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Excerpt

DRAFT
Tal
Drinking the Kool-Aid

I found this drawing I made when I was six. The unintentionally abstract illustration is of a long, sparkling red convertible under a somehow dripping Hollywood sign in the distance. Beside the car, a tall, thin, flowing haired young woman leans against the shimmering hood while her other hand holds a cell phone to her ear. At the top of the crumpled piece of construction paper it says, “Hayley, 21-years-old.”

I turned twenty-six a few weeks ago.

I don’t have a convertible. I tossed a Honda Civic rental onto my buckling Visa and my cell phone barely works in the US.

I’ve been in L.A. for forty-four days. Tal’s company put me up in this sketchy basement apartment in the heart of Hollywood. If I didn’t live underground, I bet I could see the sign from my window.

I pushed all the cheap furniture up against the poorly painted walls in the living room and have been devoting two hours every morning to P90X. I’m dedicated to at least appearing as though I’ve made it and that starts with a rigorous workout regimen. The goal is to have at least a few people say they are worried about me when I go home to Winnipeg for Christmas.

I moved to L.A. to meet Tal, to work with him; he’s this charming, vibrant, extraordinary writer. He’s kind of my new favorite person. He’s funny and tall and dark and takes up all the space in every room and I am convinced that if he thinks I can make it, I can. It looks like he is going to sponsor my 01 Visa. I’m signing to his production team and kind of officially moving here. He has a two-bedroom apartment in NoHo and he’s moving me into the second room later today.

The last two months have consisted of driving to the studio every morning at 8:00 a.m. and spending four hours in Tal’s vocal booth alone before getting booted into the tiny, florescent-lit storage space in the back of the building. I sit at a tiny desk beside a horrendous neon mural and wait for him to pop his head out of his room, perhaps offering me an opportunity to write something with him.

It’s felt like a sort of long-winded audition and I think I’m doing well.

He dips into my little incubator every few hours to see if I’ve written a hit or to say, “Come on. We’re walking to the grocery store.”

He makes me laugh while casually lecturing me about songwriting and the industry and who to trust, then he buys a watermelon, a pound of cold cuts, and a bag of almonds and we walk back together. And he trusts me. He tells me about the two women he’s in love with, the two women he’s in relationships with, how torn he is, how he doesn’t know what to do. They don’t know about each other and that doesn’t make me think less of him. I feel welcomed into his inner circle. I feel like his confidant and friend. I see him as a struggling man and I’m glad he has me to talk to.

We drop the food in the fridge then I watch him play basketball alone outside with his shirt off for half an hour before we get back to work.

I think living with him will be fun. I’ll get rid of my rental and commute to the studio with him from now on. He’s kind of my new favorite person and he understands that I don’t have money and can’t really make any as a “tourist” so he feeds me and takes care of me in a way that makes me feel like I’ve found a little home out here.

It’s just the two of us in the building today. It’s a long weekend and most of the producers are with their families. I’m walking to the bathroom again though I don’t need to use it. I don’t really feel like writing but I need to show Tal that I am dedicated. Taking multiple bathroom breaks somehow makes me feel like I must seem productive. Like, these pee breaks are the result of hard work and perseverance.

I can’t find him. I think he’s in the little studio at the front of the building.

I knock. He says, “Come in. I wanna play you a new song.” He opens his computer and now we’re both staring at a girl with long black hair getting fucked from behind while she sucks off some Tarzan looking dude in front of her.

Tal leaves the screen open long enough for the man in her mouth to finish on her rosy pink cheeks and lips, sealing her eyes shut like he’s planning to make her a Papier-mâché mask.

Tal says, “Oh shit. That’s embarrassing” and closes his computer then pulls out a guitar to play the song live.

He sings with his whole heart. He’s emotional and generous with the intimacy of this performance. It feels like an invitation into his private self. We just sort of casually move past the accidental porn mishap though I guess I know what he likes now. And he knows that I know what he likes now. It feels like this weird little shared moment just brought us closer actually. Like walking in on somebody masturbating, you can’t unsee it, you can only decide together to pretend like you didn’t, or at the very least, pretend it didn’t leave a totally indelible imprint.

We’re gonna go get dinner then I’ll clear my stuff out and move into his place later tonight.

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Alone: A Love Story
Excerpt

Chapter One: Falling
LOSS

So, here I am on the edge of thirty-nine. Petulant, drunk, and obsessed with a charming but frustrating man in a white shirt and perfect jeans. I‘m taking my one-millionth fancy cocktail, and stumbling down a hallway to go see a tarot card reader. My friends all rolled their eyes, but I like the idea of someone telling me who I am and what my path is based on randomly turned up cards. Because seriously? Fucked if I know these days.

The Man with the White Shirt is mingling so excellently and effortlessly with my friends. His smile and those dark eyes and that body in those jeans —God, it hurts to look at him too long. He‘s so handsome I can hardly stand it sometimes, and whenever he‘s around everything softens in me. Usually. Tonight I‘m all edges. I‘m being a bit rude to him even. I‘ll tell you why later, stick with me.

Right now, I‘m stumbling down the hallway to see the tarot card reader. She‘s, like, twenty-five, max, and drinking a gigantic glass of red wine. She locks the door and it‘s quiet and all fortune teller-y in this closet we‘re in. I‘m drinking my strong fancy French cocktail as she shuffles the cards and thinking about how this is going to be such bullshit, but it‘s my birthday so fun! fun! And then she turns over the first card.

LOSS. It says loss.

More cards come and it‘s like they are shouting at me. FEAR. FUTILITY. What. The. Fuck.

They may as well say Your husband cheated on you and Now you think no one can love you.

“You used to know exactly who you were,” she says. “You were stable, confident. But now you have a veil of uncertainty over you. That‘s because you‘re being tested. To help you figure out how you say yes to things, and how you say no.”

Whoa. How I say yes to things, how I say no. Not if. How. It‘s as if she‘s telling me I have choices. Some control over my life. I know that probably seems obvious to you, but right now? In this year? In this bar? This is news. This bullshit card reading has suddenly become really fucking real.

I return to my friends and try to be cheerful. White Shirt is there to greet me, all gorgeous and sweet. He‘s searching my eyes for a sign, but I just say, “It was fun! She said freaky things!” Inside I think, Fuck, why can‘t this real thing he says he feels for me be real enough?

I wake up the next morning in his bed, my head bashed in by booze I don‘t even know the name of. My veins filled with lead instead of blood. Hungover. Massively. It‘s my thirty-ninth birthday. I look at White Shirt as he lies sleeping, and I already feel far away. How did I get here? I used to be married, for God‘s sake! What happened to my life, to love?

I wonder this all the time now.

Y2K

It‘s 1999. I‘m twenty-four years old and living an artsy city-girl‘s life. I work all day in public radio and spend my free time in used bookstores and going to see bands. Every Wednesday night you‘ll find me and my friends here in this bar, before we head out to a well-known dive for dancing. They all drink and party and stay in school forever, but not me. I rarely drink, and certainly don‘t drink to get drunk. I‘m not being pious, I just love to experience life, and I feel like I‘d be missing out if I put a filter on it.

I also, with every part of me, love love. I mean, I love it! Being in love and falling in love and writing about love and singing about it and living it. I‘ve had one boyfriend after another since I was fifteen years old. All long, committed relationships. I haven‘t slept in a bed alone in years. Relationships are everything to me; I know no other way. I just love to get lost in another person, to learn everything about what interests them, to see what they see and feel what they feel.

And that‘s how it is with my boyfriend right now. We‘ve been together since I was nineteen. He‘s a musician, and four years older than me, and so intelligent and mystical that, probably out of youth or just abject insecurity, I defer to him on just about everything. I think he‘s so much better than me —he‘s read every book, he knows every song, he‘s knowledgeable on all subjects, every topic imaginable. He‘s an atheist, and a passionate altruist. He‘s a vegetarian, so of course now I am too. He‘s a devoted boyfriend, a real partner; we are honest and expressive and artistically inspired by one another. We have matching tattoos, because it‘s the nineties. It‘s been a perfect, symbiotic relationship. We say we‘ll be together forever.

But lately, things are different. The Musician has been talking about us having an open relationship. Like, open open. He thinks we‘re mature enough and secure enough to handle sleeping with other people while still maintaining our committed bond. I‘m less sure —a big part of me feels like true love doesn‘t want to be shared. But that seems old fashioned so I start to entertain the thought. Could I really do something like that?

The only guy I find even remotely interesting is this weird, brooding graduate student. A friend of a friend, who always seems to be around but doesn‘t exactly fit in. He‘s completely different than all the downtown artsy guys I know. A small-town boy, a scientist, here in the big city doing his master‘s degree. We‘ve never really talked, but I find him kind of cute. He‘s tall, with awful glasses and the worst long hair. But there‘s something about him. I kinda like that he gives zero fucks about what anyone thinks of him.

The Scientist drinks three pints of beer to every regular guy‘s one. He whistles to get the waitress‘s attention, which we all find mortifying. He sits with us, but doesn‘t really talk to anybody. He hasn‘t seen the latest Thomas Vinterberg film. I don‘t even think he reads books! You can tell he thinks we‘re all a bunch of big-city snobs, which of course we totally are. But he likes Top-40 music. And watches football. The Musician can‘t stand him, but I have been completely awakened from my elitist stupor by his very presence.

On this Wednesday in the bar, The Musician is holding court as he always does, orating on some political issue or another with everyone‘s rapt attention. Bored, I look across the table and find The Scientist just staring at me, his arched eyebrow indicating he thinks my boyfriend is a blowhard and also that he knows that deep down I agree. And so I smirk at him, and he smirks back, and this is all it takes for us to fall in love.

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Alone
Excerpt

Chapter One: Falling
LOSS

So, here I am on the edge of thirty-nine. Petulant, drunk, and obsessed with a charming but frustrating man in a white shirt and perfect jeans. I‘m taking my one-millionth fancy cocktail, and stumbling down a hallway to go see a tarot card reader. My friends all rolled their eyes, but I like the idea of someone telling me who I am and what my path is based on randomly turned up cards. Because seriously? Fucked if I know these days.

The Man with the White Shirt is mingling so excellently and effortlessly with my friends. His smile and those dark eyes and that body in those jeans —God, it hurts to look at him too long. He‘s so handsome I can hardly stand it sometimes, and whenever he‘s around everything softens in me. Usually. Tonight I‘m all edges. I‘m being a bit rude to him even. I‘ll tell you why later, stick with me.

Right now, I‘m stumbling down the hallway to see the tarot card reader. She‘s, like, twenty-five, max, and drinking a gigantic glass of red wine. She locks the door and it‘s quiet and all fortune teller-y in this closet we‘re in. I‘m drinking my strong fancy French cocktail as she shuffles the cards and thinking about how this is going to be such bullshit, but it‘s my birthday so fun! fun! And then she turns over the first card.

LOSS. It says loss.

More cards come and it‘s like they are shouting at me. FEAR. FUTILITY. What. The. Fuck.

They may as well say Your husband cheated on you and Now you think no one can love you.

“You used to know exactly who you were,” she says. “You were stable, confident. But now you have a veil of uncertainty over you. That‘s because you‘re being tested. To help you figure out how you say yes to things, and how you say no.”

Whoa. How I say yes to things, how I say no. Not if. How. It‘s as if she‘s telling me I have choices. Some control over my life. I know that probably seems obvious to you, but right now? In this year? In this bar? This is news. This bullshit card reading has suddenly become really fucking real.

I return to my friends and try to be cheerful. White Shirt is there to greet me, all gorgeous and sweet. He‘s searching my eyes for a sign, but I just say, “It was fun! She said freaky things!” Inside I think, Fuck, why can‘t this real thing he says he feels for me be real enough?

I wake up the next morning in his bed, my head bashed in by booze I don‘t even know the name of. My veins filled with lead instead of blood. Hungover. Massively. It‘s my thirty-ninth birthday. I look at White Shirt as he lies sleeping, and I already feel far away. How did I get here? I used to be married, for God‘s sake! What happened to my life, to love?

I wonder this all the time now.

Y2K

It‘s 1999. I‘m twenty-four years old and living an artsy city-girl‘s life. I work all day in public radio and spend my free time in used bookstores and going to see bands. Every Wednesday night you‘ll find me and my friends here in this bar, before we head out to a well-known dive for dancing. They all drink and party and stay in school forever, but not me. I rarely drink, and certainly don‘t drink to get drunk. I‘m not being pious, I just love to experience life, and I feel like I‘d be missing out if I put a filter on it.

I also, with every part of me, love love. I mean, I love it! Being in love and falling in love and writing about love and singing about it and living it. I‘ve had one boyfriend after another since I was fifteen years old. All long, committed relationships. I haven‘t slept in a bed alone in years. Relationships are everything to me; I know no other way. I just love to get lost in another person, to learn everything about what interests them, to see what they see and feel what they feel.

And that‘s how it is with my boyfriend right now. We‘ve been together since I was nineteen. He‘s a musician, and four years older than me, and so intelligent and mystical that, probably out of youth or just abject insecurity, I defer to him on just about everything. I think he‘s so much better than me —he‘s read every book, he knows every song, he‘s knowledgeable on all subjects, every topic imaginable. He‘s an atheist, and a passionate altruist. He‘s a vegetarian, so of course now I am too. He‘s a devoted boyfriend, a real partner; we are honest and expressive and artistically inspired by one another. We have matching tattoos, because it‘s the nineties. It‘s been a perfect, symbiotic relationship. We say we‘ll be together forever.

But lately, things are different. The Musician has been talking about us having an open relationship. Like, open open. He thinks we‘re mature enough and secure enough to handle sleeping with other people while still maintaining our committed bond. I‘m less sure —a big part of me feels like true love doesn‘t want to be shared. But that seems old fashioned so I start to entertain the thought. Could I really do something like that?

The only guy I find even remotely interesting is this weird, brooding graduate student. A friend of a friend, who always seems to be around but doesn‘t exactly fit in. He‘s completely different than all the downtown artsy guys I know. A small-town boy, a scientist, here in the big city doing his master‘s degree. We‘ve never really talked, but I find him kind of cute. He‘s tall, with awful glasses and the worst long hair. But there‘s something about him. I kinda like that he gives zero fucks about what anyone thinks of him.

The Scientist drinks three pints of beer to every regular guy‘s one. He whistles to get the waitress‘s attention, which we all find mortifying. He sits with us, but doesn‘t really talk to anybody. He hasn‘t seen the latest Thomas Vinterberg film. I don‘t even think he reads books! You can tell he thinks we‘re all a bunch of big-city snobs, which of course we totally are. But he likes Top-40 music. And watches football. The Musician can‘t stand him, but I have been completely awakened from my elitist stupor by his very presence.

On this Wednesday in the bar, The Musician is holding court as he always does, orating on some political issue or another with everyone‘s rapt attention. Bored, I look across the table and find The Scientist just staring at me, his arched eyebrow indicating he thinks my boyfriend is a blowhard and also that he knows that deep down I agree. And so I smirk at him, and he smirks back, and this is all it takes for us to fall in love.

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They Said This Would Be Fun
Excerpt

Introduction

As I launched out the window of an inflatable bouncy castle, into the warm autumn air and then the mud below, the only thought undiluted by copious amounts of alcohol was: This is what freedom feels like.

It was Saturday, the last night of Orientation Week, and hundreds of first-years were coming together to celebrate on University College Hill, a giant grassy quad on campus. Western University was known for having the most epic frosh week in Canada, especially on the last night, when a B-list Canadian band always played. This year, it was Down With Webster. Sex with Sue, the infamous old lady who we watched after-hours on tv while our parents slept, would show us how to put on condoms, and loud music would play all night alongside carnival games, corporate sponsors and their free grub, and bouncy castles.

A week ago, I had been sobbing in the basement of the house where I grew up, clutching my high school boyfriend’s tear- and snot-stained shirt and cursing myself for thinking I could handle moving away from home. I cried the whole way to London, past the small cities I had never heard of and the luscious Green Belt. I cried as I walked up to my new room in Medway-Sydenham Hall and looked at the small space, crammed with two twin beds and two desks, that my best friend Taz and I would be sharing. I cried as I unpacked boxes, as I put my mattress protector on, as I wiped down empty drawers, as I unloaded my underwear from the vacuum-sealed bag and folded them neatly. I cried as I closed the drawer. I cried when I realized there were no other brown-skinned girls on our floor besides us. I cried so much that my floormates and their parents were calling me “the crying girl.”

The welcome package had given us tips on how to pack, but it didn’t specify how much we needed to bring. My family didn’t know either—I was the first and only one to go to a Canadian university—so I brought every bra I owned, every spare sock, pair of shoes, and picture frame from my bedroom. It took twice as many sophs, the volunteer students who help first-years adjust to student life, to haul my stuff up to the third floor and make it fit into the shared fifteen-by-twelve-foot space. At one point, they lost the bag full of my pants and I was inconsolable, thinking that I’d have to walk around pantless because nobody would sell fashionable bottoms in a place nicknamed “Forest City.”

When I had told people back home that I was going to Western in the fall, they had similar comments: It’s the best school. It’s a party school. It’s a white school—why would you go there? Their eyes widened and they’d lean in, whispering as if they were afraid of someone hearing, and say that London was notoriously white, Christian, and conservative. They told me cautionary tales of family and friends transferring out of the school after years of microaggressions and racial harassment on and off campus. “Don’t worry though,” they’d say with a smile. “You’ll have fun.”

It had never occurred to me that other cities in Ontario wouldn’t be as welcoming as the one where I’d grown up. In Toronto, there was always a mix of various ethnicities—Chinese, German, Filipino, Trinidadian, Somali, Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Jamaican, Guyanese. You can find numerous types of cuisine, schools, and places of worship on any given block. All around, people look like you and look unlike you and it’s nothing to fuss about.

But listening to people’s concerns, it was like I had chosen the Alabama of Canada to spend the next few years of my life in. It wasn’t that my hometown was exempt from racism—I knew which department stores would send their white employees following after me like a criminal, and I understood the intentions of the police when my peers would get stopped on their way home from playing basketball. But I was sheltered; I hadn’t gotten a complete picture of what it meant to be a Black girl at home before I left to become a Black woman in London. I wondered if I could form my own identity surrounded by white kids wearing Hunter boots and Canada Goose jackets. I worried I could be alienated for being “too Black.” I was even more worried about losing myself and being called “too white” when I got back home.

But people in London were friendly. They smiled as you passed by. Strangers said good morning. Everyone talked to me—the women in line at the grocery store; the people sitting next to me at a restaurant; the students also waiting an unacceptably long time for the bus. But many of our conversations ended up diverting into race. We don’t get a lot of Black people here. London has become very progressive in the last few years. My God, Black people are just so funny. Where are you from? No, no no, like where did you originally come from? Ethiopia? Kenya? Zimbabwe? Africa? As the months and years went on, these seemingly innocuous comments became more ignorant, and at times, malicious.

From the ages of eighteen to twenty-two, I learned more about what someone like me brought out in other people than about who I was. I didn’t even get a chance to know myself before I had to fight for myself.

In the four years I spent in London, Ontario, for my undergraduate degree, I was called Ebony, Dark Chocolate, Shaniqua, Ma, and Boo. I encountered Blackface on Halloween and was told to go back to my country on several occasions. I was humiliated by guys shouting, “Look at that black ass!” as I walked down a busy street. I was an ethnic conquest for curious white men, and the token Black friend for white women. I was called a Black bitch and a nigger. I was asked by white friends desperately trying to rap every song off Yeezus if it was okay to use nigga around me. I was verbally assaulted and came close to being physically attacked by angry men. I came face-to-face with a white supremacist. I was asked if I spoke English and whether I was adjusting to Canadian winters. When I told people I was born in Canada, they’d impatiently badger me with, “But where are you really from?”

These encounters were about how I was perceived, not who I actually was—someone always in between worlds: a Canadian-born girl with two immigrant parents; a multiracial woman with Black features in a family of brown people; a daughter raised by a working-class mother and middle-class grandparents; the only baby born out of wedlock in a family all conceived after marriage; an only child with at least seven half-siblings; an astrology-lover born right on the cusp of Taurus and Gemini.

I have lived in the squishy middle all my life, at the margins of binaries—an experience that has made me as independent as I am lonely.

I felt trapped by these categories, whose walls felt so high that I might never get out. I wondered what kind of person I was outside those confines, and university seemed like a good place to start solidifying the pieces of myself that I felt I couldn’t explore back home.

A few things did solidify about my identity while I was there: I was Black, I was a woman, and I was out of place. I didn’t identify as Black until I got to London. This is common among people who come to Canada from countries with diverse ethnic communities, or who grew up in a mixed family where identity wasn’t discussed. I wasn’t ignorant to my own appearance; I definitely didn’t pass as white, and there was no way I looked brown. At home, being a racial minority meant you belonged somewhere. In London, it was a marker of exclusion and difference, and you were squeezed into a category—Black, White, Asian, Brown—that became a way to navigate and survive the environment.

My maternal grandparents, who raised me for the first half of my life, faced racism themselves when they arrived in Toronto from Karachi, Pakistan, in the early 1970s. But they didn’t know what to make of my claims of anti-Black racism. We never spoke about my father, a Jamaican man, who was absent, or what his ethnicity meant for my own identity. My family was shocked to hear me call myself Black, and even more shocked at the stories I told, despite police-reported hate crimes across the country soaring the year before I went to Western, and London having one of the highest rates of all Ontario metropolises. It was 2010, and we were only starting to get to a place where advocacy journalism and personal essays extensively covered these problems. Modern Black writers like Ta-Nehisi Coates, Roxane Gay, Kiese Laymon, Morgan Jerkins, Reni Eddo-Lodge, and Ijeoma Oluohad yet to get the recognition they deserved—or even to write their stories. I had few examples to prove racism was a common occurrence and not an isolated experience.

My family thought that perhaps I was exaggerating. That I had developed a new, somewhat militant eye for race issues. Plus, I was so angry these days—maybe my irritability, they gently offered, was causing me to misunderstand people’s intentions.

Of course I was angry. Instead of focusing on classes and adjusting to my new life as a student, everything had become about the skin I was in. I became a survivor of both inter-partner violence and sexual assault, and had to fight stereotypes about not being the perfect victim. Anger and fear were so etched in my body that I often felt I had no control over myself. Why could people take their anger out on me, but mine was irrational?

I internalized people’s doubts about my experiences. I grew stressed, anxious, and depressed, coping with food, alcohol, and partying. In public, I devised exit plans in case I was harassed. Everywhere I went, even in my own home, I felt a constant, electrifying pressure in the air, as if violence could erupt at any moment.

I kept a record of all the instances where I had been the target of discrimination, harassment, and microaggressions, scribbling them down on pieces of paper—notes to myself, away to make sense of what was happening. At school, I naturally gravitated towards students of colour who were having similar experiences. Some couldn’t make it, even with our support system, and they dropped out or transferred schools. I decided to stay, weighing up the discomforts of starting over someplace new and the discomfort I was already familiar with. I accepted the emotional cost of this decision.

The year after I graduated from Western, I wrote a reported personal essay for Vice Canada, titled “London, Ontario, Was a Racist Asshole to Me.” I interviewed current students, city councillors and locals. The essay sparked heated discussions in homes, in city council, and in universities, and is still a point of reference for media when discussing race-related issues such as carding, the illegal police procedure of randomly stopping people of colour and collecting information.

I received hundreds of messages from people who read the article. Londoners promised to be better allies. People who had witnessed the racial harassment of friends asked for advice on how to intervene. Older folks recalled their experiences from decades ago, saying things hadn’t changed. People of colour of all ages and backgrounds shared their own stories.

Londoners confessed secrets about the tricks their bosses used to keep Black people out of their establishments. Women and LGBTQ2S+ people told me about their own horrible experiences, from verbal slurs to physical assault, especially in nightclubs. Former residents of London told me they’d left because the racism was so bad. Current inhabitants told me that they were afraid for their lives.

Most of all, students attending other post-secondary schools in Canada shared their experiences and concerns, many of which mirrored my own. And high school students messaged me, worried about which colleges and universities were racially tolerant. In the years following the article’s publication, I’ve met students of colour around the world who’ve told me stories of the racism and isolation they experienced while attending university in the U.K., Australia, and the U.S.

To be clear, this isn’t just a Western University problem. Here in Canada, we have nearly one hundred universities and even more colleges, and yet there’s no evidence that we collect race-based data on students, so it’s impossible to know how many are visible minorities and what their needs and challenges are. There is also no unified, formal policy across schools on dealing with racism. Many students don’t report incidents because they fear they won’t be believed.

When our experiences are treated like they don’t matter, we learn to deal with them ourselves, especially when the institutions where we spend the first years of adulthood aren’t equipped to support us. But young people in post-secondary institutions today are up against a host of serious, life-changing issues. 

In Canada, university-age young women face the highest rates of sexual assault and inter-partner violence in the country, and are stalked, cyberstalked, and harassed more than any other age group. Carding disproportionately affects young Black and Indigenous men. Young people living with a shaky socio-economic status are pressured to get a degree, and both have been linked to an increase in mental health issues. Racism and discrimination have devastating physical and mental health effects on students, which is linked to poor academic performance and dropout rates. And we are experiencing all of this while navigating the school system. Before our brains have even finished developing. Before we even get to know who we are.

So yes, our experiences matter. This shit is actually happening right now to our young people.

On top of all that, students of colour are living and studying during a time when the far right is using universities to its own advantage. Endless stories have made the news: white pride groups putting out pro-white flyers on campuses; white nationalists using university spaces to spew anti-immigration, anti-LGBTQ2S+, anti-woman hate under the guise of free speech; hate groups trying to convert young, angry men into joining their cause. All this coverage highlights white supremacy, not the students living under it.

We promise students that university will be the time of their lives, that they will come to know themselves, that it will be fun. But for many of us, the whole university experience—the independence, parties, exploration, sex, wild nights—may not be possible. Not when we may deal with racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and assault—physical and sexual—from our peers and people around us. This perceived utopia can also be unbearable and unsafe. 

I wrote this book to bring attention to what is happening inside our schools. For years, I’ve collected these moments, trying to find the right format—a play, a blog, a novel—but nothing seemed more fitting than a memoir. I’ve used my own experiences, as well as examples from across Canadian universities, to illustrate that this is a nationwide issue that demands attention.

Thanks to the generosity and selflessness of my grandfather, I’ve had the privilege of going to university, an opportunity and luxury I know many do not have. I hope to put this privilege to good use here, by illuminating the not-so-secretlives of university students: the messy, complicated, exciting but harrowing experience of what it’s like to be a student and woman of colour today.

Nothing in this book is sugar-coated for you. It’s raw. It’s glaring. It’s imperfect, as is real life. I did not make all the right decisions, or all the smart ones, and I’ve made peace with that. I have done my absolute best to recall everything as accurately as I can. At times, this book is distressing, and at other times you will laugh. Some events may bring back painful memories of your own.

I have chosen not to hold back because, for so long, young people have been infantilized and shamed for talking about the things that affect us. We’re told we haven’t worked long enough, lived long enough, been through enough to have our own pain validated. I hope this book will be an urgent reminder that dismissing the experiences of young people today will have serious, permanent implications for our entire society.

Finally, this book is for anyone, past or present, who has struggled to make sense of their post-secondary experiences. For those of you who feel alone and unheard. For those of you who want to learn more, and for those of you who courageously speak up and tell your stories, even in the face of denial and harassment. And this book is especially for those of you who came out at the other end, broken but not beat, resilient but still soft. 

I see you.

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The Game of Desire

The Game of Desire

5 Surprising Secrets to Dating with Dominance--and Getting What You Want
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