Hazlitt Magazine

In the Woods with a Dead Dog

It couldn’t happen without effort. Nothing happened without effort, except catastrophe.

The Friendship of Eleanor Roosevelt and Martha Gellhorn

For decades, the two maintained a warm correspondence that traces a remarkable friendship between two of the twentieth century’s most formidable women.

Spit Thrice For Good Fortune

I used to laugh at my mother’s Russian rituals, but now, I see them as a reminder of a home I’m in danger of forgetting. 

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In the Woods with a Dead Dog

It couldn’t happen without effort. Nothing happened without effort, except catastrophe.

He was standing in the woods with a dead dog in his arms. The dog’s name was Fluffy. It was his daughter Jess’s dog, although she was too young to take responsibility for it, apart from calling it – him – Fluffy. He – it – Fluffy – was a cross between various breeds, including some sort of spaniel and some kind of terrier and maybe a bit of something more exotic and expensive. Pyrenean. Bedlington. Bouvier Des Flandres. Those were names that his wife would toss in the air when there were visitors. As though this dog, given as a puppy to their daughter by the old lady down the road whose mongrels mated with anything vaguely canine, was something classier than it was cracked up to be. A bargain with unsuspected prestige value. His wife specialised in those. Just like the designer clothes she kept claiming to have found “in a little charity shop for a few quid” (provoking envy in her circle of drinking pals), Fluffy was supposed to be a cocktail of purebreds disguised as a common mutt, a rare item that a connoisseur dog-breeder might pay a lot of money for. He certainly had a coat worthy of his name. And, dead, he was bloody heavy. Syd was standing in the woods, at dawn, with a dead dog in his arms. The dog’s name was Fluffy. It was the only thing his daughter seemed to take pleasure in these days. She’d lost interest in playing with her toys, she didn’t like being read to, she wasn’t eating much – just a few forkfuls of each meal, if that – and she hated school. But she would lie on the dining room floor, under the table, with her head against Fluffy’s ribcage, idly stroking his curls, accepting the occasional lick from his tongue. He would snooze, and she would lie open-eyed, staring at the underside of the dining room table, at the flecks of paint and the tiny dried barnacles of snot, while Ann and Syd bitched and sulked and yelled at each other. “You could at least be useful and take the dog out to do his business,” Ann would say to Jess. (In private, his wife rarely spoke Fluffy’s name and certainly did not use words like “Pyrenean”. She used words like “fucking useless excuse for a man” and “gutless piece of shit”.) Syd was standing in the woods, shifting the weight of the dead dog higher onto his chest, heaving the animal’s head – heavy as a steam-iron full of water – over his shoulder. Underneath his parka, his clothing was humid with sweat. His left thigh was damp with piss that had leaked out of Fluffy’s unsphinctered bladder. Fluffy was twenty kilos of meat wrapped around a tubular frame of bone. There was no longer any denying that he wasn’t well. There was no longer any denying that he had problems that were sufficiently serious to warrant the attention of a vet. When Ann had visitors – not her drinking pals, but visitors from outside her witches’ circle of grievance – she would call her husband “Sydney”. It made him sound like a metropolis of world standard, a city of manhood that she’d decided to get herself a place in. “Syd” was a name fit for a gardener or a garbage man. It was the name she called him in private, when she wasn’t calling him nothing or a piece of shit. But of course it was all semantics, anyway. Labels for things instead of the real things themselves. Like the way his being off work on half pay was redefined as “ruining my life” and “throwing our future down the toilet”. Like the way his impossible stresses at the college and his breakdown were translated as “sheer selfishness” and “all a big wank”. But he knew which of the two of them had a stronger grip on the truth. He knew that the designer clothes which she’d supposedly found in a charity shop “for a few quid” had really been bought in pretentious boutiques at great cost, paid for by him. Stick-thin shopgirls in vintage attire had handed him the credit card gadget and turned their fake eyelashes discreetly aside while he typed in his PIN. All because Ann wanted to be the sophisticated bohemian shopper who knows that style cannot be bought but attaches itself freely to the right woman like a leaf blown on the breeze. All because Ann liked to pretend that adorable clothes called out to her from wicker baskets in Save The Children shops, because they knew she was The One. £275 price tags weren’t part of that fantasy. They were a dirty compromise, a job for garbage-man Syd. But he shouldn’t be thinking about clothes or price tags. That was what got you in trouble in the first place, thinking about the wrong things when there were much more important issues to tackle. That was what got you into the woods, holding a dead dog. A dead dog that wouldn’t be dead if you’d taken its symptoms seriously. “Fluffy didn’t eat his dinner again, Dad,” Jess kept saying, and he would say, “Well, you didn’t touch yours either.” As if both Jess and the dog were registering their protest against Ann and Syd’s marriage going toxic. There was nothing wrong with his spaghetti Bolognese, nothing wrong with his tuna casserole, nothing wrong with his cauliflower cheese, nothing wrong with the cans of Pedigree Chum that he would fork out into the dogbowl. But that’s how life works. You lose your job, your wife turns vicious, and instead of the rest of the world looking on sympathetically and doing its best not to add to your stress, the neighbours throw a tantrum about where you left your wheelie bin and the central heating breaks down and the book club stings you for thirty quid for that deluxe edition of The Etruscans you neglected to tell them you didn’t want, and your daughter develops an eating disorder at the age of six. And the dog stops playing its family pet role, drops the ball so to speak, and lies under the dining room table looking miserable, as if to say “Stop yelling at each other, I’m not going to eat until you stop yelling at each other,” but really he’s saying, “I’ve got cancer of the liver or a bowel obstruction or some such thing, so how about organising a trip to the vet, Sydney, old son?” Sydney, ex-principal-breadwinner for an ex-thriving family, was standing in the woods with an ex-dog in his arms. Actually, “woods” was a bit of stretch. Ann had added “Banchory Woods” to their address, despite murmurs of disapproval from the postman who knew damn well that there was no such place. There was a copse of green poplars that had been planted some while back as a windbreak, to assist traffic safety on the motorway. The copse was just a few hundred yards long and fifty feet deep at its thickest, thinning out to a single line of trees at each end. Syd was standing in the thickest part, breathing heavily, with the downy forehead of Fluffy lolled against his cheek. There was a plan and he would see it through. He – Sydney – Syd – was waiting for the chance to rescue his dignity in the eyes of his daughter. Jess was asleep right now, he presumed. It was a Sunday and still not fully light. She was a heavy sleeper, especially at weekends when the drama of getting ready for school was off. At 7:30 or thereabouts, she might consent to eat a small bowl of Rice Krispies, as long as the krispies were still crisp but the milk was room temperature. Syd achieved this by removing the milk carton from the fridge twenty minutes before the Jess’s cereal was dispensed. At much the same time, he would turn on the heater in the bathroom so that by the time Jess had her bath the chill would be off the air, and he would get the coffee percolator going for Ann, and he would take out the empty booze bottles and toss them in the recycling bin even if Ann had left some dregs undrunk. And, on a normal day when he was not standing in the woods with a dog dead in his arms, he would slosh some fresh water into Fluffy’s bowl, scrape the dried-out, discoloured Pedigree Chum into the bin and replace it with a fresh clump. It was actually a lot to remember for a man who was on antidepressants and who was worn out by panic attacks and suicidal thoughts. But even so, he should have found room in his schedule for a phone call to the veterinary surgery. Syd was standing in the woods, while Jess was (most probably) sleeping back at the house and Ann was (most definitely) unconscious and Fluffy was right here, without consciousness, in his arms. The precise time when Fluffy had ceased to be an animal and begun to be twenty kilos of meat wrapped around a tubular frame of bone could not be determined. It must have been somewhere between midnight, when Syd went to bed, and four A.M., when his routine attack of chest-seizing anxiety woke him. The hours between four and dawn were usually restful ones for him, characterised by an absence of drama, a longish lull in hostilities. A time when he would pad around the porcelain-tiled kitchen floor in his socks, making himself toast and a cup of tea; a time for reading newspaper supplement articles about ageing pop stars, Bambi-eyed actresses, Afghan poppy farmers and spinach tarts. Fluffy would continue to snore under the table, or make that peculiar whuffling noise that dogs make. Or, in the alternative scenario that had been played out this morning, Fluffy would be motionless and silent, and, when Syd nudged him with his socked foot, the dog’s rigid haunch would slide smoothly across the floor like a basket of clothing. Yes, that was a very credible scenario, especially after a night of furious argument with Ann, in which she’d promised him that if he tried to divorce her she would really give him something to be depressed about. In retrospect, it was the logical next move, a far more likely Sunday morning set-up than the one featuring a live dog. The body in Syd’s arms smelled very doggy, so close to him against his breast. It wasn’t a decay smell, nor even a raw meat smell, but an intensification of the odour that had always been part of Fluffy’s contribution to the household. The piss on Syd’s trouser leg, although uncomfortable, didn’t smell much at all – or maybe he was kidding himself, out here in the woods with a thousand miles of empty air around him. As soon as he got back to the house, he would have to jump straight into a shower and shove his clothes in the washing machine. The cycle would be over before Ann even came to the surface. He could picture his trousers clearly in his mind, draped over the long, grey radiator in the hallway; he could see the linings of the pockets pulled out for more efficient drying, wrinkly and flaccid like oversized condoms. The clarity of the vision was as sharp as documentary film footage. It was captured, obviously, from the authentic future. It was proof that he would achieve what he needed to achieve with the dog. He was standing here, in the woods, to choose the right reality. It was vitally important to select the correct one. There was an alternative version of today which must not unfold: the version where Jess understood that Fluffy had died because her father didn’t care enough, that there was nothing a child could do to make her father care enough, not even covering her ears in school, not even getting a bowel obstruction and going to hospital, not even writing letters to God, and certainly not reminding him every day that Fluffy hadn’t eaten his dinner. In that same version, Ann would suddenly exhibit an intense sentimental attachment to Fluffy she’d never shown when he was alive, and attempt to whip up a false solidarity with Jess by berating Syd for being so fucking unbelievably useless that he would sit in the kitchen reading old magazines day after fucking day when the dog was literally dying at his feet. No, that wasn’t the reality he was here to organise. In the correct reality, the bearable, humane reality, Fluffy wandered away from the family home, sometime during the night, to have an adventure in the great outdoors. And, crossing the road, he was hit by a car. It happened every day, in lots of places in the world. Today, it would happen here. But it couldn’t happen without effort. Nothing happened without effort, except catastrophe. Trusting that things would be OK sent out a signal to the massed forces of chaos to get busy unravelling your life on all levels, with the sickening speed of fire and the malignant slowness of woodworm. Keeping just one little patch of security safe required superhuman strength, and good luck was doled out only to those who didn’t need it. He’d already tried depositing Fluffy on the road, in the right lane where the city-bound traffic was bound to go. Traffic was virtually non-existent at dawn on Sunday morning, but even so there had been three cars, travelling at moderate speed through the misty twilight. Each of the three cars had swerved to avoid the animal’s body. The third car had stopped afterwards, and the driver – a middle-aged woman wearing a long lilac dress and an incongruous white parka – had walked back to Fluffy and stood near him for several minutes, looking. Then she returned to her car and drove on. The message was clear. Dogs did not get hit by cars unless they jumped onto the road without warning. Fluffy would have to jump onto the road without warning. Syd would have to make this happen. He stood amongst the foremost trees, the ones closest to the gutter. The leaves were speckled black with some sort of smog disease. On a different day, he might have taken a leaf back for Jess, to introduce her, in the gentlest way possible, to the notion that all good things turn bad, that it was happening in nature, not just in their own family. Today, the trees were just camouflage. He hadn’t eaten breakfast and the muscles of his arms, supporting the dead weight of the dog, were complaining. Or not exactly complaining, just suffering the silent pangs of imminent defeat. Food was fuel and it had been foolish of him not to stuff a mouthful of something, even dry bread, into his mouth before leaving the house. It had been even more foolish to imagine that a medium-sized dog, a normally energetic ecosystem of spaniel, terrier, Pyrenean, Bedlington and Bouvier Des fucking Flandres should be able to stay alive on an occasional lick of Chum. Fluffy’s ribs were hard against his fingers, the racks of bone protruding through the clammy fur. Syd used them for purchase. Any minute now, a car would come around the bend and Fluffy would sail through the air. Once, in a hotel room in a faraway town seven years ago, he and Ann had been locked in a naked embrace. They were doing their best to be animals. His penis was inside her body. She was wet for him and her arms clutched him tight but there was a grimace on her face that looked alarmingly unlike joy and he couldn’t help thinking that something more was required of him but he couldn’t guess what. In pornographic pictures he had seen men fucking women while standing upright, the woman hoisted aloft, impaled on a sturdy dick, her body wrapped around the man’s as though he were a tree trunk. In the hotel room in the faraway town seven years ago, Syd tried to lift Ann off the bed, using the leverage of their joined genitals and the strength of his arms and back. In the attempt, he had to break the rhythm of their intercourse. “What are you doing?” she said. He couldn’t remember the rest. Only that he had never – not then, not in the years since – borne her aloft. He looked down at his shoes, half submerged in fallen leaves. One of his favourite games with Jess was when she placed her feet on top of his and let him walk her around. She would laugh so much; they must have played that game a hundred times. Well, maybe fifty. Or twenty. Or maybe, if he were pinned down mercilessly to the truth, fifteen or sixteen. Still a lot. And maybe it would happen again someday. The horizon glowed faintly, tinted by approaching headlights. The sun was almost fully up, so whoever was in this next car must be a careful driver, or else hadn’t adjusted to the changed conditions. Syd shifted the weight of the dog and re-embraced it for the final time – hopefully. Back at the house, his daughter would soon be ready for a bowl of Rice Krispies with milk the way only Daddy knew how to make it, and he would tell her how he’d been out looking for Fluffy and failed to find him, and she would of course insist on looking again, and they would go out together, father and daughter on a sunny Sunday morning, looking for Fluffy and calling his name, and eventually they would walk as far as it took to find him, and then he would hold her, console her even though she would be inconsolable, and tell her that everything would be all right. Which would be a lie, a lie more outrageous than anything Ann had ever come up with, but it would be a lie they shared in a moment of raw, instinctive love, and if there was any justice in the universe they would be able to cling to that memory whatever else might be in store for them. For one last second, he was standing in the woods with a dead dog in his arms. He had just this one chance. He was ready.
Spit Thrice For Good Fortune

I used to laugh at my mother’s Russian rituals, but now, I see them as a reminder of a home I’m in danger of forgetting. 

Last winter, on an unseasonably warm and rainy morning, I took a train from New York to New Jersey to help my parents move out of my childhood home. The work went smoothly for the most part, until, that night, my parents’ car got stuck in a bed of wet clay outside of their new apartment near Philadelphia.   How did this happen? The mainstream school of reasoning would attribute it to my poor judgment—namely, my failure to deduce that parking on the lawn in a two-wheel drive sedan following an afternoon rainstorm might result in a stuck vehicle. According to my mother, however, the car sank because, earlier in the day, we didn’t “sit for the road,” as the Russian saying goes. My mother brought with her, from the Soviet Union to the United States, an assortment of superstitions. (My father is Russian, too, though he isn’t zealous when it comes to this aspect of the culture.) Before any somewhat lengthy trip, we sit in silence for up to a minute. If I try to kiss or hug her as I enter the apartment when I visit—no, never over the doorstep. I have to enter first, or both of us exit, then exchange affections. If I posit a future outcome, whether adverse or benign (that I feel a cold coming on, for instance, or that I believe I may get a raise at work), my mother, to ensure nothing harmful befalls me, will spit thrice in rapid succession—t’foo, t’foo, t’foo—which, most often, results in her spittle settling on my person. She also enforces the following: No whistling or opening umbrellas indoors. No setting keys or wallets on the dinner table. No spilling salt on it either.  Growing up, not only did I neglect these household rules; I actively broke them. Like any child trafficking in annoyance, I did so in the hopes of getting a rise out of a parent. Also, the rules were nonsensical. Whistling indoors would not, as my mother would say, “whistle away” our money, nor would leaving my wallet on the dinner table prevent my parents from earning any in the first place. What I didn’t know as a child is that my mother doesn’t actually believe the superstitions possess causal power. When I asked her why she clings to these traditions, she said, “Nu, otstan’”—let me be. “Of course I know they’re useless.” “For me,” she explained after a beat, “they’re just memories of where I grew up.” * Later, at the new apartment, we stood watching the wheels of the car spin in place. My father was now in the driver's seat and, Sisyphus-like, was accelerating again and again. I was damp and cold and annoyed and exhausted and, because of the significance of the move, filled to the brim with sentiment. As I stood there, mired in frustration, I decided that I would become superstitious. It’s not that I believed our family ritual would have prevented my bumbling, but I took our lapse as a sign of what was to come: the severing of the already-tenuous strand connecting me to the country where my parents were born. I had only been to Russia once, fourteen years earlier, and what I knew of the place consisted mostly of the bits and pieces gleaned from life in the home my parents were now moving out of—where we had eaten macaroni and butter instead of cheese, watched Nu, pogodi! instead of Hey Arnold!, spoken Russian instead of English. It was only a replica, but I was desperate to hold onto it. When I had moved out several years earlier, it had begun to fade. And with its original locus gone, I worried that it would now vanish for good. Superstitions, then, seemed a way to hold on. Mostly, because I didn't have a regular method for keeping Russia present in my everyday life. I would make intermittent pilgrimages to Brighton Beach to procure Russian cuisine: pelmeni, pirozhki, pickled everything; occasionally I would watch a Russian movie, or get the news from a Russian website; sometimes, I’d even call my parents. But none of these approaches could be ingrained into my behavior in the way I hoped superstitions could: as automatic reactions that would, in turn, call up a memory of home. If nothing else, I thought, maybe they’d help remind me to keep my mother’s dinner table free of foreign objects, her ears safe from my whistling.  *  At the outset, it was odd. I would drop my wallet on the dinner table, then, remembering that wasn’t its place, snatch it up in a sudden twitch. I would whistle the first few bars of a song, then, realizing I was indoors, cut off mid-note, left with the unsatisfying feeling of an itch unscratched. Once, I opened the door to let in a friend and, as I reached to shake his hand, I jerked forward abruptly, out from under the lintel, greeting him instead with an awkward collision. Learning to follow superstitions was sometimes funny, mostly frustrating, and, always, like I was forcing myself to develop physical tics that should have been instinctive. Yet, as someone prone to a host of them—hair-pulling, nail-biting, nose-picking—they soon became just a few more in a litany. Another set of compulsive habits that rarely registered in my conscious life. So natural, it seemed, they didn’t fulfill their intended purpose as a reminder, a connection to my heritage. Until, unexpectedly, they did. During a walk this past summer, I stopped to meet a dog, and its owner asked me to pet gently: the dog had surgery a few days earlier and was still recovering. The corresponding superstition was by now internalized and, on command, I said, “T’foo, t’foo, t’foo.” At first, the owner looked at me in shock, then recognition, and then, with a smile, she switched to Russian. 
‘You Don’t Look in the Mirror and Mentally Remark on Your Asianness All the Time’: An Interview with Kim Fu

The author of The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore on summer camps, inexplicit racism and the rarity of male authors who can write believable women characters.

We have a morbid obsession with watching people willingly suffer in remote locations. Wilderness survival reality TV shows like Naked and Afraid, Dual Survival, Survivorman and the original, Survivor, offer viewers a voyeuristic glance into the remarkable and grotesque acts humans will commit in order to survive. Make bikinis out of palm leaves. Drink their husband’s urine. Feast on roasted rats. Spoon naked with a stranger for warmth. This obsession transcends reality TV shows. We devour news stories about hiking trips gone awry, where campers survive on mushrooms and muddy water for weeks, and non-fiction works like Into the Wild, which prompt a range of internal questions of self-sufficiency like “Could I build a shelter out of leaves and sticks?” and “Could I also kill a moose and eat it?” From our cushy sofas in our comfortable homes, it’s fascinating to witness humans push themselves to their most extreme limits and imagine ourselves in their situation. But once the episode ends or the article is over, and we’ve consumed all the gritty details, we rarely hear about what happens to these people. There are rarely follow-up pieces about how they cope in the weeks, months and years that follow.  In her new book, The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore (HarperCollins Canada), Seattle-based writer Kim Fu examines the aftermath of one of these survival stories. The book follows the lives of five girls—Nita, Andee, Isabel, Dina and Siobhan—who meet as pre-teens at a summer camp in the Pacific Northwest. After a tragedy strikes during an overnight kayaking trip, the girls are forced to fend for themselves. Unlike Naked and Afraid, Survivorman, et al., The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore focuses less on the gratuitous details of the girls’ survival (although there are some wonderful scenes of them rationing their small reserves of trail mix and peanut butter sandwiches). Rather, the heart of the book focuses on the various ways this traumatic experience affects each of the girls in the decades to come, as they mature into teens and adults. It’s an engrossing portrayal of how trauma can affect lives in countless subtle and not-so-subtle ways.  The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore is the follow-up to Fu’s debut novel, For Today I am a Boy, the story of Peter Huang, a Chinese-Canadian woman trapped in a man’s body, which won the Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction and was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award. In 2016, Fu published her first poetry collection, How Festive the Ambulance. I called Fu to chat about summer camps, growing up adjacent to Vancouver and the expectation of Asian authors to write Asian characters. Samantha Edwards: Did you go to summer camp growing up? Kim Fu: Not the kind of all-girls sleep-away camp in the book. I went to a public school in a suburb of Vancouver that had something called “outdoor school,” which is kind of a similar format. As children, we went on these overnights that involved ocean kayaking and outdoor rock climbing, and at one point there was even a zip line. Looking back, it seems really physically demanding and dangerous and strange that we were doing this as ten-year-olds. What suburb did you grow up in? I grew up on the North Shore, so technically its own municipality but functionally a suburb. I grew up in Ontario, just north of Toronto. At my high school, we had an outdoorsy class where you learn…I actually don’t really know what you learned, now that I think about it. I just know they went camping. But that was a grade twelve class. It wasn’t for young people. That’s what makes it so weird to me. The first time I tried to go ocean kayaking as an adult, I thought we could just rent kayaks and they were like no no, you have to take classes, you have to get certified, you can’t just take a kayak out in the open ocean. And I was like, really? When I was a kid, they just put a bunch of us on kayaks and put us out in the ocean. Were you an outdoorsy person as a kid? I would have said no, I was very much not an outdoorsy kid. I was an indoor, book-reading, video game-loving kid. But then I think some of that is a matter of perspective. Where I grew up, in my head it’s a suburb, but it was actually up on a mountain. I saw bears fairly often. Bears would just go through the backyard, or you’d see one on the way to school. That seemed totally normal to me: the nearness and availability of the outdoors, that you could walk a few minutes from your house and be completely enveloped in the woods, the lakes and the mountains. When did you start thinking about the idea behind The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore? The characters actually came to me first, but I didn’t know what kind of context they were going to be in. With both of my books, the characters came to me first. With For Today I am a Boy, it was a lot easier to know where to go from there because they were a family, the dynamics around them could dictate the plot. But with The Lost Girls, it’s like I had these five women in mind, and I didn’t really know how they knew each other. I tried lots of different things, maybe they lived on the same street, maybe they just went to school together. I wrote these scenes where they were interacting with each other but nothing was quite right. I was picking at these people for like four years almost and then in 2015, I did a writing residency at the Berton House in Dawson City, in the Yukon. I was there in the winter, during the freeze up. I had all this time to be out walking in the woods. I was thinking a lot about outdoors survival, all these skills I don’t have and my own physical vulnerability. This image came to me of these women as little girls in kayaks and the book cracked open. I read in an interview you did in 2015 while you were doing press for For Today I am a Boy, where you mentioned that at one point, it was easier for you to write from the perspective of men or women with stereotypically male interests. This book is written from the perspective of five women. Was that was challenging for you? [laughs] I have no memory saying that. I had such a hard time promoting my first book. I feel like I didn’t get to enjoy so many wonderful things that happened because it was this constant state of anxiety for me. I feel like I don’t remember any of the things I said during that year and a half. I don’t feel like I have an easier time writing characters who are more traditionally masculine. I feel like now, and definitely while I was writing The Lost Girls, I’m much more interested in women and women’s perspectives and experiences of the world. A few people have brought up that all the male characters in The Lost Girls are secondary, they exist only in connection to the central female characters. People ask if that was intentional. I did notice that while I was writing and I decided I preferred it that way, because so many books exist already where the reverse was true. I hope that all the men in my books are presented as whole human beings, but I was aware that they’re more of a background element. It’s these women who are moving through the foreground and who are important. Do you mostly read books with non-male protagonists? Are you drawn to those kind of books? I read everything all over the place. In the last couple of years, I’ve made an effort to read more books by women, but in terms of the gender protagonists, that’s tricky. I wouldn’t say I’m drawn to one more than the other. Recently, at my book club, we were talking about whether or not we could sense that a man was writing a female character in a particular book. I still think men who write woman characters well are rare enough to be notable. I’ve read some books, and I don’t want to name them, that were really excellent other than this one thing. They would be books that were centered around men, but when the woman character appeared, the way she’d be written would just pull me out of the book. It was clearly a flaw, not just on the part of the writer, but it was clear that no woman was involved in this book. That everyone involved in this book must have been a man. In the obvious ways, the way her body is sexualized or her own thinking about herself is sexualized. In the abstract way, where the women exist to nag at men’s ability to have passion for things that aren’t human relationships. And also in little details, like a woman paints her nails on the way out the door. It’s like, you can’t do that. A woman copyeditor would have picked that out. That’s not how painting your nails works. You’re not going to paint your nails and then jump in the shower. Yeah, exactly. Little things like that would eat away at me and sort of ruin the experience of an otherwise good book. Can you think of any books where a man has written a female character really well? The one I always think of first is Gloria by Keith Maillard. Disclosure: He was a mentor of mine at one point. Gloria is a period piece about a specific kind of sorority girl in the 1950s. I feel like it captured really well how much brain power women have to waste on negotiating people’s expectations around their appearance and managing other people’s emotions. To me it was this amazing exploration of femininity that was written by a man. Another one is The Fortunes by Peter Ho Davies. The book has four sections and one of them is about Anna May Wong. Even though it’s about a particular historical celebrity, I think the book [offers] a really good depiction of the experience of moving through the world as a Chinese-American woman. I was actually reading the piece you wrote in 2016 for Hazlitt that’s partially about The Fortunes and also how you realized in your early twenties that you “failed at whiteness and Asianness.” I related to that piece so much. People always ask me “Where are you from,” and I know they don’t want to hear how I’m from Barrie, Ontario. They want to know why I look the way I do. So when they find out I’m half-Japanese, one of the first questions they ask is if I speak Japanese, and I don’t. I realize that even if I don’t speak the language that it shouldn’t somehow disqualify myself from my own identity and culture, but it always felt like this embarrassing thing for me to admit. For me there were two big turning points. I grew up adjacent to Vancouver, where it was quite racially diverse and there was a high percentage of Asian people my own age. I did my undergrad at McGill, so when I moved to Montreal, it was kind of a shock. It wasn’t the first time I had encountered casual and inexplicit racism, but it was on a different level in Montreal. Just walking around the street and the things people would say to you and the conversations they’d strike up at the laundromat. Honestly at that point, [my race] was a background part of my identity. It didn’t seem as salient to me as it did to all these strangers in Montreal. The other thing that happened was my father passed away. In the course of his illness and then death, I realized I knew so little about his life and his parents. I think because other people saw me as Chinese, [I had] that feeling of disappointing people or being inauthentic. The first thing they see you as is Asian, but then you’re not Asian enough. There was this period of time where I was trying to learn, I was reading tons of books and watching movies, and learning to cook, I was trying to get in touch with this heritage like it was going to explain something to me. And sometimes it did, but in this very distant and abstracted kind of way. I read Five Star Billionaire by Tash Aw and I felt like the way depression was depicted in that book spoke to experiences I’ve had with depression more than say The Bell Jar, and that didn’t feel coincidental. That felt like a cultural thing. In The Lost Girls, I really enjoyed the characters of Isabel and Dina, the two Chinese-American girls. In the book, you mention Isabel’s Chinese last name in the first few pages, but when I got to her section, I completely stopped thinking about her race. It was only when she was told by a stranger that she looked like a Malaysian pop star that I realized, “Oh right!” I liked that because sometimes I feel like that’s the major identifier when there’s an Asian character in a movie or book—them being Asian is their whole bit. A writer recently posted on Twitter that he had his manuscript rejected because his Korean-American character didn’t spend enough time thinking about being Korean. And it’s like, that’s not what you do. You don’t look in the mirror and mentally remark on your Asianness all the time.  But then when I read Dina’s section, her Asian identity is a big part of her. There’s that line when she’s struggling with an eating disorder and someone says, “Oh, you’re so lucky you have that Asian metabolism.” She’s very beautiful, so from a young age that affects how people talk to her. There’s a line where when they’re young teenagers, one of her white friends says “You’re so lucky, Asian girls can be so weird looking but you look totally normal.” Someone has said that to me! As a kid, you know what they mean. They mean certain aspects of your appearance lean white, so aren’t you lucky that you have some white features. As a kid, you absorb that kind of thing, “Oh right, looking more white is a good thing, that’s what being attractive is.” For Dina, with her whole life wrapped up in her appearance, of course race is going to be more salient for her. I feel like I’m using the word “salient” a lot. When I interviewed Celeste Ng, we chatted about the expectations of Asian authors to write Asian characters. What do you think of that kind of expectation? That expectation annoys me a lot in a broader sense, insofar as it’s laid upon all writers. All writers are expected to write characters that reflect their race. For me personally, I feel like being Asian-Canadian and Asian-American informs so much of my experience of the world I don’t know how to not write about it, at least right now. Once I was doing an event and the moderator asked me why I write so much about the patriarchy, and I said, I don’t intentionally write about the patriarchy. I don’t sit down and think, “I’m going to write about the patriarchy.” You write about the world as you see it and then it’s like, how can you not write about the patriarchy? That informs everything around you. How do you think you’ve changed between For Today I am a Boy and The Lost Girls? Writing is so much for me. It’s my favourite hobby, my livelihood, my therapy and my salvation. It’s everything, and that is so much pressure to put on one thing. [Before] I was making a living as a writer, it was easier in some ways because it wasn’t filling every role in my life. [Now], if the writing goes away, how will I go on? What will be the point of living? I think finding more things to love was important. Also, for so long I just wanted to publish a book, that was the dream, that was the brass ring. Once that happened, I was sort of lost. I remember my mother told me she felt that way getting married. When she was a little girl she dreamed about getting married and then she got married, and it was like, now what? It was a big shift for me, I had to think about life in a different way, about my work and how much pressure I put on it. What other things have you found to love, in addition to writing? In the aftermath of the last book, one thing that was very helpful to me was dance. I had never, ever been interested in dance. I never did ballet as a kid. When I saw modern dance I was like, I don’t get this. I thought of myself as very clumsy and not a physical person. But Seattle is a big dance town. And the modern dance is just incredible. It’s so different than what I thought modern dance was, as being very inaccessible, abstract to the point of “I don’t know what’s going on.” I liked poetry from the time I was a little kid, so I don’t remember discovering it, but I imagine it must have been something like this: there’s this other way of expressing things that can’t be expressed in another way. I love going to [dance] shows and I do a little bit of it myself, but just here and there.  Also, seeing books again as separate from the whole machine of publishing. The first time you see how the sausage is made, it’s hard not to think about that every time you pick up a book or you walk into a bookstore. But eventually that dissipated and once again, books were the great love of my life. They were this wonder and portal. That magic came back.
Featuring Vicky Mochama
The specific way men interview women (5:05), Rory Gilmore, journalist (17:17), and the Avril Lavigne riots of 2021 (48:27)
The Friendship of Eleanor Roosevelt and Martha Gellhorn

For decades, the two maintained a warm correspondence that traces a remarkable friendship between two of the twentieth century’s most formidable women.

In November 1929, Martha Gellhorn was working “the mortuary beat” as a cub reporter for the Albany Times Union, having dropped out of Bryn Mawr one year shy of her degree. Edna Gellhorn, Martha’s suffragette mother, and Eleanor Roosevelt had been Bryn Mawr students together, so Mrs. Roosevelt invited twenty-one-year-old Martha to dinner at the Governor’s mansion where the Roosevelts lived and worked before FDR was elected president in November 1932. Eleanor Roosevelt and Martha Gellhorn became close when Martha took a job in the fall of 1934 working for Harry Hopkins and the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), reporting on the treatment of the unemployed all across America. Hopkins frequently sent Martha’s reports on to Mrs. Roosevelt. In North Carolina, for example, Martha observed, “The people who seem most physically hit are young girls…I have watched them in some mills where the work load is inhuman. They have no rest for eight hours; in one mill they told me they couldn’t get time to cross the room to the drinking fountain for water. They eat standing up, keeping their eyes on the machines…I found three women lying on the cement floor of the toilet, resting.” In one town Gellhorn observed latrines draining into a well, contaminating the source of drinking water. During her weeks in Massachusetts she saw people “facing the winter with husks of shoes bound up in rags,” a place where undernourished children were pale and wasting, their unemployed father distraught that he couldn’t do anything about it, at times wishing they were all dead. Mrs. Roosevelt invited Martha to dinner at the White House so that she could explain the gravity of circumstances directly to FDR. Gellhorn remembered attending in a black sweater and skirt. She sat next to the president and explained to him the drastic conditions of whole families on relief who suffered from pellagra, rickets and syphilis. When asked in a late-in-life interview if she had been intimidated by FDR, Gellhorn replied, “No. I am capable of admiration, but not awe.” Fired from FERA in September 1935 for inciting a riot among unemployed workers in Idaho, Gellhorn was invited by the Roosevelts to stay with them at the White House until she sorted herself out. Of those two months, she wrote, “The house was always full of chums and funny people [Alexander Woollcott, Alfred Lunt, Lynne Fontanne, to name a few] and it was one of the most pleasing and easygoing, amusing places you could possibly be in.” There she met visiting British writer H.G. Wells, who became instrumental in launching her writing career by arranging the publishing contract directly with Hamish Hamilton for her celebrated Depression Era book, based on her FERA work, The Trouble I’ve Seen [1936].  During the fall of 1935, while Gellhorn stayed in the Lincoln bedroom, she saw Mrs. Roosevelt frequently, because her rooms were in the same wing. The more she got to know her, the more she grew to respect and adore Mrs. Roosevelt.  By 1936, Gellhorn and Mrs. Roosevelt were intimate correspondents, confiding in each other and supporting each other emotionally. In an oral history interview she gave to the Roosevelt Library in 1980, Gellhorn said, “Mrs. Roosevelt’s letters were full of love. She loved me and she worried about me, and where I was, and what I was doing.” The Trouble I’ve Seen would be published state side in September and Mrs. R. wrote about it in her nationally syndicated column, “My Day,” that ran six days a week from 1935 to 1962: “Martha Gellhorn has an understanding of many people and many situations and she can make them live for us. Let us be thankful she can, for we badly need her interpretation to help understand each other.”  *  Gellhorn was always interested in telling the stories of “the sufferers of history,” the ordinary people who behaved with grace and decency under extraordinary pressure. Her goal, “in a humble and fairly hopeless way,” was that something she wrote “would make people notice, think a bit, affect how they reacted.” In June 1936 Gellhorn was in London, staying with H.G. Wells and his longtime lover Moura Budberg. Wells kept nagging Gellhorn that she had to write like him. He worked every day from 9:30 until 1:00 and insisted she ought to do the same in order to become a serious writer. So, to prove to him that she could, she “peevishly sat down in his garden and wrote” a fictional piece about a lynching in Mississippi. Gellhorn insisted it read “like a short story.” Nevertheless, editors assumed it was nonfiction. Wells placed it with The Spectator and it was subsequently published in truncated versions by Magazine Digest and Living Age. Gellhorn would soon wish that she’d “never seen fit to while away a morning doing a piece of accurate guessing.” “Justice At Night” chronicles a happenstance journey in early 1930s Mississippi of a touring couple whose old car breaks down. They have to rely on local strangers to drive them to their destination. But, before they do, those redneck locals are determined to witness the lynching of a young black man, accused of raping a white woman landowner for whom he was working as a sharecropper, a widow, who “had a bad name for being a mean one.” The story is void of sentimentality, a hallmark of Gellhorn’s prose. “If you tell the reader what to think, that’s not very good writing,” she said. “It’s up to you to write it in such a way that the reader discovers it.” Mrs. Roosevelt complimented the piece and encouraged this quality in a letter on November 7, 1936: “Do not get discouraged, because you have the ability to write so that one sees what you are writing about, almost better than anyone I know.” Gellhorn responded from St. Louis on November 11: Has Hick told you my latest bit of muddle-headedness. It’s very funny; and I was going to appeal to you to extricate me, but that seems too much of a good thing and I am going to be a big brave girl and tidy it all up by myself. It concerns that lynching article which you said you liked (your last letter and thank you for it.) The Living Age pirated that—simply annexed without so much as a by-your-leave; and then sold it to [civil rights activist] Walter White who sent it to you and presumably a lot of other people. He likewise wrote me a long letter and asked me to appear before a Senate Committee on the anti-lynching bill, as a witness. Well. The point is, that article was a story. I am getting a little mixed-up around now and apparently I am a very realistic writer (or liar), because everyone assumed I’d been an eye-witness to a lynching whereas I just made it up. Paid $50, she “ceased to remember the tale and went on to the next thing." The nearest Gellhorn came to witnessing a lynching was in 1934 when she was travelling with her partner Bertrand de Jouvenel. Their old Dodge broke down somewhere in North Carolina and they were picked up by a drunk on his way home from a “necktie-party.” As she wrote to Mrs. Roosevelt, “He made me pretty sick and later I met a negro whose son had been lynched and I got a little sicker.”  Mrs. Roosevelt responded on November 30, “… you had just enough actual fact to base it on for your rather remarkable imagination to do the trick and make it as realistic as possible! I do not think Walter White will care as long as you do not spread it around that you had not actually seen one.” Gellhorn wrote to White to tell him that she was “only a hack writer” and not “a suitable witness” for his excellent cause. Mrs. Roosevelt assured her in a letter on December 10 that Gellhorn had accomplished what White had wanted, wishing “more people had the ability to visualize a lynching” as she had done, however upsetting. For truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it, as Flannery O’Connor wrote. *  In what may well be the first letter to anyone in which Gellhorn mentions Ernest Hemingway (then an already-celebrated American novelist to whom she was married from 1940 to 1945), she wrote to Mrs. Roosevelt on January 8, 1937, “I’m in Key West: to date it’s the best thing I’ve found in America. It’s hot and falling to pieces and people seem happy.” She was working on finishing a novel [Peace on Earth, never published],“praying to my own Gods (they both look like typewriters) for some wisdom.” She insisted, “Either this book must be just right and as alive as five minutes ago, or it won’t be a book and I’ll sit and nurse a lost year as best I can.”   She confided, “I see Hemingway, who knows more about writing dialogue (I think) than anyone writing in English at this time. (In a writer this is imagination, in anyone else it’s lying. That’s where genius comes in.) So I sit about and have just read the mss of his new book and been very smart about it; it’s easy to know about other books but such misery to know about one’s own.” And, then turned to worrying about world politics: “If the madman Hitler really sends two divisions to Spain my bet is that the war is nearer than even the pessimists thought.” She closed, writing, “I love you very much indeed, and I am always glad to know you’re alive.” A week later Mrs. Roosevelt wrote, “Do not be so discouraged. I do think you ought to go right ahead and write the book without rehashing all the time. You do get yourself into a state of jitters. It is better to write it all down, and then go back. Mr. Hemingway is right. I think you lose the flow of thought by too much rewriting. It will not be a lifeless story if you feel it, although, it may need polishing.” She continued, “My book is going along very slowly just now as life is entirely devoted to social duties—things which I like just about as well as you like St. Louis.” And ended with an open invitation to stay at the White House, “Of course, you may come here at any time you feel like it. Much love, Eleanor Roosevelt”  From March through May 1937 Gellhorn was in Spain, with Hemingway, at the Hotel Florida, where she wrote and submitted her first piece of war correspondence about the people of Madrid, published in Collier’s as “High Explosive for Everyone.” She returned to New York City at the beginning of June to help finish The Spanish Earth, the documentary they both worked on with Dutch filmmaker Joris Ivens. Gellhorn arranged with Mrs. Roosevelt to show the film at the White House in early July. After the screening, she wrote on July 8 to thank her, knowing that both Mrs. Roosevelt and the president were sympathetic to the plight of the Spanish people: “I am so glad you let us come because I did want you to see that film. I can’t look at it calmly, it makes it hard for me to breathe afterwards.” The shelling scenes in Madrid, with “women choking and wiping their eyes with that dreadful look of helplessness,” seemed all too close. Gellhorn was keenly aware of the kindnesses Mrs. Roosevelt extended to her and concluded, “It’s awful hard to thank you adequately for all the good things you do, only you know how grateful I am don’t you! And how much I love seeing you and the President… I hope I can see you again before I sail. Love, Marty” Early in 1938, stateside, Gellhorn embarked on a cross-country speaking tour to raise funds and awareness about the civil war in Spain. She became very ill and wrote on February 1, “my doctor says either stop it or you will crack up… I am really more busted than I have ever been.” Gellhorn realized that “if one is a writer, one should be a writer, and not a lecturer.” Mrs. Roosevelt wrote back on February 8, I am glad you are going to write Spain out of your system. Writing is your best vehicle and you ought to do a good piece of work…  No one can keep calm when they have seen the things you have seen and felt as you feel,” imploring “get well and try to forget temporarily the woes of the world, because that is the only way in which you can go on. By March 1938 Gellhorn was recovered enough to return to Spain and wrote en route aboard RMS Queen Mary: …The news from Spain has been terrible, too terrible, and I felt I had to get back. It is all going to hell… I want to be there, somehow sticking with the people who fight against Fascism…  I do not manage to write anymore, except what I must to make money to go on living.” An early anti-fascist, Gellhorn wrote in disbelief about Hitler’s influence, noting, “The whole world is accepting destruction from the author of ‘Mein Kampf,’ a man who cannot think straight for half a page. As ever, Gellhorn wished she could see Mrs. Roosevelt, but warned that she would not like her much because she had “gone angry to the bone.” She thought that “now maybe the only place at all is in the front lines, where you don’t have to think, and can simply (and uselessly) put your body up against what you hate.”  The war in Spain was one kind of war, but “the next world war will be the stupidest, lyingest, cruelest sell-out in our time.”  Mrs. Roosevelt responded on April 5, Dear Marty, I was very sorry to hear you had gone back to Spain and yet I understand your feeling in a case where the Neutrality Act has not made us neutral.” Always a citizen of the world, she concluded, “The best we can do is to realize nobody can save his own skin alone. We must all hang together. Affectionately, ER She understood suffering and what the cost was in human pain, misery, fear, and hunger.  Gellhorn travelled to Czechoslovakia to report on the German Jewish refugee crisis for Collier’s. She wrote several letters to Mrs. Roosevelt, including one dated October 19 in which she raged that, “There may be no hope of saving Europe, but democracy must be kept alive somewhere. Because it is evident that war itself is better than Fascism, and this even for the simple people who do not care about politics or ideologies. Men just can’t live under Fascism if they believe any of the decent words.” She explained, “I hate cowardice and I hate brutality and I hate lies. And this is what we see, all the time, all over the place. And of these three, maybe the lies are worst. Now Hitler has set the standard for the world, and truth is rarer than radium.” Trying to make room for a little hope, she said, “Please give my respects to Mr. Roosevelt. Will you tell him that he is almost the only man who continues to be respected by honest people here. His name shines out of this corruption and disaster, and the helpless people of Czechoslovakia look to him to save the things they were not allowed to fight for.” With that letter Gellhorn attached a report called “Anti-Nazi Refugees in Czechoslovakia,” an impassioned piece that Mrs. Roosevelt not only read, but gave to the president, noting on November 15, “I hope the day will come when you can write something that will not make one really feel ashamed to read it.” And, trying to bolster Gellhorn’s belief in some goodness, she closed, “I am afraid we are a long way from any real security in the world but it is curious that, in spite of that, we all go on from year to year with the hope that some day things will improve. Affectionately, Eleanor Roosevelt.” By the end of 1938 Gellhorn had returned to New York, where her family would gather together to celebrate Christmas, and where she had hoped to lunch on December 20 at the Biltmore with Mrs. Roosevelt. Her ship was late docking and they missed each other. In a telegram sent on December 22, she wrote, “Terribly disappointed to have missed seeing you. Boat was day late. Will you have time later and will you let me know. Have saved up nine months conversation. Merry Christmas. Devotedly. Marty” When her maternal grandmother died unexpectedly on January 9, 1939, Gellhorn returned to St. Louis to support her mother and confessed to Mrs. Roosevelt the next week that she was pretty disgusted with herself for abandoning her causes while she pursued her work as a journalist, “which, in the end, is to my own benefit.” She noted that what she found wanting in herself she could always admire in Mrs. R., “your unwaveringness, the way you carry on all the time, without fatigue or doubt or discouragement.” Gellhorn observed that her mother Edna had those same characteristics, and that, perhaps “women like you are just better quality than women like the rest of us.” Mrs. Roosevelt replied on January 26, My dear Martha, I don’t wonder you feel as you do. Human beings have never been as fine as they should be except individually and in great crises… People rise to great crises. That is what the Spanish people are doing too. That is what the Czechs would have done if they had been given a chance. But when people feel safe and comfortable they are apt to feel a way to go, as a good part of the United States feels… Stop thinking for a little while. It is good for us all at times, and there will come a chance to do all the things for your country that you want to do. I have an idea that your younger generation is perhaps going to be willing to make some sacrifices which will really change much of today’s picture. Affectionately yours, Eleanor Roosevelt * When donating her letters from Mrs. Roosevelt to the Boston archives in 1965, Gellhorn wrote that Roosevelt “was of course harshly schooled in politics and people—the art of the possible using imperfect material. She was incredibly tolerant of human failing; she knew how slow all change is…but she understood the mechanics of power (as I never have) and knew that great injustices were not apt to be quickly righted, if at all.” By 1954, Gellhorn was re-married and living in London and Mrs. R. was “sort of vanishing” from her life and she was cross about her absence. Mrs. Roosevelt “showed up in London, staying at Buck House with the queen” and Gellhorn got in touch with her. Since FDR’s death, Eleanor Roosevelt was in her own right a great world figure. During that visit she carved out an evening in her schedule to join Gellhorn and her husband Tom Matthews for dinner at their home, just the three of them. And, when asked why Gellhorn rarely heard from her those days, she said, “But darling, you’re all right now; you don’t need anything; you’re looked after.” On her 54th birthday, Gellhorn read of Mrs. Roosevelt’s death in the morning paper, and “felt that one of the two pillars that upheld” her “own little cosmos had vanished.” Roosevelt was “the finest conscience in America, the most effective one too, a woman incapable of a smallness or cheapness, and fearless.” Martha would write decades later, that seeing Mrs. R., “no one would fail to be moved by her; she gave off light, I cannot explain it better.”  All images and correspondence quoted between Eleanor Roosevelt and Martha Gellhorn are from the Martha Gellhorn Collection, Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University.
Make-Believe Mambo

David Byrne’s first solo album post-Talking Heads helped me come to terms with the languages I lost growing up as a mixed-race kid. 

During the opening credits of Jonathan Demme’s 1986 film Something Wild, the sun rises over a series of banal New York City scenes—the skyline, joggers, a man with a boombox. The scenes are charming, I suppose, by virtue of their being in New York, but more endearing because of the background music. It’s a song called “Loco de Amor” by David Byrne, featuring Celia Cruz, her rich, heavy voice like a bell over Byrne’s faux-Spanish accent. When he sings “my little wild thing,” he thickens the “L”s, lets them linger at the roof of his mouth. It’s an enunciation you’re familiar with if you live in Miami, like I do, where Spanish accents have funneled into colloquial English and given it its own peculiar inflections.  Something Wild has an incredible soundtrack: Laurie Anderson and John Cale are listed as composers, and there’s an iconic high school reunion scene in which The Feelies do a jangly, disinterested rendition of David Bowie’s “Fame.” But it was the Byrne/Cruz duet that led my parents to buy Byrne’s 1989 Rei Momo, where it appears with fourteen other Afro-Latin-inspired songs, performed alongside veritable musical geniuses: a bomba song with Willie Colón, a merengue with Johnny Pacheco, a pagode track with Arto Lindsay, a charanga with Milton Cardona. Cruz appears again on a song called “Make Believe Mambo,” the second track and my favorite on the album. Rei Momo is Byrne’s first solo album post-Talking Heads, and it plays like an outburst of excessive energy, all synesthetic and dreamy lyrics (“I walk like a building/Never get wet”; “Talkin’ like a monster/Smellin’ like a baby/You got a head like a bowl of cherries now”; “Who is the lady with the sno-cone eyes?/Who has the candy with the soft insides?”). I was a baby in 1989, the year my parents moved us from Brooklyn to South Florida, and they played Rei Momo ad infinitum, listened to it in the car and on our new stereo and eventually live, when they went to see Byrne perform the album somewhere in Miami. Sometimes I enter a state of magical realism in which Rei Momo is the soundtrack to my parents’ relationship: my biracial mom from Puerto Rico and my nerdy Jewish dad from Brooklyn, set to the tune of a white guy miming and mining the sounds of the Caribbean till it sounds distinctly David Byrne. (“But this is not a South American album… It's a David Byrne project through and through,” said Steve Hochman, in a 1989 review for the Los Angeles Times.) Byrne’s puckish sense of poetry, the blithe song structure so specific to him, unfolds awkwardly over rhythms that are much faster than his own voice—but it’s delightful, even sincere. It’s easy to daydream while listening to the album; to my count, the word “dream” or “dreaming” is sung on Rei Momo seventeen times. [[{"fid":"6702966","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original"},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"2":{"format":"media_original"}},"attributes":{"class":"media-element file-media-original","data-delta":"2"}}]] My mother moved to the States in the early 1950s, when being mixed-race meant she worked extra hard to acclimate or sometimes disappear; eventually, she only spoke English. My sister, with whom I share a mother but whose father is also Puerto Rican, is brown; I’m the sort of white that has no business co-opting the signifiers of any other culture. Boricua, I felt, was not something I could own, and my obsession with my heritage—my need for it— bordered for a time on fetishization. I was jealous of my sister’s coloring, a motherly warmth that wouldn’t envelope me, passed down from the womb to just one of us. I insisted I was Puerto Rican when classmates’ insults became anti-Semitic and, when I was very young, let my dolls speak to each other in a kind of “Spanish,” a jibberish I’d invented myself. My fake Spanish—and the cultural preoccupation that led to it—was not unlike Byrne’s fascination with Afro-Caribbean music, or with South America and the Caribbean in general. The fourth track on the Talking Heads album True Stories is called “Papa Legba,” an incantation to the Haitian loa of the same name. Byrne doesn’t have the lineage to properly summon up any deities, but he tries, fervently. In a New York Times review of the Rei Momo tour, Jon Pareles wrote, “Mr. Byrne's music has often been sparked by the friction between his own persona—stiff, earnest, Anglo-Saxon—and the abandon promised by African-derived styles from soul to funk to Nigerian juju.” I’m not comfortable with the idea that being Anglo-Saxon is akin to being “earnest,” nor the assumption of promised “abandon” by African music; it, too, reeks of fetishization. For what it’s worth, Byrne doesn’t seem to consider these problems; I want to believe there’s something innocent about Rei Momo, at least in its reverence for every explored genre and the familiarity found in each. There is a tension on Rei Momo, though, and an abandon, too, and I feel both most deeply on “Make Believe Mambo”—a title I’d give to the chapter about Barbies speaking fake Spanish in the story of my life. Peppered with Spanglish toward its coda, the song is about a boy who constructs his persona based on television characters. “He’s got no personality,” Byrne sings, “it’s just a clever imitation/of the people on TV.” But the mambo is no admonishment. Byrne pities and maybe empathizes with him (consider the make-believe required of a white man to create Rei Momo): “Let the poor dream/livin’ make-believe.” Cruz steps in, picking up the string of English and following it till it’s Spanish: “In my mundo,” she sings, “todo el mundo.” I live in Miami, where Cruz, the Queen of Salsa, is a spiritual matriarch, and I take a strange pleasure in surprising my friends with “Loco de Amor” and “Make Believe Mambo.” “It’s David Byrne and Celia Cruz!” I announce. Though I’m sure I can be disproven, it seems as if Rei Momo exists in a vacuum—you’ve only heard of it if you’re of dorky, inter-ethnic parentage. [[{"fid":"6702961","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original"},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"1":{"format":"media_original"}},"attributes":{"class":"media-element file-media-original","data-delta":"1"}}]] When I hear “Make Believe Mambo,” I feel an alacrity in my veins, something between relief and euphoria, like Byrne and Cruz are singing to each part of my background, acknowledging what’s invisible and present. There’s a video of a 1989 performance of the song, with Margareth Menezes singing Cruz’s lines. She, Byrne, and the entire band are dressed in white, like Santeros, and Byrne’s dancing unabashedly, brazen as a child. When I was very young, I told my mother I couldn’t dance; she immediately snapped, “You’re Puerto Rican. Of course you can.” I can’t dance, but that’s not really the point, and maybe it doesn’t matter—if Byrne can do it, so can I. For a withdrawn, awkward, and mixed-race kid grappling with the absence of an entire language, there is no phrase more apt than “in my mundo,” and that world is made up of liminalities, of daydreams and dreaming.
‘I Wanted to Bait the Male Gaze While Also Satirizing It’: An Interview with Andrea Werhun and Nicole Bazuin

The author and photographer behind Modern Whore on persona, myth, and “transforming a universal victim into her rightful position as hero.”

I have to admit, I wasn’t sure we needed a new book called Modern Whore (IMPULSE[b:]). One of the most pernicious tropes of literary sex work representation is the tendency to make one person’s experience the stand-in for an entire misunderstood enterprise (I Was A Teenage Dominatrix, The Happy Hooker, Ordeal). At first glance, it appears that author Andrea Werhun is the type of sex work memoirist we’ve heard from before: a white middle class humanities student still in her twenties who dabbled in escorting for a few years. But as Bo Diddley once sang, “You can't judge a daughter by looking at the mother, and you can't judge a book by looking at the cover!” The Modern Whore collaborators—Werhun and her good friend, photographer Nicole Bazuin—have created a self-aware package, starting with the cover image of Werhun in a scarlet cocktail dress and soapy pose. It’s a look that promises both sin and classiness.  The book is a primary colored matte-lover’s dream, an objet d’art that wouldn’t look out of place in the gift shop of a contemporary museum. The photographs that appear throughout the book demonstrate Werhun’s confidence in what her own body can be made to mean, a skill she honed on the clients who paid her for her time, her conversation, and her sexual attentions. Some of the costumed, stylized images have the high contrast irony of a David LaChapelle magazine spread, while others accentuate the drama of the stories. The modernity of the book comes less from the circumstances of Werhun’s short career as a Toronto-based escort in the mid-2010s than in its variation of form; it’s a one-woman variety show. There’s bald comedy, deliberate vulgarity, classical myth-making, bleak memoir tailor-made for the first-person industrial complex, political manifestas, and zine-like advice for the next generation of sex workers. I spoke with Werhun and Bazuin about crowdfunding, myth-making, and role-playing. Tina Horn: What would you say is the most modern thing about the way you designed this book? About the Mary Ann/Andrea character at its center? Andrea Werhun: We designed the book to reflect the multidimensional quality of the sex worker as a fully fleshed out human being who, like everyone else, must simply carry out a job in order to survive. That’s why, in addition to stories about the work itself, there are tales from my childhood, as well as fiction and fairy-tale. When people stop seeing sex work as a character flaw but as a job, the banal truth of our lives off the clock becomes shocking. I also think the way sex workers compartmentalize their work selves with their civilian selves is a modern concept mirrored in the book as the central character, Mary Ann the escort, is conveyed by Andrea the author. I specifically include the childhood stories to serve as a hypothetical “precedent” for my choice to enter sex work. I play with that idea because so often there is an assumption that all sex workers are victims of childhood abuse because only “damaged” people would pursue such risky, socially-frowned upon labour. Now is a great time to challenge that assumption in light of the #MeToo movement, as we discover almost every single one of us—men and women alike—has experienced some form of sexual abuse throughout our lives, and not every single one of us is a sex worker. But perhaps most importantly, if modernity is marked by a challenging of tradition, sex workers, who have always been pressured to keep their mouths shut, are now speaking up. I reject the idea that whoredom is universally victimizing, when for many of us, sex work has given us the opportunity to be more fully ourselves. We have more time, more money, more freedom to do the things we want to do, and we are not going to silenced anymore. Nicole Bazuin: On a practical level as well, the design of our book felt modern because we used the contemporary tools available to us to help bring our vision to life. From its early days, we utilized social media platforms to build an audience for the project and it became a testing ground for the content of the book long before its existence as a printed object. Andrea wasn’t public with her past at the time, and so the “Mary Ann” character, Andrea’s escort pseudonym, became our avatar through which to play. We began to explore the words and images that related to the concept of being a “modern whore,” a woman making money from her sexuality in today’s society and all of the theoretical and visual associations that go along with that, but we didn’t yet know what form the project would take. When Andrea ultimately made the decision to come out publicly as a former call girl in the CBC documentary Sugar Sisters, the vision for the book as a memoir sharpened, and production on the book accelerated with our growing audience following along. As opposed to creating in a bubble, we were able to share the aesthetic and the vernacular we’d begun to develop, and to trigger discussions surrounding the subject matter. The episodic nature of the book as a collection of self-contained short stories and photographs meant that we were also able to release sections on outlets such as Playboy leading up to our release date. To successfully execute our vision and maintain ownership over our product, Andrea and I established our own media company, Virgin Twins, working in association with our co-publisher Impulse [b:], financing the printed book ourselves through crowdfunding. This allowed us to create exactly the product we wanted without artistic compromise. Raising over $21,000 through our Kickstarter campaign gave us the leverage to create a beautifully printed book with a guaranteed audience on the other end, without the financial risk of fronting the production costs ourselves. This felt like a very modern publishing process, and was a dream for us to be able to create our book on our own terms. Andrea, tell me a bit about your fascination with antiquity, with goddesses and myth. A lot of sex work writers these days are sort of post-modern memoirists, using social media, film and audio, performance, even the new journalism idea of immersing yourself in an underground. What about the classics resonates with the story you wanted to tell about your own experiences? AW: I am a story nerd. I studied literature and religion in university because I think the only thing that separates fiction from doctrine is belief. What is the line between the stories we read for fun and the stories for which we will kill? Myth exists at the intersection of folk tale and religion, and the monomyth, or the hero’s journey, is at the core of every single story that we tell. I am naturally drawn to the work of Joseph Campbell and endeavoured to structure Modern Whore with the monomyth in mind: from hearing the call to whoredom and refusing it, to entering the sex industry and overcoming a few of its many obstacles, to re-entering the land of the living with the ultimate treasure, which I see as the book itself. Though I relied on Campbell’s monomyth structure, I found it lacking in telling my particularly female story, since heroes are traditionally men and certainly not sex workers. The myth of Persephone has always resonated with me as a uniquely feminine sojourn into the underworld because it deals with mother-daughter dynamics, rape, power and victimhood, as well as reunion, and the reconciliation of two seemingly disparate parts within oneself. By relying on the timeless structure of the Persephone myth, I not only sought to make Modern Whore a modern heroine’s journey, but to transform a universal victim into her rightful position as hero.   Sex work also has a particularly mythic beginning as it is posited to have begun in temples dedicated to the goddess of love in several different cultures many thousands of years ago. I am highly indebted to Nancy Qualls-Corbett for her book, The Sacred Prostitute: Eternal Aspect of the Divine as a soul-enriching source of historical and mythological criticism that probes a time in human history before male-dominated monotheism established sexuality as the antithesis of spirituality. Nicole, tell me about the process of conceiving and executing these photo shoots. Some of them are visual puns, others seem to literally illustrate the text, and some are just voluptuous portraits of Andrea/Mary Ann. What role do you imagine they play in someone reading her prose and learning about her story, especially with its themes of asserting agency within something many people see as objectification? NB: Confronting the negative and judgmental assumptions placed on women who express their sexuality overtly is an essential component of our work. The tension between what is revealed or hidden is a predominant theme of Modern Whore which manifests in the erotically charged visuals. Andrea hid her work from her family and friends, and her real name and identity from her clients, which is of course a contrast to the fact that they were experiencing her naked body and various degrees of emotional intimacy while not penetrating her full identity. A key reference for the photography was our treasured collection of ‘60s-’70s era Playboy magazines. Andrea and I both love poring over the issues from that era, which feature sumptuous film photography of bunnies that confidently meet the gaze of the viewer and are connected with their own sexuality amidst a beautiful aesthetic. Though magnificent, the women featured were permitted to communicate only through their bodies, or through laughably cheesy playmate interviews, and women in general were rarely granted intellectual space within the magazine. We wanted to create another take on the way erotica exists in mainstream society: with more agency from female creatives, inviting the gaze of viewers from all genders for both pleasure and mental stimulation. Ultimately, we as a society are understanding that the story behind the creation of a work of art—and whether the model herself feels exploited—is important, and that must be considered when we assess imagery that is seen as objectifying. As a photographer, I’d like to be an antidote to the Terry Richardsons of the world. I think that part of feminism is a woman’s right to safely express her own sexuality, and the creepy-uncle-Terry dynamic of the predatory photographer must be abolished. It was paramount to me that when conceiving and executing the photoshoots for the book, Andrea and I were working from a shared vision for what we wanted to achieve visually. That included how she was being represented, and how those images lend to the storytelling and the sensory experience of the narrative. I think photography was important to this project because there’s an inherent desire to look at the author of this memoir, and to experience her performing as the various aspects of the Mary Ann/Andrea personae—from the grotesque, to the humorous, to the arousing. With the images, I wanted to explore the male gaze, which was the primary observer of Mary Ann the escort. Similarly, I wanted to bait the male gaze through the voluptuous portraits in the book, while also satirizing it, and re-claiming it as my own gaze on Andrea, and she on herself. We also wanted to evoke the spirit of erotica photographer Bunny Yeager in her '50s-'60s era heyday, who famously captured playful pinups of Bettie Page through their creative partnership. Similarly, since Andrea and I are close friends who love playing around with each other, the intimacy of the photography is a reflection of our relationship and our comfort level with each other.  Which images do you feel are “Mary Ann,” which are Andrea, and which are another character entirely? Persona is a crucial part of Andrea's work, so what was it like for her to put on those personas for her friend, not a client? AW: It’s definitely a mix. I feel like I play Andrea in, say, “Unshameable Love,” the story about me coming out to my parents, accompanied by Nicole’s candid shot of me calling my mother with the lights of Zanzibar, a famous Toronto strip club, reflected in the shine of my eyes. I play Antagonist Andrea in “The Merry Men of Mary Ann,” the husband fucker with a man’s ring finger in her mouth, eyes straight at the camera. (The hand belongs to our co-publisher, Eldon Garnet of Impulse [b:], which we thought quite fitting.) The photos of “Touched” are of Andrea as Wet T-Shirt Model for Nicole. We shot at Hanlan’s Point on Toronto Island, a clothing-optional beach, when I saw a man on his towel in the sand dunes jerking off. “Err, Nicole,” I said as she continued to shoot below me, “There’s a man over there watching us and masturbating.” I looked over again. He waved. I waved back. We kept shooting. The resulting picture is not of Mary Ann, but perhaps of an Andrea that doesn’t give a fuck if people are looking at her or her pictures and yanking their chains. To each their own. When we were finished, the guy, late-40s and probably wearing a toupee, came over to us and asked us out to lunch. We kindly rejected his offer. “C’mon! I’ll pay for it!” he said. No thanks. “A Whore’s Last Words” is probably the closest set to Andrea the Person, specifically in her guise as Andrea the Organic Farm Intern, considering the shots were taken in the last month of my second year working at a farm post-escorting. I relished gluing those long, press-on nails to my filthy farm fingertips. From being perennially dirty to getting dolled-up, donning the finest pieces scrounged from the local Value Village, and posing for the camera at the farm, the process was so deliciously foreign by that point that I truly did savour every moment of modelling for Nicole that day. Other photos feel bigger than Andrea or Mary Ann: in “Tyrant,” I channel my inner superhero (superwhoro?) as the streetwalking woman in red, the mama bird watching the world from her nest. In “You Look Like a Movie Star,” I am my most idealized and archetypal self; I see myself in the main photo not as a woman but as a volcano, erupting with erotic femininity. It is, in my opinion, the hottest photo in the book. The series that follows is an epic amplification of Mary Ann, Andrea, and a Sex Goddess. I’d be lying if I said I was that glamourous in real life. Andrea pants more than she moans in cowgirl. “Go Leafs Go!” is an example of Andrea washing off the stink of Mary Ann after a night of not-so-pleasurable work. I am nude, but I am not sexy, and none of this is for sale. While shooting with Nicole was almost always a fun, creative endeavor, modeling for “Go Leafs Go!” took me back to a dark place. During the shoot, I was hungry and sleep-deprived, tired from shooting the marathon of “Movie Star” photos in Nicole’s bedroom. We set up in her washroom, and I wanted to go home. My breasts in the photo have a natural, weary hang to them. I, too, felt droopy. I thought about all those nights I was exhausted after work, specifically the night I slept with a lazy, stinky, man-boy in the basement of his dead parents’ suburban bungalow, of all the things I’d done for money for which I should’ve been paid more. The shot itself is vulnerable. The difference between Nicole and a John is that I trust my collaborator and close friend to not exploit me; no matter how nice a client is, I can never fully trust him with my vulnerability. Performing for Nicole builds a book and an artistic partnership; performing for a client satisfies his needs and pays my bills. Whether I perform for art or for pay (or both), I always put my fullest self into whatever I do. I am also 98 percent certain Nicole respects me, but with a client, it’s hard to be sure. NB: To me, the images are always Andrea, but representing various aspects of her experiences, other people’s impressions of her, and her own imagination. Andrea is a versatile performer and has the ability to act as a chameleon, transforming herself throughout all of the various tones and aesthetics of the photography. She’s also exceptionally daring and game for just about anything to get a great shot, which gave me lots of freedom to play with where we took the imagery. The constant things, visually, are that Andrea appears in each photograph and they are all shot on film. In that way, the visual component of the memoir is meant to feel like cinematic film stills of various genres in which Andrea performs characters ranging from herself, herself as Mary Ann, and herself in collaboration with women from pop culture. “A Whore’s First Words” and the centerfold were both influenced by Britney Spears as baby-whore inspo, and secondly in her Cindy Sherman-inspired 1999 Rolling Stone cover. We replaced the house phone for a smartphone, and the Teletubby with the whore’s essentials: condoms, lube, and a faux-fancy purse. We borrowed from the image of both Kim Kardashian and Stephen King’s Carrie to construct “Holy Ho,” adding a bit of Virgin Mary to taste. The opulent, sex-drunk “Gifts” is directly inspired by Marilyn Monroe, and the “Reviews,” in reaction to a recurring comparison on the review boards, by Mary Tyler Moore. For “Tyrant,” a fictional story from the perspective of a cat-caller, the photoshoot veered into documentary. Andrea was dolled up in a '90s-supermodel themed ensemble with a short red dress, smokey eyes and flowing long hair. She stomped down Yonge Street and I captured the reactions of various men who stopped to stare. A key theme of Modern Whore is that complexity of human identity—not being misled into thinking that prostitution is a black-and-white issue or experience. It’s about seeing the nuance and individuality in the personal experience and understanding the humanity there. That’s why I think seeing Andrea throughout the book is important, and hopefully as a friend I can use the intimacy that I have with her to give the audience a window into her many facets. 
Entrance Not For Everybody

Berlin sparked my curiosity about secret spaces, rooms accessible only through hidden doors. But even magic theaters for madmen are more interesting when someone is with you.

The first person who told me Berlin was an interior city was a stranger, someone I met at a party for someone else I barely knew. He'd recently visited Berlin and, perhaps like everyone who's recently visited Berlin—certainly like me, now—he couldn't shut up about it. “It doesn't look like much,” he told me. “It's a lot of brutalism and cement. But if you find the right doors to go through, it's incredible. All the good stuff is inside, or secret, or hidden. You just have to know where it is.” Based on my memory of who he was—a lithe, handsome, and very young man from some non-U.S. country I can’t recall—he was probably thinking of places like Berghain, the legendary club. I walked past Berghain in the daylight when I was in Berlin; it's just on the other side of the parking lot for a big-box store called Metro that looks exactly like an IKEA. In DC, where I grew up, it would be utterly believable as a government building—the offices of functionaries in some smallish department, maybe Fish and Wildlife Service tech support. Inside, if you can get inside, it's reportedly a techno bacchanal, a wonderland of drugs and music and sex. But I'm a fat American in my late 30s. I did not try to get inside. Still, the claim about Berlin seems to hold, whether you're looking for the fabled club inside a concrete office block next to the knock-off IKEA, or something a little more staid. Berlin is a speakeasy city, full of secret doors to close against whatever regime has the latest boot on its neck. One night our friends took us into a shopping mall in the neighborhood where we were staying, where they lived. We walked through the mall, past the GameStop and the McDonald's, to the parking garage elevators, and took them to the top floor. When the elevator disgorged us we walked up the ramp to the roof of the parking garage. Up there, perched above five floors of shopping and parking and a movie theater, was a vast bar patio that looked like the set for a high school production of South Pacific crossed with Beyond Thunderdome. You never would have known it was there, if you didn't know. Inside the bar, we sat on mismatched chairs under a disco ball, in a fug of smoke, and watched amateur fireworks going up outside. Some of the secret spaces of the city are orgies, but some of them are living rooms. * It's not actually true that Berlin doesn't look like much from the outside. Granted, it doesn't look like an American's idea of a picturesque European city—but then again, sometimes it does. In Mitte, the center city, where most of the tourist stuff lives, there's a smattering of old-world architecture: the museums, the cathedral, the sub-neighborhood known as Alt-Berlin (“Old Berlin”). These look the way you'd imagine them to look: domes and crenellations, cobblestones and copper. Such spaces exist in Berlin, but the city has had many lives since then. There are a few spots that remain unscathed, and many more where bark has grown over the scars. Even in the beautiful spaces, though, there are inward folds: places held cradled in secrecy, places that reward investigation even when the surface view might seem to be enough. In Alt-Berlin, between the old town hall and the river Spree, in the shadow of a 13th-century church, we found an odd storefront with its displays packed full of deliberately arranged bric-a-brac. The window was stenciled “Surrealische Museum fur Industrielle Objekte,” and the sign on the door said “Next Entrance.” We looked around for the next entrance for five minutes, before realizing it actually said “Next Entrance 4 p.m.” This was the door of Designpanoptikum, which is mostly a warren of basement rooms filled with surreal assemblages of defunct technology. When we stepped inside, owner and artist Vlad Korneev explained his theories about form and function in rapid-fire Russian-accented English, then left us alone to wander among the dummies and cameras and lights and pipes and stripped-down bits of metal that used to be something else, that used to work. The basement hallway is lined with photos of a younger Korneev in the nude, with different objects on his head. The whole thing is unnerving and beautiful, a fantasy taxidermy of machines. I think most people would hate it, but then again, they wouldn't know it was there. * Hermann Hesse's Steppenwolf never says it's set in Berlin, and it probably isn't, but it could be. It's a German city full of 1920s dance halls, so why not? When I was younger, I was fascinated by Steppenwolf, largely because much of the book is devoted to the minute examination of a kind of psyche optimized to appeal to teens who think they're special. In particular, though, the image that nailed itself to the wall of my mind was the door with a flickering sign: Magic theater, entrance not for everybody. For madmen only. “I was freezing and walked on following that track in my dreams,” says narrator Harry Haller, “longing too for that doorway to an enchanted theater, which was for madmen only. Meanwhile I had reached the market place, where there is never a lack of evening entertainments. At every other step were placards and posters with their various attractions...But none of these was for me. They were for 'everybody,' for those normal persons whom I saw crowding every entrance. In spite of that my sadness was a little lightened. I had had a greeting from another world, and a few dancing, colored letters had played upon my soul and sounded its secret strings.” I suppose that's what I've been looking for all my life: magic theaters for madmen only. The “track in my dreams”—at least the dreams I remember—has always led through secret doors and hidden passages, cluttered museums and subterranean warrens of interconnected rooms. I've sought out places that mimic that fantasy: places that, behind an unremarkable facade, spin out into a mazy web of curious chambers. You can find these, if you make a hobby of it: the House on the Rock in Spring Green, Wisconsin; Meow Wolf in Santa Fe; Sleep No More here in New York, at least in the early days. There are others. They aren't really secret, and some of them are very popular, but they are definitely not for everybody. At one point I suspect I meant “everybody” in the same sneering way that Harry Haller uses it: as if “those normal persons” who don't seek out hidden corridors were inferior for being satisfied with what the world will readily provide. As if being delighted by what's available on the surface—external beauty, accessible value—meant you were depthless and obvious, incapable of profundity. There was a time when that thought would have comforted me. Now, it's simply an acknowledgment: not everyone's dreams are a labyrinth of secret rooms spiraling into the earth. It is possible, admirable, probably even preferable to live outside under the sky. But I am only interested in theaters for madmen. Berlin first sparked my curiosity, in fact, because it housed what seemed like a perfect magic theater, a convoluted playground called Peristal Singum. That closed years before I managed to visit, a fact that still guts me. If there's a word for keen nostalgia for a place you've never been, I'm sure it's German. Luckily, Berlin is a patchwork of magic theaters: carnival spaces too cool for the likes of me, but also strange art and cozy nooks and just plain odd delights. A few blocks from the place we were staying is a building, a former factory, that's not especially notable aside from being pink, but which turns out to house a large indoor campground full of cabins and vintage caravans and fake trees. Perfect cocktail bars are posted up behind forbidding unmarked doors, where you have to ring the bell and wait to get in. At the end of a graffiti-lichened alleyway in the otherwise tony Hackesher Markt, down a narrow spiral staircase, we found Monsterkabinett, a sort of immersive art project in the form of a murky basement filled with lurching, clanking steampunk automatons. Our tour through the space was frantic, clamorous, and possibly genuinely dangerous (it’s hard to tell the difference between a barely-controlled spider robot that’s attacking you and a barely-controlled spider robot that’s pretending to attack you, after all). Above, people shopped at the Nike store and the H&M and went to the movies. How could I not be enchanted? * I used to think that being in love was a matter of fortifications. I took seriously, though incorrectly, the Rilke advice read at my wedding: that marriage means “each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his solitude.” If someone were going to stay with you, I'd long since decided, it was important that they be shielded from whatever about you was difficult to love. This included almost everything: need and desire, grief and grievance, the things I was ashamed of and the reasons for that shame. If Bluebeard were a woman, the locked room would still be full of girls' bodies, but they would all be the same girl. Even when I shared a home, or a marriage, I always kept my own closet, blankets, bank account, toothpaste, car—sometimes my own bedroom. I joked that my ideal living situation would be like Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera: two houses joined by a bridge. There's nothing wrong with any of this, of course, if you're doing it in the spirit of getting the solitude you need. But I was more interested in bricking up anything I thought might be unacceptable: messes and debts and damage and inconvenient physicality. And it worked, insofar as my vigilant quarantine mostly went unnoticed. A wall is a comfort, when you're not the one building or policing it, when you're not the one blocked in. A wall means you don't have to worry about what's on the other side. The remainder of the wall in Berlin, incidentally, is an anti-war art gallery now—nearly a mile of it, jutting up confused and purposeless but embellished with messages of peace. A city with Berlin's history, one must assume, has a different relationship with walls than a space that's never been split. Once you've built your identity on a wall, openness is vertiginous: a joyful vertigo, but vulnerable. It's more comfortable for walls to have gaps and openings and compartments, a balance of freedom and involution, not barriers but hiding places. If you can't tear it all the way down, you can still pass through it. A wall that is also a gallery. A gallery that is also a plea to not be hurt again. * The word I immediately used for Berlin was “haimish”—a Yiddish word, which is ironic, since Berlin was the seat of the Third Reich. (But also non-ironic, since Berlin sports a full city-block Holocaust memorial the likes of which you would never see in the United States. Imagine 200,000 square feet of prime Manhattan real estate given over to memorializing Jews. Yes, that's all of Manhattan, but I mean explicitly.) What it means is “homey”: comfortable, easeful, familiar. This sense of haimishness comes, I think, from the fact that Berlin's inward tendency feels natural to me: the city and I both curl the same way. I don't know if a person who lives on the surface would feel at home in Berlin, or if she would feel shut out. For me, it feels like a place you could make a life. In fact, my partner almost moved to Berlin just before we met. Like me, he fell in love with it immediately, even though—or probably because—its riches aren't immediately apparent. Also like me at the time, he was trying to shake the inertia of a long and bricked-up relationship. Moving to New York, the city of open secrets, proved to be much easier—a friend in Brooklyn happened to need a roommate—but Berlin plans were well underway when the offer came through. When he first told me this, it felt minorly miraculous, a tragedy narrowly averted; we hadn't known each other that long, but I already could tell I would have been mysteriously bereft if I'd gotten to New York and he wasn't here. If I'd known more about Berlin at the time, though, I might have also found it reassuring. But I didn't, and so I've made him prove his magic-theater-hunting bona fides over and over—even after he told me his dreams were mostly underground corridors, too. Germany was the first overseas trip we'd taken in our four years together, but we'd already traveled to New Mexico and Baltimore and Wisconsin and the nowhere middle of Florida to seek out some of the hidden treasures in the U.S. I suppose it's become kind of a litmus test for me: Will this person accompany me across the country to a town we have no other interest in, simply because there are weird secret rooms that I want to see inside? I need to know they have a commitment to secret rooms. * I loved Berlin because I loved Berlin, but I also got engaged there. He brought me coffee and pastries and roses and then proposed in the living room of the apartment we were subletting for the week, a much-too-large-for-us prewar palace above a Vietnamese takeout in Neukölln. In some ways I suppose it was strange to make such a certain choice about our future in someone else's home, a place we'll never enter again, but it made sense in the end. We were rattling around in that apartment; it was so large compared to our Brooklyn one-bedroom, in fact, that there were rooms we never entered at all. We could have had so much solitude there, so much territory, so much privacy. Instead we'd made a cozy kingdom of the living room, a shared space of companionable quietude. We are always building sheltered rooms together. I don't know a way to tell for sure if you will be with someone forever. But I think I know, now, the way to tell if you're able to be with them honestly. It has to do with seeking out magic theaters together, sometimes—but more than that, it has to do with constructing them, putting up walls with each other instead of against. The problem with a wall is not the building but the barrier. A wall can be part of a room. It can brace a bridge. It can hold a door. That's love for me now: not a fortress, not an open sky, but a house. A series of rooms we build together: old structures and new additions, basements and breezeways, secret passages accessed with a code word, doors that are sometimes open and sometimes closed. Cigarette smoke and disco balls, maladjusted metal monsters, broken gadgets arranged like art. Not for everybody—not something everyone would want. But if someone rings the bell, you can let them in. Sometimes marriage means you change your last name, especially if that name originally came from the person you married before. Well, I've grown to like mine, and I'm keeping it: Zimmerman. German, “builder of rooms.” * When Harry Haller finally makes his way inside the magic theater, he encounters—what else?—himself. That's what's always been inside the rooms and behind the walls, after all. Even the drive to hunt for secret doors, says Harry's host Pablo, is in fact a drive to look within. “You have a longing to forsake this world and its reality and to penetrate to a reality more native to you, to a world beyond time,” he says. “You know, of course, where this other world lies hidden. It is the world of your own soul that you seek. Only within yourself exists that other reality for which you long.” You knew that too, of course. A subterranean warren of secret rooms—what did you think it meant? Predictable, egotistical: the desire to find hidden places that are all just ways back in to the human heart. But like any way in to the human heart, it gets more interesting when someone else is there with you. Places feel like home when we curl the same, a hand around a hand. It's a sort of cosmological resonance: as without, so within. People feel like home for similar reasons: when they understand the direction that you turn away, and why, and what it means to follow the track in your dreams through miles of underground rooms. Standing hand in hand in a secret place in a secretive city, not guarding each other's solitude but cradling it: a spiral like a nautilus going all the way into the earth.
Death in the Village

For years, police now suspect, a serial killer has been targeting queer men in Toronto. For far longer, the city’s queer communities have been insisting authorities take their safety seriously.

“NO_ONE EVER REALLY DIES” The massive letters are glued to the plywood around the construction site at 582 Church Street, near the centre of Toronto’s Church-Wellesley Village. The site used to be a bar called House-Maison. Once at a party a boy kissed me in the bathroom upstairs. He laughed, and then disappeared into the sea of people outside. It is derelict now, under perpetual construction. The poster was hung there to promote the latest album from hip-hop/rock group N.E.R.D. (the underscore in “NO_ONE” is to make the acronym work), which was released December 15, 2017. You will have trouble reading the sign. Sometime between being affixed in late November and December 4, 2017, the company in charge of patrolling the site—O.B.N. Security and Investigative Consultants—moved its own placard, from where it hung nearby, to a few feet down and to the right, carefully obscuring the word “DIES.” There is an owl scowling on it—an image, presumably, of sleepless watchfulness. The outline of where it used to hang persists, its ghostly outline particularly obvious when it rains. Perhaps the word troubled them. You will have trouble, too, finding out what the acronym O.B.N. stands for. It is not on the security company’s website, though there you will learn that among its executive board and founders are a number of former police officers or law enforcement personnel, and it is then that you might guess. If you haven’t, a bit more digging will lead you to a Toronto Star article from 2006, in which, amid a pitch from the firm’s vice-president for their services in divorce surveillance, it is explained as a joking reference to O.B.N.’s association with the Toronto Police. I call their offices to inquire about security work (I have been feeling unsafe lately) and they confirm: O.B.N. stands for “Old Boys Network.” Walk past this constellation of signage and follow the plywood to where it ends. Squeeze past the cars parked there. On the building’s north-most side you will find a small alley, and stone steps down to a basement door. Next to overflowing recycling bins and garbage containers, in a spot that neither O.B.N. patrols nor police bothered to look, you will find a tall heap of dirt festooned with flowers, candles, and birthday cards. You will find the spot where, on November 29, four days after she went missing, and one day before her birthday, Tess Richey’s mother found her daughter’s murdered body. [[{"fid":"6702886","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"Tess Richey's memorial. (Photo credit: Anthony Oliveira)","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"3":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"Tess Richey's memorial. (Photo credit: Anthony Oliveira)","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false}},"attributes":{"alt":"Tess Richey's memorial. (Photo credit: Anthony Oliveira)","height":"2000","width":"1500","class":"media-element file-media-original","data-delta":"3"}}]] * I am walking along College Street near Bay. It is raining. From an alcove entrance, over the railing of the building wheelchair ramp, a woman in a red vest shouts over to me. “Come inside out of the rain and donate to Canadian Blood Services? It’s in you to give!” “I’m gay,” I say. She grimaces. “Sorry.” * He was a Mall Santa. This was the detail, culled from his Facebook page, that obsessed the press. We are still waiting for numbers—we are still waiting for so much—but it seems that this man who (it is, my editor wishes me to stress, alleged) had killed at least five men and probably many others would once a year put on a red suit and dandle the children of Toronto on his lap and listen to their fondest wishes. He smiled, and smiled, and still was a villain. It seems now secondary that there are still gay bodies to be exhumed. That there was blood—gay blood—in the trunk of his car. Gay blood when it is donated is thrown out, and when it is spilt it is easy to forget, running unnoticed in the gutters. Think instead of the children. When I look at his Facebook page (it is now locked, but police left it up for several days) I see different angles of parties I attended—photographs taken on Church Street of the same Halloween costumes I had photographed just before him, giant candied skulls moving in a conga line through the crowd that made me tug on my friend’s coat: look, there. In his pictures I see an eye gazing where I gazed, and wonder if it gazed on me: darkly complected, stocky, bearded. Gay. Maybe when the headlines shout “MALL SANTA!” this is the heterosexual community’s version of the same impulse: look where you were vulnerable. * It is mid December, 2017. We have been looking for Andrew Kinsman for seven months. His posters are still outside in the square and in the coffee shops. In all that time the police have insisted there is no connection between Andrew Kinsman and the rash of disappearances we have been seeing for years. Instead, they tell us to “be careful on the apps.” They do not explain why. Project Marie, the 2016 police sting operation to lure gay men into sex in the park and then arrest them, is a year old. Briefly, Tess Richey’s poster hung next to Andrew’s. “But I knew she was dead when the police came in to take down her poster,” a barista tells me. Outside the window is Crews & Tango’s, the drag club and dance space where Tess was last seen. Just a few steps north is where her body was found. Do not congregate online; do not congregate in the park; do not congregate in the bar. Tess’s poster has been replaced with one of the person of interest in her case: a slight, white man photographed by blurry CCTV cameras. Another predator, moving through the village. “Did you talk to them? When they took it down?” I ask. “Fuck no.” * It is mid January, 2018. I am sitting in the press conference for Andrew Kinsman’s family. We are in the 519 Community Centre; above the lobby bulletin board hangs a sign: “FAMILIES DEFINE THEMSELVES.” The conference is in the ballroom on the second floor. The last time I was here it was full of steamy bodies—the humid rain had moved the TreeHouse Party inside, and we danced in the microclimate of our sweat. I remember a friend’s hand in the small of my clammy back that made me wriggle and slap them away. Now it is cold. Journalists and equipment personnel sparsely laugh and chat, milling near a hastily erected coffee station. One behind me loudly barks: “There’s probably a book in this!” The family is huddled, watching them. Watching us, I guess. They have just learned an arrest has been made. They have just learned, for certain, that their brother was killed. They are waiting for the body to be found. They speak imperfectly, as all of us would. They think aloud of the child that Andrew was. Shelley Kinsman takes no questions after her statement. I watch her anxiously clutching and persistently rubbing a small black stone with both hands throughout. I never find out what it was. She looks like my mother, fretting at her rosary beads. Andrew’s sister Karen tells a story about how her brother wanted to be a paleontologist, and how the family once hid a cow femur and convinced him there must be dinosaurs buried in the yard. He dug and dug until, ecstatic, he found the bones. The room shifts uncomfortably and moves quickly past the infelicitous image. “We looked for him in the heat, in the rain, and in the snow,” Patricia Kinsman says. Attend enough press conferences and you learn the strange synesthetic habit of a sudden burst of photos when the subject says something useful—as though the image captured could be made at all congruent to what striking thing was said. A sound like a group of bats taking flight as cameras go off: heat, rain, snow—that was everyone’s favourite pull-quote. A family in suffering, scouring for their prodigal brother lost in the big city. I have yet to find an article that quoted what Kinsman said next: “We found homeless men living in tents. We met a transgender person afraid of living in a shelter as she had been assaulted and robbed. She lived under a bridge. We bought her lunch. We saw a young man sleeping under a bridge surrounded by bottles. In the forest we found needles and more. We never found Andrew.” I wonder if the homeless woman they met was Alloura Wells, whose body was found in August in a ravine by a hiker, discovered during a coroner’s exam to be trans, and then neglected, no further identified, in a police morgue for months, until the noise from the family about organizing their own searches (as Alloura’s father put it, struggling with her pronouns: “It’s like [she’s] a nobody”) led them at last to identify her remains. Probably not. There is after all no shortage of homeless trans people in Toronto. The moment, in any case, passes unremarked upon. (I later speak to Patricia by phone, and she confirms it of course wasn't: "I would have known Alloura Wells." I thank her for looking, at least, where police wouldn't.) The Kinsmans talk around the problem of the other victims’ families, of the troubling optics of a killer caught after possible decades of activity because he finally killed a white guy. Greg Downer, who speaks with the sisters, says the search has reached out to Selim Esen’s family in Turkey, but they have apparently long “considered the matter closed.” They implore the family to call the police, whom they thank profusely. “Remember him in your own way,” the sisters say. For their own part, “we know that wherever he is, Andrew is looking down on us.” * “Andrew did not want to look down from anywhere.” I am sitting with my friend David at the Blake House, a pub just off the village’s main drag. The last time I was here was right after the Pride parade with my then-boyfriend. My shorts were ludicrously short and sparkly, and his eyes were very, very blue. David slept with Andrew Kinsman a handful of times, and they were friends. It is a kind of relationship every gay man recognizes, but which the media has struggled to quantify. The Andrew that David remembers is not the child his sisters recall at the press conference, but a man who knew his mind—ruthlessly unsentimental, and very kind: “If ever there was a person that didn’t deserve it, it was him.” David looks down. “He was a big man.” It is a peculiarly terrible feeling watching someone you care about picture someone they care about being disassembled. The police have been busily peddling a vague warning to stay away from hook-up apps for months, to the exclusion of all other information and amid strenuous denial there was any evidence of a serial killer. Their denials, to David, amount to complicity: “Andrew disappeared in June. There’s a young man on that list who disappeared in August. If he is one of the victims, that is on the police.” He remembers the case of Jane Doe, who successfully sued the Toronto Police for their part in her attack by a serial rapist. Instead, for David, the horror is that Andrew knew his killer: “The thing that pains me most is that he might have cared for this person, and been betrayed by this person in such a cruel way.” I ask him about Tess Richey; about the queer voices in Black Lives Matter, whose press conference for the unveiling of the mural behind Hair of the Dog I once watched police perfunctorily scuttle after BLM had questioned the force's cosmetic image renovation; about Project Marie, and about the subsequent police uproar about being excluded from Pride. Was this laxity of their mission to serve and protect meant to be punitive? “All of this has laid bare the fact that we are alone,” David says. “We have no superheroes. We are alone. It is the queer community that has done the most work. It is the queer community that has developed strategies. “And now it is the queer community who mourns.” * I am in the Glad Day Bookshop with a Paper Plane (bourbon, amaro, Aperol, lemon juice) and a book (Midsummer Night’s Dream) when my ex-boyfriend spots me in the window and comes in to say hi. Then: “I hear they might be up to four bodies.” We talk about how they will probably give him a name. The Mall Santa thing, probably, or something about the gardening. My ex tries the cocktail, and I feel the momentary course of a thrill at the gesture’s casual intimacy. His eyes are still so blue. He is late for something, squeezes me goodbye, and he is gone, and I am alone again with my book. * City TV posts a report about the murders. My cousin, to whose face I once denied I was gay when they cornered me at a wedding years ago (“But I saw you!” she pressed. “I just live near the village, so I’m there a lot,” I stammered, my face hot), spots me in the pre-roll, and tags me. I read the Facebook comments. Del Core Domenico says: “You don’t like cops, now you pay the ultimate prize.” Laughing emojis. Sandra Wieland says: “Why does the media say gay men were murdered. Do they say straight man shot last night. Stop the labels. We are the human race.” Wayne Kennedy says: “Leave the police alone they are doing a good gob there [are] other cases to solve.” Andrew Brown says: “So 2 makes u a serial killer?” Tom Pearson says: “A bit much to say police won’t do a thing. Division is not helping.” Chris Kolmel says: “They could have just not bothered looking for the killer. Just coming off as looking stupid” Dre Khaloo says: “Let’s not forget LGBT ppl u were the 1’s who told the cops not to show up at pride wearing their uniforms catering to the demands of blm so shut ur holes An deal with it” Richie Zina says: “Confused gays. What about aids? Why are they still so quiet in that? I’m sure aids kills thousands more than this guy did….” I close Facebook. * I am sitting on the second floor of the village Starbucks, grading a student’s late paper. I become vaguely aware that behind me an older man is explaining to his companion how Grindr works. “See, these people are all nearby! It changes every time you sign on. I had sex with this guy once. Some of these people are even in this café! Look, there’s that guy!” To my left across the gulf of the stairs a gentleman sitting alone at a table conspicuously pretends not to hear. Two police officers, a man and a woman in the Toronto Police yellow winter jackets, walk up the stairs holding coffees, obviously on break. The same old man behind me jeers loudly: “Uh oh, the POLICE are here! I hope nobody in here did anything WRONG!” The police officers, also, pretend not to hear. When one of them goes to the bathroom, the old man again heckles him: “Better check if there’s a MURDERER in that bathroom! Better get him this time!” The officer tries the door, but does not know the code (I know it but do not volunteer it). Instead he returns to his partner, and they hastily leave. I try to follow to ask them if the jeers are typical lately, but when I get outside they are already in their squad car, pulling away. I wonder if this is their normal patrol, and if so, I wonder if they are the same cops who, when arresting a man at the southern-most margin of the village a year ago were caught on cellphone video tasering a man while down and insisting to an objecting observer to watch out for the suspect, “because he’ll spit in your face and you’ll get AIDS.” I wonder if they’re still mad they didn’t get to march in their uniforms in the parade, expecting cheers from the people they’ve left for eight years to die while a murderer picked us off, while across town they arrested us in parks for having sex, and electrocuted us in the streets. Maybe that is uncharitable. * Since June 12, 2016, I have not once walked into a gay bar or café or community centre without thinking, “I wonder if today is the day someone decides to kill us.” Not once. * Alex is 23—the age, by five days, that Tess Richey never lived to see. Alex is non-binary and bisexual, and came to Canada because they believed it was more welcoming and open. They want to ask for my advice about grad school (my advice is what it always is: don’t). We are talking in Glad Day, and around us the daytime coffee shop shimmers, dims, and transforms into a quiet night-time pub. This used to be a club called Byzantium, and the floor still has the tracks that split the dancefloor from the more intimate section where the music meant you had to lean in close while lights drew zigzags on the other person’s face. When straight people imagine coming out they imagine a tearful, dramatic revelation all at once, but Alex’s story is like mine: by degrees, when it’s safe, when it’s too late for them to ruin your life. Coming out is brave not because it is vaguely “scary,” like a school play; it is brave because it is dangerous. Some people get violent; some punish you financially; some just love you a little less, forever. You let them see the little fraction of yourself that you can trust them with, because you’ve learned love is almost always conditional. Surviving is brave, too. Bitterness is always possible. Instead, Alex’s kindness has a ferocity of its own; they are a volunteer for every LGBT cause imaginable, and I quickly learn have a distressing habit of crying out to interject “poor thing!” at the exact moment in your anecdote when you are describing the person you are trying most to vilify therein. More than anything else, Alex loves anime. Their free time (of which their volunteering does not afford much) is devoted to “magical girls”—the genre of which Sailor Moon is the most identifiable example to Westerners. They are highly choreographed stories in which the powerless and disenfranchised are transformed into gossamer agents of justice: beauty and love triumphant, never sacrificing an ounce of vulnerability or compassion to do battle against exploitative evils. I ask about the disappearances, about Tess Richey, and about Alloura Wells. “The police aren’t doing anything but when have they ever?” Alex asks, sadly. “We protect each other.” We talk some more about magical girls. * I leave class at 11 a.m.—a lecture on Shakespeare’s Richard II—to 14 texts from my friends. The death toll is now at five. On the TV above the café bar I watch forensic personnel dressed all in white dragging enormous flowerpots from a property in rural Ontario. There are bodies in the soil. Unbidden my mind flashes back to the end of the play. Full of baroque images of the horrors of power, it ends with a last one—a new king, crying crocodile tears, for the victim whose death he didn’t quite order, but tacitly condoned, even as he punishes the murder: Lords, I protest, my soul is full of woe,That blood should sprinkle me to make me grow. (5.6.45-6) What is power? A beautiful flower, whose earth is soaked in blood. In Shakespeare, eulogies are the privilege of murderers. On the TV, the police spokeswoman speaks, but the TV is set mercifully to mute. * It is Thursday night and the high holiest of days: the premiere of RuPaul’s Drag Race. We are upstairs at The Drink: my sisters, Joe, and David (a different David—there are a lot of gay Davids). My friend Paolo is in the crowd. The bar is packed to its rafters—sitting on the floor beneath our high-top, a gaggle of teen self-identified “bio-drag” apprentices are watching the stage, enrapt, while Ivory Towers holds court. Ivory Towers is, by day, Geoffrey, a reserved barista whose insta-feed is replete with high-concept foam art and whose lattes are excellent despite being herself lactose intolerant (“Which is also why I can’t suck uncut dick,” she drawls mournfully to the crowd). In costume she is green-haired and in a space-age Barbarella catsuit whose rhinestones catch and scratch when you hug her. The crowd adores her. During a commercial break I am pulled onstage, and acquit myself admirably in trivia until the lightning round, when I forget that Ru’s fictional airline is called “Glamazonian Airways.” In my defense, I am rather drunk. Smelling blood in the water, Ivory takes the opportunity to tear me apart; noticing the “A” on my shirt, and the solid three weeks since I’ve been to the gym, she cries out: “Alvin, Simon, and Theodore, and it looks like you ate all three!” Afterwards, offstage, we both down a shot of Fireball. I am incandescently happy. After the lip-sync and very just elimination of tacky and mean-spirited contestant Morgan McMichaels, my sisters and I spill down the steps, the air pleasantly cool after so many raucous bodies hooting and cheering upstairs. Across the street is Crews & Tangos. I remember that Ivory was almost certainly hosting there the night Tess Richey died. I hope, before the horror, that her last night was as beautiful as this one. * In the heart of the village, behind the 519, in the park across from Tess Richey’s alleyway memorial, you will find a bank of roses, and among them on plates a list of names. These are Toronto’s dead, lost to AIDS, when no one in power cared to act, when the old boys' network raided the bathhouses and the parks and the bars. In the summer we hold a vigil, and by candlelight we recite their names, and we recite the names of those killed at the Pulse massacre, and we recite the names of anyone else who was loved and lost. This year we will recite new names. Their names were Selim Esen. Skandaraj Navaratnam. Majeed “Hamid” Kayhan. Abdulbasir Faizi. Soroush Mahmudi. Dean Lisowick. Andrew Kinsman. Alloura Wells. Tess Richey. There are more names. There will be more names still. And we will forget some. And we will not know how many died in silence and in secret and alone. No one will tell those stories. No one will know how. * “NO_ONE EVER REALLY [THIS PREMISE IS UNDER PHYSICAL AND ELECTRONIC SURVEILLANCE BY OBN 1-866-626-5900]” I have been staring all week at that mutilated poster: another piece of our vandalized history, another scrap pasted onto the palimpsest of this neighbourhood, another fragment forcibly overlaid atop another fragment, out of which we are expected to assemble some measure of coherence. [[{"fid":"6702881","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"Photo credit: Anthony Oliveira","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"2":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"Photo credit: Anthony Oliveira","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false}},"attributes":{"alt":"Photo credit: Anthony Oliveira","height":"2000","width":"1500","class":"media-element file-media-original","data-delta":"2"}}]] It is the product of crass marketers peddling positivity, and then careless old men seeking to conceal anything that might invite the discovery of their own guilt in creating the conditions for a predator to prey. I have no sense to offer. Maybe offering sense is just another violence—another sign moved to cover something up. But still: when you make “NO_ONE” into one word you fuse a noun to its adjective, making a new noun—a “no_one” that is nevertheless a thing. Queer people are so often born in isolation—we have to find each other, have to excavate our history, have to build new families to replace the ones who abandoned us. To walk in the village, for me, is to walk in these overlapping histories: through my own, through memorials, through the sites of arrests and beatings and a thousand indignities and intimacies. We are never one. Not really. __This story has been updated to clarify details related to the Kinsmans' news conference.
‘The Kind of Faith That Was Begging to be Shattered by Complexity’: An Interview with Kate Harris

The author of Lands of Lost Borders speaks with her editor about travel, Virginia Woolf, and deciding not to go to Mars.

On the scale of fun, writing a book is generally Type 3, in line with an arduous expedition where the stakes are preternaturally high and the participants bounce between excitement, dread, and terror. Live to tell the tale and glory surely awaits. But risk is essential when striding forth into the unknown and, once home, sharing your findings as truthfully as possible. As Colum McCann put it, “A writer is an explorer. She knows she wants to get somewhere, but she doesn’t know if the somewhere even exists yet. It is still to be created. A Galápagos of the imagination. A whole new theory of who we are.”  This time, like a ship-board cat on a long expedition, I was along for the ride, an editor providing companionship as much as keeping the mice at bay. Metaphors aside, that writer-editor relationship can sometimes turn into the deepest friendship. Type 3 fun, after all—if you survive it—forges powerful connections. And the banter that comes during the voyage can reveal profound truths while keeping a sense of play and possibility in the undertaking. A shared love of adventure—particularly bike touring—initially brought Kate Harris and I together. Her new travel memoir, Lands of Lost Borders (Knopf Canada), is about biking the Silk Road from Istanbul to India, steering out of bounds and defying expectations as often as possible. Kate left behind her scientific studies and her hopes of becoming an astronaut and traveling to Mars in order to embrace the freedom she felt when exploring the Earth on her bike. I’m a long-time cycling activist and co-founder of The Reading Line, which offers annual literary Book Rides on two wheels. After completing the manuscript last summer, we hit the road, biking from Whitehorse, Yukon, to Atlin, British Columbia, where Kate lives.  A week before Lands of Lost Borders hit bookstores, we sat down to discuss the writing process, the idea of truth in memoir, Martian evangelism, and the role of travel literature. Fittingly, our conversation began in an airport and continued over Skype a few days later.  Amanda Lewis: So here we are, t-minus eleven days from publication. Kate Harris: In a rush, in an airport, consuming massive quantities of sushi as if we’ve been biking all day. But we haven’t. I’ve been driving and you’ve been sitting. That’s right, internet, I drive a car. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Well, we had six months to prepare this piece but of course we’re doing it days before it’s due, between a visit to the vet for my cat and your flight to Atlin, because we’ve spent the last six months bantering about poetry and real estate, and going on adventures. It’s like this, Kate: sometimes when you’re under a magazine deadline, all you need is four wheels and the defogger, and the cat can’t come along.   It is exactly like that. I’m a master of metaphor. I don’t know if you know this about me. Where did this marvellous gift come from? It’s probably an Irish thing. May you get to heaven a half-hour before the devil knows you’re dead. That’s an Irish blessing. You’re an Irish blessing. Thank you! Anyway, my metaphors don’t make sense but they’re soothing, and I feel like they help authors. They do. They break the ice. Whenever we had editorial phone calls, your metaphors would make me laugh so hard I’d forget to be worried about writing. I remember going home after first meeting you, and trying to describe you to my partner. “She’s an eccentric,” I think I told her admiringly. You were having this out-of-body experience when we first met. You were so over the moon because the book had been signed, but terrified because now you had to write it. You also thought we were punking you, because that’s a thing in Canadian publishing: we put all our money into punking authors. So, let’s talk about how this came about. The punking. I was browsing the magazine rack in a bookstore in New Brunswick, flipped through a Quill and Quire issue, and found an essay by this editor who was into bikes and books and saving the planet. And this editor had worked on books by so many authors I admire: J.B. MacKinnon, John Vaillant. And I was like, “There she is. That’s my editor.” So I followed you on Twitter. I checked out who you were when you followed me… But you didn’t follow back. [Laughs] Well, I’m verrrry choosy. That’s what the psychic told my mom. That her daughter is too picky. Both too picky, and oddly accepting on the romantic— Let’s not talk about that… Now I loved that you defied all the expectations you had set for yourself—to finish your PhD at MIT and become an astronaut on a one-way trip to Mars—in order to live more fully here on Earth, biking the Silk Road for a year with your childhood friend Mel Yule. Plus, I have such a fondness for that part of the world, and have been longing to visit Tibet, and your book transported me there in the interim. How do you see your book fitting into literature on that country, or the Tibetan freedom question? Do you see your book serving a political purpose?  I certainly don’t write to offer political solutions, or solutions of any sort, but to provoke questions, to reveal ambiguities in realms where black-and-white thinking tends to prevail. What’s happening in Tibet now is what has happened and is happening to Indigenous peoples in Canada, and in colonized lands all over the world: the loss of autonomy and sovereignty and culture, the imposition of a foreign language and foreign laws.  Throughout the book, but especially in Tibet, I wanted to examine the troubling repercussions of “exploration,” an enterprise with such strong imperial overtones, such strong associations with flags and maps and claims. The book doesn’t offer up any grand solutions, because frankly I don’t have any to offer other than, why can’t we all just be better to each other? Which isn’t exactly a policy you can just implement. So, the book shows what’s happening with the Chinese occupation of Tibet as far as I could see it—which, to be honest, wasn’t very far when we couldn’t really even talk to Tibetans. Right, because you and Mel were disguised as androgynous Chinese cyclists in order to sneak in without a guide or permits. You’re back in your off-grid cabin in Atlin now, where you live. But you split time between there and Toronto, where your partner, Kate Neville, is a professor of environmental politics at University of Toronto. How do you reconcile those two extremes? Being this wanderer who is happiest in wild places, and then living in downtown Toronto for months at a time? Well, most of my extended family lives in Ontario, and my brothers are in Toronto as well as Mel. So people-wise, it’s a joy to be there. I try to binge on what Toronto has to offer and Atlin lacks, namely easy access to libraries, museums, films, talks, cultural events. Poor Kate has to slog away at being a professor, she’s really busy, but as a freelancer I can take advantage of all the city’s marvels. Even so, it wears on me after a while. I feel my senses shutting down: there’s too much noise, too much input. I can read well in cities, but my writing feels cautious and closed-off. It’s so easy in Atlin to be inspired. If you can’t write something decent in this splendour, all this fresh air, there’s really no hope. As someone who spends a lot of time alone in a cabin in the woods, though, I can attest that Toronto is a much more solitary and anonymous place. I mean, you saw Atlin: it’s incredibly community-oriented, but at the same time, everyone’s an artist or adventurer. They understand the hermit impulse, the need for solitude and extremes, but everyone looks out for each other. You’ll be invited to dinner parties every week.  I don’t know if you remember me saying this to you when I was staying with you in Atlin, but you can sense that everyone’s an artist there, it’s vital, it’s in the air. People are working for that above having a paycheque or a fancy house. Those aren’t the markers of success there. I was really struck by that. And in Toronto, the baseline for keeping life going is really high. Of course people are focused on careers: there are bills to pay, and they’re expensive. But you can dirtbag it in Atlin and lead an incredibly rich life so long as you’re willing not to make any money. Because what is money for if not living the life you want? That’s the attitude in Atlin. And ultimately, it doesn’t matter what it costs, because the cost of not being there is so high: you’re not doing your best work.  That’s right. Creatively, there’s a cost to being away. It’s like I access the fullest, most elemental version of myself in Atlin. Everywhere else I’m only partially expressed. Can we talk about the epigraph to your book? It’s from The Waves by Virginia Woolf: “To speak of knowledge is futile. All is experiment and adventure. We are forever mixing ourselves with unknown quantities.” I know you’re a huge Woolf fan, so I wasn’t surprised to see this, but someone picking up a travel book might expect lines from another travel book, or something from T.S. Eliot. What does this epigraph have to say about the way you see the world, travel, writing? The Waves is my all-time favourite Woolf book, a gorgeous prose-poem of a novel that wrestles with life, the universe, everything. It’s probably the least-read or least-talked about of her books, so I was thrilled to stumble on an essay by Jeanette Winterson, in her collection Art Objects, that articulates some of why I loved it so much. Winterson writes, among other things: “The Waves…is a strong-honed edge through the cloudiness most of us call life. It is uncomfortable to have the thick padded stuff ripped away. There is no warm blanket to be had out of Virginia Woolf; there is wind and sun and you naked. It is not remoteness of feeling in Woolf, it is excess; the unbearable quiver of nerves and the heart pounding... To read The Waves is to collide violently with a discipline of emotion and language that heightens both to a point of painful beauty.” Yes. Exactly. All of that. What I found in The Waves is what I seek from travel: that rapture, that exposure, that sensation of having the thick padded stuff ripped away to reveal the truth of where and who we are, or less the truth so much as the mind-boggling mystery at the heart of everything. And the experiment part of that epigraph speaks to your scientist nature. You had this desire to go to Mars. It seems this is how you live life: you have this romantic, poetic side, but you’re also a hypothesis tester. You ask questions, you experiment, you deal in the tangible. You build sheds, for example, on your property in Atlin. I asked a lot of questions of YouTube during the building process this past summer. How do I lay a foundation? How do I square a subfloor? What is the meaning of life, YouTube? Right! You jest, but in fact you’re always asking yourself that, about the meaning of life, and your life. You’re always asking, is my life moving in the direction I want it to? And then coming up with an answer and acting on it. So you tried out this hypothesis of: I want to go to Mars because it will fulfill me in every way. And then you tested it during a Mars mission simulation in Utah, and then at MIT, and then said, nope, this experiment is flawed. Doomed, in fact. I was a disaster in the lab, far too distracted by whatever was out the window. But yeah, one of the things that blew my mind when I went off to Oxford to study the history and philosophy of science, instead of doing science myself, was how partial and incomplete and open to revision it is. For a time we understood gravity through Newton’s Laws, then Einstein came along and we saw the “truth” of gravity in a whole new way. Until Oxford, I’d always seen science as the ultimate tool for deducting truth, and I mean capital-T truth. Then I read Thomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions, among other books on the philosophy of science, and came to understand how paradigm shifts can be prompted by a pretty irrational process. One scientist will fiercely advocate for one theory, because she has a hunch that this is how the world works, it seems elegant and sensible to her, though she can’t definitively prove it. Another will argue with equal fervor that his totally different theory explains a given phenomenon best, though he can’t prove it either. And those different beliefs, different theories, battle it out over time until the facts fall more on one side than the other. This faith at the core of science really shook, well, my faith in science. I no longer saw it as the only way to genuine knowledge. There are so many ways of knowing the world. Woolf nailed it, as she nails most things: all is experiment and adventure. One of the most challenging aspects of writing a memoir is wrestling with that element of “truth.” Because your story, of course it’s “true,” but who you were when you biked the Silk Road the first time, before Oxford, versus who you were when you picked up your route where you left off, five years later, versus who you are now when you’re writing the book—I’m curious about how you wrestle with that idea of truth when you’re writing about different versions of yourself. In The Night of the Gun, David Carr writes about a pivotal night in his life. Here he was, as he believed himself to be at the time, a respectable journalist and doting father, and yet he found himself completely strung out and pulling a gun on someone. So he went back and started investigating his own life, and talking to people who were there, because he had a certain perception of who he was, and he wanted to test that, sort of triangulate towards truth. So I’m curious about what your process was like in writing the book. I know you kept a journal, and you had Mel as well to bounce the story off and fact check. But how did you go about balancing Kate as she was with Kate now, and the Kate that appears in this book?  Hmm, different versions of myself. It’s interesting, looking back at my childhood…obviously I’m aware that I was into Mars as a kid. But when I went back and actually re-read the letter I wrote— Tell me about the letter. I wrote a sort of manifesto as a teenager calling for a mission to Mars as the highest priority of humankind. And I fervently, wholeheartedly believed every word of it, so much so that I sent it to twenty-two world leaders. I was an evangelist for Mars. In a way I admire that zealous younger me, who felt with such conviction that going to Mars was the one goal worth striving for, worth putting all the world’s passion and energy and resources into. Which gets at what you were saying about faith in science. Right. Faith is a tempting, comforting thing, if you can find it. I’m so glad I aimed for Mars when I was younger. I pretty much owe everything I’ve done and seen and learned to that singular focus. But it was the kind of faith that was begging to be shattered by the complexity of the world. A world I hadn’t seen much of as a kid, except through books. So, as unworldly as I was, it was easy to believe that the Earth was a write-off, a ruined planet, and that Mars was the great hope. Of course, once I finally had the chance to travel for myself, I saw that our world is both better and worse off than I thought. There’s so much beauty and wonder and hope still left here, as harsh as things are for many people, and many places. By any reckoning, this planet is the best thing we’ve got going in the universe. To not put all our energy into being good “earthlings” seems insane now to me. To be fair, though, I wasn’t just enchanted with Mars as an escape route: it struck me as the one place in our solar system where science and poetry and philosophy might meet, by yielding an answer to that age-old question, Are we alone? That was thrilling to me, and is still thrilling to me. I’m glad we’re asking that question, sending out probes and rovers in hopes of inklings or even answers. But Mars is no longer my messianic be-all and end-all. It’s one of many places that makes the universe interesting. Now by the end of the book—spoiler alert—you’re emaciated and exhausted and your friendship with Mel is momentarily strained if made stronger in the long run, and at this point you started to formulate a vision for life after the Silk Road. You’ve ended up at this spot in Atlin, bordering Alaska, the Yukon, and BC, borders that don’t really matter because you can’t see them and you cross them all the time when heading to Whitehorse to buy groceries, for example. And you’re writing in this tiny cabin, and you’re considering these grand questions: what is truth, what is the state of the world, how am I taking care of my postage-stamp piece of it. And as we’re talking now on Skype, I’m looking at that Judy Currelly painting over your shoulder on the cabin wall, watching it as the light changes, and it’s glowing: three ravens around an orb, circling it almost like spacecraft, and it’s called Ravens Discussing the Affairs of the World. I see your book as just that: a kind of probe or spacecraft you’ve sent into orbit from your base in Atlin, asking some of the biggest questions: Who are we? Are we alone? What are we doing here? Wait, why are we on this mission? Abort! ABORT! [Laughs] So that’s how I see it. In fact, one of the things I admire about you is your optimism. You don’t let the horror of the world crowd out the wonder. What I’m circling around here is the relentless quest for truth you seem to have, which is informed of course by your scientific training, and now comes through in your writing. And also in the writing you love and share, since we’re always flinging bits of essays and poetry and interesting articles back and forth. Though you tend to start your days reading things like the Paris Review or Granta, and I tend to start my days reading Apartment Therapy. You and I, we bring such different riches to each other! I’m less interested in truth, though—whatever that is—than in being aware, at all times if possible, of the wildness of being at all. Goethe said the highest goal humans can achieve is amazement, but when you think about it, amazement is a pretty low bar given the facts of the matter, namely that we live on a spinning hunk of rock in an undistinguished corner of a universe full of stars, and we haven’t the faintest idea where it all came from. How is it that we aren’t wonderstruck by existence every second of every day? You are, as your book shows. Now this is your debut book, and it’s a travel memoir. Are you worried about being pigeon-holed as a travel writer, a memoirist, the next Cheryl Strayed or Elizabeth Gilbert?   I’m more concerned about being pigeon-holed as an adventurer who happens to write, when really I’m a writer who happens to enjoy grueling sufferfests from time to time. And I have nothing against Cheryl Strayed or Elizabeth Gilbert. Of course not! They’re amazing writers. People are quick to write them off due to their success, which is garbage. They are successful primarily because they are sublimely talented, and they continually hone their craft. Also, Dear Sugars for life.  Yes, they’re gorgeous, engaging writers, and I suspect we’d all be best friends if they’d only give us the chance. In part because we’re hugely different. What made those two hit the road, so to speak, was an emotional crisis of some sort, and travel was its cure. This is a valid reason to travel, but there are so many other valid reasons! Including a basic curiosity about how billions of other beings on this planet are going about their lives right this second. So if I must be known as a travel writer or a memoirist, I hope such labels are less associated with inward self-discovery, and more associated with looking outward with longing. When men write about travel, the press and general public tend to focus on their derring-do and bravado, or on the nature and culture of the places they travel through. When a woman does the same trip, she’s expected to write about her feelings or her relationships. Your writing has been compared to Rebecca Solnit and Pico Iyer, and I feel like all three of you have this wide-eyed yet pragmatic take on the world. It’s not about “me, me, me.” It’s about us as a species, as members of a global community. You’re all satellites going forth into the universe and reporting back. Every time I finish reading your book, and I’ve read it many times at this stage, I don’t feel like I’m closing the story of your life. I close it and feel like my life is more expansive, things seem more possible. The world feels smaller yet larger at the same time. Now, I’m curious about the photos in the book. They’re not of you or the adventure so much as the people you met and places you saw along the way. All of that was really important to me. If there were going to be pictures at all in the book, I wanted them to be evocative, not illustrative. To enhance the text instead of just depicting it. The initial selection of photos by the publishing house tilted toward the adventure and Mel and me, but I didn’t want the places we travelled and the people we met to be consigned to the background. The point of including photos wasn’t to satisfy people’s curiosity about, say, what Mel and I look like, or what equipment we brought, you can Google all of that, and any other important details are included in the main text. No, the point of the photos is to spark more questions than they answer—much like the book as a whole, I hope.  Anytime I can grab someone’s ear about your book, I highlight how it’s about defying the rules we have for ourselves, and crossing boundaries. In the narrative, you literally cross a border when you sneak illegally into Tibet. And you more metaphorically cross boundaries when you step off the scientist/Mars track you were on. How do you bring that same sense of risk-taking and border-breaching into your writing?  In all my travels, I’ve never done anything nearly as perilous as facing a blank page on a daily basis for years on end after returning from the Silk Road. Writing means risking failure, courting it even. Setting off for territories that might not exist. Working away for half a decade on a project that might never find a publisher. And when you write, much as when you travel, you can’t be too conscious of the risks you’re taking. You can’t let prudence overrule a healthy sense of adventure. You sit as many risks as you run, isn’t that the saying? So you might as well run, or bike, or approach writing with a sense of play and trust and hope, despite the leering risk of failure, because it’s way more fun. On that note, I want to talk about vulnerability. There’s a lot of it involved in striking out on an adventure, or putting a pen to the page. Until now, only a handful of people have read your book. Soon you’ll have strangers giving it star ratings on Goodreads! How are you handling the imminent exposure? With total aplomb. Meaning I veer between ecstasy and terror from moment to moment, which is really fun for my partner. At the end of the day, I feel proud of the book, I gave it everything I had, and now it goes off to live its life, all grown-up. It kind of feels like giving a gift to the world, though of course this doesn’t guarantee it’ll be received as such. My hope is that it moves people, revives their sense of wonder, makes them fall in love with the Earth so that, like me, they never again want to abandon it for Mars. Above all, I hope it makes people want to explore—not the Silk Road, necessarily, but whatever territory is available to them. It’s scary and alluring, this promise and threat of feedback on the book after years and years without much of it. I grew up chasing gold stars, the highest grades, and that’s a hard impulse to kill. The actual writing of the book was a healthy exercise in ego extinguishment. But publishing a book threatens to put the ego back in play or kill it off forever. So I’m trying to detach myself from outcomes and focus on the next experiment, the next adventure. Godspeed, little book. You’re on your own now.  I think it was Atwood who said that once a book is published, it doesn’t belong to the writer anymore. It belongs to the reader, it takes on its own velocity. And what was that Steven Heighton quote you shared with me that I can’t remember now but I love? Oh, it’s so good! And so true of both travel and writing. “Resign yourself to the road, there’s no arrival. There’s no map either, come to think of it, but the sun is rising and the radio is on.”
The Short-Lived Normalization of Breastfeeding on Television

Buffy Sainte-Marie’s decision to breastfeed her child on Sesame Street to educate viewers would be one of the last times the act was broadcast without being a punchline.

In late 1975, Buffy Sainte-Marie received a call from Dulcy Singer, the Sesame Street associate producer who would later become her boss. The folk-rock musician had been touring European clubs and concert halls along with First Nations reservations in Canada, but her career had come to a standstill in the States, where her music didn't get much airplay beyond low-watt college stations. She hoped Sesame Street would change all that. Singer wanted Sainte-Marie on the show for a one-off appearance—merely to "recite the alphabet stuff or count," as Sainte-Marie later remembered it.  Instead of a one-episode appearance, Sainte-Marie pitched a more ambitious project to Singer. She wanted to create a curriculum for kids to learn about "modern-day Native American culture.” Sainte-Marie had made it her mission to portray her own Cree heritage, as well as the history of other Indigenous peoples of the Americas, with a representational nuance.  Born in 1941 in Saskatchewan on a Cree reservation and raised by adoptive parents between Maine and Massachusetts, Sainte-Marie had long committed herself to educating the world at large about Indigenous life, culture, and history, founding the Nihewan Foundation for American Indian Education scholarship fund for Indigenous students in 1969. She was looking to expand her knowledge and its reach to kids and their caregivers, to preemptively deflect from any racism aimed towards Indigenous peoples. Sainte-Marie knew that Sesame Street was the ideal platform. She felt that the show’s format was revolutionary. She suggested having a few segments per episode, mostly devoted to singing and acting in the role of Big Bird’s best friend, the mononymous Buffy. She was certainly up to the task, having been an elementary school teacher before she was a singer. She began appearing on the show in 1976. A few episodes into her tenure with Sesame Street, she and her husband, Sheldon Wolfchild, discovered that she was pregnant. When Dakota Starblanket Wolfchild, nicknamed Cody, was born in 1976, Sainte-Marie woke up in the hospital next to a huge basket of formula company samples, but she didn’t want her kid to have them. She could barely entertain the thought of having to sterilize her infant’s bottle in the middle of the night. How arduous. Sainte-Marie only wanted to breastfeed him, even though breastfeeding was somewhat out of vogue at the time. “My OB-GYN had never received much training on breast feeding and couldn't advise me," she wrote to me recently. "Like most things in parenthood, breastfeeding was an acquired skill.” At first, Sainte-Marie worried that her pregnancy would limit her time on Sesame Street, prematurely derailing what she’d hoped would be a long stint on the show. But she imagined it’d be more fun to, somehow, devise a plan to make her son’s recent birth a plot point. Her solution was simple. She figured she’d breastfeed during one segment. Sainte-Marie’s desire to breastfeed her child on television was deeply personal, and tied to her larger mission on Sesame Street. Her Cree family had lost two daughters in the days when churches had made breastfeeding illegal, forcing Indigenous women to drive miles in a horse-pulled buckboard to a farmer who sold them cow’s milk which could spoil before it got to the babies. The segment would be part of Sainte-Marie’s larger campaign to combat widespread popular ignorance regarding her own heritage and the practices that flourished within her community. "I expected that it might be too much for television,” Sainte-Marie said. “But [the producers] were keen to do it." Singer responded enthusiastically, seeing an opportunity to fold the pregnancy into the show’s narrative.  The scene, which appears midway through the 116th episode of season eight, unfolds with mundane calm. Big Bird was horribly jealous of Cody, and that had become a running gag during Sainte-Marie’s time on the show: KEEP OUT! a sign outside Big Bird’s nest read, referring to Cody. THAT MEANS YOU. But during this segment, merely 150 words and 56 seconds long, Big Bird softens. He comes upon Sainte-Marie breastfeeding her child. Big Bird is taken with this gesture he’d never seen, the sight of a kid huddled at his mother’s bosom, nibbling for nutrition and comfort.  "Whatcha doin', Buffy?" Big Bird asks, craning his neck and peeking at Sainte-Marie from his nest.  "Feeding the baby,” she responds. “See? He's drinking milk from my breast." He sidles up next to her, compelled and bewildered by the sight unfolding in front of him. “That’s a funny way to feed a baby,” he tells her. The camera closes in on Sainte-Marie cradling her son as she explains that many mothers feed their babies this way, though not all mothers. The reason Cody likes the milk from her breast, though, is because it’s "nice and warm and sweet and natural, and it's good for him. And I get to hug him while I do it, see?" Big Bird asks if that’s all Cody ever needs to eat. Sainte-Marie clarifies: As her child gets older, she will mash up fruit, vegetables, and meat for him. But for now, she explains, her breast milk is all that he needs.  “I think we probably shot it just once,” Sainte-Marie told me. “The way we did it was entirely natural and not sensational. It was as real as your own home and children. The reception was no big deal, at least that I could see. I don't recall a single complaint.” In that era, Sainte-Marie and the Sesame Street crew were filming two shows per day, so they had to act fast. She ad-libbed the script. This was not the last time that Sesame Street would feature a woman breastfeeding. That was in 1988, when Maria, played by Sonia Manzano, delivered the same message to kids in a scene that’s a simulacrum of the original with Sainte-Marie, with the same casual magic as its antecedent. A child looks on as Manzano holds her newborn daughter close to her breast. It lasts just under a minute. Beyond this, there’s a three-second still during a photo montage from 1980 showing a mother feeding her child through her overalls. A 2007 version of this clip would swap those frames out for bottle-feeding.  *  “The Buffy Sainte-Marie episode is generally hailed as the first TV depiction of breastfeeding, and remarkably remains one of the few most realistic, normative representations to date,” Katharine Foss, author of 2017’s Breastfeeding and Media: Exploring Conflicting Discourses That Threaten Public Health, writes me. It’s gone mostly downhill since then, in Foss’s view; while there are a few more televisual representations of breastfeeding now than there were in 1977, she feels the majority don’t have the thoughtfulness and care of that Sesame Street episode. “Three of the most prevailing, and often intersecting, trends in this regard include breastfeeding as played for laughs; as eroticized; or as gross at best, demonized at worst,” she says. Foss surmises that the reason we haven’t seen too many positive depictions of breastfeeding is due to increased legislative control over women’s bodies, particularly in their reproductive stages. In dramas, for example, breastmilk has often been treated as leaky, unwanted discharge; Foss points me to a 2008 Criminal Minds episode in which a mentally ill serial killer breastfeeds older children, who aren’t related to her biologically, until they starve to death. There’s also an episode of the second season of American Horror Story in which a killer grows so sexually obsessed with breastfeeding that he hires a "postpartum prostitute" to nurse from. He then murders her. In sitcoms, meanwhile, the breast becomes a rank spectacle for comic relief. In the first season of Friends in 1995, Chandler and Joey are supremely weirded out by Ross’s ex-wife breastfeeding. Seven years later, in the first episode of season 9, Joey is as frazzled by the sight of Rachel breastfeeding as he was eight seasons back. His increased sexual frustration at being unable to access Rachel’s breasts becomes the butt of the joke. A season 3 episode of Gilmore Girls, broadcast in 2002, depicts Luke recoiling in horror at a patron unbuttoning her blouse to feed her child. “Is that woman what I think she’s doing?” he says. “When did that become acceptable?” “Looking back, having an Indigenous woman ... be the mainstream television depiction of breastfeeding feels radical,” Angela Garbes, a Seattle-based writer currently working on a cultural history of breastfeeding, says. “These days, breastfeeding, if it's portrayed on television at all, almost always invokes a male gaze, or at least a gaze that includes discomfort, confusion about the use of breasts for something non-sexual, and judgment, and is almost exclusively done by white women.” She cites a 2011 episode of Game of Thrones that depicts a grown woman breastfeeding a six-year-old, a scene that deliberately perverts the act of breastfeeding and portrays it as monstrous social behavior. “Representations like these reflect the ongoing tensions and debates about women’s place in the public sphere and the politicizing of motherhood,” Elizabeth Podnieks, author of 2012’s Mediating Moms: Mothers in Popular Culture, says. She’s noticed something of a trend wherein cries for women to breastfeed openly and without fear often result in blowback from a prudish public, effectively silencing women. These mothers, in Podnieks’ view, are “encouraged and often shamed to go back to the proverbial kitchen to feed their babies in private.” The most recent study gauging public opinion on the matter of breastfeeding found 43 percent of Americans felt women had the right to breastfeed in public. When it came to depicting breastfeeding on television, only 28 percent felt it was permissible, characterizing breastfeeding in public as indecent and immodest. Constructing a timeline of breastfeeding on American television provides insight into the extent of American squeamishness—and, more alarmingly, the growing sense of disquiet surrounding the female body and its capabilities. The puppeteers of this hysteria were legislators who championed what Garbes terms a “medicalized model of women's reproductive care.” Newly-maternal bodies, Rebecca Kukla writes in Mass Hysteria: Medicine, Culture, and Mothers' Bodies, are sites of biological marvel: they "leak, drip, squirt, expand, contract, crave, divide, sag, dilate, and expel. It is hard not to see why such bodies have long seemed to have dubious, hard to fix, permeable boundaries." * Something about Saint Marie’s 1977 clip, originally broadcast on three different channels in 72 different countries, was resonant enough for it to resurface in December of 2011, when self-christened mommy-blogger Lani Michelle of “Boobie Time” became the first to voice her concern about what she perceived to be a precipitous decline in depictions of breastfeeding on television. This representational shift struck Michelle as conscious rather than coincidental, corresponding to the growing anxiety regarding breastfeeding in America outside the home. Any segments, she realized, that featured children being fed by the breast had been replaced with bottle-feeding. The bare breast had disappeared from Sesame Street. Michelle had just discovered this clip of Sainte-Marie breastfeeding Cody floating around on YouTube, a living document of an era that America no longer knew. “I wish they would redo this scene for the current series! Maybe with a [sic] Celeb,” Michelle lamented on her blog. “It would help normalize breastfeeding to a culture that has completely sexualized breastfeeding.” Less than one month later, another blogger, Jessica Williams, began a petition that echoed Michelle’s laments and took them to action, demanding Sesame Street re-introduce breastfeeding into its segments. The petition called for a balance between representations of breast and bottle feeding. The campaign obtained over 35,000 signatures and attracted bountiful press. Such attention eventually made its way to Sesame Street’s makers. The Sesame Project responded vaguely to these sentiments: "Sesame Street is a research-based educational program designed to teach our preschool audience. Each new season is intended to deliver on a specific curriculum; this year the curriculum is science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). We have depicted breast-feeding in the past when it was a natural part of the storyline." The clamor of Williams’s campaign quietly died down soon after the Sesame Project’s statement. It became quite clear that Saint-Marie’s moment on Sesame Street might have been the best it’d ever get for breastfeeding on television; ever since that day in 1977, representations of the act on American television have buoyed between farcical and borderline crass, lazy injections of humor where the mother’s breast is somehow sexualized and turned into an object of fetish. The realities of this bodily function and its demands—of pumping, of engorgement, of pain—are often sidelined, if not ignored altogether. There are a few shows that have treated breastfeeding with a degree of nuance. Take the first episode of season 5 of Sex and the City, broadcast in 2002, wherein Miranda breastfeeds her newborn as Carrie tries to stifle her horror and fascination, mostly at the size of Miranda’s breasts. The scene does not distance itself from the banal realities of breastfeeding, nor does it make the perceived oddness of this gesture into the butt of the joke. The camera lingers over Miranda’s breasts as she performs the magnificently boring, exhausting labor that breastfeeding entails. Episode 3 of the second season of Catastrophe depicts the deadening tedium of pumping, when Sharon Horgan's character, still breastfeeding her second child, goes on a romantic weekend getaway with her husband but forgets her breast pump, a lapse in memory that makes her terribly embarrassed. And now, female celebrities can share the realities of breastfeeding on social media—like Chelsea Peretti pumping in a gown in the bathroom of the Golden Globes. What these depictions get right is applying a sense of normalcy and realism to the act of breastfeeding. Breastfeeding isn’t a punchline, nor is it meant to arouse. These women are allowed to stake bodily claim to public space without other people’s discomfort being centered. For the most mature depictions of breastfeeding on television, you’d have to look back once again, and again, to children’s television: a 1984 episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood that devotes a chunk of its runtime to breastfeeding in humans and animals alike; a 1997 Rugrats episode dedicated to Mother’s Day that shows just-born twins Phil and Lil in a flashback, suckling their mother’s breast. Perhaps this isn’t entirely surprising—these shows need to speak the language of kids. Who better than this demographic to understand that a mother’s breast is the first way many of us learn to satisfy our hunger? “It’s not like I was committing an act of activism for the cause,” Sainte-Marie wrote to me when prompted to revisit this moment 40 years ago. It’s a scene now etched in the history of American television and designated as radical by total accident, purely because of the absence of similar images in the medium. “[Breastfeeding] just made sense to me personally and to other mothers too, Indigenous and non-Indigenous,” she said. “And it was lovely and easy and convenient and nourishing. So why not explain it to Big Bird in a real way like you would to a real child, who Big Bird represents?”
Living with Slenderman

Three little girls, an Internet boogeyman, and a stabbing in the woods on a sunny afternoon. Inside the trials of Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier.

1. According to court documents, the little girls had been planning the kill since Christmastime. The original idea was to do it at Morgan’s birthday sleepover. Twelve-year-old Anissa, a boyish brunette with long arms and a layered pageboy cut, had read online that it’s easier to murder people when they’re asleep. It was the perfect opportunity: all three of them would be sharing the same bedroom. Like most suburban middle schools around Wisconsin, Horning Middle School gave its students iPads for educational purposes. Anissa’s Internet history showcased your typical online fare (bunnies eating raspberries), as well as more unusual attractions. On her Google Plus page, she Liked videos such as one in which a cat slowly beats to death a live mouse, and reposted a tutorial on how to kill someone with the wrong end of a lollipop (jam it into their eyes, their neck, all the soft spots). She also posted multiple “psychopath tests,” which she had taken and, according to her captions, failed (meaning she scored positive for psychopathy). In December of 2013, Anissa fatefully introduced Morgan to Creepypasta Wiki, a fan fiction horror website, where users can read and contribute to each other’s ghost stories. One of the most popular crowdsourced monsters on Creepypasta was called Slenderman, a tall, looming, faceless figure in a black suit. Morgan, who wore glasses, long blonde hair, and child’s size 10-12 clothing had one other friend, Payton, nicknamed Bella to distinguish from another Payton in their class. Morgan and Bella had been best friends since fourth grade. But Slenderman stories scared her best friend, so Morgan turned increasingly to Anissa. The two lived in the same apartment complex, and grew close during bus rides to and from school. Together they pored over Slenderman fan art, doctored videos of Slenderman “sightings,” and the thousands of amateur ghost stories on Creepypasta. Gradually, they pieced together that Slenderman resided only three hundred miles away in a mansion located at the center of Wisconsin’s Nicolet National Forest. Worse, he intended to kill them, or their families, if they didn’t first sacrifice a human being in his name. Given their options, the girls decided to kill someone, and although each would later blame the other for choosing their specific target, they decided that it had to be someone Morgan loved. So Morgan invited Anissa and Bella to her slumber party, and made a list in her science notebook that was later introduced as evidence in court. SUPPLIES NECESSARY: PEPPER SPRAY MAP OF FOREST CAMERA SPRAY BOTTLE CHEESECAKE THE WILL TO LIVE WEAPONS (KITCHEN KNIFE…) Morgan’s twelfth birthday party kicked off at Skateland, where, according to interviews with Morgan’s parents Matt and Angie Geyser featured in the 2016 HBO documentary Beware the Slenderman, the three friends laced up roller skates and rushed around holding hands, like “little girls.” Angie told me that upon returning to the Geysers’ condo, Morgan, Anissa and Bella lounged in Morgan’s loft bed, playing on their iPads, and eating cheesepuffs that Angie would later find scattered in the sheets. Anissa and Morgan’s plan was to murder Bella in her sleep, stash her under the covers, and run. But when Bella fell asleep on the floor, Morgan changed her mind. As she told Anissa, and later told police, she wanted to give her best friend “one more morning.” The next morning at breakfast, Angie, a pretty woman with clear skin and dimples in her cheeks, set out donuts and strawberries. After eating them, Morgan snuck into the kitchen and slipped a five-inch blade into her jacket. Angie says that she and Morgan’s father, Matt, had only let Morgan go to the park without them once or twice. But it was Morgan’s birthday, so they gave permission. The sun was out and anyone knows girls are safer in a group, usually. Before she left, Morgan told her mum she loved her. Then she and Anissa and Bella proceeded to the park’s public restroom, a site prearranged by Anissa, who later explained to police that it had “a drain for blood to go down.” According to Anissa, the new plan was to stab Bella in the bathroom, prop her on the toilet, lock the door, and run away. Reverting to the notion that it’d be easier to kill Bella if Bella were unconscious, Anissa encouraged Bella to shut her eyes and go to sleep. When Bella didn’t cooperate, Anissa smacked Bella’s head against the bathroom wall, hoping to knock her out. When that didn’t work, Morgan and Anissa suggested to Bella that they go into the woods off Big Bend Road to play hide and seek. Bella didn’t want to do this either, but Morgan assured her that she could pick the next game. So Bella followed them into the trees. According to court documents, the three girls traipsed through the brambles, and under the shade of overhanging boughs Anissa petted Morgan, who sometimes liked to pretend she was a cat. The two girls passed the knife back and forth. Morgan told Anissa she didn’t want to “do it”—she wanted Anissa to “do it.” She said, “You know where all the soft spots are.” Anissa handed the knife back to Morgan, urging her to “go ballistic, go crazy.” Morgan hesitated. “I’m not doing it until you tell me to,” she said. So Anissa took a few steps away, and said, “Now.” Morgan tackled Bella, whispering in her best friend’s ear, “I’m so sorry.” “Then,” Bella would tell police from her hospital bed, “she started.” Anissa watched as Morgan stabbed Bella nineteen times in the legs and torso, missing a major artery by one millimeter. Morgan punctured Bella’s lungs, pancreas, and heart. Bella shouted at Morgan, “I trusted you! I hate you!” After a while, she said, “I can’t see.” Morgan dabbed Bella’s wounds with a leaf, and Anissa instructed Bella to lie down, reassuring her that she would lose blood slower that way, and promising Bella they’d go get help, though she had no such intention. She wanted Bella to calm down and be quiet. “I don’t like screaming,” Anissa said during her interrogation. “It’s the one thing I can’t handle.” Promising Bella they’d return with help, the two girls ran away, proceeding on foot to the Nicolet National Forest to live with Slenderman. As they walked alongside the highway, Anissa says she became disenchanted and homesick. Morgan reminded her that they couldn’t go back. This was their new life. They had brought along two water bottles and pictures of their families. Now that they’d sacrificed in his honor, they would go live with Slender in his mansion, forever. That’s when Anissa recalls she had a “nervous breakdown, and blamed Morgan for everything.”  Morgan began to pray: “Slender, if you’re listening, please help us.” Cars whizzed by. The girls waited for a sign that things would be okay. But as Anissa later told police, no help from Slenderman arrived. No sign appeared. “He didn’t do anything,” Anissa said. “Nothing happened.” [[{"fid":"6702816","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"4":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false}},"attributes":{"class":"media-element file-media-original","data-delta":"4"}}]]   2. Prior to that moment, violent crime in Waukesha was basically non-existent. Between 2003 and 2016, an average of less than one murder occurred per year (a total of eleven murders were committed over thirteen years). The police blotter records stuff like drunk dog walkers and bats found in desk drawers. When a passing bicyclist spotted Bella, lying there bloody, pleading for help, it must have felt like a horror movie come to life. The 911 operator who received the biker’s call was similarly shocked. In a thick, Midwestern accent, he sputtered, “She appears to be what?” “Stabbed,” the caller said. “Stabbed?” Paramedics rushed Bella to Waukesha Memorial Hospital, where she underwent emergency surgery. Dr. John Keleman, who operated on her, told ABC News, “If the knife had gone a width of a human hair further, she wouldn’t have lived.” Her parents, Joe and Stacie Leutner, planted themselves at their daughter’s bedside. Joe didn’t know what to say at the time, he told ABC News. He remembers reassuring Bella, over and over again, “The police have them.” Cops caught up with Morgan and Anissa on the shoulder of I-94. Their little legs had carried them around five miles into their intended three-hundred-mile hike. They were arrested, brought to the police station, swabbed for DNA, photographed, and locked in separate interrogation rooms.  Over the next few weeks, news helicopters circled the apartment complex where Anissa and Morgan’s families lived. Waukesha residents propped posterboards scrawled with well-wishing notes to Bella at the dead end where she’d been rescued. In August 2014, two months after Bella was attacked, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker issued a proclamation that August 13th would be “Purple Hearts for Healing Day,” a state holiday in honor of Bella’s favorite color. Media outlets ran photos of Bella holding the balloons and purple cards she’d received, cropping the pictures to protect her identity. Miraculously, Bella not only survived the May 31st attack but fully recovered over the course of that summer in time to attend her first day of seventh grade. But Leutner family spokesperson Stephen Lyons says focusing on her startling recovery, and measuring Bella’s trauma only in terms of bodily injury, overlooks the inevitable, longterm psychic wounds. “When you stab a knife that deep into someone’s body, you’re going to create some pain that may stay with you forever or for a very long time,” he told me over the phone, after we’d made small talk about the unusually warm weather, which had beckoned hummingbirds to his backyard. He was referring to the scar tissue that may tingle throughout Bella’s life. “But there’s the emotional and the mental part of this healing—and often we talk more about that.” Lyons would not talk in detail about Bella’s post-traumatic stress except to say the entire family is currently in therapy. Bella is now a freshman in high school, where Lyons says she is taking advanced placement classes and doing very well. When asked whether he thought the Leutners had forgiven their daughter’s attacker, Lyons said, “We don’t talk about forgiveness.” 3. When Morgan was a toddler, ghosts bit her and pulled her hair. Eventually they went away, and were replaced by characters from Morgan’s favorite books and movies. Fun colors dripped down the walls of her bedroom. The oldest voice in her head, Maggie, became a dear friend. Multiple doctors would later testify that Morgan had been hearing and seeing and feeling things that weren’t there since the age of three. Matt and Angie had no idea. Aside from one night, when Morgan says she went into their bedroom, announced that hers was haunted, and they told her to go back to sleep, that it was just a dream—a night that Angie and Matt say they don’t remember—Morgan kept the hallucinations to herself. Childhood schizophrenia expert and UCLA professor Rochelle Caplan says some children might hide their symptoms, worried parents will say it’s their imagination. Morgan’s schizophrenia remained invisible to those around her largely because, although she was quietly hallucinating and having paranoid delusions, she had not yet entered into a full-blown psychotic episode, which is much more difficult to mask. By and large, Morgan’s pretend world remained nonthreatening. But then a man started following her. When Morgan looked into the bathroom mirror, she could see him behind her—this towering, shadowy thing, shifting in and out of corners. She couldn’t see his face, only that he was skinny, looming, the color of smoke and ink. Morgan named him IT. She hadn’t read the Stephen King novel at the time, she just didn’t know what else to call the haunting figure. IT stayed for a while, sneaking up on her in mirrors but, like the ghosts, IT eventually went away on its own, though by the time she met Anissa years later, memories of IT still frightened her.  Anissa called Morgan “Child.” She was also the only one Morgan told about the voices in her head.  When Anissa introduced Morgan to Slenderman, a thin, faceless figure who eerily resembled IT, Morgan thought she’d uncovered IT’s true identity—and over time, Slenderman fan art and doctored photographs of the Internet boogeyman replaced IT in her mind’s eye.  Worried that IT would return, this time with tentacles, as depicted on Creepypasta Wiki, wearing Slenderman’s signature black suit and tie, she confided in Anissa about her fears. According to court documents, Morgan told Anissa she recognized Slender. As a young child, she had seen him with her own eyes. Anissa believed her. She told Morgan that she knew Slenderman personally. Together, they decided, they could stop him from killing their families. Morgan was not diagnosed with schizophrenia until after her arrest, and although Morgan’s parents were shocked and devastated by the news, they were also not surprised. Morgan’s father, Matt, has schizophrenia. Matt and Angie didn’t tell Morgan about Matt’s illness because she was so young, and early onset schizophrenia is so rare. They regret that decision now. They also find themselves compulsively mining the past for warning signs, an almost impossible task, since Morgan kept her symptoms to herself. A few subtle instances stand out, though. In the year leading up to the crime, Morgan and her parents would occasionally run into people who Morgan had known for most of her life, and Morgan would act as though she didn’t know them. Angie chided her daughter in these moments, thinking Morgan was simply being “a snotty preteen.” She didn’t realize that people’s features were shifting around in front of Morgan’s eyes, making them unrecognizable. Then there was the fact that Morgan had taken to wearing layers and layers of clothing, even in springtime. That was something Matt did, too, wearing clothes that didn’t suit the weather—he wore shorts year round, for instance, even during Wisconsin’s subzero winters. Angie would later wonder whether dressing unseasonably was some kind of undocumented symptom of schizophrenia. But on the warm spring day of Morgan’s crime, when she watched Morgan leave the house wearing a heavy coat and long gloves, Angie simply thought her daughter had grown insecure about her changing body. Morgan had gotten her first period only a few weeks prior. Although the specific mechanism of hormones in triggering schizophrenia onset remains unknown, the disease’s increased incidence post-puberty presents a possible epidemiological link between growing up and going crazy. After being arrested and interrogated, twelve-year-old Morgan proceeded to the Washington County Juvenile Detention Center, a windowless facility that offers no outdoor time and prohibits physical touching between children and parents. Washington County is officially authorized as a short-term stay facility—ten-day stints are not uncommon. Morgan would remain there for more than a year. As soon as the jail permitted Matt and Angie to see Morgan, they looked into her eyes and just knew. Morgan’s pupils were dilated, her gaze lost. “She just gave me this look,” Angie says. “‘What are you doing here, why did you come?’” “Given the family history,” Angie continued, “I don’t know how to explain it. But…obviously she was sick. Everybody at the jail acknowledged it. It’s well documented.” During that first visit, separated from Morgan by bars and forbidden to touch her, the Geysers watched helplessly as their daughter talked to herself, smiling at imaginary friends and laughing spontaneously, seemingly at nothing. She looked sick and disheveled. Her hair was not brushed, and she hadn’t showered for days. To her parents’ mutual astonishment, she didn’t even seem to recognize them. The symptoms she had hidden for so long were now consuming her in plain sight, and they could do nothing about it. She had been charged with attempted murder. She did not belong to them anymore. When Matt and Angie were finally permitted to hug their daughter nearly five months later, Morgan told them she no longer liked to be touched.  4. Criminologists have suggested that those who kill in pairs often cordon themselves into two roles: the mentally ill individual, and the psychopath. It’s a criminal profile that has been ascribed to famous cases such as the Columbine Massacre and Leopold and Loeb. In each case, those who knew the culprits would later paint one as insane, and obsessed with the other, who was sociopathic and manipulative. But in the nearly four years that passed between their arrests and their scheduled trials, it would be the online presence of Slenderman and not Morgan’s illness that received the brunt of media attention. Even Beware the Slenderman, which delves deeper into the personal lives of the assailants than any other narrative thus far, and was the first to shed light on Matt’s mental illness, focuses on the dangers of boogeymen created by Internet. Morgan’s schizophrenia is not mentioned until more than an hour into the almost two-hour film. At Anissa’s September 2017 criminal trial, her team would also focus on Morgan’s illness. Anissa may have called Morgan “Child” during their friendship, but in jail (where the two were kept separated, per judicial orders), Angie says that Anissa got the other girls to call Morgan “Psycho Bitch.” But when it counted, Anissa’s attorneys would successfully argue that it had been Morgan who manipulated and dominated Anissa. At Anissa’s trial, multiple psychologists testified that the girls’ collaborative Slenderman mythology ultimately refracted through the lens of Morgan’s then-undiagnosed schizophrenia to create what 19th-century French psychiatrists first referred to as “folie a deux”—or, The Madness of Two.  Dr. Gregory Van Rybroek compared Morgan’s effect on Anissa to the scientific forces that reshaped Wisconsin after Pangaea: glaciers. Anyone on the jury, regardless of higher education in geography, would have understood the reference. Kindergarten and elementary school aged children in Wisconsin spend a lot of time learning about the ice mountains that swept through the state, flattening the majority of land to the extent that hills for skiing in winter had to be built from towering piles of garbage. The glaciers also carved the famous nooks and crannies, and the rocks that resemble animals, which many families drive to see in the Wisconsin Dells, a local tourist trap built around its religiously themed main attraction, Noah’s Ark, “America’s largest water park.” "It wasn't immediate," Van Rybroek said of his perception of Morgan’s effect on Anissa, in a slight northern accent. "It was something that gradually got into her head and her friend's. They got confused about what was going on there, and morphed into the world of mental health.” Preteens wrapped together in the shared secret of Morgan’s illness, the two girls had drawn themselves into a corner—into a kill or be killed situation. “Somebody can have a paranoid delusion where they feel they’re under attack,” Dr. Stephanie Brandt, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and faculty member at New York’s Weill Cornell Medical College, explained over the phone. Brandt, who has had many years of experience working with schizophrenic children and adolescents, and as an expert evaluating children in the context of litigation, said, “…it might result in them doing something violent in what, for them, is self–defense.” With the significant news coverage of the case, the girls’ defense teams argued that local jurors might be biased, and petitioned the judge in the case, Judge Michael Bohren, to bring in an outside jury. But Bohren refused the motion. He said Waukesha County residents could be trusted to be fair. He scheduled Anissa’s trial first. She entered his courtroom in shackles on September 12th, 2017, and sat down beside her public defender, Maura McMahon, trembling. The chains around her wrists and ankles shook. Over the next three days, McMahon argued that although her client did not suffer from mental illness in the general sense, Anissa’s codependency with Morgan, who was mentally ill, and their shared delusion about Slenderman, nevertheless made Anissa insane by proxy “when it came time to do the deed in the woods along Big Bend road.” More often than not, McMahon spoke of her client in terms of Morgan, saying “they” instead of “she,” repeatedly highlighting Anissa’s role as an (inactive) accomplice, and implicitly underlining the argument for a shared disorder by referring to the girls in tandem. But toward the end, McMahon focused on only one of the girls, in particular, and with significant pathos—and it was Morgan, not Anissa, who provided the emotional linchpin. “We know Morgan Geyser is a schizophrenic—has schizophrenia,” she said, “one of the most terrible and difficult psychotic disorders known to our society, one that in middle ages would have labeled her a witch and [gotten her] burnt at the stake.” She gritted her teeth, and added, “But we are not in the middle-ages anymore. We do not treat sick children that way.” Against all odds, the jury agreed with McMahon. They came back with a verdict for Anissa of Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity. They recommended a hospital sentence of at least three years. The full length of her commitment remained in Judge Bohren’s hands. He would sentence her sometime over the winter holidays. McMahon’s unconventional defense of Anissa—the “folie a deux” argument—had been a longshot, and the NGI verdict represented a startling departure from widespread local conceptions of mental illness as an excuse for bad behavior. Mental illness is a controversial topic in Waukesha County. According to Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Bruce Vielmetti, who has been actively covering the Slenderman Case since Morgan and Anissa were first arrested in 2014, people in Waukesha tend to think that “the whole insanity defense is just a joke—they don’t believe in it, even though it’s the law.” Underneath local ABC News affiliate WISN 12 Milwaukee’s Facebook livestream of Slenderman court proceedings, people commented, “It’s mental illness if the parents have money,” and, “Everyone has mental illness these days, didn’t you know?” Leutner family spokesperson Stephen Lyons has wholly rejected the NGI concept on behalf of his clients as being, at best, redundant, and at worst, dangerous. He says that anyone who tries to commit murder is by definition insane, and argues that it puts the community in an unsafe position to arbitrarily favor certain violent offenders by committing them to hospitals, where they can petition for release as early as six months into their sentence, while the rest remain where all of them belong: “behind bars.” It remained to be seen if Morgan, whose trial was scheduled two weeks after Anissa’s on October 9th, 2017, then pushed to October 16th, would receive the same verdict. On one hand, her schizophrenia made her a shoo-in for an NGI defense, but on the other, locals had taken to social media to express outrage at Anissa’s verdict, and that made Morgan Geyser’s team uneasy. Under pressure from its neighbors, another jury pooled from the same community might issue a reactionary verdict, and send Morgan to prison.  5.  Anthony Cotton had a good reputation for defending unseemly cases. His team handled felony charges ranging from child sex crimes to child homicide, and the firm’s website promised “aggressive criminal attorneys.” Within seconds of arriving on its landing page, a pop-up appeared of Cotton’s smiling face and slicked back hair, offering to live chat. Avvo, a company akin to Yelp that rates 97 percent of licensed US lawyers, gave him a five-star, 10 out of 10 “Superb” criminal defense rating, and his services were priced accordingly. The Geysers had never been rich. Angie worked on-call as an Advanced Neuro Diagnostics Specialist, traveling within one hundred miles of her home at odd hours to set up electrodes and machines and monitor people’s nervous systems during surgeries where there was a risk of “neurologic deficit.” She often assisted on Awake Brain operations, running the equipment and monitoring “a screen full of squiggly lines,” as she put it, while the patient lay on the table, skull open, alert and talking to surgeons. Matt was intelligent and stable, but his hard-earned mental health remained dependent on reducing external stressors, such as full-time employment, whenever possible. He worked as a stay-at-home dad, which he loved, and performed janitorial work several times a week in one of his father’s office buildings. Cotton was expensive, but his resumé inspired hope. According to his legal profile, he had personally secured not guilty verdicts even in cases where his clients had confessed, or when the evidence against them “seem[ed] utterly overwhelming.” By the time Angie and Matt considered hiring someone, Morgan had already provided detectives with hours of detailed, videotaped confessions.  Angie told me that when she and Matt first sat down in Cotton’s office, she felt dazed, and said to Cotton that at least Morgan was only twelve. Cotton told her that didn’t matter. He explained that in Wisconsin, children ages ten and older are automatically prosecuted as adults in attempted homicide cases.  Angie wasn’t sure she’d heard Cotton correctly. Certainly, she thought, if Wisconsin harbored a law that sentenced ten-year-olds to adult prison, people would be up in arms about it. She would have heard about it in the news. There would be marches in the streets. Children could not legally vote, or drive, or drink (or, at least, they could not drink without a parent present; in Wisconsin, children are legally permitted to drink at any age, even in public, so long as a parent gives the OK). Why, Angie asked, if the law otherwise acknowledged that children behaved impulsively and were therefore too dangerous to be licensed as adults in any other way, did it treat certain “serious” offenses as grown-up initiations? Cotton explained that unless they could secure something called a “reverse waiver”—a tricky process that, per Wisconsin law, required Cotton to convince a judge by “a preponderance of evidence” that re-adjudicating the case to juvenile court would “not depreciate the seriousness of the crime” in the eyes of the community—Morgan faced up to 65 years in prison. At that point in the conversation, Angie recalls, “There was a lot of crying about a lot of different things.” I spoke with Cotton a few weeks after he first briefed the Geysers on what Morgan was up against. It was June of 2014. “The Slenderman Case” was sweeping headlines, Morgan and Anissa were locked away in juvenile detention, where they were separated from their parents during visiting hours by bars, and Cotton expressed some shock that everyone seemed so totally obsessed with the crime’s salacious details—the number of stab wounds; the role of the Internet; Slenderman himself. In Cotton’s mind, the more pressing question—the angle nobody seemed interested in taking—was this: Why was a mentally ill child being tried as an adult to begin with? “I’ve been practicing law for nine years, and it’s pretty clear here that something’s not right,” he told me. When I asked if he ever felt frightened by Morgan, he laughed in disbelief. “I see a very young child,” he said finally, in a scripted tone. “I see somebody who’s very, very young.” According to University of Wisconsin Law Professor Eileen Hirsch, Wisconsin began prosecuting ten-year-olds as adults in homicide-related case in response to a mid-1990s phenomenon known as “The Super Predator.” The term was coined by then-prominent political scientist, John J. DiIulio Jr., whose theories led to sweeping legislative changes throughout the United States. In his treatise on the subject, “The Coming of the Super Predators,” DiIulio claimed to have conducted research that revealed how children raised in “moral poverty” (urban areas) were fast evolving into emotionless “wolf packs” of killing machines. DiIulio attributed the 1980s juvenile crime wave to the rise of Super Predators, and claimed that this new breed of “kiddie criminal” could only be stopped if America ceased treating them like children. He also encouraged states to “build churches,” and cited Jesus Christ as a child development expert. When DiIulio, who went on to work for the White House, promised that juvenile crime would rise significantly if America did not punish juveniles more harshly, almost every state in the nation rushed to convert its laws. “No one has been interested, really, in trying to change that back,” Professor Hirsch told me, “to come forward with what we now know, which is that…there were never any super predators.” Several years after DiIulio popularized the phrase, new research proved The Super Predator had been a figment of his imagination. Juvenile crime, which DiIulio claimed had been out of control, actually decreased during the mid-1990s by one third. After experiencing what he described to The New York Times as a revelation in church, DiIulio publicly apologized, but in Wisconsin, laws built in service of his debunked theory remain unchanged to this day. Professor Hirsch explained to me that dismantling such laws proves politically tricky, in part because doing so would ostensibly require any lawmaker to first explain to his electorate that they’d had been taught to fear an imaginary evil. No one wants to hear they’ve bought into “fake news,” and so The Super Predator has become the grown-up’s version of The Slenderman: a terrifying force that must be stopped at all costs; a terrifying force that does not actually exist. Overwhelming research published by The American Bar Association shows that children are far less likely to commit new crimes after being charged and sentenced in juvenile court, an arena that takes into consideration the child’s unique psychology, and provides rehabilitative resources customized for juvenile development. “We now operate with the understanding that a juvenile’s actions may not be the same as an adult’s—and, instead, that the juvenile might merit unique consideration under the law—and that punishment should perhaps be tailored to development and reform,” the American Bar Association states on its website. But in Wisconsin, a state that swung the 2016 election in Donald Trump’s favor by 20,000 votes, many believe in the idea that a serious enough crime is an adult-up rite of passage—and they ridicule the alternative (i.e., being “soft on crime”). In Wisconsin, trial court judges are elected, making them beholden to the same pressures as politicians. Judge Michael Bohren catered to an extremely conservative voter base—one that firmly believed in the Super Predator-inspired rallying cry, “Adult Crime, Adult Time.” In the parking lot outside his courtroom, cars sat wearing bumper stickers that read “Police Lives Matter.” Outsiders who report on Morgan’s crime without venturing into Waukesha have described the area as “rust belt”—a “drab” little place. In reality, the town is pristine, resembling Salem more than Gary, Indiana, or Appalachia, and its culture is much more elitist. Angie Geyser grew up on a farm in Manitowoc County, where Making a Murderer was shot, and for her, and many others, moving somewhere like Waukesha represents socio-economic advancement. The people there are educated and upper middle class. Culturally it is neither industrial nor rural nor Southern, as “rust belt” or Southern Midwestern cities tend to be. It is mannered, indefatigably friendly, puritanical, and repressive. “Waukesha County is probably one of the two most conservative counties in what now is becoming a more and more conservative state,” Vielmetti says. Referring to Judge Bohren, he added, “I think that influences a lot of his thinking.” After Morgan and Anissa were charged as adults, their respective attorneys immediately petitioned Bohren to transfer their case into juvenile court. Despite having been officially diagnosed with schizophrenia after her arrest, Morgan had not yet received medication. Anthony Cotton knew that his client would receive better treatment within the juvenile system, but in order to get her there, he was tasked with proving to Judge Bohren all three of the following conclusions: That moving Morgan’s case to juvenile court would not depreciate the seriousness of her crime, that keeping her case in adult court was not the best way to deter others from committing a similar crime, and that Morgan could not receive necessary treatment within the adult system. Proving the third claim would have been a slam dunk if not for a strange legal loophole that prevented Cotton from using Morgan’s mental illness in her defense during the reverse waiver phase. In Wisconsin, attorneys can use mental illness as an argument for keeping their clients in the juvenile system, but cannot cite it as justification for moving them there. (Ironically, Morgan’s mental illness was actually leveraged as further justification for her adult status; at the reverse waiver hearing, the prosecution argued that Morgan would always be violent—an accusation that is strongly contested by experts on schizophrenia.) Cotton attempted to work around these legal strictures by presenting experts on adolescent brain development, psychiatrists and psychologists who had examined Morgan, as well as her jailers and former teachers, who described her as a good student with no history of violence or criminal activity. Cotton cited research that children prosecuted as adults have a much higher recidivism rate than children handled in juvenile or family courts. He pointed out that twelve-year-olds don’t usually consider the law before breaking it, and that scientific studies show that part of the brain tasked with processing deterrence does not even develop until early adulthood. Before issuing his ruling, Judge Bohren sipped from a Ronald Reagan mug. He acknowledged that Morgan had schizophrenia, but reminded the court that if her case were transferred into the juvenile system, she could be released by the time she turned eighteen. At that point, Morgan would have spent half her life behind bars, and without a felony on her record, she could ostensibly pursue higher education and gainful employment. This, Bohren decided, was unacceptable. “They were young when the offense occurred,” he said. “But they get older every day, frankly.” He called the crime, “frankly, vicious,” and ruled, “on that basis,” that the case remain in adult jurisdiction. Morgan would not receive medication or any kind of mental health treatment. Following the hearing, Nick Bohr of local ABC News affiliate WISN 12 reported live. “There were tears and some surprise here in court as a judge denied a motion by lawyers for both girls to have their cases handled in juvenile court,” he said. “The victim’s father here said they wouldn’t be commenting, though the family did appear to be upbeat following this decision.” Morgan’s father, Matt, was seen sobbing outside the Waukesha courthouse. When questioned by reporters, he said only that he wished Judge Bohren had “thought harder.” [[{"fid":"6702821","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"5":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false}},"attributes":{"class":"media-element file-media-original","data-delta":"5"}}]] 6. When asked how withholding treatment might affect an un-medicated schizophrenic’s mental state, child psychiatry expert Dr. Stephanie Brandt responded, “Oh my God.” Although Dr. Brandt did not examine Morgan, and was therefore unable to speculate about Morgan's specific psychiatric state during or after the attempted homicide, she nevertheless spoke with me about hypotheticals related to childhood schizophrenia in general. “We do not ever withhold medication from somebody in an acute psychotic state. It is not done,” she said. “To withhold medication is unacceptable, and it would potentiate any problems she was already having.” On the day of Morgan’s arrest, Matt and Angie drove to the police station debating whether to let Morgan to go to the Star Trek convention that weekend as planned. They had been told their daughter was in custody, but not why. They thought they were going to get her. In Wisconsin, police aren’t required to tell a child’s parents that the child is being questioned, or to honor a child’s request that a parent or other adult be present during questioning, unless the child specifically asks for a lawyer. Detective Thomas Casey later testified in court that he did not offer Morgan a phone call, and would not allow her parents into the interrogation room. Although she was not visibly hallucinating during her interrogation, multiple doctors would later state in court that, at the time of her arrest, Morgan had been in the grips of a psychotic episode. In Wisconsin, an entire case was once thrown out on the basis that the defendant had been going through alcohol withdrawal during his interrogation. His confession was later found to be coerced. But Morgan would not receive this leniency from Bohren. After being interrogated, Morgan proceeded to Washington County Juvenile Detention Center, where she was allowed to make one sixty-second phone call. When Angie answered, Morgan begged her mother not to post bail. In spite of herself, Angie laughed, assuring Morgan they didn’t have half a million dollars. They were disconnected, and Morgan couldn’t figure out the collect calling system, so she did not phone home again for several weeks. The jail only allowed outgoing calls, so Angie could not directly contact Morgan—she could only call the jail and they would tell Morgan to call her back.  Due to her illness and young age, Morgan had trouble understanding the charges being brought against her. But legally, Judge Bohren could not proceed until she was competent to stand trial. So after charging her in June 2014, he dispatched her to The Winnebago Mental Health Institute, one of two state psychiatric hospitals in Wisconsin equipped to deal with “forensic patients” (formerly known as “the criminally insane”) for a competency exam. However, her lawyer says that while there, she didn’t receive proper treatment. Their only job at that time was to restore her to competency. While conducting the months-long evaluation, doctors there officially diagnosed Morgan with the disease that many already suspected: early-onset schizophrenia. Morgan was also re-diagnosed with asthma. Doctors at Winnebago prescribed her an inhaler, but not psychiatric medication. Then they sent her back to jail. If left untreated, experts say a schizophrenic person’s mind will rapidly deteriorate, and over the next few months, Morgan became so confused that her parents noticed she was losing the ability to read and do basic math.  No one wanted to be Morgan’s roommate because she acted like an unmedicated schizophrenic person. In alternating fits of loneliness and confusion, Morgan increasingly relied on her hallucinations for company. Then, one day, another inmate suddenly offered to be Morgan’s roommate. Morgan’s family was relieved. They wanted Morgan to make real friends—that is, ones that were not imaginary. “Schizophrenics are much more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators,” Dr. Brandt told me, when I asked her what she wished more people knew about the disease. “Because of their limitations and judgment insight and ability to function, they get targeted.” In an adolescent jail of sexually starved, hormonal girls, Morgan represented easy prey. Shortly after moving in, Morgan’s new roommate allegedly began to proposition her sexually, and masturbated in front of her repeatedly. She warned that if Morgan told anyone, she would go to the press and spin the story her way. By the time Morgan told her parents, the roommate was gone. Unlike Morgan, she was released. Nevertheless, Morgan’s team brought the allegations to Judge Bohren’s attention during another hearing aimed at getting Morgan treatment. But the district attorney’s office said Morgan was lying, and Judge Bohren believed them. “He’s clearly been in favor of the prosecution on every single thing that has been raised by the defense,” said Vielmetti. Prior to Morgan’s official diagnosis, three separate psychologists hired by the state testified before Judge Bohren that Morgan was in the throes of psychosis and suffering hallucinations. One of these doctors stated he believed that Morgan’s apparent psychosis was her direct “entry into this particular crime,” and at least two staff members at Morgan’s jail corroborated to Bohren that Morgan was visibly hallucinating and mentally unwell. Adults would need to explain the law to Morgan for nearly half a year before she understood what was happening, and even then, her parents expressed doubts that she ever truly knew what was going on. “I still don’t understand how you can admit an untreated schizophrenic, and then four months later release an untreated schizophrenic, and call her competent,” Angie said. “She was still psychotic, she was still hallucinating and delusional, so I don’t know that I necessarily agreed that she was competent.” “But perhaps my idea of what it means for someone to be competent is not necessarily the legal definition,” she continued, “and that can be said about a lot of things in the justice system, I think.” Sounding tired, she added, “Things that I think are right”—she trailed off—“it’s not necessarily the way the criminal justice system looks at it.” After her arrest, Morgan remained untreated and was denied any medication for a total of eighteen months. Then, in December 2015, with Cotton’s help, Morgan’s parents discovered a Chapter 51 loophole, which allowed them to petition a judge other than Bohren, in civil court, for Morgan to be sent back to the maximum security state hospital, where she might receive treatment. This judge approved their petition, and Morgan was remanded back to Winnebago, where she was at last given antipsychotics. Upon reaching therapeutic dosages, Angie says Morgan understood, for the first time, what she had done to Bella. Memories of the stabbing dawned on her in vivid detail. She hated herself. Morgan, Morgan’s family, and Morgan’s doctors wanted her to stay at Winnebago. But administrators at the hospital said that the intricacies of Wisconsin legislature prevented them from keeping her. The juvenile detention center technically provided a lower security environment than the hospital, and by law Morgan had to spend her pre-incarceration there. Winnebago gave Morgan a bottle of her new pills, and sent her back to jail.  Conditions like the ones at Washington County Juvenile Detention Center have been shown to drive even healthy minds insane, and without sunlight, exercise, or physical contact, Morgan deteriorated rapidly upon her return. She’d been given antipsychotics but not antidepressants, and the self-loathing that had set in upon recognizing what she’d done to Bella gnawed away at her mind. Maggie, the friendly voice who had been with Morgan longest, began telling Morgan to hurt herself. So Morgan used a colored pencil to cut open her wrists. According to Angie, staff at Washington County responded by taking away Morgan’s glasses, emptying her cell, stripping her naked, and putting her into something called a “turtle suit,” a green, padded smock. Morgan spent the next week unable to see, trying to soothe herself by singing “In The Aeroplane Over the Sea” by Neutral Milk Hotel, one of her mother’s old lullabies. After Morgan’s suicide attempt, Winnebago overlooked whatever rules had previously prevented them from keeping Morgan, and re-committed her. Angie hesitated to say anything that might be construed as negative about the institution that had, in many ways, saved Morgan’s life. But she acknowledged that if Morgan had managed to kill herself, Winnebago would have faced a public relations nightmare—and that by allowing her back, they guarded themselves against legal issues. Legally an adult, fifteen-year-old Morgan now spent her days in Winnebago’s maximum-security adult forensic unit, surrounded by patients twice her age, who were usually violent and in a state of acute psychosis. Angie says that one day in the hospital courtyard, a small, monitored enclave where prisoners get much-needed outdoor time, another patient jumped on Morgan's back and started biting her Fortunately Morgan was wearing her signature heavy coat, so the woman didn't break the skin. But the attack left bruises. Given Morgan’s relative youth, Angie says the other primary issue has been keeping an eye on older women who wish to foster a maternal relationship with Morgan. (Violent offenders can harbor twisted notions of maternity.) When I asked Angie if she thought Morgan and Anissa could become friends again when Anissa is back at Winnebago, she said she didn’t see that happening, given Anissa’s cruel treatment of Morgan at the jail. But she’s been told “that it’s going to be impossible to keep them 100 percent separated.” “I mean, it’s definitely a concern, I’m sure, for both parties,” she said. By “both parties,” Angie was referring to Morgan and Anissa’s families. But the Leutners have their own anxieties about the girls’ reunion at Winnebago. “Are they going to be able to sit next to each other and have lunch?” Stephen Lyons asked me rhetorically. “And plot again?” Morgan is now stable and lucid. The voices are mostly gone, even Maggie, who was hardest to get rid of, is only present intermittently. She wakes up at the same time, eats the same breakfast, and attends the same rotations of daily group therapy, which includes a health and hygiene class that Morgan likes because sometimes they get to put on makeup and give each other facials. “Do you remember that movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray?” Angie says. “That’s how life feels for Morgan right now.” Two weeks after Anissa’s NGI verdict, Angie sat down in Judge Bohren’s courtroom for Morgan’s last pre-trial hearing. As with a wedding, the factions in this case sat divided by an aisle according to their loyalties. The victim’s supporters filled two rows of pews by the window, and across the courtroom, marooned on a bench by herself, sat the defendant’s only supporter that day: her mother. Matt rarely came to these things anymore. The last time he’d attended one of Morgan’s hearings, he wept throughout the whole thing, and multiple media outlets published photos of him crying. As the courtroom waited for somebody to say, “All rise,” the Leutners and their guests behaved like animated parishoners in church, smiling and laughing about weekend plans, occasionally lowering their voices to talk seriously about last night’s Packers victory. On the other side of the railing, court officers were similarly casual, chuckling when the District Attorney couldn’t figure out how to turn on his laptop. Then the District Attorney started laughing, too. “As someone who works in the operating room, sometimes we do that,” Angie later told me. “Unconsciously, sometimes you do that, have casual conversation while a patient is lying there, probably terrified.”  Angie stared straight ahead. Soon her daughter would be brought out in chains. Finally, the swish and clank of shackles echoed in the hall, and fifteen-year-old Morgan entered the courtroom staring at the ground, lips parted, her hands and feet leashed to her waist by a belt, wearing shoes with white cat faces decaled on the toes. The room stood for Judge Bohren, who wore his signature bowtie—red this time, a pop of color peeking from his double chin. He glanced summarily at Morgan, who had grown six inches since her arrest. When she was twelve years old, he had sanctioned her prosecution as an adult. Now, just in time for her scheduled jury trial, she finally resembled one. The morning had been slotted for pre-trial housekeeping issues, but in a surprising turn, the district attorney’s team and Morgan’s attorneys announced to Bohren that they had reached a plea deal. There would be no trial. Both sides had agreed that if Morgan pleaded guilty to first-degree attempted homicide, the state would take away the “deadly weapon” charge, thus reducing her potential sentence by around five years. The state would also not dispute an NGI defense. The semantic compromise sentenced Morgan to a psychiatric facility instead of an adult prison. Morgan’s family was overjoyed. By the time Bohren read the plea, they had long ago stopped hoping the law would somehow turn out in her favor. Now, all they wanted was for Morgan to be safe. Angie told me that Morgan’s incarceration feels, in some ways, “like a death.” “We’re taught from a very young age in our society that justice and punishment are synonymous,” she said, “and they’re not.” But others feel Morgan received inadequate punishment. “There’s so much discussion on what’s best for those who committed the assault rather than what’s best for the victim and the community,” Lyons recently said to me. Over and over again, he has emphasized, “There is only one victim in this case."  [[{"fid":"6702826","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"6":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false}},"attributes":{"class":"media-element file-media-original","data-delta":"6"}}]] 7. When the Slenderman case made national news, The Daily Mail swiped photos from the Geyser family’s social media accounts, publishing various images out of context to fit a story that implied Morgan’s crime spoke to ancestral evil, including pictures of Halloween decorations, which they used to intimate the family was interested in satanic rituals.  “Something I have to keep reminding myself is that the eyes of everybody else out there, you know, we’re the bad guys. Morgan is the bad guy,” Angie told me. The plea deal had been presented to Bohren earlier that morning, and she had agreed to meet me for lunch at Taylors People’s Park, a building located in what the restaurant’s website describes as “the heart” of downtown Waukesha. Angie was in a celebratory mood, excited about eating on Taylor’s famous rooftop deck. As we climbed the stairs, she told me that despite Waukesha being relatively small, she “never really” ran into people related to the case—but then she spotted Detective Thomas Casey, the man who had interrogated her daughter, enjoying the sunshine, ten feet away. “No, we can’t sit here,” she whispered, squeezing my arm, and we retreated down the steps before he could notice her.  Forcing a smile, Angie resituated herself at a small metal folding table out on the sidewalk. “I can’t wait to not live here,” she said. “But I don’t think it’s a horrible place to live either.” Prior to her daughter’s arrest, the closest Angie had come to being in the public eye was as a teenager, when she played Consuela in West Side Story at the Community Theater in Manitowoc, a secluded, Northern town covered in lakes and green trees. Since May 31st, 2014, she had opened the door to find herself blinking against the blinding lights of local news crews. She and Matt received phone calls and hate mail, some of it generic (“that little bitch”), and some of it scary (“someone’s seriously gonna kill her”). Vielmetti told me that when the news broke, “law and order oriented” individuals in Waukesha thought the Geyser family, as a whole, should be punished, though the public view has evolved. Over salad at Taylors, Angie said she’s not surprised that people often blame her and Matt for what Morgan did. Speaking about school shootings, Angie says she always thought, “How did their parents not know that something was wrong?” “Well, you know,” she said now, quietly, “it turns out sometimes you just don’t know.” The media circus inspired by Morgan’s crime has died down over the past three and a half years. Aside from Bruce Vielmetti, few publish updates on the case, and when they do, they tend to source directly from Vielmetti’s work, creating a derivative news cycle. But Angie still finds herself compulsively scouring comments sections to see what people are saying about her daughter. Sometimes she’ll recognize a name or two: this or that woman she’s seen before in the school pick-up and drop-off circle. In many people’s opinions, the Internet had been as much of a culprit in Morgan’s crime as Morgan or Anissa was, and now, here was Angie, similarly using social media as a sort of self-destructive tool. Angie told me she visits Morgan at Winnebago Mental Health Institute several times a week. The roundtrip takes about four hours, for what amounts to forty-five minutes with her daughter, and she likes to get there extremely early, to avoid being even one minute late. “I don’t know what to say half the time,” she said in a small voice, smiling again, reflexively. “There’s no parenting manual for this.” Due to maximum-security protocols, Morgan meets with her mother in the hospital cafeteria, and Angie has never actually seen the ward where Morgan spends her days. “Typically, toward the end of the visit, she starts clock-watching.” Morgan will count down the minutes left in their visit, and then begin to cry. “She just wishes she could come with me,” Angie said. “She just wants to get in the car with me and drive home, and I want that, too, more than anything in the world.” The first time we spoke over the phone, Angie was lugging a cat carrier around a gas station nearby Winnebago, wiling away time until visiting hours began and she was able to go see her daughter. She was searching for a sick-looking feral kitten she’d seen the last time she was there. Angie grew up on a farm surrounded by animals. Her plan that day was to wrangle the kitten and take it to an emergency vet before going to see Morgan. The little cat had run away a few times, but Angie was determined that the naughty animal be treated well. “I can’t rescue who I want to rescue,” she acknowledged quietly. “So a kitten will have to do for now.” 8.   Before issuing a verdict on the plea deal, Bohren planned to address Morgan for the first time in open court. In the three and a half years that had passed since sanctioning her prosecution as an adult, Bohren had never spoken to her directly, and she was terrified at the prospect of conversing with him, particularly in front of so many people. She mentally spun through every imaginable scenario, anxiously attempting to forecast Bohren’s potential statements, questions, and her hypothetical responses. Winnebago limits its patients to ten minute phone calls every hour, and in the days leading up to that hearing, Angie heard from Morgan nearly a hundred times. She reassured her daughter endlessly, but it would turn out that Morgan was right to be afraid. Outside the courthouse that day, the American flag waved at half-mast to honor the victims of the recent Las Vegas massacre. The Leutners and their guests sat down wearing Harley Davidson jackets, and moments later, Bohren told Morgan to rise. He asked her to describe the moment, just prior to the stabbing, when she had tackled Bella. He specifically wanted to know how she had straddled Bella, and where her legs had been, and where Bella’s legs had been. Morgan hesitated, and Bohren seemed disgruntled. Cotton, appearing confused, jumped in to explain that Morgan’s medication and overall condition made it difficult for her to remember much of what had happened in the woods off Big Bend Road, much less such minute physical details. “Then tell me what happened,” Bohren said to Morgan. She responded quietly, in a soft, high-pitched voice. “I hurt Bella.” “We call her ‘PL,’” Bohren corrected her, referring to Bella’s—Payton Lautner’s—true initials. “I hurt…PL,” Morgan whispered. “Alright, so what did you do?” he asked impatiently. “I stabbed her,” Morgan said. Bohren pressed her for further information. Morgan blinked at the floor. Her wrists were handcuffed and leashed to her waist by chains, which made it physically awkward to wipe her own eyes. During Anissa’s 2014 interrogation, she had described Morgan as “not one to cry very often,” and when asked by the prosecution later that year whether Morgan had wept during her interrogation, Detective Thomas Casey had testified that “there was no emotion from [Morgan] at all.” But now, as Morgan struggled to tell Bohren what he wanted to hear, she sobbed through every word.  She asked Bohren to repeat his question.  “I’d like you to tell me in your own words what you did on May 31st, 2014. What happened between you and Payt”—he stopped himself, annoyed, and repeated the question, this time using Payton’s initials. Morgan told him that she and Anissa had taken “PL” into the forest. “And I said we were going to play hide and seek,” she continued. “And Anissa said she couldn’t do it, and that I had to.” She trailed off, breathing raggedly, overtaken by childish, quaking sobs. Bohren glanced at the clock on the wall. He offered Morgan a minute to catch her breath, and told her, smiling at his audience, that they had all afternoon to wait for her answer. After some heavy breathing, Morgan responded, “I tackled her and I stabbed her."  “Well, tell me about the tackling,” Bohren said. “How did you do that.”  Like so many of Morgan’s statements that day, what she said next came out in the form of a question: “I came up from behind her and I jumped on her?”  “And then what happened?” Bohren asked.  “And then I stabbed her?” Morgan wailed. Bohren continued to ask Morgan to confirm details of the case, and she responded in the affirmative, with that same questioning tone. He shook his head. “So then when she’s on her back, how did you stab her? How did you do that?” As he waited for Morgan to answer, someone’s phone dinged with a notification. The courtroom remained quiet for a long while, except for the sound of Morgan’s crying. Finally, Morgan said, “I stabbed her with the knife I had taken”— another person’s phone dinged—“from my house earlier that morning.” Bohren shifted in his seat, looking antsy. “Now, when you say you stabbed her, were you somewhat straddling her?” When Morgan didn’t answer to his satisfaction, Bohren suggested that maybe if Morgan read Bella’s account of what might have happened, she would be able to speak in greater detail about the event. “I haven’t read the complaint since I was twelve,” Morgan replied softly. But Bohren was unrelenting. “How did you do it?” “I…I stabbed her with a knife,” Morgan repeated. “And what part of her body did you stab her?” She paused before answering, “Everywhere.” Every time Morgan finished her description of the crime that afternoon, Bohren seemed to want her to start over at the beginning. Like her schedule at the maximum security hospital where she now lived, their conversation had veered into Groundhog Day territory. “She was in so much pain, and I just wanted to jump up and tell him to stop, to leave her alone,” Angie says. “Haven’t you heard enough?” After Bohren officially approved the plea that day in court, the Leutner family released a statement through Stephen Lyons that conveyed their grave disappointment over how this case had turned out. “The current legal system does not favor victims in this situation,” they wrote. Angie responded to the press release with stunned confusion. “From my perspective the justice system has failed my daughter,” she said. “My daughter is the one who’s been failed by the justice system. I mean, being tried as an adult for something that happened when she was twelve?” She laughed softly, trailing off. After a long pause she added, “I still can’t wrap my brain around it.” On behalf of himself and his clients, Lyons said firmly, “We want the max for Morgan.” He explained that the Leutners plan to continue attending every one of Morgan’s hearings, and that each time she petitions Judge Bohren for release from the hospital, Bella’s parents will sit watching from the front row. “They feel strongly that they have to go and say, ‘Please do not let this attempted murderer out on the streets,’” Lyons said. "Shopping for homecoming dresses leaves only a few options because far too many dresses will show off her scars,” Bella’s mother, Stacie Leutner, lamented in a victim’s impact statement reported by ABC. “Beach vacations are harsh reminders that swimsuits aren't made for young girls with 25 scars.” Angie thinks the Leutners, her former friends, might have reacted differently to the plea had they known what Morgan’s life was like in jail. “They never saw her in that psychotic state, so they don’t know what that looked like,” she said. Technically, once Morgan officially begins her sentencing at Winnebago, she can petition for release every six months. “Which means we’ll petition until she comes home,” Angie said, as we finished up our lunch at Taylors. She modestly rolled up her sleeve to reveal a lily of the valley, tattooed prettily on her upper arm—for Morgan. “It’s a flower from her birth month. And it supposedly symbolizes a return to happiness.” 9. America’s focus on Slenderman’s role in the stabbing recalls our eagerness to blame videogames for the Columbine Massacre, to blame detective stories for the Leopold and Loeb murder, to blame heavy metal music for the West Memphis Three’s alleged crime, and to blame historical romance novels for the Parker-Hulme killing in New Zealand, which Alex Mar recently linked to Morgan and Anissa's crime. Last week, Sony Pictures released an official trailer for its upcoming movie, Slenderman, a fictional horror film about the character that doesn’t touch on the Waukesha incident. Following local outcry, CBS reported that several Wisconsin theaters have pulled the film, concerned about what it might do to impressionable young minds. It’s convenient to blame Morgan and Anissa’s violence on our newest paranoia: “screen time,” and the effects of unmonitored Internet access. Every new generation’s chosen amusements inspire parental confusion, a self-conscious bewilderment that defensively transmutes into horror. Today, technology is that new horror, screens are that new horror. But looking to Slenderman, our newest version of the Pied Piper, for explanations about Morgan’s behavior is part of that same elderly notion that what confuses us must be evil, and our inclination to demonize technology rather than discuss mental illness represents a scab on a much deeper, necrotic wound, one that needs to be explored in order to be cleaned. Ultimately, the most striking difference between all the aforementioned murderers and Morgan is that unlike Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, or Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme, Morgan Geyser did not kill anyone. The most striking similarity? All four cases involved a mentally ill child whose incomprehensible actions were ascribed to bewitchment, possession, some soulless evil that might be stopped if only the world around us stopped changing. 10. If Morgan had gone to trial, and had been found NGI, she probably would be looking forward to a much lighter sentence than she currently faces. But in order to secure an NGI, her attorneys would have had to prove in court that Morgan did not know at the time of her crime that it was wrong or she wasn’t able to conform to the law even if she did—a tall order, given that Morgan herself admitted, on tape, albeit in the throes of psychosis, to understanding she could “rot in jail” for what she’d done. Ultimately, Morgan’s family simply did not want to roll the dice and risk a guilty verdict, which could have sentenced Morgan to up to sixty-five years in an adult women’s prison, where she would not have received mental health care. So, they took the prosecution’s deal, one that Lyons said his clients warmed to because they “wanted to bet on the sure thing, and the sure thing is to keep [Morgan and Anissa] locked away.”  Several weeks ago, Judge Bohren sentenced Anissa Weier, as an accomplice in an attempted murder, to twenty-five years in a psychiatric facility, the maximum possible in this type of case. After three years, she can apply for supervised release. Morgan will have a sentencing hearing on February 1st to officially determine the length of her commitment to Winnebago. The state is asking for a maximum of forty years, a sentence that co-founder, deputy director, and chief counsel of the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia Marsha Levick calls “absurdly long,” and “a ridiculous response.” How long Morgan actually serves, like so many aspects of her case, is up to Judge Bohren. As soon as she is officially commited to Winnebago, Judge Bohren could release her in six months, forty years, or if he feels like it, never. If he retires, or dies, another judge will take over—an elected official, beholden to the same community that currently believes Morgan has not been duly prosecuted. As one Wisconsin resident put it, “We think she got off scotch [sic] free.” “She was very sick and we didn’t know, and she wasn’t treated, and something terrible happened as a result of her illness, and now she’s better,” Angie said the first time we talked on the phone. “It wasn’t her, I mean, when it comes down to it, the person who did that, that wasn’t Morgan.” As we spoke that day, Angie spotted the kitten she’d come to save and cornered it. But then an adult cat emerged from the shadows and stepped protectively between them. The relationship between the two felines was clear. So, Angie returned to her car empty-handed. Sick or not, she thought, the kitten belonged with its mother.
Searching for the Self-Loathing Woman Writer

Did these women hate themselves, or did they write about a world that hated them?

I was once asked to write an essay that would answer a question: why do so many women writers hate themselves? Self-loathing, they called it, and she was the self-loathing women writer. I did not like this question, but I did recognize it. I could have given a simple answer in a straight line, cataloguing the many instances of women who wrote about their selves and their hate, and said that this approximated self-loathing. I could have written about women who write about mutually masochistic affairs with people they don’t love or can’t trust, or the posthumous collections of women who lived sad lives and died sad deaths, or I could have written about novels or poems or memoirs about addiction, depression, abusive childhoods, recollections of grief. I could have looked at honest admissions of guilt or regret or sadness or anger and used those emotions to say there, I found her, there’s the woman who hates herself. But did those women hate themselves, or did they write about their relationship to a world that hated them? Wasn’t self-loathing the symptom, rather than the condition? And anyway, why did we have to consider it in terms of a diagnosis? I thought the inquiry was a statement trying on a question for size, and said as much. I went looking for an answer that would improve the question, which either did not exist or I was not able to find. Couldn’t it be true that the question was incomplete? Weren’t there other questions—not necessarily better, just other—that could or should be asked before we decided that this determination was our question? The essay went nowhere, but I sometimes think about that woman writer who hates herself, in case she’s still out there, waiting to be found. * In 1971, Linda Nochlin published her canonical essay, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” Also a bad question, she argued, one that baited and switched by redirecting our attention to the tip of an iceberg, so we wouldn’t consider its depths. The world as it existed, this question suggested, was good and right, and that women had not succeeded in it must be a mystery for them to solve. “[L]ike so many other so-called questions involved in the feminist ‘controversy,’” she wrote, “it falsifies the nature of the issue at the same time that it insidiously supplies its own answer: “There are no great women artists because women are incapable of greatness.’” The canon of art history as it stood then (and now) was almost exclusively white, male, and Western, or similar designations we use when talking about people who have personal and professional power over others. And so the standards of greatness were ones that, by design, excluded anyone not of those categories. Meanwhile, the conditions necessary to make art—as Virginia Woolf wrote in 1929, the rooms of their own and the five hundred pounds a year—were not available to women, again by design. Men made women into wives because they needed their labour. Wives were the proofreaders, editors, cooks, babysitters, the names thanked in the acknowledgements of their husband’s books. If they were lucky they got to be muses, forever lying down on canvas. This is the foundation of culture, and also, of everything else: a subjugation based on definitions of gender, race, and class, so that one kind of man can succeed.  “Women,” whatever that means as an identifier or category, is not enough of a link between all the people who could be labelled as such. As Nochlin wrote, when considering the work of Artemesia Gentileschi, Mme. Vigée-Lebrun, Georgia O’Keefe, Helen Frankenthaler, Sappho, Jane Austen, Emily Brontë, George Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Susan Sontag, just to name a few of her examples, they “would seem to be closer to other artists and writers of their own period and outlook than they are to each other.” Similarities of subjugation are no substitute for solidarity; comparisons have a way of enforcing hierarchies. Still, somehow, we are asked to think of women as a unit, and whatever greatness they achieve is made the proof of an artistic equation. To consider yourself part of this canon has the effect of a constant psychic flinch. At what price acceptance; at what point will we find ourselves and our work denied or rejected, we wonder. But women have made art, and they still do, tracing the boundaries between their realities and their emotional interiors, their relationship to their world and the way they experience their world relating to them; the question is not where it is, but how it is rated, if it rates at all.  So if the question is the bait, the hook is the thinking which flatters what we believe we already know. “The problem lies not so much with some feminists’ concept of what femininity is, but rather with their misconception—shared with the public at large—of what art is: with the naive idea that art is the direct, personal expression of individual emotional experiences, a translation of personal life into visual terms. Art is almost never that, great art never is,” Nochlin says, and more than that, she concludes, “the total situation of art making…are integral elements of this social structure, and are mediated and determined by specific and definable social institutions, be they art academies, systems of patronage, mythologies of the divine creator, artist as he-man or social outcast.” But if we are to agree that great art is never personal—and if that I like for its certainty, but hesitate to accept completely—what are we to make of the art that is so clearly the result of an artist’s relationship to their world? Think of how readily we accept what a women writer is, or should be. Think of how often we accept that women write memoir, while men write fact; that women are best at looking inward or to their immediate surroundings—the domestic—while men, accessing some kind of prized fugue state that lets them see with complete accuracy the hearts and minds of every person, everywhere, are given the title of truth-teller and sooth-sayer all at once. Women feel, men report. They guide us, as a culture, forward, and we are glad to follow.  *  There are only two places where I easily and freely give my attention: when I’m reading a book, or watching a movie. I am always studying pages and screens for instructions as much as for the story. And so I’m still watching and reading as so many familiar stories are being told—not new, but now verified by reporters and their institutions. The articles on Harvey Weinstein proved the way he used sex as a weapon, using it to control women’s access, status, wealth, all in comparison to his own. He spent so long living inside the mythology he made for himself, the one where he was a great defender of art, a champion of filmmakers and benefactor of cinema; actresses were required to thank him in their acceptance speeches for Academy Awards, so his name would forever be linked to whatever success they achieved. The reporting on the network of lawyers and investigators that he used to elude consequences show it for what it was: a conspiracy designed to protect his power. So many men are now being seen for what they did; so many of them always, in their own way, make art about their understanding of and relationship to the world. It is not that we know more about their work now. It is that now we must understand their work differently. Reading the first New York Times article on Harvey Weinstein, I remembered that almost exactly a year earlier I had been observing a conversation between a group of people. They were ecstatic over the release of the Access Hollywood tapes, when Donald Trump bragged about—well, you remember. He was never going to win, they said, but now he was definitely going to lose. No one would vote for him after hearing this, they said to and over each other. I was scared for many reasons then, but the most conscious fear at that moment was: how could we know the same thing and understand it so differently? After the election, I observed another conversation. They were devastated. Crushed. Their shock was just that, the surprise of realizing they would have to change their understandings of the world, which they did not want to do, not yet, not like this. And I thought: controlled innocence is no different from cynicism. They’re both calculations that allow you to believe you have already learnt everything you will ever know. And so now that we can’t say we didn’t know, the question has become: what do we do with these men and their art, now that we understand something about them that we didn’t before? What should become of their work? Do we watch the movies, buy the books, see the show? What if, these conversations ask, we don’t, and then we lose something we have all always considered to be of great value? That it is disingenuous to compare the dangers of being wrong with the threat of being right is not considered. The frequently invoked slippery slope is the threat of losing a flattened morality, as though the purest line of vision is one that looks to an agreed-upon horizon; as though hills and valleys of thought are too dangerous to contemplate. I am wondering: when did we decide what everything and everyone was worth?  I guess I spent a lot of time last year thinking about the unasked questions, and if the ones being asked could have better answers. And I still believe in the idea of a pattern or a trend that could be examined, or better yet, understood—as though knowing has ever been the same thing as understanding. The question of what to do with the art of abusers takes much for granted: first, that the art matters most, and second, that out of all kinds of artists, men deserve to be saved. We have determined their worth before we set the terms of value. Staring too closely at these questions has made me feel like I am looking at something that shouldn’t be examined from such a perspective. And anyway, thinking too much about patterns is what happens right before thinking too much about conspiracies, and then you’re the woman wearing the tinfoil hat, yelling about the connections that only you can see. *  In 1965, Harpers published an edited transcribed version of a talk given by Tillie Olsen, which she called “Silences in Literature.” Olsen was looking for what she considered hidden or unnatural silences—not the necessary fallow periods where writing has to be dormant so ideas can form, these are the silences of “creative suicides,” from censorship to perfectionism, an absence of time or support or other material conditions necessary to write.  “We must not speak of women writers in our century (as we cannot speak of woman in any area of recognized human achievement),” she wrote, “without speaking also of the invisible, the as-innately-capable: the born to the wrong circumstances—diminished, excluded, foundered, silenced.” This is an impossible catalogue, as it is only an archive of loss. The question has been asked for centuries: who are we missing? How could we know. In 1883, Olive Schreiner wrote From Man to Man, asking how many Shakespeares we had been denied because they were born the wrong race or class or gender. “What statesman, what leaders, what creative intelligence have been lost to humanity because there has been no free trade in the powers and gifts.” When Woolf gave her speech, asking, too, what if Shakespeare had been born a woman, she also offered an answer as to where to find the missing, a better version of the cliché that behind every great man is a great woman. When “one reads of a woman possessed by devils, of a wise woman selling herbs, or even a remarkable man who had a remarkable mother, then I think we are on the track of a lost novelist, a suppressed poet, or some Emily Brontë who dashed her brains out on the moor, crazed with the torture her gift had put her to.” Is it time to add to this list: if we are looking for a lost artist, look for the men who hated women. Look for the men we always knew, but refused to understand.  Then: what do men say about the women who disappeared, if they consider them at all? She was crazy? There’s the tinfoil hat again. And the women who did make art, who tried to tell the truth about what had happened to them—well, maybe they hated themselves? When I was looking for the self-loathing woman writer, I thought it was necessary to separate the emotion from the experience: that while I knew there were many instances of women hating themselves, I believed that was different from being a self-hating women. If women make art about their relationship to the world—not the same as making art about themselves, but not wholly distinct, either—why would they not reflect a life lived in a world that hated them? I read Simone Weil, who, in Gravity and Grace, called this destructive drive for balance “analogous desires.” “It is impossible to forgive whoever has done us harm if the harm has lowered us,” she wrote. “We have to think that it has not lowered us, but has revealed our true level.” At thirty-four, Weil died of anorexia-induced heart failure. Her biographer, Richard Rees, said she died of love. “I should not love my suffering because it is useful,” she wrote, not willing to be the self-loathing woman writer. “I should love it because it is.” When Toni Morrison published The Bluest Eye in 1970, she was explicitly trying to write about the analogous effects self-loathing creates for families, communities, and in history. In the foreword for the 2007 edition, Morrison said that she is sure everyone knows what it feels like to be disliked or rejected or hated, “for things we have no control over and cannot change.” But she explains that this hatred comes with its own kind of grace: believing you deserve better. The Bluest Eye, she writes, was about the people who learn to hate themselves, “the far more tragic and disabling consequences of accepting rejection as legitimate, as self-evident,” and became either much worse for it or “collapse, silently, anonymously, with no voice to express or acknowledge it.” Morrison had a friend in childhood who wanted blue eyes, like Eye’s Pecola Breedlove, the little girl who internalizes the hatred she experiences so intensely she prays to God that she might disappear. “Implicit in her desire was racial self-loathing,” Morrison says of her friend. “And twenty years later I was still wondering about how one learns that. Who told her?” Morrison asks us who told her friend to hate herself only to force us to consider who hadn’t told her friend that she should hate herself as much as the world hated her, if not more so. Who had, worse yet, told her she should love her suffering?  The “Sylvia Plath Effect” is the theory that poets are more likely to suffer from mental illness than other kinds of writers: Plath’s name is used to diagnose other women who look like her. In Negroland, Margo Jefferson’s 2015 memoir, Jefferson wrote about Anne Sexton, who some say suffered from her own version of the Sylvia Plath Effect. “I’d always derided Anne Sexton’s suicide competitions with Sylvia Plath,” Jefferson says. She quotes Sexton’s writing: “Thief! How did you crawl into/crawl down alone/into the death I wanted so badly and for so long?” In response, Jefferson says “Maybe because Plath had more nerve and wrote better poetry.” In her reminiscences, Jefferson writes of learning, over the course of her childhood, to recognize how and why she should hate herself. “I hated being caught unawares. It was so dangerous, so shameful not to know what I needed to know,” Jefferson tells us, explaining how she turned those external instances of loathing into herself. “There are so many ways to be ambushed by insult and humiliation.” But Jefferson could not, she writes, qualify as suffering from the Sylvia Plath Effect. As a black woman, she was “denied the privilege of freely yielding to depression, of flaunting neurosis as a mark of social and psychic complexity. A privilege that was glorified in the literature of white female suffering and resistance.” In time, Jefferson grew to consider her self-loathing reason enough to die, and her anger at this learned response is carefully measured. “My people’s enemies have done this to me. But so have my own loved ones…Let me say with care that the blame is not symmetrical: my enemies forced my loved ones to ask too much of me.” The suggestion to learn to love your own suffering, as a way of achieving goodness or grace, was perhaps the best example of self-loathing I found. It is a literary convention that is also a boundary, drawing the woman deeper inside herself and denying the relationship between the artist and the world she lives in: if she doesn’t hate herself yet, maybe she should start. By stopping at the surface of what the art is, rather than asking what it does, or who the art is for, we avoid asking a question that might cost too much: who hates? What does that hate do? In “Silences,” Olsen says women have a responsibility to say what it is they hate, rather than turning it inwards. “Be critical. Women have the right to say: this is surface, this falsifies reality, this degrades.” Women also have the right to say: I’m not silent. I’m thinking. * I did find, in my readings, that some women writers share an openness and an acceptance of hatred. It is a style of protagonist seen recently in the very popular short story published by The New Yorker, “Cat Person,” which had the contours of an amorphous but present trend in contemporary literature. Readers can find it in the novels and short stories of women like Otessa Moshfegh, Danzy Senna, Natasha Stagg, Myriam Gurba, all of whom have very different styles and different ideas, but retain a similar perspective: a narrator with an internal monologue so minutely aware of their external environments that every thought and every observation takes on a quality of the perversely absurd. The sex they have with other people is frequently motivated more by momentum than desire; the work they do is negligible or undervalued. They do not hate themselves, but they are aware that they might be hated, and this is distressing but also a little silly, and sometimes funny. Previous generations of readers had Jean Rhys, Fanny Howe, and Mary Gaitskill, to name just a few; in the past year, Margaret Atwood’s narrators and style have moved from books to prestige television, with her unnervingly cathartic depictions of worlds realer than the one we were living in, or maybe a world that was more truthful: the motivations and machinations of men in power had been laid bare in the country she called Gilead in The Handmaid’s Tale, a dictatorship in which women are reduced to their bodies and their service, so that readers and watchers could consider  what it would be like if those feelings we knew men had were no longer kept in code. Maybe that’s why some women dressed like handmaids at marches or for costume parties—I found the visuals much worse than the imaginings, so I couldn’t understand the appeal. The shock for me was felt the hardest when I read Atwood’s explanation for how she wrote the story: her only rule was that she could only include what had already happened in the past—the many historical references for women losing the rights they had barely ever had—making it not the future but our past and present.   Meanwhile Alias Grace, the latest of her books to be adapted into a straight-to-streaming television show, is Canadian prestige of the highest order: written by Sarah Polley, directed by Mary Harron, and starring Sarah Gadon, the show and book inspired by the true story of Grace Marks, a woman convicted of murdering her employers in 19th century Toronto. They work well together: one composed of real situations experienced by a fictional woman, the other a real woman made into fiction as the best way to understand her mind. They are both written as letters, in their own way. Tale ends with a funny coda, saying that it was all a diary written by Offred and found, now, as an artifact to be studied by a presumably more stable society in the future. Alias Grace is mostly epistolary, formatted by the ongoing first-person account Grace Marks is giving to her new doctor, about the circumstances that led to the murder charge. Both characters want a record. More than that, both characters want a reader. Olsen said that to not have an audience is a kind of death. To characters who believe their death is not just certain but imminent, they write for another kind of mortality. They have learnt something they need us to know. Olsen quotes Whitman in "Silences" when she says that women are “hungry for equals.” She talks about the 1974 National Book Awards, when Audre Lorde, Adrianne Rich, and Alice Walker were placed in competition as nominees against each other. Rich won the poetry award and “refused the terms of patriarchal competition,” insisting on accepting the award on behalf of women, who deserve better than the assumption they will be grateful to be included at all. In a joint statement between all three, they wrote that they “accept this award in the name of all the woman whose voices have gone and still go unheard in this patriarchal world, and in the name of those who, like us, have been tolerated as the token women in this culture, often at great cost and in great pain…We dedicate this occasion to the struggle for self-determination of all woman, of every color, identification or deprived class…the woman who will understand what we are doing here and those who will not understand yet: the silent women whose voices have been denied us, the articulate women who have given us strength to do our work.” *  In the last year, I’ve watched so many people tell a truth they thought they knew, but now the reality seems different. We kept the memories to ourselves for so long that now when we need them it feels like remembering a dream. The cab he insisted we take; his hands around our wrists, which he removed, after we pulled away. Fights about his friend—why even invite him to the bar, when we know what he’ll do? The editor who asked if we were single, because stories about wealthy men who fucked did well for his publication. The editor who wanted us to know his marriage was over, really, he and his wife didn’t have to talk about it, they both knew. A filmmaker once told me he wrote a rape scene because he wanted to show the truth about what happens to women; the truth about power. Who needs to be shown that truth, I asked him. What audience is this for? The women in the audience will know what rape looks like, what power does. We’ve kept archives — not just memories, but the emails and texts — even if we never claimed them as our own, of men and their words. Still, we thought it was us, and that what happened could be true but must not be real. We were the ones still looking for better questions, and men were already answered. Men, it seems, believed in their own greatness, and would go to great lengths to keep it. In her essay for n+1, Dayna Tortorici asks if history must always have losers, and whether men are prepared to see a new understanding as anything but a loss. “The way they had learned to live in the world — to write novels, to make art, to teach, to argue about ideas, to conduct themselves in sexual and romantic relationships—no longer fit the time in which they were living. ...Their novels, art, teaching methods, ideas, and relationship paradigms were all being condemned as unenlightened or violent,” she writes. “Authors and artists whose work was celebrated as ‘thoughtful’ or ‘political’ not eight years ago were now being singled out as chauvinists and bigots. One might expect this in old age, but to be cast out as a political dinosaur by 52, by 40, by 36? They hadn’t even peaked! And with the political right—the actual right—getting away with murder, theft, and exploitation worldwide . . . ? That, at least, was how I gathered they felt. Sometimes I thought they were right. Sometimes I thought they needed to grow up.” For a long time, I studied the ways I thought I could be a woman more than I ever studied anything that could be considered a more practical education. I was relieved when I realized that there was so much literature on how to be a woman—which, to me, meant: how to make a man want you—and that if I followed the advice of magazines I could approximate the way a woman should look. I could read books and watch movies as though they were instruction manuals, which, if you think about it, they were. I recognized the guidelines for etiquette hidden in morality or fairy tales, and was grateful for their messages, even if I frequently missed the point or didn’t care to notice the contradictions. I would make myself uninterested like Anne with Gilbert, or Jo with Laurie, so that my affection would be a better prize; hold fast to my virtue like Jane Eyre, so that my eventual acquiescence was more deserved. I was much too old by the time it occurred to me that Mr. de Winter’s version of events was not to be trusted. I forced myself to read Anna Karenina at age ten, wanting to appear precocious, and flipped through everything that had to do with landowners and feudal systems, because she had a husband and a lover, so she really knew what she was doing. I thought deeply about what kind of Babysitter’s Club member I would be. At the movies, I considered: should I be more like Gaby Hoffman or Kirsten Dunst? Sometimes I worried that I would have never been able to figure out how to be a man as easily. It seemed like there was no parallel for them: Where were their magazines telling them how to look and dress? What books were they reading? What movies explained to them how to make someone love you, or at least want you for a time? It didn’t occur to me that they were less in need of instructions, living in a world made by fathers and mentors so that their paths would always be cleared, and it certainly did not occur to me to think about who decided which movies got made and which books got published. I fell in love with the virtues of reading before I understood what I was teaching myself to learn, which was: how to be wanted and how to be hated, for the same reasons. Isn’t that how it always happens? The moment when what you love comes before you know why you love; or even before you know if it’s worth loving at all. And then we work so hard to hold on to that first thought, as though it is our best thought, knowing and feeling not opposed but no matter how hard we try to make it so it is not the same. In her essay about the relationship between Hannah Arendt and Martin Heidegger, Vivian Gornick says their love belongs to “the dramatists, not the critics. It is a tale of emotional connection made early, never fully grasped, then buried alive in feeling the protagonists kept hidden from themselves.…interesting, as the dramatists know, only when presented inside a larger mythology, one that provides an objective correlative to the uncontrollable need of the protagonist.” Arendt was eighteen when she became Heidegger’s student, still eighteen when they became lovers, and she spent her whole life (and his) knowing that love better than she would allow herself to know him. Even after their affair ended she refused to reject him: even after he publicly endorsed National Socialism in 1933, and even after he lived through the war as a Nazi, she always considered him a “political innocent.” They reconciled in 1950, corresponding and meeting periodically until they died, her in December 1975 and him in May 1976.  Gornick believes Arendt lived worshiping what she thought was Heidegger’s “transcendent mind,” a bond that had been eroticized in their affair and consequently fused into her being. The conflation of sex with understanding can ruin the best of us. “The impulse to rationalize its ‘contradictions’ replaces the impulse to act rationally, and looks,” Gornick reminds us, “to the one doing it, like the same thing.” What is the moral of this story? A bad question. What feels true about this story? It is the way we learn before we know. It is “the history of shared sensibility, the thing we all felt up until yesterday,” Gornick says. “How many women and men have I, in my short, obscure lifetime, watched subjugate themselves to The Great Man, the one who seemed to embody art with a capital A or revolution with a capital R? Our numbers are legion. We ourselves are intelligent, educated, talented, none of us moral monsters, just ordinary people hungry to live life at a symbolic level.  At the time, The Great Man seemed not only a good idea but a necessary one, irreplaceable and unforgettable."  Sometimes we’re asked to consider that no one really knows what happens between two people when one or both thinks that no one is looking. Most of us learned very young that even our perceptions are not to be trusted. And so we don’t consider the question of “he said/she said,” the way we’re sometimes presumed to, as being a struggle for accuracy. It is the way we work to explain whose words we trust to describe it. Spend enough time in a conversation where no one believes what you say, and all your words feel like fiction. These understandings are all so old. They are only new in relation to who is willing to know them, now. Art has the same barriers to knowledge that people have, which is that we frequently are pressed up against the limits of our own understanding, and that we are trying to make do with what we have, which is: not enough. The questions we choose to ask and answer are important. What are the material conditions necessary for a woman to make art, we wonder. What would art be if the canon no longer depended on the myth of the great man, or if the great man no longer centered our standard for greatness. What would our relationships be to ourselves, and to other people like us? Who have we lost by searching for ghosts? No longer the woman writer who hates herself, or the missing woman lucky to be found at all—who would we find if we knew who we were looking for? I have searched too closely and for too long in the work that already exists, as though it will supply the good answer. So many of my nights end with me, in bed, staring at another screen, asking myself another question, and I think: I should really be reading a book.