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Yoga: your invitation to relax and unwind

Photo by Emily Sea on Unsplash

Originally written for The Uni Bubble

Ever since I joined the yoga society at Uni two years ago, I have never looked back. Its ability to completely de-stress and revitalise is unparalleled, and I can’t think of a better way to begin my mornings. Despite my love for yoga dating back to pre-pandemic, there is no doubt that my passion has blossomed throughout lockdown, as I was suddenly given endless time to explore and develop my ability. Its healing powers has helped me and many other people all around the world to keep calm and motivated during a tumultuous time filled with uncertainty and panic. If you have found yourself getting stressed easily, looking for a gentle form of exercise, or if you feel like you have an unfillable hole, there is no doubt that yoga can help you reach your goal.

Photo by Sonnie Hiles on Unsplash

Yoga, originating from ancient India, is described as a group of physical, mental, and spiritual practices. The ultimate goal of the practice is Moksha (liberation) and the ability to achieve a state of spiritual awareness.  Yoga is one of the six orthodox philosophical schools of Hinduism but there is also a wide variety of yoga schools in Buddhism and Jainism. The practice of yoga is thought to date back to pre-vedic Indian traditions, possibly in the Indus Valley civilization, around 3000 BCE.

According to Indologists, the core principles of yoga are: Discovering dysfunctional perception and finding inner peace, expanding the consciousness to becoming coextensive with everything, following a path to enlightenment and comprehending impermanent and permanent reality, and entering into other bodies and attaining supernatural accomplishments.

“This form of yoga was created in the ‘Modern Yoga Renaissance’ of the 20th century, where Western styles of gymnastics were blended with postures from Hatha yoga”

Don’t let these intense principles and words scare you away as you definitely don’t need to start yoga with these in mind. Many modern yoga practices focus simply on the asanas (bodily positions), connected into a sequence called vinyasas, and accompanied by some breathing exercises of pranayama. This form of yoga was created in the ‘Modern Yoga Renaissance’ of the 20th century, where Western styles of gymnastics were blended with postures from Hatha yoga. It is a great form of natural exercise, and allows you develop strength in your core, upper body and glutes. New levels of flexibility are introduced into your system, allowing you to feel more agile.

This Western yoga allows you to exercise naturally, unwind and incorporate as much of the spiritual side and core principles as you want to. Personally, when I began yoga, I was merely on a journey towards flexibility and strength. But, after a few months of stretching, I began to listen closer to the breathing techniques, think about those core principles, and incorporate them more and more into my practice. I found that my stress levels began to significantly drop, and I found it much easier to relax and focus on my work.

“The new techniques I have learnt from pranayama has allowed me to work through my irregular breathing and control it, allowing me to feel a lot more confident”

I used to suffer from panic attacks, and I still find it difficult to breathe every now and then. The new techniques I have learnt from pranayama has allowed me to work through my irregular breathing and control it, allowing me to feel a lot more confident. You shouldn’t shy away from the spiritual side completely as it is extremely beneficial to the mind, body and soul, but you can choose to introduce it as slowly as you want on your yoga journey.

When lockdown came, I found that my free time expanded, and so did my stress levels. With coursework due in and no idea how the pandemic was going to play out, I turned to yoga for support. Beginning my days with the practice meant that I went into my daily routine feeling a lot more relaxed with a lot more focus. It also acted as the perfect break from my studies, giving me a mindful exit from the perils of Uni and pandemic life.

All of my yoga lessons transferred to zoom which I found still worked well, but I began to look for other practices to fill in the gaps between lessons. That’s when I discovered YouTube. The website is completely bombarded with amazing lessons from a whole hoard of different teachers. My personal favourite (and 9.8 million others) is Yoga with Adrienne. Her YouTube page is packed full of 7 years’ worth of yoga lessons, covering every theme you can think of. Yoga for the core, yoga for relaxation, yoga for runners… it’s all there!

Photo by Sonnie Hiles on Unsplash

One of my favourite features on her channel, is her 30 days of yoga series, where she uploads a 15–30-minute video every day in a month-long cycle. Each day is different, concentrating on different aspects of the body and breathing techniques, resulting in a well-rounded practice over the course of the month. I would definitely recommend this if you are looking to get into the practice, as this will give you a great introduction.

Her yoga for beginner’s videos are perfect for those who have absolutely no flexibility and are vital for a gentle warm up before you attempt anything too challenging. The videos provide gentle stretching techniques, an introduction to the classic poses, and the necessary reassurance that everyone needs to start from somewhere!

For many, the ability to start your journey in your room is a massive bonus as you can go at your own pace without feeling self-conscious. It’s so easy to get YouTube up on your laptop or phone and try one of these sessions out. You don’t even need to buy a yoga mat straight away; you could use a towel or carpet until you feel like you want to commit and invest in some equipment. Also, as you can practice from the comfort of your own home, you don’t need fancy gym wear or yoga pants. Soft and stretchy pyjamas act as a perfect substitute due to their delivery of comfort and give.

So, if you have access to YouTube, a towel to practice on and pyjamas to wear, what’s stopping you? I encourage you to get out there, give it a go, and invite some positivity and strength into your life.

Being a student carer is challenging, but you’re not alone

Photo by Sue Zeng on Unsplash

Written for The Uni Bubble

Ever since my dad was made redundant from his job in 2013, everything changed for my family. My mum had to start working full time and my brother and I had to step in with helping around the house. It wasn’t until 2018 when he was fully diagnosed with ‘dementia with neurodegenerative disease’, but it was long before that when we knew there was something seriously wrong.

Early onset dementia refers to a person who is diagnosed with dementia under the age of 65. It’s a very difficult disease to diagnose because there is so little known about it, and it can be a lot less black and white than the different varieties seen in the elderly. Equally, everyone’s experiences can vary so drastically as there’s no set timeline and each person’s progression is completely unique.

Receiving a diagnosis ended up being an uphill struggle for my parents as the consultants kept on pushing to diagnose my dad with depression due to its ability to cause memory loss in hard working individuals. After he had to stop driving, he received a diagnosis of ‘cognitive impairment with a functional component’. These long, vague words gave my father no springboard to achieve government or charity support, so we were left to our own devices. When we finally received the necessary diagnosis, containing that all important ‘d’ word, doors were opened for us. Support groups were available and memory enhancing drugs were on offer, but we had already learnt how to manage on our own.

When I left for university for the first time back in 2018, things were a lot different to how they are now. My dream had always been to go to university and study English literature and there was no way my mum would have considered asking me to stay at home to help out. She always wanted me to have as many opportunities as anyone else and to reach my full potential.

This wasn’t a problem as, in 2018, his condition was steady, and he was living a relatively busy life. With his weekly volunteering at a local national trust site and his attendance at fully equipped support groups, his brain was being frequently stimulated. My brother wasn’t working, so he was able to stay at home to keep my dad company when my mum was at work, offering priceless support. We are a very close family so, operating as a team came relatively naturally to us and we were all happy with our lives.

A local charity called YAC (young adult carers) were also a great help to me and my brother. He received frequent support from them, and we often went along to group activities where we were able to socialise with other young carers. If you’re a young carer, I would definitely recommend looking into what local support there is for you because, there’s nothing that compares to being able to speak to someone in a similar situation, especially a situation as unique a situation as mine and my brother’s.

During the first year and a half of living away from home, I didn’t consider the situation at home too intensely as I was wrapped up in my own bubble. My family were doing well at the time and I kept in regular contact and visited as often as possible. Even though I was away from home, both my mum and I found our phone calls a massive help as we could support each other from afar. Not many people can relate to our struggles or offer any valuable advice. So, for me and my mum, having each other to talk to and confide in helped to keep ourselves sane and level-headed.

The hardest thing about coming home was noticing the changes in my dad. It’s difficult to comprehend what it feels like to wonder whether the next time you see your father, he will remember who you are. His brain was getting foggier, short term memory getting worse, long term memory more confused and his every day movement was getting slower and slower. He was always really happy to see me, which was very reassuring, but with a degenerative disease like dementia, it would always make me leave wondering, what will happen next time?

The entire lockdown and coronavirus debacle significantly sped the disease up further than we could have anticipated. The lack of brain stimulation from any outside sources mixed with the confusion of the pandemic really took its toll. For someone with dementia, a whole new experience can be really challenging. The idea of social distancing and mask wearing was absolutely mind blowing for him, he just couldn’t wrap his head around it. It often made him angry and upset when we needed to be firm with him about staying away from people, he just thought we were being unreasonable.

Due to our inability to leave the house, the months spent at home were intense and I was given a whole new insight into my family’s lives. Where I would usually come home for a short period of time, I was faced with the constant reality that my family face. My mum balances work and care for my dad extremely well, but I could see that it was starting to take its toll on her mental and physical health. My brother was continuously keeping one eye out for my dad, so he was finding it harder to relax and enjoy himself. After the months I was there, I was fully brought up to speed in what I needed to do and how I could help everyone. I had been able to lift a few weights and allow everyone to relax a bit better.

I felt very guilty when I left after lockdown. After being at home for so long, I had been fully moulded into the family lifestyle and, in leaving, I felt like I was ripping myself away, leaving raw edges. I was excited to go back to uni, study and see my friends, but I didn’t want to say goodbye to my family.  The bond between us had grown so much stronger, and I wanted to be home, where they needed me. But, I had to go back to return to in person teaching and live out my last year.

I kept the family skype calls up, but unfortunately, I couldn’t visit due to the intensifying COVID situation, which made things slightly harder. I needed to put my studies first and remember that it was okay to do so. I made the choice to go to uni and I needed to commit to that. My mum wanted me to be out there living my life and having fun, so there was no need to wallow and miss being at home.

I’ve made the decision to stay at home next year, gain a qualification via distance learning, get a part time job and be there for my family. You never know how things will change, especially when it comes to a degenerative disease like dementia, so I don’t want to take my chances and be away for another year. Being a student carer is hard, but it’s important to look for what support is on offer. You never know who is there to help.

Looking back on the food trends of lockdown 1.0

Originally written for Quench Magazine

The one-year anniversary of Boris Johnson’s announcement to ‘Stay at home’ has come and gone, and so have most of those food fads. When I think back to lockdown, I can’t help but remember all the foodie trends that dominated every single social media platform. For me, it’s fond memories as I really enjoyed all the experimentation and new ideas! If you managed to swiftly move on, here is a few of our favourites to remind you of all the pleasures of lockdown 1.0!

Dalgona coffee

Photo by Leigh Skomal on Unsplash

Dalgona Coffee is a variety of iced coffee consisting of whipped instant coffee, sugar, water, and milk. The name comes from a Korean sugar sweet due to its resemblance in taste and appearance, although the dalgona coffee doesn’t actually contain the dalgona sweet. The drink was inspired by the Indian coffee ‘phenti hui’, but in this version, the milk is poured over the coffee mixture. I absolutely love this coffee and still drink it regularly, definitely one to try at home!

For two portions:

  • 3 tbsp instant coffee
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 3 tbsp boiling water
  • Milk and ice cubes to top

Whisk the coffee, sugar and water in a bowl for about five minutes until light and fluffy. Fill a glass with ice and milk and then top with the coffee mixture. Give it a stir and enjoy!

Focaccia gardens

Photo by Iñigo De la Maza on Unsplash

Homemade bread can be difficult and slightly complicated to make, but this bread is one of the simpler ones to master. During lockdown the trend to decorate the focaccia like a garden with tomatoes, herbs, peppers, onions, etc went crazy! Everyone was posting their own, beautifully decorated version for all to see on social media, encouraging others to give it a go. For many people, it was the perfect introduction to bread making and a great way to pass one of those long lockdown days. Although bread making can be a lot of effort, the return can be huge as, not only do you get to enjoy some delicious homemade bread, you can feel proud and satisfied with yourself for trying something new!

Banana bread

Photo by Celina Albertz on Unsplash

Banana bread was all the rage in lockdown as people went to put their creativity and spare time into a healthy snack. I loved seeing everyone’s different variations, whether it was adding chocolate chips, walnuts, apricots etc. This was my favourite recipe to follow!

  • 140g butter
  • 140g caster sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 140g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 50g icing sugar
  • Dried banana chips

Heat the oven to 180 degrees and butter a loaf tin and line the sides with baking parchment. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then add the eggs. Gradually fold in the flour, then the baking powder and mashed bananas. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for about 50 minutes. Stick a skewer into the bread to make sure it comes out clean and is properly cooked through. Remove from the tin and leave to cool on a wire rack. Mix the icing sugar with a couple teaspoons of water and then drizzle over the top. Sprinkle the banana chips on top and enjoy!

Fakeaways

With restaurants, pubs and takeaways closed, the regulars were left with little option but to attempt to recreate their favourite meals. From home-made beer battered fish and chips to chicken tikka masala, household’s all over the country were making it all! My ultimate takeaway craving is undoubtedly sweet and sour chicken balls, so, when lockdown hit, I scoured the web for a good recipe. This is the recipe that managed to tick all the boxes for me!

  • Sunflower oil
  • 100ml soda water
  • 140g self-raising flour
  • 25g cornflour
  • 4 chicken breasts cut into chunks
  • Spring onions finely shredded

For the Sauce

  • 1 red pepper, cut up
  • 3 red chillies
  • 425g can pineapple chunks
  • 4 star anise
  • 50g tamarind paste
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 100ml rice wine vinegar

Cut up the red pepper and one chilli into chunks and pineapple juice (from the can) into a pan and bring to the boil. Cover and cook for 10 mins before blending in a food processor. Return to the pan and add the pineapple chunks, the two left over chillies (halved), star anise, tamarind, sugar and vinegar. Simmer for half an hour or until sticky.

Fill a large pan 1cm deep with the oil and heat until simmering. Whisk the soda water and 100ml cold water into the self-raising flour and a little salt. Dust the chicken chunks with the cornflour, then dip into the batter. One at a time, lower the chicken into the hot oil and cook for 5-6 mins, turning once. Serve the chicken with the sauce on the side and scatter the spring onions over the top. Enjoy!

Hey Girls! The non-inclusive, yet completely ‘feminist’ sanitary product brand

After only recently coming across the ‘Hey Girl’ moon cups and sanitary pads in my local Co-op, I have been hit with many questions as what to this brand was trying to represent. Their biodegradable packing chips and ‘Buy One Give One’ policy connotes a ‘woke’ brand for the Gen Z market, yet their name ‘Hey girls’ suggests anything but. Any Gen Z sanitary supply consumer can you tell you one thing about menstruating… it’s not just women that do it.

We are living in a world of transexual and non-binary uprising, where it is important to accept people in any way that they want to. So, imagine a young non-binary person’s heart sink when they enter the supermarket, looking for an instrument to curb their heavy flow, to be faced with a cardboard wall deeming their needs as feminine and girly.

Of course, Hey Girls mission is commendable, having donated over 13 million products to young people in need of sanitary protection, they are doing something that many of us who menstruate appreciate. Yet, by including girls and young women in period poverty, they are actively excluding a portion of their market.

Their ‘About us’ page clearly articulates their message, claiming that they “know that you girls and young women are all powerful individuals” and that “all the profits from our Buy One Give One products go directly to help girls and young women in need”.

Their message here couldn’t be any more obvious to me. They are here for the girls and the girls only. Screw the transgender men who still menstruate and screw those who don’t feel comfortable labelling themselves as a “girl” or “young woman”.

Their blatant exclusivity begs a few questions their customer base should consider. Would they refuse to help a poverty-stricken transgender man? Would they turn him away due to their mantra of helping “girls and young women”? Honestly, after scrolling through their website and hitting a jackpot for every mention of “girl” and “woman” I wouldn’t put it past them.

When asked why they are doing what they do, they said that they believe access to menstrual products is a right, not a privilege. So, I’m here asking them, why are you acting like it is?  

Instagram is shadow banning sex positive content and it’s not okay

Photo by Dainis Graveris on Unsplash

Originally written for Quench magazine

Shadow banning, also known as stealth banning and ghost banning, has been around since the 1980’s and is used to block comments and posts by certain users. Recently on Instagram, many accounts that use the platform for sex work and education have found their accounts have been shadow banned, limiting their reach and customer base. Despite the fact that this shadow banned content isn’t violating community guidelines, it’s deemed as “inappropriate” enough to be given a limited viewing due to its “sexually suggestive” nature. Users aren’t usually informed when their content is being limited, causing feelings of confusion and hurt when their posts generate no engagement.

Instagram refuse to comment on their explicit reasoning behind the blocks, making it even more of a struggle for sex workers to adapt their work to prevent shadow banning and still cater to their audience and business needs. The rules appear so vague and blurred, making us question; how do they differentiate between women in lingerie, or women in bikinis and even fitness models? I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen Savage x Fenty and other lingerie adverts containing scantily clad women on my Instagram, so what’s the difference between that and an exotic dancer promoting their stripping businesses?

So many people from all walks of life and all different professions rely on Instagram to promote their business and make money. From selling art to books, t shirts to cakes, there’s a lot of money circulating the social media app, and they are all supporting small businesses in the same way. Who should get the vote on which businesses are more important and which entrepreneurs have more right to gain engagements and sales?

Annie Brown is a digital marketer and feminist activist who is working to transform ‘Lips’, her sex positive magazine, into a social media site where users can feely embrace their sexuality. However, she has faced a lot of challenges on Instagram due to posts being deleted and demoted within the algorithm. She says that “Bots can’t tell the difference between erotic art and pornography. So now with Instagram [demoting] ‘suggestive’ content, they’re basically saying, ‘We don’t care if it’s art, we don’t care if it’s activism, we don’t care if it’s self-expression.’”

Photo by Dainis Graveris on Unsplash

This provides a really important insight from inside the industry as we can get to the bottom of the fundamental issues. The Instagram of ‘Lips’ is full of liberating posts from members of all communities, educating and empowering sexuality and it is important for young people to witness and learn from this empowerment in a positive way. The site also provides a form of education that gets missed in the general school curriculum, especially surrounding topics regarding LGBTQ+ sexuality. Due to the increasing number of dangerous and harmful sex information circulating various corners of the internet, it is even more important to provide good, trustworthy and educational sites, presenting young people with the full picture after a limited school education.

In September of 2020, an Instagram account for ‘School of sexuality education’ claimed that they were deactivated with no explanation other than that they didn’t follow “Community Guidelines” and that “sexually suggestive content isn’t allowed on Instagram”. These actions and allegations are against an account that prides itself on its fun, educational tone and anatomically correct language. They carry out vital education on a wide range of nitty gritty sexual topics that schools shy away from. For example, their Instagram is littered with reminders about consent, offering free resources and pointers for help. They offer a diagram entitled ‘3 ways to make inserting a tampon easier’ along with pro discharge and masturbation paraphernalia. These are vital lessons and reminders for all generations, especially those who missed out on a well-rounded sex education at school. It’s important for Instagram to distinguish between these sites and the negative ones, as they risk doing more damage than good.

The algorithms are catering against sex work and sex education and its harm is widespread. Whilst sex workers are unable to increase their customer base or sell their products, vulnerable people are being blocked from accessing the information they need. By taking away and blocking these accounts, many will remain unaware of the pleasures of sex, whilst members of the LGBTQ+ community will find it harder to access safe, informative accounts. It’s such an important issue and there is no question that Instagram needs to step up and address this in order to avoid any negative repercussions that they are inadvertently responsible for.

The History of Gay bars and Their story of liberation

Gay bars have always served as a central pillar to the LGBTQ+ community and have always taken their place as one of the few spots where the community could truly express themselves. Unsurprisingly, evidence of gay bars dates all the way back to the 18th century, but the first ‘official’ gay bar is assumed to be ‘The Zanzibar’ in Cannes, France, opening in 1885 and running for 125 years until it recently closed. Europe was at the heart of gay culture in the 19th century with Paris being known as a ‘queer capital’ along with other European cities such as Amsterdam, Berlin and London.

“Soho was able to become a firmly established gay capital allowing the community to party in peace”

We can get a feel for underground gay bars and clubs throughout the Victorian period as literature often gives us an idea of what the scene was like and how it has adapted. For example, London’s Soho was always synonymous with underground gay culture, acting as a basis for the dark deeds in gothic works such as ‘The strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ and ‘The picture of Dorian Gray’. Oscar Wilde himself was well known to frequent Soho and he was made liable for his actions when he was arrested for ‘sodomy’ and gross indecency’. However, less than a century later, there was a real shift when homosexuality was decriminalized, and Soho was able to become a firmly established gay capital allowing the community to party in peace.

All over the world, underground gay bars sprung up and despite being widespread, they all contained the same values and were carried in the hearts of the entire community. Homosexuality was illegal in the UK until 1967 and the decriminalization in the US spanned from the 1960’s to the early 2000’s, resulting in underground gay bars acting as the only place to experience liberation and freedom. Visiting the bars were always a high-risk activity and those who attended faced the danger of public humiliation and loss of jobs, friends and family. This goes to show how important and liberating these bars were due to the risks that people were willing to take in order to express themselves.

“They felt like their only safe haven had been forcibly penetrated and that it was time to create places where members of the LGBTQ+ community could freely meet up and be themselves”

One of the most notable events for the US’s LGBTQ+ community was during the sexual liberation of the late 1960’s and the pivotal point of the Stonewall riots. After the police raided Stonewall Inn, a series of aggressive and violent riots were sparked in order to combat and demolish police brutality. They felt like their only safe haven had been forcibly penetrated and that it was time to create places where members of the LGBTQ+ community could freely meet up and be themselves. The lack of justice they had experienced had forced them to grow a thick skin so many of them were ready to fight for their freedom with violence, and eventually, they reached success.

For the community, the bars were not only places to feel liberated, they also became places to mourn and grieve. The AIDS pandemic of the 80’s devastated the world, but specifically the LGBTQ+ community, and their communal spaces became unique in that they were able to talk to people who felt the same anxieties and pain. The clubs became places for songs to be sung, dances to be performed, interviews to be held and money raised, all in aid of the AIDS crisis.

“Friends and family of the victims compared the attack to the invasion of a church or sacred space, and that truly expresses what these institutions represent for those who attend”

Despite all the progress that was made over the decades, from the illegal clubs to the legalization of homosexuality, the community still faces devastating blows. The 2016 Orlando shooting in Florida was an event that rocked the entire gay community and it originated at the heart of their club scene. The clubs, despite being their safe space, had been invaded and friends had been lost. Friends and family of the victims compared the attack to the invasion of a church or sacred space, and that truly expresses what these institutions represent for those who attend.

These bars are the bloodline of the community and have been for centuries. Even through times of need, they have been institutions where they can get together, laugh, cry and express themselves. The bars will continue to evolve and change with the times but their values and their meanings will remain the same. After all, everyone needs a room of one’s own.

How deep are the roots of slavery in Kindred and Sing, Unburied, Sing? Part 3

The literary blurred lines of an interracial relationship

Interracial relationships have frequently been depicted in forms of literature and film such as the ground-breaking Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner by Stanley Kramer and, more recently, Jordan Peele’s Get Out. These relationships have always varied in their presentation, but, due to the societal basis of slavery, Butler and Ward’s fictional relationships depict the fine line of slavery within an interracial relationship.

Whilst Dana and Kevin’s relationship is a loving one, a certain power struggle exists. When Kevin proposes he says, ‘I’d let you type all my manuscripts’ and shows clear annoyance and anger when Dana is reluctant. This is an interesting detail for Butler to choose to include, as, due to lack of relevance to the plot, it is clearly significant for another reason. She is depicting an imbalance in the relationship and presents the assumption from the white male that the black female will do what he says and be happy to do so. Butler takes this further as she draws comparisons to Rufus as he asks Dana to write letters for him as well, blurring the lines between slave master and husband.

One of Dana’s initial time travelling escapades ends with her in a violent situation when a white guard nearly rapes her. Butler distorts Dana’s transition from 18th century to 19th century as she opens her eyes and sees ‘a blurred face above [her] – the face of a man – and [she] panicked’. It takes her a few seconds to realise the man above her is no longer the attacker, but her husband. This highlights the similarities between the two white faces and the possibility of Kevin as the threat, reminding us that this was the expected relationship between a white man and black woman.

Damien Duffy and John Jennings take this idea further in their graphic adaptation of Kindred with the comparison of the two men in their illustrations.

The two images are screenshots taken from Damien Duffy and John Jennings 2017 graphic novel adaptation of Kindred.

Looking at these images we can see distinct similarities. Both men are white with similar hairstyles and rolled up sleeves. The positions of their bodies on top of Dana’s with the angle looking in from the right side along with their comparable features allows us to see the men as the same. It questions our interpretation of their relationship and the grounds in which it is based. Equally it draws attention to their respective ancestors and the class divide in the 18th century society, blurring the lines of their interracial relationship.

The secondary interracial relationship in Kindred is between Alice and Rufus, which is based on slavery and force. Guy Mark Foster writes that ‘My point is that critical analyses of the novel that center the historical narrative of interracial rape, represented by Rufus and Alice’s forced relations, do so at the expense of marginalizing the narrative of consensual interracial desire, represented by Dana and Kevin’s marriage’. Yet, due to the constant similarities and parallels, I believe Butler’s intention was to marginalise interracial desire and draw attention to the fundamental societal issues.

Not only is Kevin compared to the white patriarchal figures, but Dana and Alice are constantly described as sisters with their similar appearance and personality. Equally, they are both favoured by Rufus and given leeway in their behaviour. Rufus even concludes their interchangeability when Alice dies and he attempts to bed Dana instead. The distorted lines between characters work together to blur the interracial relationships and shape the aesthetic in a more traditional way. It depicts slavery as deeply rooted within the societal norms and an inescapable thing that manifests itself in all aspects of modern American life.

In less explicit terms, Jesmyn Ward highlights a level of oppression and slavery in Leonie and Michael’s relationship. On one level, the African American Leonie is emotionally enslaved to her white partner, to an extent that is reminiscent of master – slave. When it’s her son’s birthday, the phone rings. Even though she is holding her son’s cake and he’s about to blow out the candles, she exclaims that it, ‘Might be Michael’ and runs off with the cake in hand. Ward has painted Leonie as a character who would drop anything for her partner, he is constantly on her mind, above anything else, including her duty as a mother. After her mother’s death, when her father is left caring for her two children, she leaves with Michael, with no regard for how her family are coping without her mother. She follows Michael round like he is her master as Ward depicts the hold a white man can still have over a black woman.

Equally, I found the incident with the policeman on their way back from Parchman to hold a similar level of significance with regard to white/black relationships. Nicole Dib writes that, ‘she, as the black woman, had to literally consume the risk that she, her white friend, and her white male partner all took’. In a situation in which a group of three were responsible, Leonie must physically consume the evidence as an act of duty towards her white counterparts. She ends up violently sick and severely affected by her actions whilst Michael and Misty remain unscathed. Not only does this incident represent a blurring of the boundaries in interracial relationships, but also illustrates the cultural lag. African Americans are behind white people in terms of societal rights and police treatment due to the inheritance they have gained from the time of slavery.

Jesmyn Ward and Octavia Butler have both seemingly worked with the established aesthetic tradition of slavery within literature to employ its relevance in society today. The use of modern-day slavery in both exaggerated and realistic terms has formed a stable sense of the injustice faced by African Americans in contemporary America. The references to the Middle Passage and works by Frederick Douglas both serve to highlight the lack of progress and the necessity to inform through the use of literature.

How deep are the roots of slavery in Kindred and Sing, Unburied, Sing? Part 2

The hand me down life

It is written in Michael Hanchard’s essay on Afro-modernity that ‘Legalized segregation, the maintenance of separate and largely unequal institutions, meant that blacks, as a consequence of prejudicial treatment, received health care, education, police protection, transportation, and a host of other services only after those same services were provided for whites’. This was a prominent issue that followed the emancipation of slavery as, the prejudices against African Americans were still extremely prevalent. In turn, the delayed access to education, health care etc, created a cultural lag which largely affected the black community and their progress in society.

Frederick Douglas wrote in his work on ‘The Color Line’ that, ‘He has ceased to be the slave of an individual, but has in some sense become the slave of society’. Despite this being written in 1881, this idea of being enslaved to society has persisted well into the words of Hanchard over a century later. The African American community was forced into the cultural lag through societal structure, with no choice to remain there, resulting in their lives continuing on an eerily similar path to their ancestors who were explicitly enslaved.

I can easily transfer this idea of the cultural lag to Sing, Unburied, Sing due to the lack of justice that Ward has depicted throughout her use of young, black male characters. The ghostly figure of Given is narrated to life to by his sister Leonie and the reader learns about his tragic fate. As a young aspiring athlete, he was deemed to have a bright future due to his talented football playing. Yet, due to the cultural lag and unequal opportunities of society, he was unable to excel and reach his full potential. His father said to him, ‘they look at you and see difference son. Don’t matter what you see. It’s about what they do’. There is a clear outline of a black and white dichotomy with an explicit reference to the imbalance of power and the effect that Given’s white counterparts could have on his livelihood. Given ends up being murdered by a white boy when they are out hunting together simply because of Given’s superior hunting technique. The murderer exclaims to his family that, ‘He was supposed to lose, Pa’. His uncle scolds him and says, ‘This aint the old days’ yet, his white skin and links to the Sheriff’s office results in a quick three-year sentence, barely enough time to affect his future. Despite his uncle’s claim that, ‘This aint the old days’, there is a clear cultural lag in the treatment that African American’s receive in the criminal justice system. Maybe society hasn’t moved on since the old days after all.

In 1881, Douglas wrote that ‘They are negroes – and that is enough, in the eye of this unreasoning prejudice, to justify indignity and violence. In nearly every department of American life they are confronted by this insidious influence’. This is clearly a tradition established early on when writing the African American experience and Ward has made no effort to work against this or argue that there has been any significant change. Ward’s character Given excelled, yet the cultural lag in society didn’t allow him to move forward with his talents and overtake his white counterparts. In the eyes of the law and his white friends, he was just a ‘[negro]’ which was enough to ‘justify indignity and violence’.

It can be argued that the events I have just outlined were based on the second-generation characters and therefore less relevant to the modern day yet, Jojo’s experiences with the police highlight the relentless significance of the cultural lag. When stopped by the police on their Middle Passage, the ghostly figure of Richie warns Jojo that ‘They going to chain you’. This character is two generations older and due to the perceived societal progression in the black/white dichotomy, it wouldn’t be far fetched to assume he is out of touch with the police force. However, Jojo goes on to being treated by the police in the way that was predicted. Nicole Dib wrote that ‘Richie’s disquieting statement and the distressing action his body takes in the car signals the carceral anxiety that haunts him, even as a ghost’. Yet, I believe that the distress is less about his past experiences, and more about the fact that this is still a concern for African Americans. Richie is the voice of the past that is shocked and uncomfortable that modern day children are forced to endure his previous experiences, which ultimately exacerbates Ward’s intentions.

The cultural lag is highlighted not only by these similarities, but by Jojo being singled out by the police officer. The young boy is surrounded by adults, including a much older white man, yet the black child is the person whom the police officer sees as a threat worthy of arming himself. This pays homage to the endless number of black drivers who have been shot and killed on the road such as Sandra Bland. It’s important to note that Octavia Butler expressed a similar cultural lag in her comparisons of 19th century and 20th century North America. Whilst the Antebellum South depicts unimaginable extremities, Butler makes sure she presents her modern-day world as unjust. A co-worker refers to the couple as ‘chocolate and vanilla porn’, whilst Kevin’s sister said she ‘wouldn’t have [Dana] in her house – or [Kevin] either if [he] married [her]’. These examples span across different levels of extreme whilst one expresses a lower-level prejudice, one depicts a more violent level of racism and cultural lag. The colour of Dana’s skin prevents her from marrying freely and being accepted by her partner’s family. This is not dissimilar to the way the couple are treated in the 1800s as she is assumed his slave. As stated by Douglas, ‘They are negroes – and that is enough’.

How deep are the roots of slavery in Kindred and Sing, Unburied, Sing? Part 1

The African American inheritance

Kindred, a novel ‘which strikingly reimagined the neo-slave narrative genre’ managed to accurately depict the modern-day entanglement with slavery that African American’s are forced to endure daily. Gabrielle Bellot wrote that, ‘Time heals, but also hurts; the past is indeed a different country, but less so than we may think’ and I believe that this not only accurately summarises Butler’s intentions throughout her 1979 novel Kindred, but Jesmyn Ward’s 2017 novel Sing, Unburied, Sing. The roots of slavery are deeply anchored within these modern-day depictions of Northern America providing apt argument for the past as less of a different country than we may think.

The narrative of Kindred follows the modern African American character, Dana, on her journey as she is forced back in time to the Antebellum South to protect her bloodline. In the initial stages of the novel, we witness her experiencing the enslaved and oppressed life of a black woman during the 1800s. When attacked, Butler channels the thought process of Dana writing that, ‘Now I would be sold into slavery because I didn’t have the stomach to defend myself in the most effective way. Slavery! And there was a more immediate threat’. Despite being a free, working, married woman from the 1970s, she is suddenly facing the serious reality of enslavement. Dana puts the threat of slavery to the background, naming it as the least immediate threat. I believe this nonchalance is extremely telling of the established aesthetic of slavery in the modern-day society. James Baldwin wrote that, ‘the country is celebrating one hundred years of freedom one hundred years too soon’ and Butler has materialised this through her novel, as she makes it clear that not only is slavery a reality that Dana must accept, it’s also a reality that she is less fazed by. Butler’s impression of insouciance from Dana illustrates the strong hold that slavery has on her character and its ability to casually resurface.

The prologue and epilogue depict the incident in which Dana, returning from her last trip, finds her arm caught in the wall. Despite assuming she would be safe from the tribulations of 19th century Maryland, she finds herself ‘caught somehow’ as she is stuck, between 19th century and 20th century. For many African Americans, it is confusing how, over a century later, they are still affected and ‘caught’ in the time of slavery despite the progress that has been preached in society. The loss of Dana’s arm depicts the physical and mental scarring that is left and has remained. Butler chooses to insert a scene where Kevin and Dana are at home and the radio station begins to report on rioting and battles between white supremacist police and black residents in South Africa. Both these examples emphasis the lack of progress and illustrate the scarring left behind. We are starkly exposed to the explicit realisation of the parallels of 19th century and the 1970s as we understand Butler’s intentions to depict the modern day’s entanglement with the past.

Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing depicts the substantial roots of slavery in a less explicit and more metaphorical way. The narrative is littered with inequality and injustice, yet the entire middle section of the novel, narrated by the characters as the journey to and from Parchman Farm, is representative of the infamous Middle Passage. Nicole Dib writes that, ‘Ward’s road trip is decidedly haunted, hunted, and policed for black subjects who inhabit the road’. The policed aspect of the road is signified on their way back from Parchman when they encounter a ‘young […] skinny’ police officer who smells of ‘sweat and spice’. Despite their freedom to travel, they are not only stopped but forced to exit the vehicle and explain themselves to a stoned white man at gunpoint. The hypocrisy and policed aspect that is experienced by both the black narrators of Sing, Unburied, Sing begins to paint comparisons to the black travellers along the policed Middle Passage.

In Black Imagination and the Middle Passage, the introductory remarks state that, ‘The injustice and brutality of tight – packing is unquestionable, the suffering and horror experienced by the slaves unimaginable. Add to that image the lack of proper diet, the unhygienic conditions […]’. Whilst reading this depiction of life travelling along the Middle Passage in a slave ship, I can’t help but think of Ward’s portrayal of Jojo’s journey. Like North America, they are on their way to the land of imprisonment. Already extremely squashed into the car, Ward’s introduction of Richie and his choice to ‘fold [himself] and sit on the floor of the car.’ is reminiscent of the ‘tight – packing’ experienced by the slaves. Jojo also experiences the ‘lack of proper diet’ as he quenches his thirst with rainwater when denied a drink from the unforgiving and forceful figures around him. He experiences the life of a convict as he ‘[slides] a pack of saltiness and two bottles of juice [he] stole out of that house into [his] own plastic bag’.

The entire central passage as written by Jesmyn Ward, resonates the time of slavery and implicitly gives the same message as Octavia Butler. They work together to explore the modern-day ties to slavery in African American culture, depicting the similarities and its deep roots. Neither Dana or Jojo has been able to escape the clutches of the past and it has left permanent marks on their lives, either physical or mental. Guy Mark Foster writes that ‘slavery itself is overdetermined within the tradition, since Kindred is not so much about slavery as it is about how black Americans learn to renegotiate the history of slavery within their present-day circumstances’. Although I agree that both novels centre on learning to renegotiate, I believe the most important aspect is the idea of black Americans are being forced to renegotiate due to the prevalence of oppression in modern day society. Dana was literally pulled back in time to the Antebellum South without her being able to express any opposition. Comparatively, Jojo is forced along the journey of the Middle Passage whilst being made to endure hardship despite his young, schoolboy innocence. The lesson of renegotiation is not of choice, it is a lesson that should not have been necessary in the first place.

The Year of the Flood; Dystopia or reality?

Photo by Edwin Hooper on Unsplash

Due to both University reading and personal interest, I’ve found myself delving into the world of dystopian literature more than ever. Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood has become anew favourite of mine as I found myself flying through its 500 odd pages. Set during a period of biological catastrophe, The Year of the Flood is the second novel in a trilogy based on different angles of this make belief world. However, having not previously read Oryx and Crake, I could only interpret the novel as a standalone piece of fiction.

Reminiscent of Atwood’s own The Handmaid’s Tale and other dystopian novels such as A Clockwork Orange, the plot is packed with sexual violence and oppressive figures. With a page count of over 500 pages long, the two central characters have ample room to breathe, grow and let their personalities seep onto the pages. The reader watches Ren grow from child to adult as the plot forms a feeling of Bildungsroman. Her life is tumultuous and unforgiving as she experiences upper class life, an existence in the Pleeblands, and of course, the agricultural cult, ‘The gardeners’. She is emotional and it’s difficult to remove yourself from her pain as she is abandoned by her parents, loses her friends and suffers through a painstakingly long heartbreak.

Toby is arguably a character residing on the opposite end of the emotional spectrum. Feared by the children of ‘The Gardeners’, she is an extremely head strong and resourceful character. Orphaned as a teenager, she picks her way through low life jobs whilst forcing herself to make money in less than desirable ways. Her entire narrative is a sad and lonely one, filled with isolation and a lack of love. The moment she finds Ren in the Year 25 (which we were all anticipating) was the first time I felt like she was no longer on her own. Ren and Toby, however oppositional, are the perfect companions. Their mix of experience and their complimentary balance of emotions creates a partnership and level of camaraderie that I believe will continue long into their fictional future. Atwood’s mastery of these characters was sensational. I laughed, I cried, and I felt my heart break along with them. This is one of the few novels that I was mightily disappointed to see the back of.

When it comes to the dystopia genre, one of the most important things to consider is that it is not so much science fiction, but a potential reality. Atwood has always famously said that she does not want her writing to be referred to as science fiction due to her contextual influence’s roots in real life. The Handmaid’s tale famously echoes the Salem Witch trials, Biblical stories, ancient monachal practices and it’s not hard to see similar influences in her other novels. When reading The Year of the Flood I could sense the contextual influences of both feminist and eco critical movements from the worlds past and present. Equally, the corrupt patriarchal forces strongly echoed those we have seen around the world and we are no strangers to religious cults and barbarians.

Reading this novel in today’s climate whilst residing alongside the infamous COVID19 global pandemic, the idea of the ‘waterless flood’ can easily cause a few grimaces and raised eyebrows. Written over a decade ago, the parallels of nose masks and keeping distances from each other in order to protect yourself from germs and unsanitary living, sits uncomfortably on the chest. How many pandemics will we go through before we face an event comparable to the ‘waterless flood’? When will be unable to prevent the population dropping like flies? Atwood’s decision to leave out the key details and explanation into the nature of the disease until halfway through the narrative adds immensely to the unnerving build up of tension and feeling of unknown. The story behind the pandemic begins to slowly unravel as we are drip fed an insight into the nature of the waterless flood, and this does little to put us at ease as we sympathise with the character’s hardships and feel their pain.

One of the more ‘dystopian’ features of The Year of the Flood is the unique blend of original vocabulary that Atwood has created. The literary technique creates a barrier between the reader and the fictional world, removing any feeling of reality. I was quite interested in the inspiration behind the made-up words such as garboil, bimplants, but when breaking the syllables down, its not too difficult to work it out. I still can’t believe it took me nearly half the novel to work out that violet biolets meant toilets! The single changed letter clearly makes all the difference…

Despite Atwood’s rejection of the sci-fi label, the freaky words and animal hybrids (rakunk and bobkitten) does little to veer away from this label. It paints the society as apart from the one we are so familiar with today and slightly removes the possibility of our society facing a similar future. There is a lot we can take away from the novel and its warnings against unnatural experimentation and corrupt government. Atwood almost implements the features of a fable into the narrative with the moral possibly being based on leaving nature and wry science experiments alone. Well, it’s convinced me, and I can’t wait to get my hands on the other two novels in the trilogy.