The Perfumed Void https://the-orbit.net/alyssa Research, Feelings, and Life with Alyssa Gonzalez Sun, 17 Jan 2021 22:16:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.5.3 https://i0.wp.com/the-orbit.net/alyssa/wp-content/uploads/sites/27/2018/03/cropped-Screen-Shot-2018-03-30-at-12.31.50-PM.png?fit=32%2C32&ssl=1 The Perfumed Void https://the-orbit.net/alyssa 32 32 134704142 Speaking Fandom, Or How I Keep Convincing People I’m Into Stuff I’m Not https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2021/01/17/speaking-fandom-or-how-i-keep-convincing-people-im-into-stuff-im-not/ https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2021/01/17/speaking-fandom-or-how-i-keep-convincing-people-im-into-stuff-im-not/#respond Sun, 17 Jan 2021 22:16:28 +0000 https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/?p=7219 The post Speaking Fandom, Or How I Keep Convincing People I’m Into Stuff I’m Not appeared first on The Perfumed Void.

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All the world’s a stage, and autistic people are better actors than our detractors will ever know. The allistic majority operates by alien rules that most of us do not truly understand until we are nearing adulthood, and which seem arbitrary and pointless even then. In the meantime, our traits are unwelcome in their spaces and they respond to them with vitriol, ostracism, and violence. To exist in public and maybe even have friends, most of us learn one pivotal skill: masking. We master hiding many of the traits that define us, restraining stims, concealing enthusiasm, and imitating social niceties that do not come naturally. The mask becomes instinctive, unwanted and unnatural but nevertheless automatic.

And sometimes, that has me looking pretty sus.

People’s speech patterns are integrated into those same social rules, and they are easy to identify and imitate. Jokes, fandom lingo, and references are especially easy to incorporate into social scripts, even if one otherwise has no experience with a franchise, has not participated in a fandom, or doesn’t even speak the language of the joke. Relating to friends means mastering how to speak in the terms they understand, even when the references are not personal and one cannot riff on them for too long before the limits of one’s knowledge start to show.

My friends, among us is an IMPOSTER.

And I have been called into multiple emergency meetings over this outrage.

I have laughed at images in languages I do not speak because they had the visual structure of puns and that was enough for me to recognize them. I have asked friends to show their love for The Child and specified that this is the way despite never watching a single episode of The Mandalorian. I have taken what is mine with fire and blood while knowing Game of Thrones only from cultural osmosis. Being this echolalic and this aware is an act of love as well as a reflex, sharing in things my friends enjoy because they enjoy them. It is also, after a lifetime spent learning when and how to respond to neurotypical social cues, sometimes a thing that happens before I’m even aware of it.

So, I have not experienced Welcome to Night Vale, but I own some merch.

I do not practice witchcraft, despite my writing style.

I am not sexually interested in being consumed body and soul by Lovecraftian immanences from beyond time and space or achieving erotic congress with household objects, despite playing that person on TV.

And I have never played Among Us.

There's an imposter Among Us - Royal Purple
It’s me.

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Alcapurrias, Alyssa Style https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2021/01/01/alcapurrias-alyssa-style/ https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2021/01/01/alcapurrias-alyssa-style/#respond Fri, 01 Jan 2021 20:05:23 +0000 https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/?p=7204 The post Alcapurrias, Alyssa Style appeared first on The Perfumed Void.

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Some memories demand to be remade.

One of the few culinary memories I have been completely unable to experience outside of a home kitchen is alcapurrias. This classic Puerto Rican fritter features prominently in my childhood as an occasional treat, especially around holidays, and made for exciting lunches because of their rarity. On occasion, the whole family would get together to make an especially large batch, a rustic experience wonderfully out of place in our big-city home. Posted recipes posit that the alcapurria is a variety of croquette and usually recommend the familiar croquette log or cigar shape, but the ones I knew were round, more like hand-pies or empanadas in size and presentation. Once I left Miami, those memories became more and more distant, and more and more treasured. As a matter of my Puerto Rican pride, I needed to take control of those memories and make them more firmly mine, and that meant learning how to make alcapurrias. And today, I succeeded.

Alcapurrias were not a staple food in my childhood in part because they are a decidedly high-effort dish. Unlike the croquettes of which they are sometimes considered a variety, they are not widely available already made, meaning each encounter involved my family’s personal effort. Large quantities of the alcapurria’s component starches must be grated to a fine paste to make its dough, which is hard on the wrists, takes a long time, and comes with a risk of injury. Because of this difficulty, alcapurrias are traditionally made in large batches, reducing the time per alcapurria. This recipe reflects that tradition. I faced an additional challenge in mastering this dish, in that I was doing so from Ottawa, and a critical ingredient in alcapurrias is a tropical root vegetable I grew up calling malanga.

What’s a Malanga?

“Malanga” is the traditional Cuban name of the corm (semi-underground storage stem) of Xanthosoma sagittifolium, a plant in the arum family. This family also contains wildflowers like jack-in-the-pulpit, ornamental plants like pothos vine and calla lilies, and a variety of other edible corms. Native to lowland regions of South America, X. sagittifolium has been an indigenous food plant for thousands of years. Following humans in their migrations, it spread to Central America and to the Caribbean islands much as yuca did, becoming a staple crop throughout the region. After European contact, colonizers and other migrants spread it farther, bringing this crop to the attention of cultures who had never seen it in Africa and Asia. Along the way, to my chagrin, X. sagittifolium acquired a deeply frustrating relationship with names.

My searches for malanga pointed me at several other plants, and even now, searching the name “malanga” can point a person in several directions. Wikipedia flags this name as pertaining to Colocasia antiquorum, an East Asian arum otherwise known as the “eddo.” Google’s default search results can instead connect the name “malanga” to taro (Colocasia esculenta), the staple crop of the South Pacific, as a result of X. sagittifolium getting spread there and being confused for the original taro. Both taro and eddo are relatively close cousins of X. sagittifolium, but their flavors are distinct and cannot replicate the classic alcapurria experience. Searching for the Puerto Rican name for this plant, yautía, offered little help, with sources still attributing this name to any of the three plants in various combinations—usually different from the attributions made for the name malanga. The internet, seemingly, was in denial that X. sagittifolium even existed, and seemed convinced that eddoes and/or taro filled this role in people’s kitchens. But abortive tries with these proposed substitutes proved that neither was the malanga/yautía I sought. Meanwhile, tropical foliage enthusiasts know X. sagittifolium and a few of its cousins as the “elephant ear plant,” grown for its large, attractive leaves without knowing that they, too, are apparently edible. It was not until this article that I could untangle my confusion and aim my searches more productively.

So armed, I persevered. At last, I found Xanthosoma sagittifolium, the plant I had known as “malanga” in my youth, sold under the name “lila malanga” in one specialty grocery store in Ottawa, after so many other vendors had only eddo and/or taro in stock.

“Lila malanga,” as Ottawa’s grocery calls it, is a long, thin, purple-brown root, visually distinct from the much thicker taro and the short, round eddo, but also clearly related to them. Like its Colocasia kin, X. sagittifolium has a hairy, almost elephantine appearance, but the long hairs are often rubbed off much of its length by the time it reaches distant shores. Under its thin skin, X. sagittifolium flesh is exceptionally slippery, making the experience of working with it quite different from more common root vegetables such as potatoes or carrots.

Three malanga corms on my kitchen counter, with one end showing the natural hairiness.

The more I think about it, the more interesting I find it that my family used the Cuban name “malanga” rather than the Puerto Rican name “yautía” when talking about this plant, given that the Puerto Rican side of the family did the cooking.

Back to the Recipe

Making alcapurrias by oneself is an all-day affair. One should anticipate that this process takes about five hours, including a break after the arm workout of grating the dough components. The result is 15-16 fritters in classic hand-pie size, one or two of which provides a filling meal. With a stand mixer with a grater attachment or some other powered aid, or with one or more assistants, the time commitment is correspondingly reduced. I did mine by hand, partly from lack of other options, partly for the communion with my memories of grating malanga by hand.

Equipment

You will need a deep fryer or a pot capable of holding enough oil for frying, a shallower pot, two large bowls, a vegetable peeler, a cheese grater, your favorite measuring tools, a paring knife, a chef’s knife, a blender, a metal spatula, metal tongs (optional), wax or parchment paper, and a surface lined with paper towels. You will also need a stove or other source of bottom-up heat.

Ingredients

Filling

  • Green bell pepper, ½
  • Cuban oregano, fresh, ¼ cup
  • Small Roma tomato, 1
  • Dried hot pepper, 1
  • Chorizo, 2 ounces
  • Ground beef, ½ lb
  • Dried oregano, ½ teaspoon
  • Salt, ½ teaspoon
  • Vegetable oil, 2 teaspoons
  • Water, 1 cup
  • Pimento-stuffed Manzanilla olives, ¼ cup
  • Raisins, 2 teaspoons
  • Capers, ½ teaspoon
  • Variants: If you are not worried about managing FODMAP risk, add 1 clove of garlic and ½ of a small onion.

Dough

  • Green bananas (guineos), 8. These are ordinary bananas that are sold deliberately underripe. Using ripe bananas will result in an unusually sweet batch of alcapurrias. Using plantains will confuse the ratio of guineo to malanga.
  • Water, 8 cups
  • Salt, various quantities (see below)
  • Malanga/yautía (X. sagittofolium), 2 lbs (about three corms)
  • Vinegar, 2 teaspoons
  • Vegetable oil, 2 tablespoons
  • Oil for frying

Common Food Restrictions

  • Gluten-Free: This recipe is naturally gluten-free.
  • Ketogenic / Low-Carb: This recipe is very high in carbohydrates by its nature.
  • Low-FODMAP: This recipe is optimized to reduce FODMAP content.
  • Vegetarian/Vegan: Use your preferred meat substitute and adjust cooking times accordingly.

Preparation

Filling

  1. Blenderize the green bell pepper, Cuban oregano, dried hot pepper, Roma tomato, and (if present) the garlic and onion. For a more convenient texture later, you can include the olives here as well, but I prefer to leave them whole.
  2. Cut the chorizo into small pieces.
  3. Put the ground beef and the ingredients from Step 1 and Step 2 in the pot and set heat to medium-high. Add the dried oregano, salt, vegetable oil, and water. The water serves to help the other ingredients mix.
  4. As the water reduces, add the olives, capers, and raisins.
  5. Continue heating until the water is mostly gone. Set aside to cool.

Dough

  1. Peel the green bananas. Green bananas do not separate from their skins the way ripe bananas do. I recommend cutting a slit along the curve of the banana and using a thumb to separate the peel from the flesh on the inside, going around the banana and along this slit to complete the separation. Remove any remaining flecks of skin from the bananas. Place the peeled green bananas in a bowl with the water and 2 tablespoons of salt.
  2. Peel and grate the malanga using the fine option on the grater. The goal is a paste, not ribbons.
    1. Because malanga is so slippery, I recommend peeling about 10 centimeters of the pointed end, grating the peeled portion, and peeling another 10-centimeter segment, repeated until one reaches the scaly (top) end of the malanga. This enables the chef to hold onto the much less slippery skin rather than the flesh underneath.
    2. Because malanga is relatively floppy, it is important to keep it from flopping too much during grating. If it snaps, grating it becomes more dangerous.
  3. Once the malanga is grated, drain the bananas. Grate the bananas into the same container as the malanga.
  4. If you can create alcapurria dough by hand without leaving flecks of blood and skin in it due to contact with the grater, consider that you may be either a food-processing robot from the future or the platonic form of the Boricua abuela waiting for when she is once again needed to bring love into this world.
  5. Add the vinegar, vegetable oil, and 4 teaspoons of salt to the banana/malanga mixture and mix well. Hands work best.

Assembly and Frying

  1. Make 15 to 16 palm-sized discs of dough on parchment or wax paper. This should use up a bit more than half the dough.
    15 raw alcapurrias on parchment paper.
  2. Add 1 tablespoon of filling to each disc.
  3. Use the remaining dough to cover the discs so that none of the filling is visible and there are no holes. You will likely have excess filling.
  4. Heat your fryer oil to 170 °C (338 °F). Carmen Aboy Valldejuli recommends a somewhat hotter temperature, but I fry with coconut oil and this temperature avoids smoke without negatively impacting the results.
  5. Introduce an alcapurria to the fryer using a metal spatula. This tool helps remove the sticky fritter from the wax or parchment paper and bring it to the fryer without it disintegrating.
  6. Unless your fryer is unusually large, fry the alcapurrias individually until they are golden brown and cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes each. Drain on paper towels and serve.

It is a triumphant moment that finds me able to make these traditional Puerto Rican treats myself, and to share them with friends who have no experience with anything like them. It has also earned me a jolt of my grandmother’s delight, as she sees her skills passed on to another generation, and that makes me happy. I hope this recipe enables you to provide a similar joy to the people in your life.

Alcapurrias fried and ready to eat.

 

 

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Save Me From Ordinary https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2020/12/19/save-me-from-ordinary/ https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2020/12/19/save-me-from-ordinary/#respond Sat, 19 Dec 2020 22:57:14 +0000 https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/?p=7200 The post Save Me From Ordinary appeared first on The Perfumed Void.

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It was ordinary people who told me my soul would burn when I told them I am an atheist.

It was ordinary people who kept me from recognizing my gender until my 20s.

It was ordinary people who promoted a level of homework that devoured my free time for most of high school.

It was ordinary people who saw everything about me that was not useful to them and demanded that it change.

It was ordinary people who kept me feeling excluded, misunderstood, and feared until I was an adult, and sometimes still.

It was ordinary people who lied to me for fun and jeered at me for believing them.

It was ordinary people who made the world too bright, too loud, too messy, too much, and told me I was wrong for noticing.

It was ordinary people who made it so that, when I am frustrated or scared enough, I stop feeling my hands.

It was ordinary people who cheered Donald Trump’s Supreme Court appointments.

It was ordinary people who waved bigoted signs at me when I marched in Ottawa’s Pride parade.

It was ordinary people who saw twelve years of Bushes and four years of Trump and then voted by the millions for the next red-party would-be leader.

It was ordinary people who watched Stephen Harper bring more of America’s worst into Canada and then voted for him in enough numbers to give him a majority government.

It was ordinary people who taught me to fear and hate anything less right-wing than Joseph McCarthy in the name of cultural pride.

It was ordinary people who cheered when the science and history lessons in American textbooks were twisted and broken to fit religious dogma and racism.

It was ordinary people who saw nothing wrong with the history lessons in Canadian textbooks glossing over centuries of anti-indigenous violence and double-dealing.

It was ordinary people who dragged Europe’s governments farther and farther right over the past 30 years, snuffing out lights one by one.

It was ordinary people who decided that the specter of a cis child caught in the trans healthcare pathway was so much worse than anything that could possibly happen to a trans person and structured the whole pathway accordingly.

It was ordinary people who decided that dying of a gunshot is violence but dying from healthcare neglect is not.

It was ordinary people who decided that taking $100 from the till is theft worthy of a criminal record and taking $100 from your employee’s paycheck is not.

It was ordinary people who made “refugee” a category that needs to exist instead of just letting people in.

 

It was ordinary people who shouted transmisogynistic abuse at me and my friends and partners in the street.

It was ordinary people who were not too embarrassed to try to recruit me into their cults.

It was ordinary people who tried to take everything from me, leaving nothing but the shell that could make more for them to take.

It was ordinary people who threatened to out me before I was ready to make my feminine debut, and regular people they invoked to make that threat frightening.

It was ordinary people who made me scared that I would not finish my graduate studies.

It was ordinary people who made me scared that I would have to leave the city and the country that I had made my home.

It was ordinary people who told me I was a cold reptilian hellspawn machine who would never know love.

It was ordinary people who told me, over and over again, that everything I am is an affront to what they have decided is good and just and righteous in this world.

It was ordinary people who almost made me believe them.

 

So when I remember that my own politics demands that every one of us, no matter how ordinary, have the needs of our thriving handed to us automatically as the purest expression of what it means to even have a society…

It takes everything in me to not ask myself,

“But why do they deserve it?”

And when I hear about people, smart people, well-meaning people, extraordinary people, who wish that more of the world’s power belonged to ordinary people…

It takes everything in me not to ask them,

“Have you met ordinary people?”

Because I have seen ordinary, and it is everything I have ever tried to escape.

 

"Sometimes I think there is hope for humanity and then sometimes I read comment threads."

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A Love Story Between a Soon-To-Be-Expired Piece of Soap and an Old Canine Chew Toy https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2020/11/22/a-love-story-between-a-soon-to-be-expired-piece-of-soap-and-an-old-canine-chew-toy/ https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2020/11/22/a-love-story-between-a-soon-to-be-expired-piece-of-soap-and-an-old-canine-chew-toy/#respond Sun, 22 Nov 2020 14:11:09 +0000 https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/?p=7197 The post A Love Story Between a Soon-To-Be-Expired Piece of Soap and an Old Canine Chew Toy appeared first on The Perfumed Void.

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People keep daring me to write absurd love stories and, by gum, I shall deliver.

Her voice was chirping music throughout the sunlit home. Hearing it, even from her far-off perch on the bathroom sink, was a highlight of her days. It was hoarse now, after all these years, but she sang all the same, her joyous concert echoing through the halls. The dog had many options for amusement and made no secret of his preference for this one, bounding through the halls with the singing plastic duck and pausing regularly to savage it further.

Dove was impressed that it had lasted this long. Mallory’s body was riddled with holes and a few chunks were missing, and her decorative bowtie and eyes had long since lost their color, but her voice remained, and her concerts made every day better.

Not that Dove was much more of a catch. Her life had been long and fruitful, in the soap dish, keeping her owner’s hands clean, but age had taken its toll. She was a fraction of her former self, flat and sharp, her curves long faded into the past. She missed them, but seeing the signs of how long she had kept her saponified vigil upon this room did not bring her sadness. It was an honest life and she was proud to have lived it, to still be living it. But it was lonely, and she wanted Mallory.

The two were doomed to rarely meet. From the earliest day of watching Grumpus tear into her, back when her colors were bright and her hide unmarred, until now, Dove was smitten. Mallory’s every squeak awakened something in her, something primal and energetic and desperate. But Grumpus rarely took his chewing sessions in the bathroom, so Dove had to enjoy that dulcet hymn from afar, reminding her always of the beauty that could never be hers.

Until it was.

Owen brought Mallory to the bathroom absolutely pungent with something vile. Was it rot? From the look of things, Grumpus had managed to get Mallory sticky with animal drippings, likely from a carcass outside. It wasn’t like Owen to bring that to the bathroom, but here he was, and here she was. Grumpus remained excited as Owen turned on the water and grasped Dove with his other hand. Was this moment truly happening?

It was. Owen brought the two together under the warm tap, its bubbly rhythm a perfect pulse to go with the heart-pounding sensations to follow. Dove rubbed against the filthy Mallory in slippery, ecstatic congress, sinking her substance into the loud toy’s every crack, pore, and crevice. Her body dissolved into the one she so desired, filling her interior and coating her plastic skin, each molecular caress an escalating rush. Mallory squeaked with each flex, taking in soapy water and expelling it, her body pumping in compounded delight. The scrubbing was furious, intense, beyond mind and body as all thought failed and the sensation filled their nerves. Owen put special effort into the most difficult of Mallory’s crevices, driving a new eruption of pleasure between them, the encrusted filth of unwashed years adding a special dimension to this glorious encounter. Dove and Mallory lost track of how long it went on, the rhythmic pounding of the water and the frantic rubbing of Dove’s expending body into Mallory’s interior. It was eternal, it was beautiful, and it was far too short.

Owen left Mallory and the tiny sliver that remained of Dove in the soap dish to dry, and Mallory seeped with water from deep inside herself, her body relaxing after the many squeezes of the day. Dove was a shadow of a shadow of herself, what remained of her too small and too spent to endure the post-coital soak in Mallory’s drippings for long. This would be her final act, and she had no regrets. Watching her poultry comet of a lover recover from the experience, she thought her final thought:

At last, my love, we could be…squeaky clean.

A carpeted stairwell, every inch of which is covered in Furbies, a 1990s talking animal doll.
My fate will be sealed when the Furbies of Judgement finish convening.

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Beef and Walnut Rendang, Alyssa Style https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2020/11/08/beef-and-walnut-rendang-alyssa-style/ https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2020/11/08/beef-and-walnut-rendang-alyssa-style/#respond Mon, 09 Nov 2020 02:46:56 +0000 https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/?p=7194 The post Beef and Walnut Rendang, Alyssa Style appeared first on The Perfumed Void.

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This one is a little different.

If the foodways of the coastal tropics have a unifying feature, it is the coconut. Spread by its own maritime machinations as well as human effort, Cocos nucifera is a large, flavorful, energy-dense addition to numerous cuisines and if there is anything about my people’s cooking that frustrates me, it is that it does not use enough coconut. Coconut has been my gateway into so many other delights and into so many different cultures’ recipes, and today, it serves that role again.

Enter beef rendang, or rendang daging in Bahasa Indonesia.

One of the most famous and most widely favored Indonesian dishes, rendang involves slow-cooking meat (most often beef) in a coconut-based sauce for an extended period of time, until the sauce is mostly evaporated and absorbed into the meat and the meat has caramelized. Originally invented as a means of preserving meat, rendang has since evolved into a curry-like experience in its own right, and one ripe for expanding my culinary horizons. What makes this dish feel most at home in my repertoire is that it is, in its way, a one-pot dish, dirtying relatively few kitchen implements.

In this variation on the classic, I add several ingredients and subtract others to fit my palate and dietary restrictions. Adding walnuts provides some textural variety, and adding spinach helps me stay on top of my green-vegetable intake. This recipe serves at least six and should be accompanied with a carbohydrate; rice is traditional.

Equipment

You will need a stove or similar bottom-up heat source, a large pot with a lid, and your favorite cutting, stirring, and measuring tools. A cast-iron pot or aluminum caldero is ideal because of the need to maintain consistent heat through a long cooking time.

Ingredients

  • Green bell pepper, ½
  • Cuban oregano, fresh, ¼ cup
  • Spinach, 150 g. If using frozen, chopped is recommended.
  • Ginger, 150 g fresh or 2 tbsp ground
  • Oil for frying
  • Ground turmeric, 2 tbsp
  • Dried hot pepper, 1 tbsp
  • Dried cilantro, 2 tbsp
  • Stewing beef, 1 kg
  • Coconut milk, 2 400 mL cans
  • Chopped walnuts, ½ cup
  • Anise seeds, 2 tbsp
  • Ground cumin, 2 tbsp
  • Ground cardamom, 1 tbsp
  • Ground cinnamon, 1 tbsp
  • Salt, 2 tbsp
  • Green onion / scallion, one bunch, green parts only
  • Shredded coconut, ¼ cup

Common Food Restrictions

  • Gluten-Free: This recipe is naturally gluten-free.
  • Ketogenic / Low-Carb: This recipe is relatively low in carbohydrates and high in protein and fat. Choose accompaniments accordingly.
  • Low-FODMAP: This recipe is optimized to reduce FODMAP content.
  • Vegetarian/Vegan: Use your preferred meat substitute and adjust cooking times accordingly.

Preparation

  1. Chop and blenderize green bell pepper and Cuban oregano. Chop spinach if using fresh. Peel and chop ginger into slivers if using fresh.
  2. Heat oil over medium heat. Add green bell pepper, Cuban oregano, spinach, ginger, turmeric, dried hot pepper, and cilantro. Fry until most of the water has evaporated. If using frozen spinach, it can be defrosted this way, but this adds significantly to the cooking time.
  3. Add stewing beef. Stir with a wooden spoon or equivalent to mix the beef with the other ingredients and cook until the exterior of all chunks is cooked and there is visible oil separation in the fluid surrounding the beef. The beef chunks will shrink considerably as they lose water throughout this process.
  4. Add coconut milk, walnuts, anise seeds, cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, and salt. Cover and reduce heat to low. Confirm that it is now at a gentle simmer. Cook for 60 minutes.
  5. Add green onion and shredded coconut. Cook partially covered for another 30 minutes and uncovered for another 30 minutes or until sauce reaches desired thickness. It is beneficial to stir during the final 30 minutes to prevent spinach from sticking to the bottom of the pot and unstick any that may have become adhered to keep it from burning.
  6. Serve with white rice, potato, or another carbohydrate.

Learning how to make this adaptation of an Indonesian classic has been an exercise in expanding my culinary horizons, replacing a far less effective curry I had made a routine of cooking, and substituting standard ingredients for items friendlier to my finicky stomach. I am now making it as often as I can find the long evenings to fit it in, and regretting none of the time I spend preparing it. I hope it serves you well.

 

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Never Alone: A First Look https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2020/10/29/never-alone-a-first-look/ https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2020/10/29/never-alone-a-first-look/#respond Thu, 29 Oct 2020 18:05:41 +0000 https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/?p=7188 The post Never Alone: A First Look appeared first on The Perfumed Void.

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As a treat for my readers, here is the first three scenes from my in-progress novel, Never Alone, as they currently stand. Enjoy!

CN abusive relationship, abusive parenting.

#

Tina closed the blinds in her bedroom, shutting out the mid-evening Miami sun. The late April rays had a habit of being at eye level around this time of day, distinctly unpleasant. She double-checked her bedroom door, reassured that she had indeed locked it, and turned off her phone, just in case. She gave one more look at her laptop, on which a digital poetry magazine was open, and closed it as well, listening to the automatic shutdown sequence. She reached into her closet, hesitating as she looked back at the heap of clothing on the bedroom floor behind her. She sighed heavily and reached around the boxes of old papers and toys at the bottom, to the old shoebox she had hidden there. She pulled it out and placed it on her bed, all as silently as she could, resenting the judgemental eyes of the family photos on the walls all around her. Her smile in every one of them was obviously forced, which never seemed to register to the others. She wondered if they preferred it that way. They certainly never encouraged her to be genuinely happy. Her hands were shaking as she lifted the box’s lid.

The tangle of emotions Tina felt every time she interacted with this box was more than she knew how to process. There was shame and utter, quavering terror, but there was also desire, and determination, and hopeless longing. When it drew her, in her times of worry and crisis, there was little she could do to stop herself, no matter how much she protested on the inside. She lifted the cropped shirt inside and felt its soft white fabric, each moment both beautiful and painful. Without thinking, she put it on, struggling a bit with its halter neck. She followed with the paneled miniskirt that always lay under the top in this box, sliding it up her legs and bristling at how it caught on the hair.

The fit was always awkward. The top and skirt together left an intentional swath of midriff exposed, from the middle of her waist to a few centimeters below her navel, her dark skin and hair contrasting against the light fabric. It was an eye-catching, provocative outfit, and the skirt’s hemline and top’s flirtatious teardrop cutout made sure of that impression. She had chosen these two pieces for their sex appeal, drawn to the idea of herself in them, but her body refused to fulfill that vision. The skirt’s slightly stiff fabric did what it could to enhance her too-straight hips, but it could not create from nothing the endowments that Tina did not have, or fully conceal the one she did. Tina adjusted the top, moving the cutout to center it over her breasts. Or where they would be, she thought wistfully. Her upper torso offered little of the curvature this top expected and it made the rest hang oddly. The effect intensified the width of her shoulders, what some in her life called “powerful” and which she found oppressive.

A pulse of empathic warmth rubbed against Tina’s mind. From behind her headboard, a black worm a little thicker than Tina’s index finger slithered onto the bed, its shiny skin leaving no trail. Its three jaws quivered. There were no words, yet she understood creature’s meaning.

“I…feel…” Tina began, watching the worm in the mirror, but the rest of the words didn’t come.  She stood facing the mirror, visibly shaking, her eyes darting between the blinds, the photos, and the door. “I’ve already picked a name, and bought these clothes, and…I’m so scared.” She fussed with the hem of her skirt. “I’m scared, Xué. I’m scared of what this will mean. I’m scared of what they’ll do when they find out and I’m scared of what will happen to me if I don’t tell them.”

Xué offered reassurance, psychic pressure on Tina’s heart to ground her.

“Dairón!” a voice called out from elsewhere in the house, shocking the pair to action. “¡La comida está hecha! ¡Vamos a comer!”

“¡Un momentito, Mami!” Tina shouted back as she hurriedly removed the top and skirt and threw them back in the box. Xué pulled at them with its jaws in a clumsy attempt at folding while Tina rushed to put on the jeans and t-shirt, and then the beaten-up sneakers that had, a year ago, come in that box. Tina seized the box and rushed it back to its closet hiding place, stubbing her toe and catching her arm on the closet latch in the process. The scratch was superficial, but her mother would surely notice it. Xué slid across the floor and up Tina’s leg, emerging through her sleeve onto the scratch. The worm gently opened its jaws and pressed its face against Tina’s arm, injecting warmth. The scratch closed itself, vanishing along with the bruise on Tina’s toe, leaving only a few spots of blood Tina could wipe away. With a quizzical head tilt, it made Tina smile. Xué darted down again, wrapping itself around Tina’s calf. Tina sighed heavily, unlocked the door, and left her room. Immediately, the delicious smell of a favorite food filled the hallway. When she arrived in the dining room, her mother was ladling soup into bowls for herself, Tina, and Tina’s father.

“Mmmm, oxtail,” Tina said as she accepted the bowl handed to her and sat down. Tina’s mother took her seat as well, and the three bowed their heads in prayer for a moment before eating. It wasn’t long before Tina’s father began speaking.

“I wish you’d cut your hair, Dairón.”

Tina didn’t answer, and her movements became stiff and slow. Her father’s tone grew angry.

“Answer me when I talk to you, Dairón.”

“Yes, Papi,” Tina answered, not looking up from her soup. My name is Tina Curbelo, her thoughts bellowed. My name is Tina Curbelo.

“You should care more about what you look like. You’re always such a mess, it’s like you don’t care what anyone thinks of us.”

“Yes, Papi,” Tina answered again, slowly stirring her soup instead of eating it. It’s wonderful and I don’t even want it anymore. Xué squeezed her calf as comfort, to little avail.

“You don’t care what anyone thinks of us?” Tina’s father responded, voice rising.

“No, Papi,” Tina responded, giving up on the soup and putting her hands on her lap.

“Then show us you care. Looking like that is no way to be a man.”

Imagine that. “Yes, Papi.” It was all Tina could do to stay focused enough on the conversation to know when to switch between the two lines, fighting dissociation the whole way.

The three sat in silence for a while, and Tina half-heartedly resumed eating.

“Are you looking forward to seeing your cousins tomorrow?” Tina’s mother asked.

“Yes, Mami,” Tina answered, trying to hide the tiredness that thought made her feel. She didn’t have to fight away memories of Miguel, Julián, and José. They came weighed down with such exhaustion that they seemed to give up on their way into her mind. She couldn’t even muster enough enthusiasm to hate them. At least Arlén would also be there.

“It’ll be good to spend time with them. It’s important to keep the family together.” Tina’s mother pulled her meat apart, smiling at its tenderness.

“The most important thing there is,” Tina’s father interjected. “You could learn a lot from your cousins.”

Tina’s heart felt like it was in a vise. She could push away most of what her parents told her every night, but every time they compared her to those three boys, they wounded her. She would never be like them. She promised herself that much, over and over. At least Arlén would be there. At least Arlén would be there.

“Yes, Papi,” she intoned emptily. She forced down another bite.

“Promise me you’ll spend time with them,” her mother insisted.

“Yes, Mami,” Tina recited, eyes still downcast. Her seeping dread made her limbs heavy and raising them back to her food was almost as much of a trial as the conversation.

“Good,” Tina’s mother answered. The three passed the rest of the meal in silence, to Tina’s relief. She tried not to think about how impossible telling them about herself would probably be. She avoided her parents’ gazes, not noticing the suspicious looks they gave her. Afterward, she returned to her room and distracted herself on the Internet until the urge to sleep took her. Under the covers, Xué folded itself on her chest like a cat, emitting comfort in her direction until she settled into a fitful sleep.

#

The doorbell jolted Maduenu out of her own thoughts. In moments, she was at the door with the rest of her family, welcoming the latest arrival into the family dinner party. It was her older sister Yemisi, the last of her three siblings to join them. The smell of onions and thyme lingering on her polo shirt didn’t stand out against the fragrant meal her father had been in the process of laying out on the long family table, but her tight bun was overly formal in this company. Maduenu’s own long, thin braids, black dress, and tights fit better into the milieu, even if Maduenu herself never felt like she herself did.

“Yemmy!” their oldest sister called out, the first to approach the new arrival with a hug as the others lined up in greeting.

“It’s good to see you too, Maddie, Tayo, Ada,” Yemisi greeted, tightly embracing each of her siblings.

“Glad you could make it,” her father greeted, still wearing oven mitts.

“It’s good to be here,” she responded, hugging him as well. She smelled the air, full of the meal to come. “The extra shifts paid off.”

“We’re glad you managed to get the night off.” Her mother took her turn in Yemisi’s arms. “It’s not the same without you.”

As Yemisi pulled out of her mother’s embrace, she asked, “How’s Grandpa Curtis?”

“Oh, you know. His knees aren’t what they used to be, so he’s taking most of his meals at the recliner. Lika’s been keeping him company,” their mother answered. “We’ll join him there after dinner.”

Maduenu returned to the table, watching the last of the setup as Yemisi visited their grandfather and her daughter in the next room. The laid-out spread of barbecued ribs, savory cornbread still in its cast-iron pan, corn on the cob, and salad with Italian dressing didn’t hold her attention nearly as much as the affectionate moment the three of them shared, and she sighed quietly. The others settled into their seats, Yemisi bringing her daughter into a highchair next to her. Before anything else, the family took each other’s hands and bowed their heads in silence, thoughts directed at the altar in the corner behind the head of the table on which, among other sacred objects, were a painting of the Orishas and the favored mementos of three grandparents: a pocket watch, a mason’s hammer, and a mortar and pestle. Silent prayer concluded, the family began reaching and passing food between them, laughing as they got in each other’s way until each plate was full.

“Mmmm, I missed that,” Ada let out as she took the first bite of the ribs. “I tell you, if school lunches were anything like this, no one would ever skip school.”

“If school lunches were like this, no one would be awake after one PM, Ada,” their mother joked, setting the room laughing again.

« It’s something, isn’t it? » the voice in Maduenu’s head commented, snide and venomous. Maduenu froze, and the voice darkened, demanding, « Natural. Natural. »

“Pass the salad,” Maduenu requested, all her effort devoted to keeping her voice level, and it came to her. “Thanks.”

« They hear you, but they don’t see you, » the voice continued. « not like I do. »

“How’s the apprenticeship coming, Tayo?” Yemisi asked, and the young man at the other end of the table looked up from his corn.

“Really well, sis,” he answered. “Mr. D’Aristi’s going to show me basic electrical work next week, now that I’m good at hanging drywall. I’ll be a one-man crew yet.”

“Fantastic! I’m glad you’re getting so much out of this. That’s one thing the world won’t ever stop needing: homes, and people who can build them.”

“Thanks,” Tayo answered, smiling. “Any luck getting an architect job?”

Yemisi sighed. “Not yet, since the internship. But I might be done making pot au feu and cleaning raclettes real soon. I’ve got an audition piece I’m working on that I feel good about. If all goes well, I’ll get an interview out of it and then design the next piece of the Newark skyline before you know it.”

« I told you to stay out of my head when I’m busy, Harry, » Maduenu responded in her mind, her mental voice quavering. She fussed with a folded piece of paper she’d been holding under the table.

The whole table cheered, Maduenu’s silence unnoticed: “Architect Yemmy! Architect Yemmy!”

« Did you? I must not have heard you over how much you actually want me around. » Harry drew telepathic fingers across Maduenu’s mind, setting her on edge all over again. « You’d be so lonely without me. Unseen, and unknown. »

“We’ll have to all get together again to celebrate once you’re in!” Maddie suggested, enthusiasm as much about drowning out Harold’s intrusion as about Yemisi’s impending professional success, an awkward smile trying to make the suggestion a half-joke.

“Oh, of course,” her father answered. “We have to celebrate.”

“Thanks,” Yemisi added, blushing. “Here’s hoping it’s soon.”

« Until next time, my love, » Harry cooed. « We will always find each other. Always. » Maduenu felt the intruder depart from her mind, and finally relaxed a little. Looking around, she observed, as usual, that none of her assembled relatives realized anything had happened. He’s right, she thought with a sigh. They don’t see me. She never could decide whether that invisibility meant safety from whatever they might think of her mental visitor, or just more cover for him.

The conversation turned toward Adaobi’s garden and her efforts to deal with a scale insect attack. The baby, only a little food-soiled, began to fuss, a signal Yemisi knew meant bedtime was imminent. Yemisi listened attentively while keeping an eye on her daughter, but Maduenu interrupted her with a furtive pass of folded paper. Yemisi nodded, accepting the gift of Maduenu’s poetry for review. The younger sister reminisced about how this pattern had started to level out the anxiety Harold’s behavior could induce: They don’t really get it, Yemmy. They think it’s fun and cute and a nice hobby, but…it’s more than that, to me. Chemical engineering school might be my job, but this…it’s a reflex. I have to get it out and make it beautiful, or it’ll rip its way out of me. They don’t get it, but…you do.

Maduenu looked away now, a mix of embarrassment and the desire to be invisible. Only Yemisi noticed, the familiarity of that image too deep to miss and too heartbreaking to ignore.

“I think it’s time for dessert!” Maduenu’s mother exclaimed. As she went to the kitchen to retrieve it, Yemisi got up as well, sliding a caring hand across Maduenu’s shoulders as she announced, “I should get Anwulika ready for bed. I think she’s done for the night.” Maduenu got up as well, following Yemisi into the bedroom where Yemisi’s daughter slept.

“I’ve never met such a contented baby,” Yemisi whispered to her sister as she wiped Anwulika’s face clean and sat down to help her burp before bed. “I helped take care of you and Tayo, I’ve babysat for the neighbors and…none of you could sleep through the night quite like her. I don’t understand it.”

Maduenu smiled, not sure what to do with her hands. She remained standing opposite Yemisi.

“I read her your poetry every night, you know. ‘Across Oshun,’ ‘Tyrell’s Epic,’ ‘Up There,’ ‘The Venus of Rutgers,’ ‘A World Just for Us,’ something you’ve shown me, every night I can.”

Maduenu began to tear up, walls not holding the emotions she was usually so good at hiding.

“She loves it. Most nights, she fights to stay awake until she hears one, even if I have a late shift.” Anwulika burped, and Yemisi put her in the crib, where she smiled placidly and struggled to keep her tired eyes open. “Maybe nobody knows you, yet, but you’ve got a fan.”

Maduenu threw her arms around her sister, and Yemisi returned the hug.

“Never stop. If there’s anything life has taught me, it’s that work and passion don’t have to be the same thing, as long as you never lose sight of that passion. Sometimes, it’s even better when that passion is something you come home to, instead of leaving it at the office.”

Maduenu hugged her tighter.

“School’s full of people. It’ll take a while, but you’ll find someone who gets you, and can see what you’re putting out there and how valuable it is. In the end, we’re never alone.”

The hug continued for a few more minutes. Maduenu let go and made for the bathroom while Yemisi read to her daughter and then returned to the table. There was just enough red velvet cake for Yemisi and Maduenu to claim the last slices, after delivering one to Curtis, and they didn’t savor the rich dessert for long. In the next room, Curtis began humming the first few bars of the family’s favorite song. They all looked at each other, and then migrated en masse to the living room, Maduenu’s father taking the first few lines before the others joined in for the rest:

“Sittin’ in the morning sun / I’ll be sittin’ when the evening comes / Watching the ships roll in / Then I watch them roll away again, yeah…”

Curtis’s voice rose in power and intensity, until the other six let him have the last refrain to himself: “I’m just gon’ sit at the dock of a bay / Watchin’ the tide roll away, ooh / Sittin’ on the dock of the bay / Wastin’ time…”

All six of them closed in around him in affection afterward.

It was a few minutes before the group disengaged and moved to clear the table and begin washing dishes. Maduenu did what she could to assist, but with as many people around as there were, it was clear that cleanup was overstaffed. She and Yemisi soon stepped out, Yemisi heading for the back door, Maduenu to her room upstairs.

Maduenu collapsed on her bed, checking the edges of her mind for Harold Wells and finding them mercifully empty. When she closed her eyes, a quiet snapping noise and mild ozone smell wafted across the room to her. She raised an eyebrow, sitting up and facing the direction from which they seemed to come. She felt a quick wave of reassurance, familiar yet distinctly inhuman. Part of her wanted to run, this new mental caller reminding her too much of the one who still overwhelmed her with his visits, but this presence came with no words and withdrew itself in the face of her fear, and she felt safer for its discretion. She thought curiosity in its direction, and something shifted from behind her dresser. From underneath, a thick, muscular worm pulsed forward, slow and powerful, longer than Maduenu’s arm and about as thick. It moved like a giant earthworm, but it was covered in thin ferret-like hair that mostly concealed the muscle contractions beneath. The front of its body, just behind its softly tapered head, bore two large forward-directed bumps, and it had no visible eyes. She stared at this creature, first in silent terror, then in confusion and interest as it continued its waves of reassurance. In a minute, it made it to her, remaining on the floor and seeming to invite her downward with a movement of its head. Small sparks flickered across its two forehead bumps, making the clicking noise she had heard earlier. In spite of herself, Maduenu knelt to meet this creature, staring in wide-eyed awe, its presence feeling like a piece of herself whose former absence she was rapidly forgetting. Instinctively, she began petting it, its sparks taking on a contented hum as her fingers stroked the space between its head bumps, its hair puffing and relaxing. They stayed like that for a while before she spoke to it. She asked the obvious question.

“What are you?”

She received only a wave of confusion in answer.

She smiled. “It’s okay. I don’t know what I am, either.”

The creature nuzzled her hand, offering more empathic comfort. Being scared would have made sense, but this moment felt too peaceful to let fear ruin it. She could grow fond of this being. Her next thought was as strange as it was instinctive.

“Do you want to hear a poem?” she asked it, unfolding the paper again. “It’s the one I showed my sister.” It responded in the empathic affirmative, and she began:

The Lonely Crawl

Creeping thing, your many legs aflutter

I see you far away, scuttling in the light

But you carve a lambent path for me

That my many arms can touch yours

And with these cold fingers

Know what thoughts pass through your electric life

And into mine.”

The strange worm wrapped around her, gently squeezing in a protective embrace, and she smiled. In this moment of contentment, she could forget her alienation and, for the first time in days, not think about the uneasy, beautiful rollercoaster of Harold Wells. She didn’t notice the spider-like creature the size of a sparrow outside her window, watching her with a single oversized eye.

#

Ehani squared her stance, checking it in her mirror. She wore a green tank top and black exercise shorts, her long brown hair held out of her brown face with a black scrunchie. She held the wooden kukri knife in two hands, its pronounced curve directed forward. She went through the movements of the practice drill, strong and purposeful despite her rail-thin frame: upward slash to the right, a chop to the same place, a two-handed slice downward, the same to the left, each with a step forward. She alternated hands, trying not to favor her usual left. Without a training dummy, it was hard to know how powerful her efforts really were, but with each, she recited the instruction she recalled from her father’s stories: Every strike a decapitation. Every strike a decapitation. Every strike a decapitation…

“Ehani!” a voice called from a few rooms over.

Ehani instantly hurled the wooden knife into the nearby laundry basket before answering. She had been caught before, but not this time. “Yes, Bua?”

“Our dinner is ready. Would you mind getting it from the kebab place down the street?”

“Right away, Bua,” she answered, taking her purse and a jacket and heading to the door.

It was a pleasant enough day in Toronto, all told. It had been raining, typical of spring, but today was dry and the sun even peeked through the clouds. Ehani was on edge, and her fears soon materialized. Just ahead of her path, a crowd of young men exited a pub. Oh no. Not them again. She ducked into a side street to avoid them, but they were upon her in moments, crowding her against a wall.

“The waif returns!” the tallest of them hooted.

“Which one is this, Seb?” a shorter one asked. “The one that thinks she can fight, or the one that thinks she can run?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Seb pronounced. “She’s going to come quietly either way, isn’t she?” He smirked. “We’re having a party and she’s invited.” He stepped closer to her, pressing his advantage. Ehani saw an opening. She drove her knee into his groin as hard as she could, feeling her hip shift from the impact. He gasped and winced, but didn’t back off, instead driving his fist into the wall next to her head. “Jim, Kyle, Derek? This one needs to be taught a lesson.”

As the other men approached, a siren blared behind them, and Ehani’s attackers scattered. The police car pulled away afterward, neither following them nor stopping to help her. Typical, she thought. She caught her breath and kept going. The order was ready and waiting for her, labeled with the surname “BISTA” in large print. As she carried it home, she pictured the kukri in her other hand, and took a few imaginary swings when her thoughts got too dark. As she walked into her house, she spotted her father seated at the dining room table, the wooden practice blade in front of him. She had indeed been caught.

“Chori, we’ve talked about this,” he spoke in lieu of a greeting.

Ehani put the bag of food on the table and stood silently, facing her father.

“I’ve put the Gurkha behind me,” he intoned. “It was a hard life, and I’m finished with it. I didn’t want that life for a son, and I certainly don’t want it for my daughter. That’s no life for a woman.”

“It’s a hobby, Bua,” Ehani answered, at least as much exasperated as worried.

“It is not,” he insisted as he stood.

“Can’t it be a hobby?” Ehani raised an eyebrow but thought better of putting her hand on her hip. “They sell them online, you know. It’s not just trained Gurkhas who can have them.”

“You will respect our traditions, Chori,” he answered with finality, picking up the training blade. “And I’m not leaving this where you can find it again. Focus on your studies and finding a husband. Fighting should not be part of your life.”

Ehani and her father locked eyes, each testing the other’s resolve, Ehani privately raging, it already is. When the tension became too much to bear, he announced, “Let’s eat.” The two of them ate their Lebanese chicken skewers and wraps in unaccustomed silence, and then Ehani left the table with a glass of water. She closed her bedroom door behind her and sighed heavily. She was halfway through her glass when a wave of shivers overtook her, as though something were lightly drawing its fingers across her mind.

“Who’s there?” she whispered.

A wave of worry, almost cute. Ehani smiled, and the unfinished thought that went with it was enough for this mental visitor. With a quiet scuttling sound, a creature like a bright green spiny beetle a bit smaller than Ehani’s fist walked out of her closet, and Ehani shot to her feet and ran backward in turn. Her thoughts raced—huge bug huge bug HUGE BUG—but the creature stayed put, a gentle wave of calm issuing from it. Ehani blinked in disbelief, her muscles relaxing.

“You feel…familiar.”

The creature projected affirmation.

“I don’t know what you are, but I feel like…you’ve been around for longer than just now.”

The creature again projected affirmation.

You’re no ordinary insect.

It bobbed up and down as if to nod.

I can feel your feelings. And you can hear my thoughts.

Affirmation again.

It had to be a giant insect. Ehani sighed. Why me?

This set of feelings was more complicated: kinship, warmth, and…potential?

That’s very kind of you. Ehani smiled and approached. The large insect pointed at her left hand, and with some hesitation, she extended it. The creature gently walked onto it and wrapped its legs around her palm and wrist like elaborate jewelry. With a wave that felt like perseverance and the will to succeed, it secreted a green and transparent blade that fit securely in Ehani’s hand, curved and familiar, improbably larger than its own body. Ehani closed her hands around her new kukri, and grinned.

It’s beautiful, she thought, and felt the creature’s excitement as response. This has to be a dream. But the translucent knife felt appropriately weighty, gleaming in the room lights as she moved. She stood to go through the training drill, reciting her instruction, every strike a decapitation. It felt different from the training blade, both heavier and faster. The blade itself didn’t feel like metal, but was slick and shiny, akin to glass, and the handle was made of a similar but opaque material. Almost like chitin, she thought. She looked at her new companion, disgust at its arthropod body waning against her fascination and curiosity, and whispered to it, “You made this for me?”

The creature responded with a pulse of affirmation and an enthusiastic full-body nod.

Ehani spun the blade in her hand and passed it to the right, going through the attack sequence again. As she went through the motions, she asked the creature with her thoughts, Do you have a name?

This emotion was a little sad, a definite negation.

How about…Gainekira?

The large insect almost jumped up and down with delight.

Gainekira it is.

Ehani walked to her bedroom window and looked outside, at the last of the sunset, pensive.

The kukri isn’t just a weapon. It’s a tool. She looked at the knife in her hand. It’s good for chopping wood and other things an aspiring tropical botanist might need to do. She paused. It’s always part of a set of three, with two smaller knives to keep it honed and to do things that the kukri can’t do.

Gainekira responded with a pulse of reassurance.

Thank you. It’s good to know I’m not alone.

#

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The garbage fire of 2020 demands a little levity, and I am here to provide. So, here are some silly vignettes about unlikely relationships. You are welcome.

Under a Rock

Korg looked deep into his little bug friend’s eyes. The diner where they sat enjoying their meals—French toast for the one, a pile of mealworms for the other—was the sort of place where one can ask for a pile of mealworms and actually get it, so their shared table drew few stares. They could have this moment to themselves, without the distraction of gawkers. “Those weren’t eggs or cysts, were they, Miek?”

The Sakaaran insectoid with knives for hands did not answer, but her eyes told all.

“I looked it up. They were pheromone pellets,” Korg paused, eyes warming. “They were a gift for the one you love.”

Miek nodded. Her antennae moved in a way that Korg was almost certain he should read as blushing. Korg took her exoskeleton blade in his large stony hand, and she scratched a heart into his palm, desire radiating from her many squirming limbs.

“Well, old friend, rock beats scissors,” Korg pronounced as he stood, sliding the rest of his French toast down his gullet in a single motion. He led Miek out of the booth and lifted her into his arms. “But today, love beats everything.”

As if on cue, the gangly green-clad form of Loki teleported into the scene. “Do you peasants need a hand with anything?”

“Oh yeah,” Korg answered as Miek nodded. “We have no idea what we’re doing and could use some expert assistance.”

“Looks like I came to the right place.” Loki smirked. “And soon, so will you.”

Korg, an large gray rock-person, inquiring about the secretions coming out of Miek, a grub-like being in a metal exoskeleton with knives for hands.
So romantic.

Ferdinand and Hortense

Veronica looked deep into Ferdinand’s lustful eyes, his desire matched only by her own. They lunged at each other from across the table, bodies demanding, hands and mouths complying, plates clattering. Nerves in a panic, she followed her most natural instincts, unhinged her jaw, and latched onto his neck so hard that her teeth met somewhere between his collarbone and his scapula. She embarrassedly swallowed a mouthful of Ferdinand’s torso larger than her own head and looked on his shocked, horrified expression in dismay. Her formerly lustful suitor collapsed in a disjointed heap as she retracted her jaws. She squeaked out, “Oops.” She covered the cost of his meal and walked home.

It was hard being Veronica. Her nerves made a lot of decisions harder, and folks like Ferdinand who could see past them were few and far between. She hated these long walks home alone afterward, along with the awkward calls from her suitors’ families. Those were the worst.

When she got to her door, she kicked off her shoes and left her things in a heap on the nearby table. This would be a good night for watching Cake Boss with a tub of ice cream and maybe a live mouse or two. But this night would not go as she expected.

Veronica opened her bedroom door and took in the mess inside. Her vases and figurines were knocked about onto the carpet, her dresser was askew, her laundry basket was on its side, rolling softly. It was a disappointing sight after a disappointing night, and she picked a bit of Ferdinand out of her teeth as her eyes arrived at the center of the room.

Something seethed and pulsated to life on her bed, rearing up to ogle her with cold, dead eyes. Its scaly, feathery hide shone in the moonlight filtering in through the fluttering curtains, a rime of purple and blue against her burgundy bedsheets. It jerkily raised a clawed, reptilian wing-paw with a chittering hiss, beckoning her forward. “Veronica,” the thing greeted with a voice like a thousand tin-whistles fighting each other for dominance as oily red sauce dripped out of its skin, “I wanted to surprise you, but I got nervous and dropped the roses and then this happened.”

Veronica smiled at this being, its sweet, musky smell of bat pheromones and chili powder bringing her to a more peaceful time. Hortense was supportive of all of her endeavors, especially her current attempt at polyamory, and her earnestness always brought warmth to Veronica’s life. It was hard not to love Hortense. Who wouldn’t love a velociraptor hide full of tacos and angry bats? Certainly not Veronica. Veronica loved her to pieces.

“Oh, Hortense,” Veronica sighed, collapsing into bed next to her longtime lover. “I did it again.”

“Oh, honey,” Hortense shrieked, embracing her partner with all the twitchy grace of a velociraptor hide full of tacos and angry bats. “Tell me all about it. I brought wine. And mice.”

“You’re the best, Hortense. Feel like watching Cake Boss tonight while we pretend we’re not home when the police arrive?”

“It’s already loaded.” Hortense tried to uncork a bottle of wine and Veronica swiftly took it, bit off the stem, and spat it out the window, to the frustration of her neighbors. She poured two glasses.

“To you, my saucy love,” Veronica pronounced, placing one glass in Hortense’s paw and clinking them.

“To you, my bitey lover,” Hortense returned, and they sipped.

Veronica smiled and wrapped her arms around her greasy, squirming lover. “Thank you for being here. I don’t know what I’d do without my favorite velociraptor hide full of tacos and angry bats. I love you, Hortense.”

“I love you too, Veronica. Mouse?”

“Oh fuck yes, I am famished.”

A drawing of a zombie velociraptor.
Hortense knows how to treat a lady.

Garbage Fire

“Let’s get this out of the way: I am smoking hot. Yes, I know. I’m the kind of explosively hot that makes people gather around for warmth on dark winter nights, just hoping my high-temperature radiance will land upon them. You’re welcome.

“I’m a high-energy kind of gal looking for someone who wants to paint the town black with me. My diet is absolute trash and you don’t get to change that. If you want someone who eats like they’re not a giant dumpster fire, date a recycle bin. I’m for someone who knows what they want and what they want is a lover who has an excellent rapport with the local raccoons, who trust her with their life. My lover must be okay with a variety of unspeakable fluids at unexpected times.

In my spare time, I like to:

·         Accumulate pressurized gas until I detonate, spraying the surrounding area with disgusting trash effluvia that may or may not be on fire. Sorry.

·         Satisfy my maternal instinct by helping large quantities of insects find mates and raise their families inside my body.

·         Share my reserves with my garbage truck of a family until I am empty inside and need someone to be several little spoons, ideally also with my raccoon friends.

·         Pick through the detritus of other people’s failed hobbies to try to understand them better. You learn a lot about a person by how many times they throw out knitting starter sets.

Message me if you:

·         Appreciate the scenic, volatile beauty of a giant dumpster fire.

·         Like the sound of expired cans of beans exploding due to thermal expansion.

·         Are an American black bear.

·         Know how to pick locks.

·         Own a gas mask.”

Brunhilde reviewed this dating profile as the high-pitched scraping sound of metal dragging against concrete and the low-pitched accents of small explosions approached her table. She looked up from her smartphone, no mean feat given her status as an overturned garbage truck emblazoned with at least fifty crude spray-painted penises, and saw its writer.

Amidst the roar of the flames and the shrieking of the other restaurant patrons as they fled the premises in abject panic and the feeling of an expired can of beans spraying her with superheated food waste as it exploded from her date’s exertion, Brunhilde was smitten. She had found the one who would set fire, not only to several adjoining buildings, but to her heart.

A flaming dumpster.
Who’s that lady?

 

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We Are All Entrapta https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2020/09/20/we-are-all-entrapta/ https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2020/09/20/we-are-all-entrapta/#respond Sun, 20 Sep 2020 21:00:31 +0000 https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/?p=7183 The post We Are All Entrapta appeared first on The Perfumed Void.

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If there is one accusation that the allistic world likes to inflict on people like me, it is the idea that we do not care. Our norms flout theirs, our preferences are alien to them, our interests do not align with theirs, our emotions do not work like theirs, and to each of these, they levy their curse: you don’t care. They fling a tiresome welter of robot and reptile and cold and computer and alien at our feet, each a stiletto aimed at the part of us that is willing to believe them. Their only idea for who and what we are denies our humanity.

When I see the same accusation leveled at one of the most impressively competent and compassionate portrayals of our neurology in popular media, Princess Entrapta from She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, my irritation turns to icy resolve.

To an unperceptive or malicious viewer, the story of Entrapta could indeed read as another entry in the multitudinous, offensive canon of “autistic character learns how to CareTM,” but a more discerning eye sees something altogether more profound.

The viewer meets Entrapta in her castle-workshop in the realm of Dryl. She has sequestered herself in her laboratory, avoiding contact with other people, even her household staff, in favor of the multitude of robots she has built to keep her company. Everyone shown to have any awareness of her, from her staff to the main cast trying to navigate her mazelike residence, regards her as profoundly odd and unpredictable, hesitant at best to trust her. It is hard to blame them, when their introduction happens amidst an outbreak of a hostile computer virus among her robots that she seemingly would rather study than combat. She takes copious voice recordings of her observations, to the annoyance of the people around her. Her self-aware admission that she neither understands nor is understood by ordinary people comes tinged with sadness that is nowhere to be found when she is working on her scientific and engineering obsession. Exploring the possibilities of technology brings her solace, dealing with a world determined to misunderstand and even mistreat her brings her confusion and pain, and there is no reason to imagine that this is not the longstanding state of affairs in her life. Even her status as Etherian royalty, almost universally seen to be the rulers of their respective realms, seems to afford her little leeway or power past the service of the people making her food. The natural conclusion is that she has isolated herself here to avoid that ill treatment and claim the freedom to study and create as she desires.

Isolationism is hardly unique to Dryl. The premise of the first season of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is bringing the various Etherian princesses and their respective realms into alliance against the invading Horde, and the other three noteworthy additions to the Princess Alliance during this season—Mermista, Frosta, and Perfuma—had also turned their gazes inward in the wake of earlier defeats. Most of the character arcs of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power involve people’s moral universes expanding one way or another, enabling them to band together to better address the dangers ahead of them instead of thinking primarily of their own realms and associates. What sets Entrapta apart is that the foe that Entrapta seems to be trying to avoid is not the Horde, but her own people. Entrapta is as alone as she is because she has been pushed there, punished for her strangeness and made to feel broken and unwanted for it. Focusing on the needs of others cannot absolve a person like her of that stigma. Her empathy overflows, prodding her to fill her home with artificial intelligences that she dotes on and constantly improves, treating them much as she wishes to treat and be treated by others, but grand moral calculations are not within her possibilities. Her world is too small, enclosed by the walls of others’ refusal to see her as a person. People who are punished for taking interest in and caring about others, as so many of us are, naturally withdraw into the pieces of our lives that provide distraction, pleasure, and a comforting sense of order, and Entrapta’s special interest in robotics is no exception. Such interests become the most, and sometimes the only, reliable source of positive emotions in our lives, when even ostensibly friendly people seem to randomly turn hostile.

I remember what my morals were like when my life felt like that. They were selfish, even childish. Considering the broader impacts of my actions was difficult at best. When any action I took felt like it got similar levels of inscrutable pushback from the wider neurotypical world, those reactions were not data, just noise. The world screamed negative emotions at me from all directions at all times and shielding my sense of empathy from it was a vital protective measure. Like so many of us, Entrapta’s early appearances show a tendency to ignore other people’s thoughts about her behavior until and unless they either directly impact her or start making sense to her. Until then, people being weird and disapproving and unpleasant is just what it means to have other people around—not data, just noise. Just the background radiation of not being alone, unsafe to feel at its full impact, impossible to avoid. Even when she is a key part of the daring rescue mission into the Horde’s base of operations, the other princesses do not fully trust her, not even as her passionate devotion to the people she has begun calling her friends leads her to become trapped in Horde territory.

It is within the Horde that she begins to get the understanding that has long been denied her. Hordak, with his characteristic hands-off management style, is the first to form a relationship with her that is not based on her immediate utility or on nervous mistrust, almost against his will. While she is with the Horde, she has virtually free rein to explore the topics that fascinate her and her findings meet with Hordak’s near-constant approval. Even his anger against her is muted, clearly coming from a place of hurt rather than the more nebulous ill regard she had come to know. The two share enough that they can commiserate, and it is to Entrapta that Hordak reveals his status as a defective clone of some grander being. Entrapta knows what it feels like to be cast aside when no longer useful, and to be regarded as a failure for circumstances one cannot control. In this complicated way, she has started letting people into the circle of her empathy. In dribs and drabs, people stop being confusing, distracting noise that only brings more distress if she tries to let it into her life, and start being friends.

Entrapta forgiving Catra for exiling her to Beast Island, among other injuries, after a sincere apology. Entrapta is patting Catra on the head with her prehensile purple hair.

Her greatest joy remains exploring what technology can do. The sheer excitement of it means she still is not good at thinking through the consequences of her experiments or taking appropriate safety precautions, but the seed has germinated. She has never been malicious—only constrained and distracted. The conquering violence of the Horde begins to perturb her more and more. This is when we start seeing her first glimmers of horror at the results of some of her work, and it leads to her refusing to work on the portal project any further. The other Horde members, not respecting her the way Hordak does, respond with violence and ultimately exile.

She let the world in, against what must have seemed like her better judgement, and got a friend out of it. But then she got punished, again. The Horde exiles her to Beast Island, whose radiation saps the will of those who linger there. Where an allistic person might have succumbed after such a crushing betrayal, Entrapta can sustain herself for an improbable amount of time through sheer fascination with the island’s technical marvels. For one last time, traumatic perseveration saves her.

After the princesses rescue her, things begin to improve. With aching slowness, they start treating her less like a dangerous pet and more like a person. Whether driven by the dire necessities of how bad things have gotten by this point, or because they finally see something in her that they can comprehend, or because she reaches a level of frustration that finally has her asserting herself against them, the other princesses at last begin to earn their status as her friends. She gets to deal with them in small groups with very focused goals instead of big parties with lots of noise and confusion, a lifesaving difference. With each moment of relaxation, she can get used to them as people she can understand, whose needs she can attune to, who can in turn understand her. She can take actions and not feel like their reactions are random or reflexively hostile, and that makes it so much easier to keep her empathy where they can touch it. They are not just noise anymore, one by one. This is when we can see what she’s like when she is truly herself: relentlessly forgiving, loyal to her friends to the point of foolhardy courage, and no less fascinated by mechanical marvels than she was when it was the only thing she could afford to let into her heart.

Calling this nuanced exploration of trauma and neurodivergence “amoral” or claiming that her story is another tired iteration of portraying people like me as unfeeling automata who have to be cajoled into having emotions misses the point of her entire character and, frankly, does violence to her memory. In the end, we are all Entrapta.

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Redemptive Sacrifice Done Right: On Shadow Weaver https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2020/09/02/redemptive-sacrifice-done-right-on-shadow-weaver/ https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2020/09/02/redemptive-sacrifice-done-right-on-shadow-weaver/#respond Wed, 02 Sep 2020 22:14:26 +0000 https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/?p=7180 The post Redemptive Sacrifice Done Right: On Shadow Weaver appeared first on The Perfumed Void.

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Redemption through sacrifice is an old motif that has gotten more attention in recent popular media. Redemption arcs are powerful when done correctly, but they are also difficult to execute and require specific story structures to support them. Writers who want the powerful singular moment of redemption with less of the work required to earn it often use sacrifice as a shortcut. When a character’s life ends in the service of the people they have wronged, it can seem like the ultimate return payment for the harm they have caused, but can also be emotionally cheap. Without an effort to actually make right the wrongs of one’s past, a redemptive sacrifice can seem like an effort to suffer enough that some cosmic scale is balanced, a retributive impulse turned inward rather than a restorative one aimed outward. Worse, destroying oneself in a sacrificial blaze can also seem like an effort to escape accountability and prevent an honest reckoning with one’s legacy. For these reasons, I have grown to resent the idea of characters experiencing redemption through destroying themselves.

But one piece of media managed this difficult task with impossible grace, and that is She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. The story of Shadow Weaver might be the only time in my conscious memory that I have seen a redemptive sacrifice work. And to understand why, we have to go through Shadow Weaver’s story.

Spoilers for She-Ra and the Princesses of Power follow.

Before Shadow Weaver took the name, she was Light Spinner, unusually gifted among the sorcerers of Mystacor but similar to them in the kind and scale of power she could wield. She was ambitious and above all power-hungry, resentful of the comparative ease with which Etheria’s princesses could access the world’s magic through their runestones. The Horde’s invasion provided an excuse for her to seize even greater power, but the other sorcerers refused her, and she had to perform the Spell of Obtainment in secret. When she did, everything changed, even her name.

The Spell of Obtainment served, as Chief Sorcerer Norwyn warned, to make its caster into a magical parasite, dependent on whatever magic she could siphon from the world rather than wielding a store of her own power. Even attempting it, let alone the partial success Light Spinner achieved, was enough for the other sorcerers to turn on her, and for her to use her initial batch of stolen power to fight them and escape. But her hunger was no longer metaphorical, and her new life as a magical parasite made her remaining choices stark. However sincere she might have been in her stated desire to defeat the invading Horde, if she had to choose between gaining power and continuing to fight them, she would choose the former. After all, they had just captured a runestone she could borrow.

This level of scheming extended to the two daughters Shadow Weaver adopted while with the Horde: Adora and Catra. Her treatment of these two fits the narcissistic abuser playbook almost too well, a natural outgrowth of her power-hungry nature. Much like the other narcissistic abuser of recent media attention, Shadow Weaver showed blatant favoritism to one daughter and harshness toward the other, while telling both that neither would amount to anything without her. One, she groomed to live out her desires for her, the other she resented for merely existing. Her lies and manipulations set the scene for both of their lives and would require an essay of their own to properly explore. The symmetry of a magical parasite also being this kind of siphon for emotional energy is too beautiful to leave unspoken.

Catra, a young woman with feline traits, stands before Shadow Weaver, an older woman in an all-encompassing red cloak and dress wearing a red and black mask. Shadow Weaver is seated and her appearance is disheveled. She is shackled to the wall via long chains. Between them is a messy tray of nondescript food.
Even imprisoned, the venomous wheels turn.

While serving the Horde, whether Shadow Weaver was limited to being barely able to defend herself or remained one of the most dangerous people in Etheria depended entirely on whether she had access to the Horde’s captured runestone. She could rapidly exhaust herself to the point of collapse if she exceeded her reserve of runestone magic or tried to use magic that didn’t depend on this stolen power. These attempts often seemed contingent on having some sort of magical powder or other component to expend, something other Etherian magic-users typically needed only for more complex or idiosyncratic spells. Shadow Weaver did her best to hide these limitations, but those close to her had enough information to puzzle them out. Shadow Weaver’s weakness was so debilitating that, once the Horde started denying her access to the Fright Zone’s runestone, it was able to keep her shackled in a cell, confinement another sorcerer could have trivially escaped, until she manipulated Catra into providing the components of a teleportation spell.

It is in this near-powerless state that she returns to the fight against the Horde. The other characters rightly fear and hate her, not for her power, but for everything else: her toxic, manipulative, abusive personality, which never stops scheming or finding new targets; her deep well of knowledge about how Etherian magic works; their knowledge of what she has already done in the name of her disturbing ambition; and the flexibility of her status as a magical parasite, which makes her specific abilities hard to understand. She serves them as a teacher and a source of information, but she remains one of the most reprehensible people in the entire cast and they do not trust her.

So when Shadow Weaver initially sits out both halves of the final battle against Horde Prime, it is at least partly because everyone else knows she does not have much she can realistically contribute, in addition to their not-unfounded fears that bringing her to the Heart of Etheria, the nexus of Etheria’s magic, might lead to her trying to claim its power. And when Catra browbeats her into teleporting the two of them near the Heart, it is with at least some knowledge that Shadow Weaver’s weakened state afterward was to be expected.

And when Shadow Weaver used high-level sorcery, the sort of magic she would have used back in her days as Light Spinner, against the giant security robot that Horde Prime had suborned, Adora and Catra both knew that, even if she won, she was destroying herself. No deceptions, no tricks: just the vulnerability she had spent almost her entire screen time concealing, at last unmasked.  It is no surprise that these two survivors were overcome with horrified grief when she entered the fight. Maybe Castaspella, Glimmer, or Micah could have survived, but not Shadow Weaver. Not the final dregs of that bottomless pit for other people’s energy, steadily broken down and deprived until nothing was left but this sacrifice.

She was, in a moment too poetic to overstate, for perhaps the first time in the entire series, fighting for others instead of her own twisted desire for power and revenge, but she was also, just as uniquely in the show’s run, crushingly alone. She was undertaking one brief flicker of righteousness after a life spent in iniquity, saving the universe from a level of danger she had severely underestimated when she served the Horde and saving her two unloved daughters from immediate danger, and she had long since driven away all who could have stood with her. She could watch everyone, literally everyone, around her become bigger, better, more powerful versions of themselves because they could rely on each other, build each other up, and lean on each other when they faltered, but not her. Shadow Weaver burned every one of those bridges and she would stand alone on their ashes and die for that mistake, briefly heroic but eternally unmourned.

Even as Adora and Catra watched her die, neither dares to utter the platitudes that a lesser show would have forced. Shadow Weaver was a blight on her interpersonal landscape from beginning to end and they both know it. She saved them and destroyed herself in the process, after making no attempt to reckon with the legacy of broken children and wartime casualties she left behind, and the show does not ask us to pretend otherwise. She escapes the far harder challenge of actually becoming a better person or making things right with those she has hurt by giving the two people she has hurt most the only gift she has left: the privilege of living the rest of their lives without her. It is precisely because she is not redeemed, and the story is making no attempt to redeem her, that this sacrifice works.

In this, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power takes its central message to its darkest low, and makes the heights on either side of it so much higher.

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A Landscape of Safety https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2020/08/30/a-landscape-of-safety/ https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2020/08/30/a-landscape-of-safety/#respond Sun, 30 Aug 2020 21:05:24 +0000 https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/?p=7178 The post A Landscape of Safety appeared first on The Perfumed Void.

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Spoken for Dykes Gone Digital, the digital version of Ottawa’s yearly Dyke March.

It is hard to be here.

It is easy to look at a map and see coastlines, rivers, mountains, valleys, forests, deserts, and cities. Entire worlds are built on that, geography defining history and setting culture in motion. We are who we are in part because we are where we are, and where we have been.

But I invite us to look at our maps and see something else. I invite us to look at them and see a gradient of danger warping around those deltas and oases. Some places are safe, others are not, and there is a landscape of horror and relief draped across the one of earth and sky.

I myself have had the tremendous fortune of traversing that landscape. This July, I celebrate my third year as a permanent resident of Canada, and this August, I celebrate my twelfth year living here in Ottawa. In that time, I have established myself as an independent adult, lived, loved, transitioned, and done dozens of other things that the long shadow of my former home did not allow. With any luck, I will carry Canadian citizenship before too long. Before any of that, I lived in the United States. That statement used to make a rather anodyne impression, but it did not feel that way to me. Even then I knew that I was standing in a local nadir, and there was a higher peak on the safety landscape for me to reach. These days, people rightly recognize that I did not so much migrate as escape.

I want that for others.

I was lucky. Canada’s jealous enforcement of its border had enough gaps for me to attain that safety. My passage was easier than many others’ because of where I came from and what I look like and who facilitated my journey and the title I now carry. For too many others like me, people in far lower hells than the one I escaped, the ascent is far less simple. The standard of proof that aspiring refugees must attain to access this country’s safety is abominable and serves mainly to repel the most needful of us. Various policies recruit those whose safety needs are already met out of grotesque capitalist notions of “utility,” and reject those who do not seem likely cogs for Canada’s machine. I was lucky that my recognition of myself as autistic is my mere unprofessional judgement and not a doctor’s writ, or else I, too, might have been cast aside.

For this country to even pretend to meet its own professions of multicultural inclusion and its own image as a haven for people like us, around the world, persecuted for who we love and who we are, Canada must do better.

I want for others better than what I received.

There is no excuse for a country as boundlessly wealthy as Canada to spend the pittance it does on LGBTQ2S+ refugee services. There is even less excuse for the far larger sum spent on the border that keeps us out, and the clerks whose job is almost entirely to look for reasons to deny our entry. Imagine having to penetrate that kind of bureaucracy while living on borrowed time. Imagine making that attempt while working through interpreters, with no way to judge whether one is being relayed accurately. Imagine trying to get one’s message across a cultural divide, to arbiters who have no incentive to truly understand one’s situation, on pain of death. We have an immigration system so pointlessly hostile and expensive that nonprofits and volunteer groups form to make it navigable to those it is ostensibly designed to serve. They call us perverts, but I think there is little more perverse than that.

I have seen others like me, fleeing far greater dangers than I ever faced, blossom after they arrived, finally becoming themselves when, at long last, they could know safety. I shudder to imagine the dozens of others who could not penetrate the bureaucratic maze, that this country deemed unworthy, lights extinguished far too soon.

It should not be up to Rainbow Road volunteers to ease these journeys. The grand apparatus of civilization is worth nothing if its resources are not deployed to lift those of us who need lifting, and few need it more than those of us fleeing this kind of oppression.

And it should not be okay with us how much migrants have to endure even after they arrive. My path was easier than most, but I had to plan around the end of my schooling and my relationships because the very idea that I could want to stay seemed alien to this country’s laws. Getting my bank account took special effort because many kinds are not available to people with temporary status. I spent a year avoiding any contact with the medical system because provincial health plans do not apply to people with temporary status. This obscenity affected my transition timeline. The day of my permanent residency was a relief as much because it finally meant I could attend to my health in earnest as because it meant that I could, at last, know that the life I built here would not have to be dismantled on short notice.

It is, similarly, beyond offensive how little it takes for people with temporary status to be sent back to the hells they left behind. The fact that Canada is willing to deport people for any reason at all, let alone for petty crimes, is a black mark on its record from which it will never truly recover. The fact that having built a life here and having nothing to go back to in one’s place of origin is not enough to make deportation unthinkable is sickening, harrowing, enraging. Even now, there are professions I cannot undertake or else my permanent residency, expensive and slow and difficult as it was to acquire, would be called into question. I will soon swear an oath this country does not expect its born citizens to uphold for the privilege of having this country’s seal on a passport. It is only recently that people on spousal sponsorships stopped being required, on pain of losing their residency, to cohabitate with their spouses for at least one year after gaining it, even if those spouses turned out to be abusive.

These are norms we should question. These are institutions that should change. This expectation that immigrants, whatever path they take to become Canadians, must exceed in merit and effort those lucky enough to have been born on this side of those arbitrary map lines is not something that passes any ethical test.

If this gruesome project of a place is ever to redeem itself, one of the steps it must take is to level these obstacles and open its doors. If there is one thing the landscape of safety does not need, it is walls.

And if there is one thing I need, it is to know that people will look back on the difficulty of my own accession into Canada, let alone the stories I have heard about the refugee pathway itself, as aberrations from a less compassionate time, before this country truly understood what it means to be human.

 

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