Cara Boyce: Rainbow Connection

Growing up, I never really understood the fascination with rainbows. Yes, it was cool that there were different colours in the sky but my mum had explained the science behind rainbows and it made perfect sense to me. Light enters a water droplet, slows down, bends from air to dense water, light reflects inside the droplet separating into component wavelengths that form into colours. Simple enough to understand. So why was everyone so interested in them? It wasn’t until I was 13 in an S2 physics class that I found out that rainbows have more than two colours. That there was more to rainbows than just blue and yellow. Obviously I knew the colours of the rainbow, learning ROYGBIV in primary school of course, but I never really made the connection that rainbows were supposed to look like that. I was nine years old when I found out why I didn’t see rainbows the same as everyone else.

In Primary Five, my teacher noticed that I was struggling to read certain things. I was smart but was getting really low marks in the classes weekly spelling tests and I struggled sometimes when reading, despite the fact that I loved to read and did so frequently. So my teacher suggested that I be tested for a number of different learning disabilities including dyslexia and colour blindness. It turns out I have both of them. Two very simple diagnoses that changed the rest of my life. My big brother was also tested, as these things are often genetic, and it turns out he is colourblind as well. We found out that we both had inherited red-green colourblindness, deuteranopia, from our dad. Along with that I had also inherited my dad’s dyslexia. I found out that it was pretty common for men to be colourblind however it’s quite rare in girls. 1 in 12 men are colourblind which is around 8% of the population. However only 1 in 200 women are colourblind which is only 0.5% of the population. This means that my diagnosis is very rare. At the time of my diagnosis my optometrist told me he only knew one other woman in Britain who was colourblind. Since I was diagnosed in 2013 I’ve met countless men who were colourblind but to this day I don’t know any other women with the same deficiency as me. While I do have my brother and dad to relate to, I’m quite isolated when it comes to day to day life. It’s difficult to relate to my male family, when they simply don’t experience being colourblind the same way I do.

Although colour blindness has obviously been around since the beginning of time, the very first scientific research of colour blindness was conducted in 1803 by John Dalton. Dalton himself was the first documentation of colour blindness in 1764. Dalton’s research stemmed from him and his brother both being colour blind. His suggestion was that there was a shortage in the colour perception due to discolouration of the liquid in the eyeball called aqueous humour. Dalton believed that the aqueous humour was bluish and therefore filled out all the colours. When John Dalton was alive he became a respected physicist and chemist. In his will he stated that there was to be an autopsy of his eyes after his death to determine if there was bluish in the human eye. Unfortunately there wasn’t any bluish liquid found, disproving his theory. Despite this he has become somewhat the father of colourblind research. Sometime after his death it was discovered that in the eye there are three types of cone cells and each type has a different sensitivity to light wavelengths. One type of cone perceives blue light, another green and the third and final perceive red. When looking at a colourful object light enters your eye and stimulates the cone cells. Your brain then interrupts the singles from the cone cells allowing you to see the colour. The red, green and blue cones all work together to allow you to see the whole spectrum of colours. For example, when the red and blue cones are stimulated in a certain way you will see the colour purple. However someone is colour blind when you don’t have one of these types of cone cells or they don’t work properly. In my case they don’t work properly. 

2.7 million people all over the world are colourblind. The red-green colourblindness is usually passed down from the parents, the genre responsible for this is carried on the X chromosome. The vast majority of those that are colourblind inherited the condition from their mother who is normally a ‘carrier’ but not colour blind herself. However if a woman is red-green colourblind then all her sons will be as well. Which means all my sons will be colourblind. 

Like most things related to being a woman I face an insane amount of discrimination because of my colour blindness. Although it might seem surprising, several people have told me that I am faking it. I’ve been told that women can’t be colourblind. That I am simply lying to get attention. I’ve been told that I am pretending just so I can get more ‘attention’ from teachers in school or from boys. When I mentioned this to my brother he told me no one has ever questioned his deficiency. People just accept that he is what he is saying. That he isn’t lying for attention. It’s heartbreaking when you are told that you love attention simply by asking someone if they know what colour something is, when in actual fact you just want help. Asking for help has always been incredibly difficult for me, particularly when it comes to colours. Asking someone at 17 what colour a pencil is gets you some strange looks. People look at me like I’m an idiot when I ask if I’m using a blue or purple pencil. Being someone who wears makeup I find it nearly impossible to find the correct colour. As I am so pale I’m able to just use the lightest shade of foundation or concealer and it works perfectly fine. But when it comes to eyeshadow and nail polishes. Well, I am completely lost. If you’ve ever owned or even looked at a nail polish bottle the ‘names’ of the colours are on the bottle. And believe me, they are insane. I own a nail polish called “Pillow Talk”. I could not figure out what colour this is but this is obviously blue. Obviously. The only way I am able to tell this is my mum. If i want to buy makeup I have to force my mum, who is the only person in my household that isn’t colourblind, to come shopping with me and get her to follow me around the shop and let me ask her what colour certain makeup colours are as I hold them up. On more than one occasion I have turned round and am showing eye shadow thin air. I am then required to walk around aimlessly looking for her. It is so incredibly frustrating not being able to choose things without someone else’s help, it forces me to rely on people and even if it is my mum it is extremely discouraging. 

With three colour blinds under one roof there’s always something entertaining going on. We all loved to follow my mum around asking her what colour things are. However, when she leaves us home alone, we fall into a slight disorder. Three years ago my dad and I were left home alone and we made lunch. Just some simple schnitzel from Costco. After 30 minutes in the oven we checked to see if it was cooked. It seemed like it was fully cooked but we still don’t know if it was cooked or not. It seemed hot enough but we couldn’t quite tell, even when it was cut open we didn’t know. With mum being out and i being braver than my dad i tested it out. The texture seemed fine and it tasted fine and was hot enough. So we dug in. When my mum came home she saw the leftover chicken we hadn’t eaten and freaked out. Apparently it was pink. Almost entirely pink and raw. Miraculously we were not ill. There was only one other time when I ate somewhat raw (according to my mum) chicken and I was quite ill that time. This is so incredibly frustrating not being able to cook alone without fear of accidentally poisoning myself. My mum teased us about this for weeks. My dad and I are quite an iconic duo when it comes to being colourblind. When I was 15 I decided that I wanted to repaint my room all by myself so we went off to B&Q and came home with a yellow and paint called ‘cornfield white’. It wasn’t until i put it on my walls my mum realised that the colours were not yellow and white but in fact were yellow and BLUE. The cornfield ‘white’ was really cornfield blue. How stupid is that? So I’ve been relentlessly teased by my family and friends over our unfortunate colour mix up. Thankfully blue and yellow pair nicely together.

While being colourblind can seem like a source of entertainment and jokes, there are surprising difficulties, small things that in the grand scheme of things greatly affect me every single day. One thing that might not seem so serious is my difficulty distinguishing between red and brown. Unless it’s a bright bright red I can’t really tell the difference. One of the most frustrating things is not being able to tell what’s happening in my own body. On more than one occasion I’ve been brushing my teeth when I spit red or brown. I can never tell if it’s simply chocolate or coffee or blood. I know it doesn’t seem like a big thing but it’s terrifying to not know what’s going on in my own body, not being able to figure out if your gums are bleeding simply because of your eyesight. However, by far the worst thing about my colourblindness is my inability to read red. Mixed with my dyslexia I find it nearly impossible to focus on any letter in the colour red. My dad however does not have this, despite our colour blindness being almost identical there are still some differences in the way the cone in my eye is shaped. This means that red is completely off the table. Because of my dyslexia every word moves but in red it’s the worst thing in the world. Even if I try to focus on them I end up straining my eyes and getting a splitting headache for the rest of the day. School is especially hard, with teachers making almost entirely in red and writing on the board in red to spice up their work and make it more engaging for everyone else but me. So the easiest thing for me to do is just tell my teachers at the start of the year that I cannot read red. However, teachers teach plenty of classes a year so it makes sense that they might forget. But, for two years straight, every single day I had to tell my maths teacher that I couldn’t read red and every single day she would huff and puff as if it was my fault. To top it all off, at the end of the year she gave me a supposedly very nice card that I couldn’t read as she had written it in red. How thoughtful of her. Still this has made for some very fun birthday cards, my friends LOVE to write in red or dark pink pens. 

My colour blindness has always been and always will be a big part of who I am. It is how I see the world and how I communicate with those around me. Not only that but it connects me to my brother and dad in a biological way but it has also brought me closer to the both of them as we relate; with the issues we’ve navigated, silly things people say to us when we tell then we’re colourblind and knowing that the three of us see the world the exact same way. Because of this minor disability we all have a strong connection with each other and with the world around us. Being colourblind can be a challenge. But I am glad I have my brother and dad to help me through it even if they can’t help me choose the right paint colour.

Olivia Ritchie: Talking to Someone: A Cliché That Works

When reflecting on our lives to better know who we are, we see the moment, or moments, that changed or shaped us; and the people who had the biggest effect on us whether that be for the better or the worse.

I was chosen to be a leader for a school retreat and doing this has been the most rewarding thing in my life as it enabled me to break through my barriers and talk to someone. As a leader, you have to give a talk to everyone about a certain topic. As I stood in front of a room, of relative strangers and told them things my best friend and my mum don’t even know, I was the most nervous I had ever been. Those who know me, know I like to talk a lot, but I don’t like talking about myself. Why would I dare to openly tell a sea of younger pupils things about me – things I had never said out loud before? Because in a few words: this experience saved my life. 

From a young age, I bottled up what I felt. I bottled up everything that was going on in my life, and my mind, and told no one. Until recently. It’s a long story as to how that happened and the journey, to me bettering myself through opening up to people I trust, is a long one. I’m going to tell you my story of how simply talking to a teacher that I trusted, not only made me feel more comfortable giving my retreat talk, but impacted me immensely, and I assume, will do for the rest of my life.

The things I’ve been through have shaped and affected me my whole life. There are numerous moments that all contributed to me not talking to people about what I was going through. So to fully understand why, sitting across from Mr Ferrie, in a surprisingly comfortable seat, in an office that wasn’t his, talking to him about my life, about things I’ve never told anyone and him listening, was such an impactful moment in my life. You need to first know the moments leading up to that. There is a moment in everyone’s life, most likely a few, where their spirituality has been shaken; where they’ve begun to question the world.

This moment for me didn’t come when, at 5 years old, my nan died but rather a few months later when my dad left me and my mum. Or I guess it’s more accurate to say that my mum kicked him out. I don’t remember much leading up to the day my dad left in a lot of detail. I remember my mum and dad fighting and looking back I must have known something was wrong because I remember on the day he left I wasn’t surprised. It felt like the day I had been dreading for months had finally come.

No matter how much time passed, or how unlikely it was, there was always a little part of me that hoped that they would make up and I could have that picture-perfect family that I had always seen in the movies and TV shows. But that’s unrealistic. Now that I’m older, I know that you don’t need two parents to be happy, you don’t need a dad or a father figure in your life to be complete or to be normal. But when I was a little girl, I didn’t know that. All I wanted was to have my dad. I simply wanted to have what all my friends had.

I know it’s a cliché, and people say all the time that when parents leave it’s not the kids’ fault, but when my dad left I felt like it was my fault. For the next two years, I hardly saw him and to this day I don’t know how much of that was my mum pushing him away or how much was him staying away. All I knew was that he was never there.

Society tells you that your parents are supposed to love you unconditionally and I couldn’t understand why my dad didn’t love me enough to stay. I concluded that it was because I wasn’t good enough. That thought, that I wasn’t good enough, followed me for the next ten years. My dad leaving hasn’t only affected my spirituality but it has affected every other relationship I have ever had. My dad then started a whole other family and I felt left behind. It was like if we were characters in A Christmas Carol he was Marley and I was the shackle weighing him down. On so many sleepless nights the same thought ran through my mind: if my dad can stay with his other family; if he can love and not leave his other kids, why couldn’t he do that for me? I spent every day after he left wondering what I did wrong because he was capable of staying, so it must’ve been me. The only logical explanation was that I must’ve been the problem.

When my dad got married I was around 8 and I wasn’t invited to the wedding, He never even told me they had gotten married. The way that I found out was that I saw their wedding photo on the mantelpiece in my nan’s house. I don’t know why I wasn’t invited. I don’t know if he was trying to protect me, or if it was easier for him, but whatever the reason was it will never be justification enough. He never once addressed it. I was eight years old. I wasn’t invited to my own dad’s wedding. So, no matter how logical the reason might have been, he never told me and at that age, all I was going to comprehend was the hurt.

I was beyond upset and angry at him, not only because of the wedding but for all the days he wasn’t there, all the times he didn’t show up. I struggled with self-worth issues and still do. They stem from my Dad and him leaving. So even though I was upset and angry with my dad, as I had a right to be, the main thing I felt was that it must’ve been my fault.

I spent about six years of my life desperately wanting and waiting for my dad to show up. Be the dad that I always wanted him to be. I spent so long watching the door to see if he’d come walking back through it and a little part of me always thought he’d come back, but he never did. After a while, I stopped waiting for my dad to show up and I started wanting anyone to. I had a hole in my life that my dad created which resulted in me searching for a father figure relentlessly. Like I said before after my dad left I constantly felt like I wasn’t good enough and that affected everything in my life after that. It affected my relationships with others and my relationship with myself. For most of my life, I’ve been so concerned with everyone liking me because I’m so paranoid that one day they will realise that they don’t like me and leave. Those abandonment issues clearly stem from my dad, but because I was desperate for everyone to like me, I would change who I was to become the version of myself I thought they’d like the best. I wore masks around everyone and different ones around different people. I had probably 10 distinct, different personalities that I would rotate between and after a while I didn’t know where the masks ended and I began. I didn’t know who I was anymore and I blamed what my dad did and what he didn’t do.

 At this point in my life, I didn’t believe in people anymore and I had no faith in the world or the future. I lost faith in other people when my dad left and over the next couple of years after that, I lost faith in myself. However, despite that, I still had faith that there was a higher power somewhere. I believed that God had a plan and eventually the scales would even out and all of the hard times would count towards something; it would all balance out and the good times were sure to come soon.

There come moments that make it hard to believe in a greater power, that makes it hard to be hopeful, to not be selfish and sometimes hard to forgive.

When I was 11, I came home one day and there was a letter from my nan saying to call her right away. So my mum did. At that moment I got that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach, where you just know, you don’t know how you know or really what it is that you know, but you just know something is wrong. I had that feeling in the pit of my stomach as my mum was on the phone with my nan. My mum then came in and told me that my dad had died.

The first thing I did was laugh because I thought it was a joke. In hindsight, if it was a joke, it’s a pretty bad one and to give my mum some credit she’s a little funnier than that. But in that first second, I laughed, because it didn’t feel real, but then the next second came and it hit me. It was real. I remember running out of the living room and into my bedroom. I sat on my bed. I was frozen for about 5 seconds and then I just burst into tears. My dad had been away on a business trip to Africa and he suffocated in his sleep. That was on Saturday. I found out on Sunday; the 19th of June 2016 – Father’s Day. My dad wasn’t sick, I didn’t have any kind of pre-warning, and I didn’t get to say goodbye.

The main thing I remember during that summer after my dad died was not that he was gone but that everyone around me changed; they changed how they treated me, what they said around me. They treated me like I was made of glass and because of that I felt isolated by the grief I was going through. That summer I was treated like a fragile Christmas decoration and shut away in my very own terrarium of grief. Left to grow but isolated from the rest of the world; made to watch everyone else through the thick pane of glass whilst they never even saw me. I was made to feel that grief is only supposed to be sadness and it’s not, because if it was there wouldn’t be another word for it. Grief is different for every single person. I was sad, I was distraught, but I wasn’t just sad. I was confused; I didn’t understand how, if there was a God, why he would take my dad when he was so young.

I was also angry. I had hated my dad for 6 years and that didn’t just go away because he died. In the last few months before he passed away, he had started to step up more, he had started beginning to be the dad I wanted him to be. He came to my primary 7 school show; he came to my interview for St Aloysius; they were moving house and he told me how I was going to get my own room. Things started to look like he might actually start finally being a Dad.

Then he died. He never got the chance to do the work for me to forgive him. I’ll never know if the months before my Dad died were just filled with the same empty promises he had given me all my life. What I do know is that I still was angry with him, but now he wasn’t here, and the only person I was hurting was myself. Despite the number of times he let me down, the number of promises he broke, no matter how many times he broke my heart, I still loved him. I wouldn’t show it because I felt like he didn’t love me. Not only do I not remember the last time I told my dad I loved him, but I can’t remember a single time. Likewise, I can’t remember a single time he told me. I remember that after my dad died people treated me like they were thinking, ‘She must be so sad because she doesn’t have a dad anymore’, but the truth is, I never felt like I had one. I had always gotten uncomfortable when a conversation switched to the topic of people’s dads; I had always only written Mum when writing school Christmas cards home; I had always only had one parental signature on consent forms. I never had a dad. So when he died I grieved, not just him, but more the possibility of what I could’ve had. I’ll never have a dad or a real father figure, and it took me a long time to come to terms with that and realise that it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with me. I thought that everyone would judge me if they knew I was still angry with him but I was just self-projecting because I felt guilty about still being angry. I’ve forgiven my dad now, not for him but for me. I had to let go of that hate and anger I had held in my heart since I was 5. He didn’t, and doesn’t, deserve it but I do.

Most of my problems opening up to people, and asking for help when I need it, are all tangled up in my Dad. I’ve had to go through a lot of self-reflection to be at this point. The point where I can identify the moments and people in my life that affect the way I am today.

I struggled with, and still do, self-loathing. I don’t know when it started but I know for definite that from 1st to 5th year, I hated myself. Everything there was about me that you could have an opinion on, I hated it. I hated how I looked, what I did, what I said, what I didn’t do, what I didn’t say. I wouldn’t get any sleep at night because I would be up all night overthinking every little thing that I did. I had a compulsive and addictive need for everyone to like me, so much so that I wore metaphorical masks around everyone. For a few years, I was simultaneously overcome with emotion and at the same time completely numb. Looking back, I can see that I was most likely struggling with some form of depression. Around the beginning of 4th year, I don’t know how or why, but I realised that how I was living wasn’t healthy and I needed to make a change. So I actively tried to get better and slowly but surely I was getting there.

Then COVID happened. We went into the first of many lockdowns and I was isolated from everyone. It wrecked me. I had, what I guess I could most accurately call, a relapse. I fell straight back into my self-hating ways, but this time it was worse. Not only because I was aware of my problem now, so my self-hating tendencies were just another thing for me to dislike about myself, but also because I didn’t see other people that much anymore. I realised that I might’ve been getting better but I was getting better in the wrong way. I was getting all my self-worth from other people and their opinions of me and that shouldn’t be where you get that from. You should like yourself because you do, not because other people do.

At one point during the second lockdown in 5th year, I hit rock bottom. I hit the lowest low ever in my life. For a long time before that, I had been having the same thought every day, that I didn’t want to not be alive anymore. I just didn’t want to be me anymore. Getting out of bed every morning felt like tearing my skin off. However, no matter how bad it got, I never told anyone. I would drag myself out of those dark moments.

I have never talked about any of this to anyone before. My sixth year so far has been pretty stressful and at times I didn’t think I would make it through, carrying on the way I was. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t have been able to have the experience leading the retreat that changed the trajectory of my life, without a teacher who I trusted and who was willing to listen. It wouldn’t be apt to owe all my self-improvement to Mr Ferrie and my retreat experience, but I now can see that I owe a lot to myself.

My role as retreat leader didn’t just make me talk about things I had never before, but it made me think and confront things I had long since buried. It made me realise my self-worth and how much I am capable of. It sounds cheesy to say that this experience has enabled to follow my dreams, but it has. All my life I’ve been so scared that I’ll fail, that I’d never try. I was so scared I wouldn’t be able to or good enough to do what I wanted. I want to be a film director but for so long I wouldn’t let myself think I was capable of doing it, and right up until my leadership role I wasn’t going to because I didn’t think I could.  My friends and family have always been there for me and I now realise despite all that I’ve been through, all that I don’t have and all that I’ve lost, how much I do have and the privilege that I have.

Talking to someone. A cliché that’s been used time and time again, but that doesn’t undermine its importance. There are people in your life that you know you’ll always remember. I will never forget Mr Ferrie and the group of people I was with on retreat for helping me break away from being that girl helplessly tapping on the glass of her own grief terrarium, waiting for someone to come and save her.  They helped me become this version of myself, where I can hold my head up high, and be proud of who I am.

Rory Conway: Tomorrow

Mr. Sweeney sat alone on the fourth floor of the library almost directly underneath the sign for the expired books that read ‘PUBLIC DOMAIN’. He sat with his legs crossed and the lid of his pen between his teeth. His hair was overgrown and the humble beginnings of a poorly-kept beard were visible. Outside it was warm. Inside he wore a dark tweed jacket and trousers that rested on him loosely. The sun was bright and illuminated the threadbare carpet. It glared on the dust that came from the carpet with every step.

         “Good afternoon”, the librarian said. The wrinkles around her eyes smiled at him. He had known her for years but didn’t bother to learn her name. He had no reason to.

         “Is it?” he replied. The librarian tensed quickly and returned to her screen. She should be used to him by now. The ageing woman addressed him slyly. “You should be out, no? You’re wasting a day like this.”

         He glanced at her as she spoke mindlessly at him. He hadn’t ever looked at her long enough to see past her tired blue eyes. She had a face that seemed to fade as quickly as the cries of a hungry child. Her fingers were long and told of her age. She wore a modest ring, likely engagement, but had no wedding band. He got back to his work.

Some time had passed. He had flicked through a number of children’s novels before returning ‘We’re going on a Bear Hunt’ and deciding to leave. His eyes pointed from person to person. Students sat, just as countless others had for years, studying for the same exams that occur each year. ‘Why them?’ he thought. A life so easily replicated. He stopped himself. He didn’t want to think this way during the day. They shifted in their seats as he passed them like a cold breeze from the warmth of outside. He noticed but did not care. The door before him opened politely but he didn’t move. He heard a shyly muttered apology and saw the reflection of a young woman in the door. His breath shortened. She seemed just years younger than him but he felt decades older. Her hair was long, like her’s was. Like her’s, her hair was perfectly curled at the bottom to rest just above her waist. He remembered that day they came home from the library together. She wasn’t behaving like herself this day. Her steps were nervous and her eyes wandered from him tentatively. It was the day she decided to abandon their studies and it was the last time they would see each other. She announced with ease her departure.

         “What?” he muttered.

         She repeated herself. His jaw tightened as he shrunk under the weight of the news.

         “I’m leaving,” she said coldly. She explained how she couldn’t ‘fix’ him and that he needed help.

         “I’ll call you,” she promised. He waited for her to call but she never did.

         His feet remained still as he stared blankly at the woman in front of him, trying to swallow the lump building in his throat. She had crossed her arms before reaching into her bag. She seemed awkward and wanted to look busy. She excused herself and he kept moving, but his mind stayed right where she left him.

His head hung low as he walked home against strong winds. Leaden clouds were moving above the trees that lined the pavement. It had gotten dark and he could not escape the echo of her final words to him. The streetlight was very bright in the darkness of his cul-de-sac. It cast light on the impressive home he occupied, and the dignity that he had lost. It was once a fine home. It hosted respectable parties. The walls, plastered blue, had heard the sound of first words and honest laughter. His car that sat parked across the street wasn’t always that dirty. The ivy growing over his windows was once kept at a careful length. The grass outside his home hadn’t always crept up beyond the windows of his front room. The nursery, now with four yellowed walls, was once home to teddy bears and tired eyes at 3 A.M. awake for feeding.        

         He knew he had veered off course but didn’t bother to straighten himself out. What was the point? He never stopped going to the library, but he would sit at night alone. The TV would play something he wasn’t interested in. His books would collect dust and lay untouched. Sometimes, looking at the dull cards that had sat for years on the mantelpiece, he would think. Initially, he would think of the gifts of clothes that would “fit when he’s a bit older” that went to waste. He would think of the money innocent relatives spent on a life never to be lived. He would blame himself for not thinking to donate what was left. And then, he would blame himself for not being the one that was taken. They called it ‘survivor’s guilt’. But he was only a child. He was so harmless and vulnerable, yet so overlooked. How could he be wrong for wishing it was him instead?

The evening had passed and with it the winds grew fiercer. By now he had drunk so much that he didn’t know if he was sweating or crying. The winds on the door grew into a knock and he struggled to his feet. It was his sister. She tried to see him often but he rarely complied.

         “Hi, Jill,” he said. She immediately embraced him and his attempts to forget the significance of the next day failed. She welcomed herself into his home and handed him flowers from the nearest shop and a small card. A cartoon bear held a sign that reminded him she was “Thinking of you!” They sat together for some time but he could never recall what they were talking about. He could tell she was growing frustrated but hid it well.

         “Do you want anything to eat?” He realised he hadn’t offered her anything yet. She followed him into the kitchen.

         “I’ll help myself. Sit down, will you?” She replied as she rummaged through his cabinets. She was wearing an expression that told him she had news she didn’t want to share with him. He was right.

         “I’ve met someone. Finally.” she confessed. “I’ll be moving again. Further, this time. I’ll come and visit when I can, but it won’t be as often. I – I’m sorry.” Her words trailed off as he tried to find something to say. He gave a slight, involuntary sigh. He had the urge to tell her all that he was feeling. He wanted to make a joke of it, lighten the mood, prove to her that he was better. But he would never get better, nor would he ever want to be, he thought. What was the point?

At last, she left. As she floated out the door she rhymed off that he could “call me if you ever need anything” and that he was “doing him proud”. He heard her car door slam shut as the headlights of her car beamed in to his front room. As her engine roared into the distance the silence returned and once again engulfed his home. As he shut the door he threw the supermarket flowers away. But he couldn’t bring himself to toss the card. He read it over and over. Eventually he sat down again and reached under his sofa for the only toy he kept. He held the old teddy for a moment. Its glossy eyes seemed to stare at him and he could see his reflection. He thought of all the toy bears he had been given since he passed. With every one, he was told it would get better with time, but he knew it would never really leave him. He knew in that moment that people would leave and find happiness, something he couldn’t provide, and no one would really stay. But, at least, this would.

He lay alone with the stuffed bear by his side. It had gotten cold but he hadn’t bothered to pull up a blanket. He looked at his alarm clock, whose red lights read 02:36. The cold night breeze outside rattled onto the windows of his bedroom as his mind drifted. He thought of the bear that comforted his chest, moving as he breathed. He marvelled at how animals of such force had been reduced to this. How his son’s life had been reduced to this. He thought of their struggle, always alone and never settling down, but always ready to escape. He thought of how they were lured in with promises, only to be shot down. His chest swelled as he imagined their helpless defeat displayed as a human victory. Like them, he lay exiled from the peace and life he longed for as he submitted to the fatal listlessness that would consume his tomorrow.

Finbar McGinn: Coronavirus and the Framing of War

“We are engaged in a war against the disease which we have to win.” – Boris Johnson 3/17/20

Anyone who has been paying attention to the news in the past year, no doubt, has been battered over the head with an excess of militaristic images and jargon, from Donald Trump declaring himself a ‘War Time President’ to the images conjured up in the mind of the ‘NHS frontline soldiers’ battling heroically against the ‘invisible enemy’ and the countless other expressions used endlessly. This incessant use of militaristic language and imagery by the government and the BBC has prompted a chain reaction of artists and public figures declaring N.H.S workers as ‘saints’ and even one image depicting them as blue-suited mask wearing angels with big fluffy rainbow wings and a glimmering halo. Anyone visiting from a year ago would be slightly baffled by the present canonisation of all NHS workers and the deification of the NHS, so what has prompted the shift in language and this drastic new appreciation of the NHS and those involved in the ‘fight’ against coronavirus?

Simply put, it is a popular method that governments across the world use to strengthen public belief in government policy by conveying a sense of urgency and emergency to the public through use of language and metaphors of war. Through the power of rhetoric and propaganda the public are led to believe that civil liberties must be curbed in order to ensure security or, in our case, health security; this process is also referred to as securitisation[1]. However, it is not by sheer rhetoric and propaganda alone that the government enacts its policy; it also employs the use of ritual. This is seen by how the framing of ‘war’ to the British Public is reinforced by the war-like rituals that the public participate in like, clapping for essential workers at 8pm weekly along with the pinning of rainbows on windows across the U.K to show solidarity and support for the ‘frontline’ workers. And of course, it wouldn’t be a true war without the essential war-time speech from the Queen in which she even went so far as to reference the classic WWII song, ‘We’ll Meet Again’ written for Soldiers leaving their families, drawing a tenuous analogy to their sacrifice to our own by our acceptance of Lockdown.

However, historically this is not the first time and only time this linguistic trick has been pulled and in fact, it has been quite popular outside the U.K. Like the U.K, the U.S too has had its fair share of attempts to ‘wage war’ on different issues; the ‘War on Terror’ and the ‘War on Drugs’ both come to mind. The U.S government’s attempt to use the language of war to strengthen public support in its varied political struggles against drugs, crime and terrorism seem to have failed miserably. Public support for both the United States Government’s attempt to crack down on these issues is at an all-time low and in the case of the ‘War on Drugs’ the Government seems to be effectively reversing its policy by gradual relaxation of rules surrounding softer drugs across a third of the U.S as well as some states like Oregon even going so far as to decriminalise all hard drugs. Despite its later failure the initial effectiveness of this policy was quite astounding. Take for example the so called ‘War on Terror’, which caused a significant and permanent expansion to security in Airports and resulted in what many people now deem excessive curbs to civil liberties. To show one of the ways in which the Government used the framing of ‘war’ to their advantage you need look no further than the now infamous Patriot Act. The supposed ‘Patriot Act’ was passed shortly after 9/11 by the Bush Administration in an attempt to crack down on terror by introducing extensions to legal privileges on wiretapping, enhanced surveillance and further loss to civil liberties. The importance of language is emphasised by the government’s decision to use the name ‘Patriot Act’ which obviously suggests that the bill is being passed by sheer patriotic good will. The War effort against Terror become patriotic, and skeptics are deemed as unpatriotic deserters. This is a great case study of how the language of war is used to enable government policy, but also shows one of the ways in which this method can often be dangerous as it permanently reduced civil liberties of Americans and empowered government surveillance of private citizens.

The question then arises, could the War against Covid incur a 9/11 of Health Security and of Security in general – a major health crisis that allows a government to implement sweeping curbs on civil liberties? Such an example of exploitation of a crisis occurred under Viktor Orban’s quasi-fascistic government in Hungary where ‘Orban seized wide-ranging emergency powers and the ability to rule by decree’ according to the Conversation. This clearly shows how the governments often uses issues of ‘National Security’ and the framing of war to expand its power in this one particular example. The results of military rhetoric can also be seen with Donald Trump declaring his campaign against the ‘foreign virus’ from China and even Xi Jinping, himself, calling for a ‘people’s war’ against the virus. What unites these two men in their choice of language is their use of ‘the war against the virus’ for political gain. Trump declaring the virus to be ‘foreign’ and from China simultaneously allows him to take a jab at the rising Chinese Communist Party as well as further raise fear about immigrant populations within the U.S. Although, Xi Jinping’s government has also made equally outrageous claims that the virus originates from the U.S to further hatred towards America and the Western World and expectedly, fixates his language around the ideology of Communism with talks of a ‘people’s war’ against the virus. This highlights one of the central problems of ‘waging war against coronavirus’; that the government can often use the language of war nefariously to gain and expand political power by any means necessary. President Trump’s framing of the enemy as foreign and from China unfortunately resulted in a sharp rise in anti-Chinese attacks across America, showcasing blatantly the potential harm of war rhetoric.

However, more consequential examples across Europe occurred when the different Nations collectively decided that the appropriate response to ‘the threat of the invisible enemy’ was to impose exceptional measures such as lockdown and other general restrictions. Thus, issues of freedom of movement and decisions to open shops became matters of national security and subsequently were decided and policed by a new unrestricted government, a situation unthinkable a year ago. And still at the end of lockdown, as the public desperately cry out for freedom by any means, the government seeks to maintain the securitization of basic civil liberties through use of vaccine passports and even facial recognition to potentially limit your vaccine skeptical uncle from ever entering a pub again in his life. Once again, the process of securitisation and the government’s use of the language of war to facilitate this process highlights the importance of rhetoric and language of ‘war’ in producing a less tempered acceptable attitude towards difficult but important decisions in the public made by the government. The ability to make going to the pub or attending a public event an uncontroversial matter of health security truly speaks to the supreme power of rhetoric and propaganda.

Because of the media and government’s use of ‘war’ rhetoric and the subsequent securitisation of civil liberties, my generation has never known a world without barriers at Christmas markets, machine-gun wielding police at airports and mass government surveillance of private citizens and it now seems that our children will never know a world without vaccine passports at pubs and facial recognition at football games.


[1] This is not to make a statement on whether or not it is justified in each instance to curb civil liberties in the name of security.

Alexandra Carson: Her Muse

The light peeks shyly through the curtains, diamonds sunlight flows, glowing rainbow hues onto the walls and illuminating the French flat, revealing the chic interior that matches the Parisian streets. Hundreds of similar canvases, each with their expressive colours, a wooden easel with slight stains of red and the light slithers across the floor and climbs up the beige walls, the purple curtains and into the bedroom. It is the stage on which her ideas perform. Arisen from her slumber, the dark bobbed woman opens her eyes to the warmth masking her face. Her silk pyjamas slide across the bed as she slithers off to her feet. She makes contact with the freezing floor, silently stepping to her wardrobe, floating, to grab her light brown trench coat. She walks through the open space admiring her quirky furniture and her exciting art. Her portal of inspiration. From her window comes a refreshing gust of air, enlivening the senses and relaxing breath.

The city has a heart, a rhythm and a beat, its blood is its people, and its beat is the people walking, and she can feel this from her balcony. Her eyes are diligently watching over her city, her eyes moving from one person to another, examining each one. Who will be her next victim? She has never painted a boring person. Luckily the streets of Paris cannot produce one. Everyone flows with such grace, each with their own quirky style, not afraid to be an individual and yet fitting the aesthetic of her city. Walking across the road is an elderly lady with her silver hair shimmering in the suit, oversized sunglass making it seem as if she is some Hollywood actress and a monochrome pink outfit. A young blonde woman with a scarf tied into her hair, a dress overall layering her striped shirt ridding her green-blue bike with a wooden basket in the front containing some beautiful flowers; or the elderly gentleman walking with a skip in his step in his bright shirt and tie, beret, dark emerald suit and same coloured trousers that are short enough to show his brightly coloured socks that are long enough to reach into his trousers. Or the young man, she has seen him before; he walks past her flat every morning in his expensive suits, shined shoes and slicked-back hair. Like every other morning, he opens the door to the beautiful bakery; when looking, you’d think the glow was coming from the pastries. She should probably go there one day.

She remembers her first; it was where she gained her passion. It was like love at first sight. She met her first muse years ago when she was a starving artist on the streets of Paris, not a penny to her name, trying to make something of herself. Then he came to her; he saw her talent, and he pushed her to be more. He promised her all the fame in the world she’d be up there with Van Gogh and Picasso; people would flock to get a glimpse of the colour she used. But it never came. Their perfect little life was crumbling in front of them, was nothing they could do. The successes soon seemed so far away, and he blamed her. During the countless nights of arguing, he shouted and screamed insults to her face. To him, her talent disappeared. There was nothing to set her apart; she wasn’t an artist. She just painted.  And he just kept pushing her and pushing her and pushing her until she reached her limit; she hated painting. So the screaming stopped; he was gone. And so she dedicated the last picture to him. However, as it turned out, this was just the first of many. This painting helped her find her eccentric style and the obsession with putting life in her paintings.

The soul in her paintings caught the eye of many, and she was finally recognised for her talents in galleries; critics and fans herded around her artwork to just get a glimpse of the ruby red that characterised her canvas. The fame came at once, and she had the desire to recreate the success and feeling that came as a result of the first, but she was apprehensive. There was no way passion came from her unique process. She was terrified at the thought. And so she made recreations using different methods, and she hated it plain and simple. It wasn’t the same; there was no life in the photos, and models were terrible to work with. They thought they could manipulate her. What did they know about art? Nothing. It was easier this way. Her passion had returned, and the flame only grew brighter with her painting thrown on.

She stops her reminiscing and realises her coffee mug is empty, and so are the streets. It is time to return to the inside of her chamber to continue her work. The painting is always satisfying for her, it is like a form of meditation, and the end product is always worth it. The end product is beautiful, the satisfaction of creating something with her own two hands, everything from the brush strokes to the paint. Every person she paints is personal; she never uses the same paint twice; they are individuals with a story and a part in hers. Every time she picks up her paintbrush, she becomes part of it. She dips her brush in the sweet red sap, thin and flowing, as she circles the brush around. Slowly sliding her hand to the blank canvas, she begins the journey. Sliding her brush from one side to another feels like an elegant dance. She can do it so quickly now; she feels as if she knew this person. She did, but they did not. They were a young woman, tho older than her, with dark hair much like her own. She brings her hand down and round to show her long and thin face. She moves the dark gushing red to contour the face of her muse, her hooked nose and sunken, light eyes.

Stepping back, she admires her work, her eyes following every stroke. She has red paint all over her clothing and face; she loves how it feels, connecting with her artwork as one. The face is exactly as she remembers as if she was alive next to her as if it could speak to her.

She has a spot for her newest creation, and so she carefully hangs it up. She never waits for her paintings to dry. She loves how the red drips down as if it is the blood that flows in the body. She stares at it for a good few minutes; she feels like crying. Instead, she turns around to her workspace behind her and realises it’s time to clean up; the part she hates the most is when she realises the mess in her apartment. She grabs her pots brushes and walks back into the kitchen to grab her mortar and pestle filled with white powder she had ground previously and heads toward the bathroom. She always keeps it locked, and so while balancing the pots, brushes and mortar and pestle, she reaches into her trench coat pocket and brings out an old looking key; it is beautiful and intricate, much like her work. She slides the thin key into the keyhole and turns. Walking into the heavenly white bathroom in front of her is the sink and an antique mirror. She looks at herself, her pale skin, black eyes, and red over her face as if it was her blood. Bending down to the sink, she places everything that is in her hands in the basin. Watching as the water slowly purifies the deep red and black, her sins washed away, baptised into a new life. After cleaning, she sets them to her right to let them dry and then turns to her left. And to her left is her bath and in her bath is a body. A woman with dark hair, a hooked nose, dark and sunken eyes, the same red on her canvas, covered her walls and the woman. She bends down to her bath to ensure her dark eyes are in line with the lifeless ones in front of her, and in her sweet voice, she whispers, “I’m making you immortal, my muse.”

Nina Snedden: Tyler, The Creator – Flower Boy or Goblin?

Flashing the words ‘Flower Boy’ on screens behind him, the artist, Tyler, the Creator appears determined to embody this title. Dressed in a pair of yellow shorts, a blue printed shirt and neon pink cap, he seems to be blooming; his goofy allure evident from the boldness of his choice of attire. There is a certain warmth which radiates from the strength of his presence: zany, eccentric and unpredictable. Lounging across his vibrant stage set, with its certain dream-like quality, Tyler offers refuge from the band of drugged-up, monotonous mumble rappers which headlined Longitude 2018. The screens go black. A cluster of rainbow lights pulsate before an idyllic scene appears; a light blue sky, flecked with the palest of candy pink clouds, an assortment of large and assertive trees and him. A single flower.

Hardly the archetypal criminal… yet in the summer of 2015, whilst attempting to enter the UK for a run of festival performances, despite being in the country just 7 weeks earlier, Tyler was turned away at the border and banned from Britain for 3 to 5 years by then-Home Secretary, Theresa May. Government documents specifically cite lyrics from five songs – ‘Tron Cat’, ‘Blow’, ‘VCR’, ‘Sarah’ and ‘French’ – from Tyler’s first two projects and explain that he was banned under the terms of Home Office policy on ‘behaviours unacceptable in the UK’ – a set of guidelines formed in 2005 to try to prevent suspected terrorists from entering Britain. Tyler is said to have been banned for ‘unacceptable behaviour by making statements that foster hatred, which might lead to inter community violence in the UK’, with his albums B******, in 2009, and Goblin, in 2011, labelled in documentation justifying the ban as ‘based on the premise of adopting a mentally unstable alter ego who describes violent physical abuse, rape and murder in graphic terms which appears to glamorise this behaviour’ and seeming to encourage ‘violence and intolerance of homosexuality’. This wasn’t the first time Tyler has had trouble entering a country. In 2014, he was banned from New Zealand for posing a ‘threat to the public order and the public interest’, and in early 2015 he became the subject of a large public campaign by Australian feminist group ‘Collective Shout’, who referenced early song lyrics in an effort to ban him from entering the country, leading to Tyler’s Australian tour being derailed. Is there any truth to the claims of the supposed ‘threat’ which Tyler poses? How can two such contrasting images of the same artist co-exist?

In an interview with The Guardian in September 2015, Tyler himself admitted that much of the work in question was written when he was ‘super-young’ when ‘no one was listening’. It is undoubtedly true that Goblin, and perhaps even more so B****** (Tyler’s first mixtape), upon first listen appear a nauseating stream of gore and horror, created for the sole purpose of shocking the audience. Songs like ‘Sarah’, ‘French’ and ‘VCR/Wheels’, diabolically twisted and loaded with graphic violent references and homophobic slurs – even 10 years after their release – still don’t sit quite right with me. However, it is important to note that these two projects form part of a trilogy. The third project in Tyler’s trilogy, ‘Wolf’, is the key to understanding his early releases. A far more mature Tyler, ever the ‘walking paradox’, grapples with deeply rooted psychological problems on ‘Wolf’ set to smooth dreamy simple beats. On ‘Answer’, Tyler appears more vulnerable than ever before, addressing his estranged father and bragging about all he’s achieved without him, whilst still praying that if he ever calls his father answers. Tyler also explores the loss of his grandmother, rapping on ‘Cowboy’, ‘ain’t been this sick since brain cancer ate my granny up’, before battling issues with fame and wealth on ‘Colossus’ and ‘Cowboy’ when he raps ‘You’d think all this money would make a happy me, but I’m ‘bout as lonely as crackers that supermodels eat.’ On the penultimate track of the album, ‘Lone’, the storylines of B******, Goblin and Wolf finally come together in a therapy session, with alter ego Dr TC asking ‘So, what’s going on, Wolf? Talk to me, man…what’s on your mind?’ It then becomes clear that the graphic violent images portrayed on Tyler’s earlier projects, through the medium of alter egos, have originated from a mentally unstable mind, whilst talking to a therapist. In the video for ‘Sam (is dead)’, we see Tyler shooting himself three times, leaving three dead Tylers on the floor, representing the death of his alter egos, Ace, Tron Cat and Wolf Haley. The track title also suggests Tyler has already killed the alter ego, Sam. In this way, Tyler’s complex concept album, Wolf, explains the inner turmoil which prompted the creation of such dark alter egos on B****** and Goblin, transforming Tyler from villainous brute to misunderstood misfit; whilst the track ‘Sam (is dead)’ shows Tyler maturing and killing off his dark thoughts to allow for his future brighter albums, Cherry Bomb and Flower Boy, on which Tyler eventually transcends his darkness to emerge into the light by coming out as gay. It is clear that this beautiful, intricately constructed exploration of the complexities of the human condition was lost upon Theresa May, and many other detached listeners, as Tyler seems to reflect on the track ‘Glitter’ on his most recent album, which ends ‘we didn’t get your message, either because you were not speaking or because of a bad connection.’

This sort of investigation into our humanity is a commonplace of literature and film, recurrent throughout history, so why is it that when this same topic is approached by a rapper it is immediately attacked? Although not a traditional medium, rap is still a means of expression and art, communicating to a whole new generation; an art form judged by Theresa May, based purely upon presumption and ignorance. Rap is a genre with a long history of positive influence – from the anti-drug message broadcast to millions of youths on ‘Say No Go’ by De La Soul, to the reality of inner-city poverty and crime revealed in ‘The Message’ by Grandmaster Flash – and an even greater potential for influencing the youth of today. Yet it has long been cloaked in the negative guise of a testosterone fuelled bombast by those who do not listen to, or understand, or wish to understand the sentiments expressed in the music. If Tyler’s same concepts had been expressed through the medium of opera, traditionally perceived to be a far more ‘intellectual’ form, would he have been attacked with such fervour? Or would he have been attacked at all? ‘The Rape of Lucretia’, an opera by Benjamin Britten, in which the voice of ‘Sextus Tarquinius’, a rapist, is adopted was not only not banned, but was in fact met with praise from critics. Surely this proves the deeply unjust and snobbish mistreatment of Tyler, and more broadly of rap as an art form. Art should be provocative and controversial. It is a means of pushing boundaries and re-defining societal norms. Why should this responsibility be reserved solely for orthodox mediums? Tyler himself queried ‘Why don’t they ban authors? Writers who write these mystery books about people getting raped and sabotaged and murdered and brainwashed – why don’t they ban them?’ Marquis de Sade’s books, notorious for their misogyny, sadism and gruesome details, are still widely available for consumers. Yet Tyler was detained for a piece of art, a dissection of human nature. It is undoubtedly wrong to restrain an artist’s expression in this manner. Tyler himself reflects this, stating ‘Now freedom of art and speech are at hand.’ In our current political climate, surely there are larger threats to British peace than a young artist’s means of self-expression, discovery and acceptance?

There is a particular, inane irony that it should have been Theresa May who made this ‘moral judgement’ on behalf of the country. This is a woman who, since becoming Prime Minister, has cowered to the will of Donald Trump, proclaiming her faith in her ‘special relationship’ with a man who actively facilitates hate. If May’s desire to protect LGBTQ rights is so strong, why is it that she prances about with Trump, whose transgender military ban does anything but offer support for the community? The implications of Tyler’s homophobia appear even more comical following his own ‘coming-out’, made explicit on his recent album Flower Boy. Yet, even prior to this, these accusations were largely nonsensical, clearly coming from a place of blatant ignorance. OFWGKTA, a hip-hop collective founded in 2007 by Tyler, himself, boasts notable LGBTQ alumni, Frank Ocean and Syd, with whom Tyler has repeatedly collaborated closely and undoubtedly regards as close friends. The profound hypocrisy of Theresa May’s stance becomes clear given the fact that her own past concerning LGBTQ issues is partially marred with murk. In 2010, May’s first act as Home Secretary was to ensure that public bodies did not have to actively try to reduce inequality. Whilst just last year, May hosted Ugandan MP, Jovah Kamateeka, who hopes to pass an anti-homosexuality law in Uganda which would introduce life-long imprisonment for gay and lesbian couples. Tyler, based on deliberately provocative acts of rebellion and artistic expression from his teenage years, which, unlike those of most teens, were lived under the microscope of the media, has been identified, targeted and morphed by May into a scapegoat for societal evils which he does not, and has not ever represented. May’s eagerness to seize the opportunity to vilify a young black gay artist, who is in fact blooming into an ironic gay icon for this generation, may be evidence of her ongoing, innate discomfort with the LGBTQ community.

May’s chequered past with LGBTQ issues – voting in 1998 against the reduction of the age of consent for homosexual acts from eighteen to sixteen to bring equality to the law affecting heterosexual and homosexual acts, voting against a Bill allowing gay couples to adopt in 2002 and remaining absent from four votes on the Gender Recognition Bill in 2004, before finally voting to introduce Civil Partnerships for LGBT couples in 2004 – suggests her act was a means of disguising her past disapproval of homosexuality. With the drastic evolution of May’s own stance, her decision to deprive an artist, who carries the possibility of creating a massive positive influence upon the youth of today, from the opportunity of sharing his own evolution with the public, is baffling. Was this evolution simply a convenient mask which May wore to fit in with David Cameron’s more ‘inclusive’ brand of Conservatism? Was her ban an act of good will or merely a quest for a tangible villain? May’s actions seem likely to have been a means of ‘proving’ her progressive thinking on LGBTQ issues to the world by banning someone who seemed to be attacking the community; an act which she undertook without bothering to take into account the whole truth behind Tyler’s body of work, and an act which, in fact, ironically ended in attacking a member of the LGBTQ community.

Was the decision to ban Tyler from the UK ultimately a reflection of an ultra-sensitive, overly-prescribed society, in which influential people keen to be seen to be doing the ‘right thing’ act on knee-jerk reactions and superficial interpretations rather than really listening to what ‘provocative’ artists are trying to say? Tyler conveys this himself, explaining, ‘It’s like the world is scared of everything. I feel like everyone is so sensitive to everything, and if they don’t like something it’s like: Oh my God, I don’t like the colour yellow – let’s get yellow banned from every country, let’s sign a petition – let’s start a hashtag to make sure this colour is never seen, because I don’t like it and I don’t understand it.’ And this is what Tyler wants to do – paint the world yellow, inspire and excite fans. From the nauseating darkness of his Goblin days, to the brightness and optimism of Flower Boy, his evolution is a potent one, reflecting the reality of the vagaries of life, and the struggle with acceptance of one’s sexuality. Who would’ve thought that the obscenity-filled works of B****** and Goblin would plant the seeds for Flower Boy to grow? Whether it be telling ‘black kids they can be who they are’ on ‘Where This Flower Blooms’ or supporting the Black Lives Matter Movement on ‘Foreword’, Tyler truly has bloomed into a role model for his fans.

2127 Words

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Louisa Fenney: Christ

Crown of thorns, bated breath, ragged pulse.

Crown of thorns, bated breath, flowing red.

Should the dial be reversed by command of the sun,

Should it be held high upon the horizon,

thundering would be all that was heard,

The thundering of a whip,

The crack so distinct, so jarring against his flesh

Flesh, which was the very same to be prophesied,

Flesh that was bound to be sacred and chaste.

Now, it holds no such promise,

Now, eyes remain clouded

Now, cheeks are wet

Mutters escape the lips of those who watch,

Mockingly some stare, they snarl and yap like wild wolves as they feast their eyes upon their bloodied meal

His hands fastened with iron

His ravaged limbs twitch beneath the heat of the sky

‘ Christ, what did you die for? ‘

One beast howls from the pack,

Heads snap,

Tongues are held,

Pulses shudder.

They await their answer,

They expect an up rise, They crave the signal from their wretched messiah.

Madalena Loughlin-Gomes: The Real Death Cure?

Transhumanism: a not-so-new new-wave global movement describing itself as ‘a class of philosophies of life that seek the continuation of the evolution of intelligent life beyond its currently human form, by means of science and technology.’ This belief, which first made headlines in the 1990s, has steadily gained support ever since, and while I was initially highly sceptical, there is no doubt that those pushing the theory are on to something commercially and, just possibly, philosophically too. This is a world that I regarded as belonging to some distant future with flying cars and teleportation, but a quick Google search revealed whole businesses, bitcoin economies and ways of life revolving around the belief that humans really can – and ought to – live forever. Yet, does the vast scale of this movement make it morally correct? What justification is there for obtaining immortality other than selfishness?

What first caught my eye from the plethora of transhumanist organisations was a cryopreservation institute: ALCOR Life Extension Foundation. With just 40 years since its foundation and fewer than a dozen full-time employees, ALCOR made over $2 million in revenue in 2017 alone, making them the leading cryonics institute globally, and their CEO and transhumanist activist, Max More, a millionaire. So, what exactly is this multi-million-dollar enterprise? Cryopreservation is essentially the preservation in liquid nitrogen of people who would otherwise die due to the limitations of today’s medicine. I was quickly dragged down the rabbit hole of ALCOR’s online world of sci-fi-like inventions and possibilities. There were webpages covering areas from case-studies and cryopreservation demonstrations, to an FAQ section for ‘bio-luddites’ (non-believers in the transhumanist world).

I remember tentatively clicking on the ‘cryopreservation process’ page and being surprised to find out that it involved no freezing whatsoever, rather the replacement of blood with a solution to stop cells from bursting at sub-zero temperatures. I was more disturbed however, by the discovery that when critically ill patients are close to de-animation (i.e. death – transhumanists only refer to death in quotation marks and with a high degree of scepticism; as death loses its omnipotent connotations if you believe in immortality), there’s a ‘standby-team’ near them at all times, complete with bags for when the patient’s blood is sucked from their body, and an ice-bath to plunge them into minutes after ‘legal-death’. These various tools would surely be a harrowing sight for the patients, knowing that their literal lifeblood will be drained from their veins seconds after their heart stops beating (after all, no one dies in front of the crematorium, or in a morgue). Nevertheless, over 3600 people from all over the world have paid up to $220,000 for a lifetime membership to ALCOR for cryopreservation. The possibility of ‘resurrection’ must be an alluring concept to those with terminal illnesses, or even those who simply have enough money for membership. However, the more I thought about cryopreservation, the more questions I had. The essence of this moral dilemma boils down to one thing: a battle of science and ethics. The ever-evolving argument between ‘Can we do it?’ and ‘Should we do it?’

Trying to make sense of the ethical implications of cryopreservation is enough to make anyone’s head spin, due to almost every part being completely hypothetical. However, if we theorise that ‘reanimation’ is possible, what are the real-life implications for the patients? No expert in the world can accurately envision how waking up 200 years in the future alone, or perhaps even surrounded by their own descendants, will affect someone’s mental health. Will their memories remain intact? If not, will they really be the same person? As is it not from our memories that our sense of self – our individuality – stems from? What are their human rights? What if society has evolved so much that their level of intelligence isn’t high enough to play any real part in society? The unfortunate and frustrating truth is that no one knows, but it seems that many cryopreservation believers have accepted this. Dr Ralph Merkle (ALCOR member and Director since the 1980s) stated in a video interview quite simply that ‘Cryonics is an experiment. So far, the control group isn’t doing too well.’ A little morbid, yes, but still a solid argument that gives the argument some scientific acceptability. As for my many questions regarding what would actually happen to the patients if they are revived, I was left with no answers. It seems that transhumanists are still fighting to prove the effectiveness of the cryopreservation process but have not yet put much thought into what will happen if it actually works. However, bad mental health and unemployment aren’t the only problems that resurrecting people 200 years in the future may cause.

In a world where massive population expansion is leading to completely unsustainable levels of pollution and global warming, is it really ethical to store vast numbers of people that could eventually be introduced to what will likely be an even more over-populated world than what we already live in? We are all too accustomed to the shocking statistics of over-population: over half of our forests and wetlands have vanished in the past century, all due to the population more than doubling in only four decades. If humanity will be nine billion strong by 2038, what about 200 years from now? We may even have already colonised the galaxy by then (yet another problem for the ALCOR patients – have the FAQ experts thought about how bodies floating in liquid nitrogen will fare in zero gravity?). Perhaps they will get their own planet, a sort of time-warp or possibly even a museum of Earth 200 years before they were reanimated. Whatever way it’s looked at, reanimation will surely only worsen our ongoing disaster, as if even a third of our population is cryopreserved as standard by then, then the projected figure for future populations will surely be wrong by a couple billion.

I can understand why the future of these patients and cryonics in general remains unclear. However, there remains one question that still keeps me up at night: what happens to the reanimated when they die again? Will cryopreservation be seen as the new burial? Or will we all eventually be an omnipotent consciousness, wired into a hard drive by that point? In fact, Transhumanists have dubbed this merging of human and technological intelligence the slightly ominous and Matrix-esque ‘Singularity’. The most likely option would be that if cryopreservation is successful once, it will be used again, thereby continuing the cycle of consciousness. It is at this point that cryopreservation loses all appeal for me. Who wants to be truly immortal? Real immortality isn’t even fathomable to most people, yet there are some who actively seek it, and believe it will happen in their lifetime. These are the immortalists: another worldwide network that’s just as real and, perhaps, even more mind-bending than the transhumanist organisation. The anthropologist Abou Farmiain stated that ‘Paradoxically, Immortalists believe that given the development of scientific knowledge, humans can enjoy life after death, yet it is precisely their attachment to life in this world that leads them to this faith’. There isn’t a way to ponder the ethics of cryonics without spiralling into all sorts of life-questioning dilemmas, but if the scientific basis for cryogenics is divided and uncertain, what else could we turn to for guidance when navigating the murky waters where philosophy and science collide?

For many, their guidance on the morality of cryopreservation stems from their religion, but in our largely secular society, there exists an increasing cross-over between ethics and religion. A starting point for those who follow Christianity, for example, would be that humans should not actively seek to extend their life past what it naturally should be on our finite Earth, and they should accept that death is part of life, and they are destined for peace with God in Heaven. There were many such comments in the anonymous ALCOR FAQ, with one particularly memorable reply being ‘flying is unnatural for humans, but there’s no moral opposition to planes!’. Granted, this logic was a little rough around the edges, but I could genuinely see where they were coming from. But if reanimation becomes the norm, or the Singularity is achieved, what happens to God? How will new people be born? Surely computers can’t just programme a new consciousness? Will Heaven just stop receiving souls? Are there souls in the Singularity? However, it seemed like the transhumanists were busy answering the hundreds of other bio-luddite’s queries, as I unfortunately got no response when I posed my questions to the members of the FAQ page, not even a witty comeback.

To conclude, the world of transhumanism and cryopreservation is a web of moral, ethical, philosophical, scientific, and religious dilemmas. Unfortunately, my original aim of deciding whether cryonics was morally correct or not was lost somewhere between the fifth article on the transhumanist argument as to why cryogenically reanimated cyborgs should be given citizenship rights, and my third email to the Cryonics Institute regarding my confusion to absolutely everything. Whether or not I will choose to become a member of the ALCOR community, and float around in liquid nitrogen for a few centuries in a tank full of strangers – both bodies and heads – for a chance at reanimation remains to be seen, but one thing for sure is that I’ve got a lot to think about, and many websites to scour before plunging into the ice-bath.

 

Bibliography

1. Anon. ‘What is transhumanism?’: https://whatistranshumanism.org/#about (accessed April 2019)

2. ALCOR life extension foundation (information): https://alcor.org/ (accessed March 2019)

3. Cryonics institute: Information on membership, statistics, processes and case-studies: https://www.cryonics.org/ (accessed March 2019)

4. Dr. Merkle’s video interview for the Humanist Community in Silicon Valley: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IAei0a8FE18 (accessed April 2019)

5. Talal, Asad, ‘Thinking about the secular body, pain and liberal politics’ from Cultural Anthropology, Vol. 26, No 4 (November 2011) pp. 657-675 for the American Anthropological Association: https://www.jstor.org/stable/41336307 (accessed April 2019)

6. U.S. Transhumanist party ‘Transhuman Bill of Rights’ https://transhumanist-party.org/tbr-3/ (accessed April 2019)

Jude – Frances Wilson

Hello, little spaceman.

I’m right outside waiting for you with Nana and Papa. I’ve been waiting for ages and ages and ages and now you’re finally on your way. When Mummy and Daddy told me that I was going to be a big sister, I screamed and danced and cried and twirled and Daddy put me up on his shoulders and we went for dinner and I ate loads and loads of ice cream. It was the best day ever. Until now!

I promise you that I’ll be the best big sister in the whole world. I promise that I’ll share all my toys with you and I’ll play nicely and I’ll never ever let any mean kids hurt you. I’ll always look after you.

Is it nice in there? I hope it’s cosy, a little nest for you all tucked in safe, before you come into the world. I don’t remember it at all but maybe you can tell me what it’s like when you can talk. When can you talk? We can talk all day about pirates and princess and Disney films. I wonder what your favourite film will be? Maybe it will be Toy Story. That’s why we call you “spaceman”, like Buzz Lightyear, because of how you fly all around Mummy’s tummy. My favourite is Beauty and the Beast because Belle loves books and she reads lots like me. I’ll read to you, too. I have lots and lots of books in my room and when you’re big enough to read by yourself you can read them anytime you like.

We’ve painted your room already, I hope you don’t mind. It’s blue with stars and rockets, you know, because of the Buzz thing. It was Daddy’s idea. I thought it was really clever. Daddy’s the smartest man in the whole world and he knows all the best games to play. We can put lots of toys in your room when you’re big enough to know how to play. For now though, you just have teddies. I have loads of them, too. My favourite is Snowy the Polar Bear but you can have her, if you like. I think you’ll like it, little spaceman.

*

The whole world stops for a second.

*

The nurse is speaking really quietly to Nana and Papa now. I can’t quite hear what she’s saying. Nana is crying, but I think they must be happy tears. You must be here now.

Papa takes my hand and tells me you’re just visiting. He says you’re not coming home with us. I don’t understand. We have a big room and lots of toys for you. Don’t you want them? I don’t know if we’ve done something wrong or if you want a new family but I just don’t understand. Me and Mummy and Daddy would look after you better than anyone else in the world. I would be the best big sister in the whole universe.

Now I understand why Nana is crying. She was so excited to look after you. Papa says that you have a better place to go to now and that you maybe just weren’t meant to stay with us in the first place. I don’t understand.

Daddy comes out of the room. His eyes are red and his face is puffy. He looks like I do when I cry and I know something is wrong because daddies don’t cry. “Do you want to meet your little brother?”

I nod and I’m scared and it doesn’t feel like I thought it would because I thought everyone would be happy, not sad and I didn’t think I would feel like I had millions of worms squirming around my tummy and I’m so confused when Daddy holds my hand and leads me into the room.

There’s a little blue bundle cuddled up in Mummy’s arms and I know it must be you. You’re so tiny. The world must seem so big to you. Mummy’s face is grey and her eyes are blank and as I make my way over to you, she looks up at me and smiles but it doesn’t look like a real smile.

“Jude,” she says. “His name is Jude.” And she passes the tiny bundle to me.

Little Jude, you’re so small and soft. You aren’t very wiggly for a baby. In fact, you don’t wiggle at all. You’re so still. I think you must be asleep. Your little eyes are closed and your lips look like a little smiling violet. You have lots of little grey eyelashes, more than I can count to. And under your blue hat, you have little wisps of fuzzy blonde curls peeking out, just like me. Ten little fingers and toes, chubby little arms and legs and a tummy waiting to be tickled all wrapped up in a blanket, warm and safe. You look happy. You must be having a nice dream, about clouds and fairy wings and maybe I’m in it too, with Mummy and Daddy and Nana and Papa. I hold you close to my chest and I wonder if you can hear my heart beating.

*

I watch her. I wonder if he would have known how much love for him is inside that tiny little girl.

*

The room is so quiet. Our little house is quiet, too. We live in a quiet house in a quiet street in the quiet part of town. You would like it, Jude. I don’t want to leave you here. I don’t want to leave you behind. I don’t know what will happen next. I’m scared.

*

She holds him in her arms so gently. Our little bundle of dreams and possibilities and so much love and everything in between. Everything that could have been. I don’t know what will happen next. None of us do. But for now, I watch my babies together. My golden girl, holding a little universe in her arms.

*

Time passes so quickly. The years fall away like shooting stars. I grow tall. Dad goes bald. Wrinkles introduce themselves to Mum’s face. The boys are all in primary school now. The year after you was awful, a constant sadness looming over us all. And then we learned that Gabriel was coming. We were so scared, nine months of fear and not getting our hopes up. And then he came. Then came Mark. Then Finn, then Louis. When there’s a tragedy, people speak funny around you. Delicately. Sometimes people just pretend it never happened, ignore the blip in the timeline. But you were never a blip, Jude. You were real and ours and you’re on my mind every single day. I love space and the stars and the millions of universes and sometimes I imagine that maybe in a different universe things would be different and you would still be here. I don’t really like to think of it like that though. I think everything happens for a reason, and that somewhere, out in space, you are flying around in orbit – one of the stars we see at the night. A little spaceman in disguise as the brightest star.

“Uno cappuccino, per favore!” – Honor McWilliams

It’s breakfast: a busy day awaits. You have to remember to send this to soandso, you need to tell that to other soandso. Calls need to be answered, tasks must be completed and you have to transition from activity to activity without the slightest hesitation. Your head begins to swirl as you whisk through the never ending list of ‘To Do’s’ and you seriously question whether or not you will make it to lunch without collapsing.

But then salvation comes. Sleek and round, you see it gradually emerge in the distance. A distinct aroma fills the air and in some way your racing mind comes to a halt. Gradually coming closer, you are mesmerised by the soft, white shroud. You reach out to greet your saviour at last filled with warmth, hope, serenity.

“So, who’s having the cappuccino?”

Perfectly sized yet indulgent, simple but sophisticated, the cappuccino remains a cherished emblem of post-war Italy and her so-called ‘Dolce Vita’ or ‘Sweet Life’ in cafés and restaurants throughout the globe.

At least it should. Just last year, Starbucks announced that they were beginning to phase out cappuccinos in certain branches by replacing them with the more contemporary and stylish flat white. Staff complained that cappuccinos were too onerous to make in comparison to the more efficient and succinct preparation of the flat white, given that both taste virtually the same. But since when was coffee solely about taste? Surely a drink as classic as the cappuccino should symbolise something greater than just momentary pleasure?

Peter Thomson, owner of the Coffee Hunter blog, openly gushed over the popularity of the trendy flat whites, claiming they represent a “new wave of independent, hipster-style craft coffee.” When asked about the consequent cappuccino apocalypse, he struggled to hide the disdain in his voice when he said, “The cappuccino is a relic of when the whole world aspired to drink coffee Italian style.”

Aspired?! Who says we don’t continue to dream of discovering a modest little café which serves the most ‘belissimo’ cappuccino, tucked away down a side street in the Eternal City or elsewhere in Italy? Perhaps cappuccinos are indeed remnants of simpler times yet this does not mean that they should be forgotten or neglected by your local barista and left to collect dust. They should be preserved.

The humble origins of this frothy masterpiece date back to as early as the 16th century. The Capuchin Friars, an order of the Franciscans, were widely celebrated for their incredible service to the underprivileged and destitute while adopting a lifestyle of poverty themselves. The mere image of the Friars indicated this devotion to simplicity, opting to wear brown robes with long pointed hoods. It was from this distinctive hood, known as “cuppuccio” in Italian, that the Capuchins were named. Little did these modest monks know that they were to serve as the unique inspiration for possibly the most elegant hot drink in history four centuries later.

Picture 1930’s Italy. Amidst the economic turmoil following the 1929 Wall Street Crash and the oppressive fascist dictatorship of Benito Mussolini,  society sought for some form of escape. A small symbol of hope. At this very time, a mixture of coffee and milk topped with whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles began to emerge in Trieste. It became fashionable and the trend soon flourished throughout Italy. Many began to remark that the unusual light brown colour of the mixture resembled the habits of the Capuchin Friars: the early cappuccino was born.

However, the coming years were no less chaotic for the Italian people- the horrors of further global conflict shattered national morale, citizens witnessed the tumultuous destruction of Mussolini’s government and the economy was in a perilous state. Just when Italy seemed to be peering into a dark abyss, a miracle occurred. The Italian Economic Miracle of 1950-60, to be precise. Not only did economy and society undergo momentous recovery, but Italian culture began to evolve with the improving times. Italians were now smiling at the sun.

This, though, was not the only miracle that occurred during this period. One equally as significant cannot be ignored: ‘The Age of Crema.’  This mass development of highly sophisticated coffee machines, capable of preparing pristine coffee to utter perfection revolutionised Italy. This single event ingrained the techniques and prestige of Italian coffee making all over the world, defining their culture and country.

Yet it was the humble cappuccino which captured the essence of revolution. These machines were especially designed to heat and steam milk, refining the original cappuccinos into the modern concoction we drink today. One half made of aromatic double espresso, the other of hot milk completed by steamed milk foam with a light dusting of chocolate. As Italian morale was rebuilt at the core of society’s new ‘Dolce Vita’, so too was the cappuccino.

Soon after its spectacular debut in Italy, the allure of cappuccinos spread throughout Western society. Europe, Australia and America all caught onto this trend in rapid succession by the early 1990’s, and it was due to the coffee craze that shops such as Starbucks were founded. While these were not meant to replicate traditional, family-run Italian cafés, they served to bring the flavour of Italy to a diversity of cultures.

Of course, as their success became unprecedented such American companies began to see the incredible gain of drinks like cappuccinos. They quickly began to neglect the precision and care Italian craftsmen dedicated to the cappuccino evolution. Thought turned to hastiness. Perfection became sloppiness. A symbol of new life was now no more than a poorly made drink. They cared little for the ‘Dolce Vita’ it epitomised.

But this casual disregard of past heritage and ‘relics’ has become increasingly common in our modern society. In our desperation to constantly evolve and move forward, we forget to find value in looking back in our fear of becoming cemented in the past. It is absolutely necessary to cling on to the most stylish and trendy thing at the current moment, yet we feel no remorse once we desire to toss it aside upon the discovery of something new. The flat white may be ‘in’ right now, but in a few years time this too will be shoved from the shelves like the cappuccino.

We must keep advancing, yes, but not to the detriment of everything that has brought us to where we stand today. We must learn to do one simple thing from time to time- pause.

When I have a cappuccino with my breakfast (never after 11am- that would be sacrilegious to Italians!) I’m able to stop for a while. Pondering over the brim of my coffee cup, I begin to feel more revived. After all, the cappuccino emerged in the wake of the very revival of the Italian people. I realise that although I’m anxious to get on with my day and complete the endless tasks that I have, I should make time appreciate my past and present. From there I can gradually evaluate the future. It is vital that we find some way to feel relaxed or comforted, and for me it’s by having a cappuccino.

The cappuccino first defined the sophistication of coffee, and it always will. Starbucks can change their menu as much as they like, but they can never re-write history. The cappuccino represents renewal, hope and happiness. It is imbedded in Italian culture and cuisine. It may not be as new as the flat white and other such trendy coffees, but they posses a timeless style that can’t be poured away down the kitchen sink, no matter how much Starbucks may try.

So have your frappuccinos, toffee lattes or caffè mochas. Pompously order your deconstructed coffees, skinny cortados and soy gibraltars. Rave about your pumpkin-spice lattes, caramel macchiatos and flat whites. I’ll stick to my cappuccino, per favore.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

http://www.italylogue.com/featured-articles/history-of-cappuccino-whats-in-a-name.html

https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/where-do-we-get-cappuccino-from

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cappuccino

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cappuccino

http://www.laperfetto.com/index.php?mact=News,cntnt01,print,0&cntnt01articleid=1&cntnt01showtemplate=false&cntnt01returnid=16

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/11654320/The-cappuccino-is-disappearing-Thank-God-its-horrible.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/foodanddrinknews/11653608/Ciao-cappuccino-Starbucks-replaces-coffee-with-the-flat-white.html

http://www.italiaoutdoors.com/index.php/764-history-of-italy/history-modern/1300-history-republic-1950