton. VIVEK SRIKANTHAN/THE VARSITY

Like so many Toronto neighbourhoods, Cabbagetown began as an ethnic enclave; the original residents of the area were Irish immigrants fleeing from famine in the mid-1800s. The city’s British majority coined the name as an offensive jab at the newcomers’ makeshift vegetable gardens. Cabbagetown was considered one of Toronto’s worst slums for decades — until savvy buyers noticed that the location and housing stock had serious real estate potential. 

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The Toronto Necropolis. VIVEK SRIKANTHAN/THE VARSITY

“This started back in the late ’70s, when there were a couple of real estate agents and investors that started to buy properties and started renovating them, and that basically gentrified the area and changed its landscape,” says Addy Saeed, real estate agent and Cabbagetown Residents’ Association board member.  

Today, Cabbagetown is one of Toronto’s most sought-after neighbourhoods, with home prices to match: in 2012, the average price for a detached home was $1.3 million. 

Since its rebirth about 40 years ago, the neighbourhood has made a concerted effort to build its reputation as Toronto’s architectural destination. Thanks to local activists, much of the area has been designated as a heritage conservation district by the province, making the neighborhood one of the largest areas of preserved Victorian homes in North America. The annual Cabbagetown Tour of Homes lets apartment-dwellers peek into the renovated interiors of these heritage mansions. The front doors and fences are adorned by plaques, telling the stories of the famous Canadians who once lived and worked in the neighbourhood. 

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Riverdale Farm, a historic farmstead tucked away in the heart of Cabbagetown. VIVEK SRIKANTHAN/THE VARSITY

Other than its quirky name, there aren’t many reminders of Cabbagetown’s former identity as an impoverished immigrant centre. Today, immigrants account for less than 30 per cent of the neighbourhood’s population — though still a significant figure, it is less than average for Toronto.

 “Because of the prices being so high [in Cabbagetown], a lot of the immigrants are coming in and looking for cheaper shelters… they tend to be moving into apartment buildings,” explains Saeed. 

High-density apartments and condo buildings have never been part of Cabbagetown’s landscape, and because of its heritage designation, that’s unlikely to change anytime soon. “So that’s where St. James Town comes into greater importance,” Saeed adds.

ST. JAMES TOWN

Moving north on Parliament Street, the scene shifts dramatically. North of Wellesley Street, the sidewalks become emptier and the inviting restaurants and shops disappear. Instead, imposing concrete apartment buildings dominate the streetscape. 

St. James Town was built on a dizzyingly large scale, a stark contrast to Cabbagetown’s charming low-rise storefronts. It feels surprisingly quiet, given that this single square block is officially home to 18,000 people — though local estimates suggest that the actual population is 25,000 — making it the most densely populated neighbourhood anywhere in Canada. 

While Cabbagetown evokes images of the Victorian era, St. James Town is a relic of mid-century urban planning. Rather than revitalizing the existing buildings north of Wellesley, entire blocks of dilapidated Victorian homes were razed in the 1950s and ’60s to make way for modern “Towers in the Park” for Toronto’s middle class. 

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Mid-century style apartments buildings dominate the skyline in St. James Town. VIVEK SRIKANTHAN/THE VARSITY

If St. James Town feels isolated from the rest of the city, it’s because it was designed that way — the principle at the time was to keep people, roads, and retail segregated from each other. Modern high-rise apartments, surrounded by expansive swaths of green space, were envisioned as a solution to the problems of over-crowding and pollution that plagued Toronto’s downtown.  

It might be invisible to many of us, but within the collection of concrete towers is one of Canada’s most culturally diverse communities. 

“There’s probably 60 to 70 different cultures,” says Chris Hallett of Community Matters Toronto, a grassroots organization that facilitates employment and education programs for St. James Town community members. 

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Efforts are being made toward increasing community space in St. James Town. VIVEK SRIKANTHAN/THE VARSITY

St. James Town is home to over 11,000 newcomers to Canada who are looking for an affordable place to begin their new lives. This commonality, along with the close living quarters, creates a unique sense of community cohesion in St. James Town.

“Because [constituents of St. James Town] share a common interest of trying to become established and trying to learn about Canadian culture and trying to learn about where they are… there’s participation in each other’s cultural festivals, there’s an attempt to learn different languages… But it’s all done as a group, it’s not done as individual cultures,” says Hallett. 

The area is poised for new condo development soon, but it’s unclear how even greater density will affect the services and amenities in the community. St. James Town is a highly educated community, but the average income is less than half of the Toronto average. 

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St. James Town street art. VIVEK SRIKANTHAN/THE VARSITY

Hallett says that most residents of the apartment towers are focused on their immediate financial needs, leaving little time for the type of civic engagement that has helped to mitigate the negative impacts of condo development for other communities. 

However, that trend seems to be changing: from advocating for healthier garbage collection policies to organizing the St. James Town Festival, community members have recently been joining together to make improvements to their neighbourhood.  

“Before we had a very unorganized group of small, poorly resourced agencies… that void was filled by the community itself,” says Hallett. 

This newfound sense of ownership could help St. James Town adapt to the changes and challenges that lie ahead.

CHURCH-WELLESLEY VILLAGE

A little further west on Wellesley, rainbow flags fly on street signs and in shop windows. The business activity is more eclectic, from swanky cocktail lounges to fast-food chains to independently owned hardware stores.  

The homes are a mixed bag too: there are a few of the high-rise apartment towers common to St. James Town, and a handful of heritage buildings more reminiscent of historic Cabbagetown. At night, there’s a steady stream of drunken party-goers on the street; by morning, couples with young children stop for brunch. Church-Wellesley is the picture of a neighbourhood in transition.

“The Village” has long been the epicenter of Toronto’s LGBTQQIP2SAA community. Its origins trace back to 1826, when the land was purchased by Alexander Wood, a British merchant and, some suspected, homosexual. The public began to refer to the area as “Molly Wood’s Bush” (“molly” being a derogatory term for homosexual at the time), and local lore suggests it has been a meeting place for gay men ever since. 

A mural on the northwest corner of Church and Wellesley depicts a timeline of milestones from the community’s LGBTQ activism campaigns. The artwork is a sobering reminder of the political battles that have taken place in the neighbourhood. 

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A series of murals in The Village display community history. VIVEK SRIKANTHAN/THE VARSITY

From protests against bathhouse raids to AIDS activism to present-day Pride Week celebrations, the community leaders in the Village have been advocating on behalf of Toronto’s sexual minorities for decades.

As attitudes towards the LGBTQ community have shifted, the Village’s identity is less certain. 

“Gay people don’t have to go to the one area of the city to feel safe anymore,” says Laurence Heath, a resident of the area and sales associate at Northbound Leather, a leather shop near the intersection of Yonge and Wellesley whose products include corsets, harnesses, and bodysuits. 

“You could go almost anywhere, especially in Toronto anyways, and feel fine,” he adds.

 The Village is no longer exclusively gay; same-sex couples are moving out while straight couples are moving in. Although this greater acceptance is undoubtedly a good thing, it does change the face of Church-Wellesley Village, particularly for business owners who have historically catered to LGBTQ clientele. 

“You can’t just open up a business, put a rainbow flag out, and have all the gay men flocking to your store to patronize it. It just doesn’t work that way anymore,” explains Heath. Northbound Leather hosts a monthly fetish night and describes itself on its website as “a proud supporter the leather, fetish, BDSM, gay, transgender, and alternative communities.” 

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Rainbow crosswalks and street signs are a nod to the historical and present-day LGBTQ population in the community. VIVEK SRIKANTHAN/THE VARSITY

Alongside this cultural shift, gentrification of the area is evident. New condo developments are cropping up along Carlton Street and Wellesley Street, while major retailers buy out space along the commercial strip. 

Heath explained that the independent businesses are struggling to keep up with the rising rents along Church Street. It’s a fate that Cabbagetown seems to have miraculously avoided. 

“I see that little stretch of Parliament, from Wellesley down to Carlton, as being very similar to the way that Church Street used to be,” he says.   

AN UNEVEN PATH

Like so much of Toronto, the northeast corner of downtown is a patchwork of disparate communities. These few square blocks have historically had an important role for those who were excluded from the rest of Toronto society, from early working-class Irish settlers, to LGBTQ activists, to new waves of immigrants to Canada.

The histories of these communities play an integral role in their identity, but, as time passes, the connections to their origins appear to be weakening. New infrastructure and demographics are moving in and replacing neighbourhood characteristics that once defined the areas’ identities and their place in Toronto’s patchwork of neighbourhoods. 

The view from my bedroom window shows the overlapping layers of Toronto’s past and the uncertainty of its future. It’s an intersection that reflects our city’s haphazard history, the messy divisions that still remain, and the change that is undoubtedly to come. 

Printing digital

It’s challenging to tell a story in 900 words.

Nine hundred words is only about three pages double-spaced. It’s the number of words we were assigned for this piece — which we slightly exceeded, but will likely be trimmed down to by the editor. This isn’t a number that’s been pulled out of thin air — it’s a very informed amount that provides a glimpse into how print media works. It’s a number dictated by the editor’s plan and what they have in mind for this particular story and where it stands in relation to the other stories in this magazine. It’s a number that reflects the resources at the publication’s disposal, design limitations, and visual specifications. It’s a carefully chosen figure, one that can make telling a story in its entirety very hard — but this is the reality of print.

There are several tropes that plague discourse around modern media consumption, such as social media addiction, listicles, and the catch-all phrase that “print is dead.”

In the last few years, a common step for many longstanding print magazines has been to stop print production entirely. These shifts are usually hailed by critics as proof of a dying industry — but transitions to web may not necessarily be the death knell they are often perceived as.

AN EVOLVING INDUSTRY           

The fact is, print isn’t dead — its impression as such is emblematic of wider evolution in the publishing industry.

The most profitable magazines today are tabloid weeklies, glossy fashion publications, and lifestyle magazines from the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Martha Stewart. Owned by media conglomerates, publications such as these face fewer financial challenges than smaller-scale, niche products.

David Rose, a publisher from Lapham’s Quarterly, differentiates between the power of strong editorial design versus business make-up. After almost two decades of publishing experience, he argues that the opposite of what we may think is true: a magazine with low-quality content will sell if the business model works.

Despite these challenges, magazines like Hazlitt are inverting traditional standards with new editorial approaches. Hazlitt was founded on the notion that good writing can make anything interesting — even a dense finance story.

Haley Mlotek, editor of The Hairpin, is inclined to agree.

“I really think that if I chose the writers and the articles I believe in, if I publish articles I really believe people want to read, then I’ve done my job,” she says.

Mlotek admits that it’s not an exact science, adding, “My faith, if you want to call it that, lies primarily with the writing first.”

The publishing giant, Random House of Canada — now Penguin Random House — created Hazlitt as their digital space to showcase good writing on any and all topics. Random House is straddling the space between print and online, employing its traditional model of publishing in the web realm.

THE ELASTICITY OF DIGITAL

From a creative perspective, there are no technical boundaries to what you can publish online.

The internet comes equipped with hundreds of different platforms and tools designed to make using it easier. Sites such as WordPress, Tumblr, and Medium have opened up the act of publishing to pretty much anyone with a decent WiFi connection and valid email address. Articles have the potential to come alive with the addition of multimedia and interactive elements such as audiovisuals and infographics. 

“Online, there are some things I can do that you can’t do in print, like publish really timely pieces or not worry so much about things like word count or page layout,” Mlotek explains, adding, “It’s more flexible to the writing.”

Digital content is also more universally accessible to readers. Physical magazines are only available in certain locations to those who can afford them. When we’re reading online, we don’t have to purchase an entire issue of The Atlantic just to read one feature — and, if we really like that one article, we can save it to revisit and share it on social media towards facilitating a conversation about it.

Print publications often cater to a target readership. When you’re a digital publication, however, you might have a target readership in mind — but if one article goes viral, your audience can dramatically expand in a matter of hours.

For print, the number of issues being produced and the amount and value of advertising space being sold are strong indicators of a magazine’s health — but measuring success online is more challenging.

There are a number of things that an editor can consider to gauge how well an article is doing, such as page views or the number of shares on social media.

Mlotek emphasizes that success in terms of page views doesn’t necessarily mean a positive public response, however. “I can think of a lot of articles published online that are technically successful because people ‘hate read’ them,” she explains.

“On the other hand, it’s really important to me that I see some reaction… I want to see what readers think about a piece, how they feel, what they like or don’t like,” she adds.

NOT DEAD YET

Rose argues that the reason print magazines fail is not due to poor quality, but merely lack of publishing expertise. Looking back to a decade ago, when the digital sphere was rapidly expanding, print publishing skills were often entirely cast aside to make way for their digital counterparts. 

It is not uncommon for magazines to experience success online and then flounder when looking to expand into print — which Rose attributes to a lack of knowledge of the fundamentals of print, including balancing a budget, marketing strategically, and management.

Today the digital magazine industry is showcasing innovative editorial visions — and while the online model allows for complete creative freedom, it is the intersection with print that measures the resilience of these publications. The loss of each small, independent magazine is used as fodder for the growing idea in our minds that print is, in fact, dead. Print does, however, live on ­— in some cases with great success. The fork in the road between print, online, or both presents a choice for publications. The decision they make depends on their preparedness in tackling the medium, not on a flaw in the medium itself.