Category Archives: Winter 2015

What it means to move

They stand, feet flexed and arms raised.

“Seven, eight.”

Notes emanate from the piano in the corner and, as if woken from a trance, 15 dancers spring into motion in near unison. As they moved though crouches and dips and extensions of arms and legs, their instructor floats around the room, watching. She pauses to adjust hips and straighten backs, asking one to “release” and “stabilize”.

Then the music and the movements stop. The instructor brings the dancers’ attention forward as she explains the  importance of “catching the moment,” and compares a challenging move to hugging a puppy. He face is animated and lit with infectious enthusiasm. The dancers drink in each word that echoes through the sunlit studio before the count begins and they break into motion once more.

At the turn of the twentieth century, an alternative style of dance emerged, and challenged the rigid structure and limitations of classical ballet. Born from a rejection of the strict confines of ballet, modern dance allows dancers and choreographers to express themselves, fully embracing creativity and freedom of motion.

Watching the distinct styles of ballet and modern dance performed in tandem provides a striking comparison. Ballet dancers point their feet, modern dancers flex theirs. Ballet dancers wear their hair tightly pulled back, modern dance has no such requirement. The prototypical ballet dancer is tall and thin, while modern dancers come in all shapes and sizes. The versatility of modern dance is for some its greatest charm, though technique is still integral.

Technique is where the dance instructor’s role comes in. Helen Jones is a small, slight woman with grey hair. Born in Wales, she began dancing when she was four years old and has never stopped. She is a U of T alumni, with a degree in psychology and a diploma from OISE, and is a member of York University’s dance faculty and senior faculty at The School of Toronto Dance Theatre.

Though her time is primarily consumed by teaching, she still performs occasionally. Jones’ colourful career as a dancer has taken her from Brussels to Broadway. She summarizes her experience as a dancer is simple terms, saying that in her experience, her “job as a dancer was to do the hard and thoughtful work to bring a concept to life for the audience.” Jones’ students unanimously cite her when asked about their dance inspirations, not only because of her illustrious career, but also her continued involvement in the industry. “She’s still doing so much now,” says student Sarah Johnsen.

Mastering the art of modern dance is, for many, a lifelong pursuit — and to her students, Jones has achieved this goal.

“[When] it’s Helen, it’s this goddess doing it and when you do it, you just look stupid,” says student Paige Sayles.

When discussing innovators in the genre, names like José Limón and Lester Horton have an irrefutable place at the forefront of the conversation. Among Jones’ students, however, one name stands out — Martha Graham. According to Johnsen, Graham “made the impossible, possible,” while other students describing her as the Picasso of modern dance. Graham’s dance company is the oldest in America and she was the first dancer to perform at the White House.

Jones too cited Graham as one of her core inspirations, perhaps since she spent part of her career dancing for Graham’s company. The fundamental movement of Graham’s modern style is the contraction, inspired by feelings when laughing and crying. The contraction has the power to represent euphoria, sadness, and the spectrum of emotions in between.

Kerrie Hartmann, a self-proclaimed ballet purist, admits that she hated modern at first, but has since come around. “I really am loving modern and starting to realize the value of it, and I think all classically trained dancers should take modern as a way to break that mold of always being in first position with your arms held,” she says.

Modern dance also breaks away from the slippers and more ornate costumes usually worn during ballet. Most modern costumes are fairly plain, either form fitting attire or long skirts for women, with dancers usually barefoot.

“I think Martha Graham just wanted people to focus on the dancing instead of being distracted by costumes or colours,” proposes Marquisha Sparkes, who is relatively new to dance. Her classmate, Sayles, explains that “[Modern] is very vulnerable movement, so you have to show off the body instead of being covered by, say, a tutu.” Capturing emotion is the crux of dance. “Movement cannot be devoid of meaning because we as humans are hard-wired to the very nuanced vocabulary of body language. Some gestures of course are very blatant, but we train for a vast and often subtle range,” explains Jones.

Some movements come with intended emotions — when they do, the dancer simply harnesses that emotion in their movement. For moments without an ascribed feeling, dancers must look into themselves for the emotional meaning behind their movements.

“If we aren’t told what the meaning is, then we embody our own story and we take out a character because we’re all performers, so we just envision one,” explains Sayles.

Makayla Ruffle-McDonald, another student, believes that feeling enhances her performance. “If I don’t know the intention of a movement and I do it, it’s kind of one dimensional, but once I learn about what the feeling is supposed to be, I feel like I can add so much more to it.”

Practicing the art of conveying emotion is as integral as the physical technique. The discussion over, Jones calls her students back to their positions. Some work barefoot, others opt for socks with the heels exposed. Jones counts them in and the pianist brings music to the studio.

The students begin to move through contractions and spirals, culminating in a high release. They speed across the room seemingly effortlessly, transitioning into “sparklers” — a jump with arms and legs extended. They land in union with a resounding thump — Jones calls out for them to embody the light footedness of matadors, and the subsequent landings are far softer.

“The whole technique [of modern] is based on using your core, and that’s something that a dancer isn’t used to. You have to literally fall over, but hold yourself. Sometimes, you have to relax all your muscles and contract them at the same time… It’s like [trying] to shift your bones to make yourself go the opposite way,” says Christopher Gallina, a hip-hop convert to modern. All the dancers I spoke to agreed that, in many ways, modern is a contradiction, but a wonderful one at that.

Like all storytelling, modern dance opens itself to interpretation from the audience, and every storyteller will tell the tale slightly differently. Every dancer is unique, so every movement will have a distinct quality that adds a particular accent to the story. As the dancers break out of unison the impact of the diversity of motion becomes clear: each has their own nuanced style, bringing an emotion to the movement that transcends the physical performance.

What’s language got to do with it?

If you spent a day on any one of the University of Toronto’s three campuses, you would hear many — maybe dozens — of languages spoken by students, professors, and staff. The people here communicate with each other every day: in the hallways, in the classroom, in our writing and presenting. But how do our varying linguistic backgrounds impact that communication?

For some of us, this question hasn’t earned much thought over time. Perhaps we are native English speakers who have lived in an English-speaking context for the majority of our lives. Or maybe we are multilingual ourselves, and are so used to being flexible in how we communicate with others that it happens subconsciously. At either extreme and anywhere in the middle, it merits a pause to think about the veritable array of languages at play around us every day.

The Varsity spoke to just a sample of students with varying experiences with language. Some have faced completely new languages from scratch; others have gradually learned English through study or submersion. What is striking are the kinds of questions that came out of this conversation: What does your ability to speak a certain language tell you and others about who you are? How do we break down barriers when we can’t understand each other? And, at the end of the day, does the language we speak matter at all?

Sonia

“I had to use Google Translate for menus to show them the translated word.”
Languages spoken: Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese, English
ALEXANDRA SCANDOLO/THE VARSITY
ALEXANDRA SCANDOLO/THE VARSITY

 

Sonia is an international student from Hong Kong. During her primary and secondary educations, it was compulsory for her to learn Cantonese, Mandarin, and English at the same time. Her mother, who grew up in Japan, spoke Japanese with her at home. Mastering four languages, however, doesn’t make a person impervious to linguistic challenges. Last summer, she found herself on a five-week summer abroad trip to Argentina, with no Spanish background at all.

“Their main language is Spanish. When I got there, I thought at least Argentinians would speak English at some level, but then [it] turned out they don’t at all. Everyone speaks only Spanish. Half the students that went with us had some sort of Spanish background, either their U of T major or Spanish courses. I have no background at all,” she describes.

“I was hoping I could at least ask for a coffee in English, but people were like ‘What are you saying?’ in Spanish back to me. I had the biggest problem there. I remember I had to use Google Translate for menus and show them the translated word to order a latte,” she adds,

Over time, Sonia found that she was able to learn some Spanish.

“Google Translate was really helpful,” she says. “I probably couldn’t have survived without that. It was also near where we were living for the first two weeks, we did some classes in a local university. There were a lot of local Argentinian students. From then on, we figured that university students are actually bilingual; they were different from the locals. They tend to speak more English compared to other people that live in the area. We talked to them, tried to make friends with them; they taught us some of the words that we could use.”

This experience made Sonia think about how much language really does matter to communication.

“I remember someone robbed [one of our group mates] and I had to come meet her at the police station,” she recalls. “It was so difficult to find the direction[s]. It was out of our neighbourhood, so we had to travel an hour away to another region, and we were trying to ask for directions. Oftentimes I’ll ask is it left or right and literally show them [the directions with my hands], but they had difficulty understanding us. If we [could] speak a little bit of Spanish then those body languages would be really helpful. But [since we couldn’t] speak at all, then it was hard to even start the conversation.”

Taha 

“I am generally very conservative with language. I make a point to speak Urdu when I’m speaking Urdu, without any English adulterations.”
Languages spoken: Urdu, English, some Cantonese, Mandarin, and some regional dialects of Southeast Asia
ALEXANDRA SCANDOLO/THE VARSITY
ALEXANDRA SCANDOLO/THE VARSITY

 

Like Sonia, Taha is multilingual. He grew up in Pakistan; Urdu is his native tongue. However, he was also immersed in English from a young age, as it is the “official” language of business in Pakistan. As a result of this and of his experience at U of T, he has witnessed firsthand how globalization affects language, and what is at stake when languages are forgotten.

“I grew up being bilingual, so we kind of made a third language out of [Urdu and English] because it was kind of mixed together in that way,” he says. “Even now I don’t know a lot of words in English and/or Urdu and I mix the two together and get a third language. That’s what I’m used to: generally Urdu grammar with 60 per cent English words.”

“I think I am generally very conservative with language… I make it a point to try to speak Urdu when I’m speaking Urdu, without any English adulterations. And I make a point to speak English when I’m speaking English, without any Urdu adulterations. What I get from a lot of people who understand both languages is I speak like a newscaster when I’m speaking in Urdu. Because nobody speaks that way anymore, it’s this new hybrid language that people are speaking normally,” he says.

This means that something intrinsic is at risk of being lost, Taha says.

“I think there is value [in languages themselves] and the value lies largely in the historical literature of the language. The essence of a language is in its poetry and its prose. It tells you about emotions and things around you, the falling of autumn leaves and love and all these beautiful things that can’t be expressed otherwise. And all of these things, there’s a beauty, that essence, that romantic element would all be lost,” Taha describes.

He notices a similar effect on a personal level.

“My sense of humour may be fantastic in Urdu,” he explains. “I get that all the time when I talk to my brother and so on, but in English I’m just not quick-witted enough; my answers don’t flow in the same way.”

“You can have Siri in Indian English now, because you can use that hybrid language. It allows you to do that. You’ve got terms like ‘Hinglish’ that exist. It’s cool in its own way, but it’s also scary for someone like myself,” he adds.

Globalization is a real concern for Taha.

“There’s something I heard recently: South Asia was colonized after the colonizers left. That’s when our hearts and minds were actually colonized. My grandfather went to Cambridge back in the ’30s. Everyone wanted to be English and act English and start wearing English clothes and talk in a certain way,” he says.

“The definition of becoming cultured was going to Britain,” he adds.

Tom

“If I discuss in English, I tend to be a little bit more radical.”
Languages spoken: German, English

 

Tom is an international student from Germany with a long-standing connection to Canada. His family used to come to Toronto for a few weeks every summer. Tom is now fluent, but learned English fairly recently and intensively. He studied the language since grade six in Germany, and went to Cambridge for nine months before coming to the University of Toronto. Now, he says that, though he is fluent in English, for him it will never be like a native tongue.

“What’s still a little bit of a challenge is to speak in front of the class if it’s a huge lecture,” he explains. “It’s not that easy to make your point because if you hear those other students who are the good students, of course they play with the language in such a sophisticated way; they sound so professional. So because English is not your first language you can’t sound that sophisticated. It’s a lot about sounding smart. It’s not about what you say, it’s how you say it.”

Tom says that he still picks up on colloquialisms, watches movies in English, and even thinks English grammar is easier than his native language.

“I recently read a study where if people talk in a language that is a foreign language, they use their feelings less. The question of the experiment was whether people were willing to sacrifice someone for some greater good,” he describes. “In their own language, people were less likely to sacrifice that person, but in a foreign language they were more willing to do that. So I think there’s some emotional way that our native language speaks to our feelings and our emotions that apparently other languages cannot do.”

Tom has noticed this at play in his own life.

“I’ve noticed that on myself a little bit, that if I discuss in English, I tend to be a little bit more radical. Just slightly — it’s not that I completely change my point of view. In German I consider things in a different way. Same with movies. I watch a movie in English, I understand everything by now but I can’t feel them in the same way that I can feel German movies. So even if it’s an American movie I sometimes prefer to watch it in the German version,” he says.

Alice

“I remember being really embarrassed that I didn’t know what that means and at the same time feeling like I was being bullied just because I didn’t know this language.”
Languages spoken: Mandarin, English
ALEXANDRA SCANDOLO/THE VARSITY
ALEXANDRA SCANDOLO/THE VARSITY

Alice’s family came to Canada briefly in 1999 and permanently when she was in grade four. Now she says that she has been here long enough that both Mandarin and English feel like first languages to her. She still remembers what it was like to learn a brand new language, and is reminded to this day of the sorts of power dynamics language barriers can create.

“The first thing that comes to mind when I first came to Canada in grade four, is a memory of mine,” she recalls. “I was struggling with English at first. There was this kid — I can remember his face really clearly. He had a basketball in his hand. It was a pretty sunny day. We were called back in from recess. On my way back I remember him looking at me and he’s like, ‘Why do you look so dumb?’”

“At that time I was like, what does that word mean? I forced myself to remember that word, and then I went back home and I asked my dad what the word dumb meant, and I remember we were both flipping through the English to Mandarin dictionary and looking up the word dumb only to find out… it means dumb. I remember being really embarrassed that I didn’t know what that means and at the same time feeling like I was being bullied just because I didn’t know this language,” she says.

Aside from the occasional grammatical error, Alice says that she rarely thinks about English as a second language anymore. However, on a summer abroad trip to Hong Kong, she noticed again the kind of social repercussions that can result from language differences.

“When I was in [Hong Kong], for example, I didn’t speak Cantonese, and I feel like everywhere I went I was a traveller and a foreigner,” she explains. “It was certainly in the [Hong Kong] culture to act differently toward people that didn’t speak the language. Not to say that they’re deliberately being rude to you, but even so, just because I didn’t understand the culture, and I didn’t speak the language, I felt very excluded to ask anybody anything.”

“I think language certainly signifies a hierarchy of whether or not you know it,” Alice adds. “If you don’t know it, then it’s  automatically assumed that you’re a lower status, even though you might not be.”

Takedown shakedown

You just posted a sweet, sweet remix on YouTube last night and you can’t wait to get home and see how many views it’s racked up. You sit down, log in, and instantly go from hopeful to crestfallen. You’ve received notice that your video contains infringing content and has been taken down. You certainly didn’t mean to infringe upon anyone’s intellectual property, but you’re unsure if there’s anything you can do about it now.

Intellectual property is a term that’s thrown around pretty loosely these days, a catch-all for the ownership of intangibles, not pointing to any one singular thing. It’s a misleading term, inclining one to believe there might actually be some overarching and unifying policy behind it. There’s not, and there’s been some controversy around how it seems to paint itself as doing so.

Implicit in the term is a bias. Parker Higgins, director of copyright activism at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, explains: “It does require some, you know, puppet master pulling the strings, but there is reason to think that the people who are pushing for thicker and stronger copyright term benefit from (A) all these things being conflated and (B) them all being called property.” There is a stronger sense of ownership, a sense in which when it’s called “property,” something as intangible as an idea might be perceived of as belonging squarely to one person or one party and not to another.

Free software activist Richard Stallman corroborates: the term “lumps three different things, with three different sets of laws, into one confusing pot and then corporations get to benefit from the confusion.” When we talk about intellectual property, what we’re actually talking about is one of copyright, patent, or trademark, each of which is in effect toward a very different end. It is a mistake to think these generalize into a coherent whole. Higgins emphasizes that “copyright and patent are very different, but even more so with copyright and trademark — the purpose of the law is almost opposite.”

Whereas trademark law is designed to protect consumers, to let them know what they are buying and that the instances of branding they run into are genuine, copyright and patent are intended to protect the rights of creators, encouraging them to continue creating by helping them gain recognition for their efforts.

Copyright protects the expression of ideas, often in the form of artistic works.

Patents protect the ideas themselves, encouraging their publication by granting a temporary monopoly over derivative manufacturing.

The three areas aren’t all equally broken. Copyright, says Higgins, is “disproportionately deserving” of our attention. While the patent policy arena certainly is charged, the major powers are more evenly distributed across the playing fields. Corporations both generate patents and license them, and so there is equal industrial pressure coming from both sides. In copyright, however, on the one side there’s an industry churning out copyrighted content, and on the other there’s just individuals, smaller groups who want to continue creating and who don’t have legal teams, and so, Higgins explains, “the pressure’s always been in one direction. It’s just been a ratchet towards thicker and stronger and more convoluted copyright laws.”

There’s a sense in which the tightening of the copyright law Higgins refers to might not be interpreted as such. Instead, the newer policies might be regarded as maintaining previous levels of severity but with updated terms to account for the advent of new technologies. Higgins concedes this is one narrative. Fair use and fair dealing, the provisions which govern how and where copyrighted material can be used without infringement in the US and Canada respectively, have gotten stronger, and so, Higgins says, “the course of terms has to have gotten longer to balance that out.”

However, there’s also a sense in which it’s not that simple. What the copyright system is doing now could be likened to what in the past would have been stopping bootleggers with major operations. Previously, infringement wasn’t possible without some serious real estate and capital to get you going. It likely involved a factory, a work fleet, and involvement in some supply chain. In the digital age, the bootlegger and his whole operation have been reduced to some guy with an internet connection. The barriers to production are incredibly low.

This shift we’ve observed in the digital era complicates things. “I think there’s something fundamentally different about going after that bootlegger when it’s just somebody with a DVD drive,” Higgins comments, “especially because the way we know how to do that, the way the only laws have been proposed, is to say that anyone who has a DVD drive … is potentially one of these bootlegger who 15 years ago would have had a factory.”

So, the recourse policy makers have taken has been to simply regulate everyone with a computer, and that, says Higgins, “is a really grave problem. It’s not even just regulation, it’s making sure that you know we can surveil anyone and everyone in order to find out if they’re copying, and that kind of thing is a really unprecedented intrusion into the life of people.” The policy backing these kinds of actions is arguably qualitatively different than previous iterations of policy designed to shut down coordinated operations.

Since the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) passed in 1998, US service providers must uphold a “Notice and Takedown” regime in order to waive themselves of the legal liability associated with their hosted content. Canada has a similar but slightly less stringent “Notice and Notice” policy, first legislated in 2005, and reified in the the Copyright Modernization Act of 2012.

However, with the majority leading Internet services being hosted in the States, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Google included, Canadians and other groups increasingly have to be aware of the policies to which our southern neighbours are holding these companies, and they’re not pretty.

In order to uphold the Notice and Takedown regime, service providers are required to have an infrastructure in place which allows people to file notices on suspicious content. Upon receiving the notice, the provider then has 24 hours to take down the allegedly infringing content, or else bear the full burden of the legal liability attached to it.

This system isn’t great. On the one hand, it provides an immediate silencing vector for disgruntled parties. The issuer of the notice isn’t required to provide any proof of copyright infringement to initiate this process. Instead, the onus is on the owner of the content to file a counter notice after the fact if they feel the takedown was in error.

The Chilling Effects clearinghouse, an archive of DMCA takedown notices, shows us that not many individuals actually take this kind of pushback upon themselves, and unsurprisingly, because stepping into the line of fire of copyright litigation is something which, in the US, could wind up costing you up to $150,000, a nontrivial amount by any standards. As a result, this system sees a large number of non-infringing works go down and stay down, limiting the speech of others who were never doing anything wrong.

On the other hand, the Notice and Takedown system, when it is reporting true infringement, effects change that is hopelessly impermanent. Higgins likens it to a whack-a-mole situation, where one infringement is beaten down only to see the same thing pop up in a different spot a few seconds later. He concedes that, “if your goal is to make sure that there’s no infringing content on the internet, then the tools we have now are DMCA takedown notices and you[‘d] have to file literally millions of those a week.” Indeed, Google Search gets around seven million takedown orders per week, not including those issued on any of their secondary assets like YouTube. “You’d need new tools,” Higgins concludes. “The takedown notices that we have just don’t do that job.”

One thing’s for sure: it doesn’t matter which side of the law you’re standing on, the policies in their current instantiation are definitely, definitely broken. At least in the US and the EU and Australia, lawmakers have declared that copyright law is open for revision, but those revisions just can’t get here soon enough.

“Putting ourselves back into writing”

I’ve always thought certain types of writing should be private. Reflections in journals, letters to friends, notes passed in class — they’re handwritten, personal, and thus seem inherently confidential. It is unsurprising, then, that each of my diaries has “do not read” scrawled angrily inside the cover.

Naturally, I was intrigued when I heard about Jane Alice Keachie and Marsha McLeod, who are deliberately putting personal stories at the centre of public attention.

After realizing that the University of Toronto is sorely lacking in explicitly feminist publications and spaces, Keachie and MacLeod decided to create a feminist writing society, named HERE, in the fall of last year. At monthly meetings, contributors handwrite letters in response to a general prompt, with some choosing to read their work aloud. At the end of each session, Keachie and McLeod collect the letters, and later scan and upload them onto HERE’s website.

THE PERSONAL IS POLITICAL

Even the quickest scan of HERE’s online archives reveals the intimacy of contributor’s stories, which recount experiences with body image, mental health, harassment, and, of course, sex.

To be entirely honest, I felt quite uncomfortable reading most of the passages. Not necessarily because of the nature of the topics, but rather because I could find myself reflected in certain elements of each story. It’s chilling to read a stranger’s particular account of navigating puberty and the shame that comes with it, only to realize I went through almost exactly the same experience.

“Once you start to interrogate your own life, you realize there’s a lot of fucked up shit that you thought was normal,” Keachie says, adding, “Once you start talking to someone else about it, you’re like, ‘There’s a bigger problem here.’”

All letters written by collective members are hand written. JENNIFER SU/THE VARSITY
All letters written by collective members are hand written. JENNIFER SU/THE VARSITY

Indeed, personal stories provide a visceral, accessible avenue to explore the seemingly abstract and broad issues of feminism and sexism. What’s more, the emphasis on the individual is a direct resistance against academic constraints on expression.

At such a large institution like U of T, students can end up feeling insecure, as though they’re just a number.

“We’re always taught to be objective, and take ourselves out. How am I supposed to pretend I’m not there?” McLeod asks exasperatedly. “This is about putting ourselves back into writing.”

A UNIQUE STYLE

HERE emphasizes the individual not only through their content, but also through their preferred form of expression. Handwriting effectively captures a writer’s personality, which could be lost in a standardized typeface. Since each type of handwriting is distinct, it forces readers to slow down and engage with the text.

Handwriting also makes editing a lot harder to do. While unedited work can be considered sloppy in the world of academia, Keachie and McLeod assured me that it encourages more meaningful and honest responses.

“People end up saying things they’ve never told anyone before,” Keachie explains, adding, “You start questioning, why have you been censoring yourself? Why don’t we talk about this?”

Letter writing was another deliberate stylistic choice for the group. Historically, letters have been a subversive form of communication for feminists. HERE recognizes itself as building upon this tradition. Letters aren’t articles or essays, yet they remain very direct and purposeful.

“I’m calling you out, I’m writing to you: an institution, a thing, myself,” McLeod says. “It has a point, because it’s to someone, and implicates something.”

I didn’t fully appreciate these sentiments until I actually tried writing a letter myself. Though it was outside of the group’s monthly meeting, I still felt the rush of confession through directing my letter to the HERE community. There’s also something immensely satisfying about seeing your own handwriting take up space.

GROUP VALIDATION

Perhaps most interesting is how HERE provides a space to have your voice heard, literally. The intonation, pauses, volume, and speed of reading out loud give stories personality which would otherwise be lost if simply read in someone’s head. Reading aloud also allows contributors more control over their work, and is an empowering practice.

Especially in the context of feminism, reading aloud amplifies feminist voices in a way that is desperately needed. It rejects the sexist caricatures of women as simply narcissistic or shallow for talking about themselves and is an antidote to the constant silencing of women who speak out about oppression.

Letters are inspired by prompts and are often incredibly personaL. JENNIFER SU/THE VARSITY
Letters are inspired by prompts and are often incredibly personaL. JENNIFER SU/THE VARSITY

“I think girls can often be made to feel silly when talking about feminism,” says Kendall Andison, a fourth-year contributor. “Sometimes it’s difficult to trust that what you have to say on the subject is of value.”

Consequently, reading out loud to attentive, like-minded listeners is a way of instilling a sense of ownership and pride in personal experiences. In fact, every contributor I spoke to expressed almost identical feelings of validation. Even the simple act of mailing my letter to HERE prompted similar, albeit diluted, excitement that my story was worthy of being published and read.

CREATING SAFE SPACES

Emphasizing personal experiences has the potential to promote greater inclusivity because all stories are appreciated. This is particularly significant for feminism, which has long been monopolized by white, heterosexual women. In fact, Manaal Ismacil, a third-year contributor, had a high school teacher once tell her that feminism was simply “a white woman’s approach to how white men treated them.”

As a queer black woman, Ismacil discussed how this rhetoric made her feel excluded for a long time. Such stories prompted Keachie and McLeod to specify in their constitution that HERE is safe space for everyone.

“We really emphasized from the get-go: if you have felt that feminism doesn’t include you, we want to be the kind of feminism that includes you,” explains Keachie.

Their dedication to inclusivity has been successful. All feedback thus far praises HERE for establishing a positive and nonjudgmental environment. There is little doubt that HERE will continue living up to their namesake: boldly taking up physical and intellectual space, declaring a feminist presence on campus.

 

Correction (February 26, 2015): A previous version of this article referred to “women’s voices.” This has been changed to “feminist voices” to reflect the broader inclusivity of HERE. 

The beauty of uncertainty

To me, the unsung hero of music has always been the instrumentals. What was, initially, the predominant form of musical expression, is no longer seen as the primary form of communication in popular music. Lyricism has come forward to overshadow melody; and, although instrumental practices, such as sampling in rap still occur, the lyrics are what are most often remembered.

THE LISTENER

I’ve played many instruments in my life, and I’ll keep it real; I sucked at all of them: the piano, the recorder — you name it. I’ve never had the patience or time management skills for the extensive practicing necessary for musical greatness.

Nevertheless, I’ve always considered myself a great appreciator of music. Today, my iTunes sports a range of music from rap, to folk, to jazz, even to Austrian industrial. However, it was only recently that I discovered the liberating beauty of expression in instrumental music.

The dimension of expression in an instrumental piece is, of course, abstract. However, understanding the way the music itself makes you feel can create a bond between the musician and the listener; without a verbally expressed goal, you become able to appreciate the musicality of the song without the expectation of explicit understanding that comes with lyricism. This is exemplified by KC Accidental’s album, Anthems for the Could’ve Been Pills.

KC Accidental is a band comprised of Charles Spearin and Kevin Drew, who have since gone on to form the group, Broken Social Scene. The KC Accidental’s discography, save for one song called “Them” which is accompanied by lyrics, is entirely instrumental. Listening to the groups music, I discovered an entirely new dimension to music that I had previously ignored. Anthems for the Could’ve Been Pills is an album that has made me feel cathartic, nostalgic, and even, at times, hopeful. “Instrumental Died in the Bathtub and Took the Daydreams with it” is a song that evokes feelings of loss and disappointment through it’s solemn melody and “slow dance” beat.

The different effects created by instrumentality and lyricism become clearer when looking at songs that have both lyrical and solely instrumental versions. One of my favourite songs is Jon Hopkin’s “Breathe This Air.” The original instrumental arrangement created for his 2013 album, Immunity, builds around a simple piano tune — the bass builds, adding dimensions to every beat. My feelings while listening to the song ranged from the cheesy “this is what falling in love sounds like” to “this is semi-anticlimactic and utterly disappointing in the most beautiful way.”

THE MUSICIAN

Katelyn Molgard exudes “cool” as soon as she enters a room — this is due in part to being a member of the 3-piece psychedelic band Seraphic Lights, as well as conducting her own solo work. By speaking with her, I discovered how different two people’s perceptions can be about music. An obvious difference, that separates us is what we see as the primary expression in music — lyrics versus instrumentality.

As a listener and not a musician, I’m unable to break down instrumentality as much as I’d like. Here’s where Molgard can provide insight: “Instrumental triggers for mood,” she explains, adding, “The rhythm section, the drums and bass are really crucial. Guitar tones… are also important, and even things like reverb, like what kind of reverb is being used on different instruments.”

She goes on to break down the different guitar tones. She explains, “High frequencies are very twangy and can be very abrasive at times. You really need to be aware on how these textures work with the song — [the guitar’s]  a voice in and of itself. A guitar tone can make [or] break a song.”

“You also change and use instruments in the way you would change your voice,” she adds. “For example, if I’m singing a somber piece of music and I decided to rap… it wouldn’t really work. There’s also an irony, where you can listen to a country song that sounds really happy and you hear the lyrics and you’re like man, that’s depressing. It’s a juxtaposition… which is another point for saying that lyrics are essential.”

When talking about live performances, it becomes clear instrumentality can be an absolute necessity for expression. “The nature of rock’n’roll venues is that you can’t really hear the lyrics,” says Molgard. “The reality is if you are at a club, most people are drinking and they are getting a wash of sound — it’s an entertainment thing. It’s not about communicating with myself and hear what this lyricist has to say.”

As our conversation progressed, I discovered that our perceptions really determine what is expressed within any given piece of music. But, what is so beautiful about the instrumentality is that you can never truly be wrong in what you feel, since you are not bound by the intention of lyricism. Instrumental music is liberating in the beauty that lies behind its uncertainty.

Living in a material world

When I was growing up, my favourite game was one of my own invention titled “Runaway.”

As the name suggests, the game involved me oh-so-stealthily sneaking out of our house and into the great wide world until whoever had the misfortune of caring for me that day came and dragged me haphazardly homewards.

The escape itself, however, was only one aspect of the activity. The other, more important component was deciding which of my worldly possessions I would take with me on my journey. This was the root of my continual failure — I could never part with any of my things, and so, inevitably, always ended up heaving a comically large suitcase full of beanie babies down my driveway.

It’s been quite a few years since these  escapades, and although the possessions I value may have changed from children’s toys to Apple products, the physical objects in my life still manage to hold a great deal of importance.

Our identities are made up of a series of choices — what we do, what we say or don’t say, and who we surround ourselves with all factor into our senses of selves. Often, things end up carrying much of the weight of who we present ourselves to be. We relay our identities through our clothes, the furnishings of our homes, the cars we drive, and the technology we surround ourselves with.

But with so many using material possessions as a form of expression, there are some who make the conscious choice to define themselves through the lack thereof.

“There are as many different types of minimalism as there are minimalists,” Sara*, a member of a local Toronto group of minimalists, informs me.

Sara, who chooses to remain anonymous due to the complex personal role minimalism plays in her life, goes on to explain that some people prefer the term “simplify” since it denotes less of a harsh or stark lifestyle.

She is part of a local subsection of a larger minimalist movement. “The Minimalists” is the title given to Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, founders of www.theminimalists.com and authors of books such as Everything That Remains: A Memoir by the Minimalists; Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life; A Day in the Life of a Minimalist; Simplicity: Essays; and Essential Essays — many of which have debuted at number one on Amazon.

The website’s so-called “elevator pitch” for minimalism reads that, while it may seem surprising, Millburn and Nicodemus are “not fans of oversimplifying things.”

Trying to condense a complex movement into a single definition is a difficult task, but their attempt reads as such: “Minimalism is a lifestyle that helps people question what things add value to their lives. By clearing the clutter from life’s path, we can all make room for the most important aspects of life: health, relationships, passion, growth, and contribution.”

They go on to say that there are “many flavours of minimalism” — a “20-year-old single guy’s” interpretation may be very different from that of a “45-year-old mother.” Regardless of one’s specific approach to the idea, however, the end result will be “a life with more time, more money, and more freedom to live a more meaningful life.”

They end their post with an open-ended question: “How might your life be better if you owned fewer material possesions?”

Millburn and Nicodemus, however well known, represent only one faction of the broad range of people who identify by the minimalist lifestyle.

“If there’s any group or organization that people have the hardest time with, or consider militant — which they aren’t, but they seem to get the most flak [for] — it’s The Minimalists,” explains Jo Bennett.

Bennett is a life coach and organizer, founder of SOLOMOJO Coaching, as well as the creator of the blog “Minimalist Self.” Bennett’s blog covers all manner of topics from “mindfulness” to “motivation.” Currently, there are 34 entries under the subheading “minimalism.”

One post, entitled, “Jo’s story,” describes Bennett’s shift towards her own personal minimalist lifestyle.

“It was about fifteen years ago when I felt the first shift toward simplifying my life,” reads the post, going on to explain that, after redefining a primary personal relationship, Bennett started prioritizing “quality over quantity,” and through having fewer physical objects in her life, could further see what was needed to bring herself greater happiness.

“I use the word minimalism,” says Bennett. “I think they’re all the same; to simplify, to reduce. I think that people sometimes worry about the word minimalism… it sometimes can be associated with a very stringent militant view of reducing [the possesions in one’s life].”

But for Bennett, the physical is only one element of choosing to identify as minimalist. She explains: “I use the word minimalism… to me it’s what I use to incorporate the actions of mentally, emotionally, and physically de-cluttering. So for me it’s not just about physical possesions, but it’s about sort of paring down the way we think, the way we process information, our relationships, how we cope, planning, time management — it’s all part of the same thing.”

For the last 15 years, Bennett says she’s been applying the process to her career, finances, health, and relationships — and it’s one that’s ongoing.

She discusses mentally reducing by choosing the activities we do or don’t need in our lives, emotionally reducing by choosing the relationships to prioritize and the ones to let go, before mentioning the physical aspect of things.

“For physical… we literally and figuratively have these desks, in minds and in our home offices… there’s always too much stuff on the go… people who take on too much… what happens is they get stretched thin,” she says.

After giving more examples of how someone might approach a minimalist lifestyle, Bennett explains, “Something I like to emphasize about minimalism, [is that] it’s not just about reducing things — emotionally, mentally or physically — I find that it’s true that when you reduce things it reveals your truth, what’s really going on in your world… The important part about minimalism is what I call ‘the glorious choice of deciding what to put in its place’ — so you can either enjoy the freedom of the space, or you can choose [what to replace what you’ve taken away with].”

For context, she explains, “Some people do enjoy living out of a suitcase… you know, just five shirts or four pairs of jeans… but the idea is that the jeans that they are going to put in there are the ones they’re going to enjoy and get use out of… so the idea is that there’s meaning in what we’re surrounding ourselves with.”

For those questioning whether a minimalist lifestyle would be best for them, Bennett recommends careful personal consideration: “Rather than listening to what other people have to say… I think ideally it would be best that somebody spend a minute being mindful of their life…. take a moment to just notice how you’re feeling. If the pile of papers on your desk and the way your taxes are filed doesn’t bother you, then there’s probably no reason to minimize… but really get to the truth of it — what barriers can [you] take down, what do you have too much of? Really it’s just about taking the time to sit down and just look at yourself.”

She adds, laughingly, “I’m going to take the next hour and just ponder my life… I mean what better homework is [there] than that?”

If anything can be understood from the movement and its many different interpretations, it is that it acts as an agent for expressing oneself.

“A message I glean from the design world is that minimalism is not about reducing expression,” reads a post on Bennett’s blog. “Rather than just appreciate that a space is empty, I can also contemplate what beauty has been revealed as a result.”

*Name changed at source’s request

Blending sounds

Music evolves naturally over time. Its patterns form styles, whose consistencies and discrepancies forge schemas for full-fledged genres. Creating something wholly unique then becomes a challenging task. Sampling serves as an element of production that helps the music industry remember its history. By recycling specific components of a style that definitively communicates a specific time in music history, the genre as a whole is able to transcend time and appeal to a new generation or audience.

JENNIFER SU/THE VARSITY
JENNIFER SU/THE VARSITY

Samples often reflect themselves in soundscapes. Sometimes they are intentionally used to contribute to a nostalgic atmosphere if the artist is aiming to pay homage to a specific point in time. However, in cities where the musical scene is not quite defined, such as in Toronto, emerging artists scramble to throw together innovative collages of sound. The intention is to both startle and impress the audience to the point that an artist develops a following based on their unique sound. Notable figures who have embraced this strategy are Last Gang Records artists Ryan Hemsworth and Harrison, who fuse 8-bit flourishes with house-y funk, and sleepy, hip-hop ridden electronica, respectively.

More recently though, a 19-year-old DJ has begun creeping out from the shadow-like atmospherics of the west end. Chris De Minico is emerging as an artist in his own right, performing at coveted venues like The Hoxton, CODA, and the Danforth Music Hall. De Minico’s sets flawlessly incorporate a self-proclaimed “random range of selections” that fuse together everything from old school hip-hop to deep house to contemporary trap.

Locally recognized as Hrmxny, the variety in his creations has become De Minico’s defining trait. His versatility has proven key, and local entertainment powerhouses like Embrace have caught wind of that, landing him his first set opening for Gaslamp Killer in May of last year. Approaching the one-year mark in his pursuit of music as a career, De Minico is beginning to interest the eyes of the industry with his debut EP In Time and his distinct sound.

TV: [In the course of] establishing yourself as a DJ, what moved you into production?

CDM: I DJ’d first, and my manager now, Biz Davis, told me that you have to make music as well, or there’s no longevity in your career. There’s a lot of DJs in Toronto who just DJ, and there’s very few who produce and DJ.

TV: When you were designing your EP, who did you borrow most from?

CDM: It was a wide variety music. I hated electronic music until I was 17, so about two years ago. I grew up in Scarborough, so my mom listened to Bruce Springsteen, and my grandpa’s Italian so he was all Andrea Bocelli. I wanted to be like, a gangster, listening to 50 Cent and stuff. It was a wide variety. I heard… “Trials of the Past” by SBTRKT, though, and that changed my outlook on music as a whole. I played with SBTRKT on Halloween actually, so that was the best moment of my life. I got to talk to him for a bit, and it was literally like meeting Jesus, a reincarnation. I listen to a lot of SoundCloud music too… SoundCloud is really its own genre.

TV: You never aimed to cater it to any specific audience?

CDM: Nah, it’s just stuff I like. I literally just sit there and make it in my room. I don’t really make it for other people. I know a lot of people say that, but I can’t. I won’t make a song for a specific crowd. If I like it, then okay, whatever — other people will like it. Not everyone will, but there are going to be people that do. So I don’t care if there are some people who don’t, you know? If it doesn’t work, I scrap it. I’m very quick with that. I brand myself with my aesthetic. I only wear black, always, but everything I put out, I keep it colourful.

TV: You’re pushing something that’s different. Where do you think our scene is at post-Drake era?

CDM: Very moody, very emotional. You hear any rap music out of Toronto, there’s one specific sound. Dark, ambient, hard-hitting stuff. Even with the producers, it’s more or less the same. Me, I can’t make trap. I could if I tried, and I’d do it just to play at parties but it’s not, like… my music. Everything is like a story to me. From the intro to the outro, everything meshes together. A lot of my music is done in two hours. It’s just me expressing myself; if you like it, you like it. If you know me as a person, it’s separate from me. I’m really hype when I DJ, I wear a bandana on my head and shit — it’s stupid. I jump in the crowd. But when I’m making music at home, it’s calm and mellow. You need to be emotionally there. I can’t make [a] song just to make it. That’s why I can’t do the four-song- a-day thing like some producers. I wait for the inspiration.

TV: What made house the genre you wanted to give a shot?

CDM: No one does it — it’s such a niche market. When I lived in Durham, there’s really nothing to do, besides make hip-hop and try to rap. Hip-hop is the most prominent. There’s a lot of house people in Toronto that are low-key. You have to go through the elders to kind of step foot in this scene. I feel like I had a good backing from the older people first and they were like “here’s this kid, give him a shot.”

TV: How did you get your stuff to stop sounding weird, [with you] fusing together such a variety of sounds?

CDM: My first set, I predetermined it, because it was like a make-or-break moment. It wasn’t a small bar or anything, it was the Hoxton and I was opening for Gaslamp Killer. I had an opening slot from 10–11, and I played straight deep house. I’d never played before then either, so I had to guess what the crowd might expect. With the EP what I noticed about the blog reviews was that it was more how they felt while listening to it, not the technical aspects. Technical music sounds good, but it’s fake. It does bother me a little, like, I got one dislike on this YouTube video and I was like, I’m gonna find you. I got premiered on Thump too, and I was on Thump that whole day, and when I saw that one dislike, I was like, what? But I know what I like. I think I have good taste in music, so I make what I would like. If I like it, most people will like it. I’m ignorant when it comes to that.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

Silent conversations

At the intersection of Yonge Street and Wellesley Street is SIGNS restaurant. Though it offers a wide selection of food, the menu is not what makes this particular spot so intriguing. The space’s interior is modern, with understated décor. The exception is the poster-like framed photos that adorn the walls. At first glance, they almost look like movie posters or advertisements for an array of one person shows. Take a second look and it becomes clear that the individuals in these images are not posing, but are using sign language to depict the words at the bottom of the frames.

SIGNS’ tagline is “where noise meets silence” and is the first restaurant to be established in Canada requiring customers to order in American Sign Language (ASL) and employing mostly hearing-impaired staff. The restaurant’s unique approach results in a different dining experience than what you would find in most restaurants. This unique experience is exactly what owner Anjin Manikumar intended when he imagined the restaurants after noticing deaf guests struggling to order in other establishments.

Vicki, hostess at SIGNS, described her impression of guests’ experiences as “eye opening.”

“They get a feel for what this culture is like,” she adds.

Once seated at SIGNS, patrons are handed menus — each item is accompanied by an image depicting the corresponding sign language. There are also materials to guide sign language newcomers through general conversational signing.

Tristan, a server at SIGNS, feels that the experience benefits both parties.

“I think other restaurants should offer the option of ordering in ASL,” he says. He adds that adjusting hiring policies to include hearing-impaired servers would improve accessibility, providing barrier-free communication for deaf and hearing patrons. ASL is a comprehensive and complex language based on hand gestures, body postures, and facial expressions. Similar to any language, ASL also has its own grammatical rules, though they are gesture-based.

According to Vicki, when Manikumar decided to open the restaurant he thought it would be interesting if the “platforms were switched,” flipping restaurant convention so that ordering in ASL was the norm, not the exception. The change presents a challenge for hearing customers to extend themselves and try a new skill, whereas deaf patrons are able to order with ease.

Because of my own short time at SIGNS, I was able to pick up on some ASL, including “thank you” and “enjoy.” That being said, to become competent at even a small portion of ASL would take far longer than a three-course meal at SIGNS. Experienced signers gesturing fluidly contrasts with newcomers triple-checking the images on the menu and consulting friends on whether they had the correct form.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about observing the interactions in the restaurant is the diversity of communication. Some patrons were speaking aloud, whereas other guests communicated completely through signs. Others still combined the two. The result is a unique atmosphere that not only provides a fun introduction into ASL but also serves as a reminder about the diversity of expression and the importance of accessibility.

Two expressions

This photo essay aims to capture the duality of lived experience; the way in which one’s internal voice conflicts with an external presentation of self. The result is a conversation, navigating the division between two expressions.

 

***

 

1
EMILY SCHERZINGER/THE VARSITY

 

I think I’m two different people. I’m a different person from who everyone knows, and no one even knows. I’m me on the outside, and then I have myself on the inside.

2
EMILY SCHERZINGER/THE VARSITY

 

Sometimes I’m disjointed — stuck between the two, and I feel like a cracked window that is ten seconds from falling apart, shattering all over the people looking out of it. Other times, I’m whole, and there’s no distance between the two of me.

3
EMILY SCHERZINGER/THE VARSITY

 

I go home and sit in my room, illuminated by the street lamps outside,

Everything’s orange.

emily scherzinger
EMILY SCHERZINGER/THE VARSITY

 

And I can just sink into myself again.