A white & brown hobbit house, in front of which a woman washes and hangs linens to dry. Trees surround it all.

et tu, cottagecore?

Recently, you’ve probably noticed cottagecore-related content, especially on Tumblr. As someone who already has a deep devotion to farm animals (especially sheep), mushrooms, and cabin-homes stuffed with knickknacks, the cottagecore aesthetic was and is one I gravitate toward. It’s easy to scroll mindlessly through blog after gentle, peaceful blog; reblogging jars of honey and golden sunlight and teddy bears and picnic baskets; right alongside assorted farm animals and wide, vast vegetable gardens. It’s impossible for me not to project myself onto their hazy, golden façades (literally!) and feel, for a moment, like that picture is my life. Unfortunately, I recently met with the reality undepicted in those images, and had to confront the practicality of my dreams, the genuineness of my desires.

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In the background, a blurry pastoral scene of grass, flowers, and weeds as well as a wire fence sit in the afternoon light. In the foreground, a sticky pot of honey is ladled, so as to keep some honey suspended in the air to reflect the sun’s light.

I’m already a person prone to planning for a future that could only exist several decades from now. Ever since I was a child, I knew I wanted children of my own, and spent much of my childhood paging through thousand-page baby name books, making lists that I was sure would turn to children. Soon, plans for my perfect home emerged, too: usually a tiny house on the beach or in the woods or in a field whose endpoints can’t be seen from my someday-home’s window. It was always a pastoral scene that never seemed to get so far as to ask, “how do I get my groceries?” I suppose I’d grow all of those, though I think veggie burgers and chewing gum would be difficult to grow on trees.

Aside from the limits of my hypothetical trees, there are numerous other flaws in my dreamy future plans. As someone whose hypersensitivity to noise and need for personal space gains them access to a single room in college, thanks to AccessAbility Services, I sincerely doubt I’d do well living with a wife and kids in a sub-1,000 sq. ft. space in the middle of nowhere. Just a hunch.

In addition, my dream almost always includes me helping to design and supervise the construction of my tiny home. Where will I get the money for this? On whose wide stretch of land will I be allowed to plant my home? These questions, too, remain unanswered. As someone in a relationship, and as a Capricorn Moon & Venus, thinking about and sharing my dreams for a future with the one I love feels like the ultimate sign of devotion. It’s not so much the content of the dream, it’s the idea that there is one. But ever since the beginning of this month, I’ve been wondering just how much real, practical thinking is required for the dreams I want (or do I?) to bear fruit, and how aesthetics seem to be altogether hijacking my dreams.

Of the many things I was excited to do with my partner, Kayla, I was perhaps most excited to visit a farm with them. The farm represented an aspect of our theoretical future that we loved and love to discuss: oh, the animals we’d care for! The love we’d have for them! The endless space in which they could run and play! The mass numbers of Instagram accounts catering so specifically to my dreams of animal-parenthood only furthered this desire. The reason I follow so many (almost 600) accounts on Instagram is that many of them are about certain animals and farms I’d like to keep up with. There’s nothing I love more than watching their latest videos with whomever will agree to watch them with me. I had never been to one of these sorts of farms in real life, and I have to say, I was ready for a relaxing time.

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A moodboard. (R-L, top to bottom:) houses with high-peaked roofs amongst high grass and shrubs, a forest ends in a hole opening into a blue-skyed clearing, chickens stride about on a house’s front lawn, a golden-brown pie sits on a wood block, a close-up of a bucket of red & green apples, a photo of a basket of fresh eggs, a dimly-lit bedroom featuring fairy lights and a skylight in its dormer ceiling, a better-lit loftlike bedroom featuring a bed with white sheets and a window revealing trees in the distance, another, this time large, bedroom whose bed faces a tall and wide window embedded into a dormer ceiling.

Farms –– I’m sure you never could have guessed this –– are, in fact, dirty! As in, there is a lot of dirt, and animal poop that is easily mistaken for dirt, all over the place. There are bugs, too; especially flies in the vicinity of the aforementioned poop. It didn’t fully register with me why Kayla and their mom were slathering themselves in bug spray before walking into the covered structure in which some bunnies and (separately) some small pigs lived. If you were to tell me, “There are bugs here,” I would have replied, “Of course there are!” But it isn’t until a several land on your legs as you attempt to replicate a pristine, loving Instagram video with your new pig friends that you fully accept it.

This situation was unsettling enough in the face of my romanticization of farm life, due both to my consumption of Instagram videos and from my love of cottagecore aesthetics. But it got worse: when we went to visit the goats (who were extremely pleased to see us!) we had the opportunity to spend time with them in their pen. We did. Goats, much like dogs, will get up on their hind legs and put their two fore legs on your thighs, hoping for pets and scratches. In their excitement, these goats managed to spread their poop not only into the ridges on the bottom of my Birkenstocks (and dangerously close to the synthetic straps) but also onto my thighs and the groin-area of my shorts. For all my excessive talk of wanting a farm, I booked it out of the pen after that, standing uncomfortably outside as Kayla and their mother continued to spend time with the goats, significantly less disturbed than I was. When they were done, we visited some kittens and cows. All that time, I was praying,  please let me transfer my consciousness out of this soiled body and into something cleaner. I can’t say I even really enjoyed the rest of the visit, as I was so distracted by the mess.

When it finally came time to clean ourselves off in the farm’s bathroom before driving back to their home for full showers, Kayla let me go in first* and I doused the entire lower half of my body in a mixture of soap, water, and hand sanitizer, all rubbed into my skin and clothing by a massive wad of paper towels. When we got back to their house, we had a delightful time hosing down our respective shoes. Then, finally, it was time for me to shower (first**).

And then I was clean. And mildly disturbed, because it didn’t simply feel like shit had gotten my my legs and shorts. It felt like it had gotten all over my “future,” simply by shoving its reality into my face. It has forced me to (re)consider whether or not I actually desire other things, like a garden (hard, hot work with unguaranteed results) or a tiny house (a truly limiting amount of space that would be more likely to drive me to a divorce than anything else). There has been much written on the potential harm that life lived through a camera lens or an Instagram account can be, especially now that people are using these as reasons to alter their physical forms. But significantly less has been said about the way that popular aesthetics have taken and run with our future plans, leading only to disappointment when we come up empty, frustrated, and unsatisfied.

…[S]ignificantly less has been said about the way that popular aesthetics have taken and run with our future plans, leading only to disappointment when we come up empty, frustrated, and unsatisfied.

A lot of people, especially fellow lesbians, have bought into the ideal-farm-future wholesale. It’s especially tempting because it offers an alternative to a society that is usually either hateful toward you or pretends you don’t exist. Perhaps also to help something or someone grow in ways we have been denied; to nurture other living things in the ways we wish we were nurtured. This is especially true, it seems, for lesbians who don’t want children –– but these dreams tempt us all.

I think I really had myself convinced that this was what I had always wanted, when in reality, what I wanted was the pristine version I had set out in my head. Visiting the farm animals with Kayla, I had assumed, would be a peak into my future: a partner; a farm; a sense of freedom derived from both. But as I stood, panicked in the bathroom, goat shit on my bare legs from eager goat feet, I realized that if this was living my future, I didn’t want it.

It’s impossible to tell the difference between a “real” dream (one that came “only” from inside one’s head) from a dream installed there by some outside source –– namely, because almost everything is a combination of those two. But it’s important to acknowledge outside and personal implications for those dreams, if realized, and to allow oneself to enjoy an ideal but know the reality is not for them. I’m still learning this.


*However lucky you think I am to have Kayla in my life, multiply that by a factor of ten.

**See above.

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Sarah, wearing shorts and a t-shirt, stands bent over in the lower right of the frame. Sarah is also wearing a purse and a baseball cap. They pet a sheep in its open stall with one hand.

in a shocking display of productivity

This is a post in two distinct and pretty disingenuous parts. I had a flash of writing-desire on Thursday when I made myself as busy as humanly possible for most of the day, and another flash tonight, the night I publish these two halves. I’m calling this a roundup in the hopes that that will explain/excuse that the halves of this post have nothing to do with each other.

Part I: Thursday.

Anxiety woke me this morning at 6:30, and this anxiety I wouldn’t trade for the world! I recently visited and stayed with my dear partner, Kayla. Of all of those days, Wednesday was the only one in which I got out of bed and dressed before 11:00. All else was put on hold and I’m glad I could focus on my time with them and their family. Prior to that, I had been bearing down hard on my personal writing and the thankless lit. mag submission process, as well as tasks relating to my internship. As the days went by, and especially while at Kayla’s, a thought lingered in my head: Are you spending enough time on Chinese?

I stopped going to Chinese language tutoring last month and I’m glad I stopped, I felt and still feel comfortable self-studying for two months before going back in the fall. But without weekly appointments in which I had to review the past lesson’s homework, Chinese somewhat fell by the wayside as I put my energies into writing and internship work. This morning, that realization kind of fell on my head: I woke up after less than five hours of sleep by an alarm bell screeching “STUDY!” in my head. I briefly tried to bargain with it; it was 6:30 in the summer, after all; but I came to the conclusion I always come to with these things: the best solution to something acutely anxiety-provoking is just to do it.

So I did it. I got up, I made coffee, I reviewed my character writing and vocabulary, I listened/watched a Chinese drama while I made a new Quizlet study set. I was feeling so good after doing this for a couple hours that I hung up clothes in my closet, photographed items to sell on Depop, and did a couple hours of work for my internship –– all before noon! As I write the first draft of this blog post, it’s 2:09 pm, and I’m feeling good; not nearly as tired as I was expecting, and I still have many hours left in the day before I usually go to bed.

What else did I do today? I listened to a LibriVox recording (and LibriVox is very cool, by the way: it has a selection of public-domain books read aloud by volunteers, and available to stream or download. This obviously isn’t sponsored; I really doubt LibriVox has that kind of money, nor I that kind of internet presence) of Mr. Spaceship by Phillip K. Dick. PKD is best known for “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” (or, as a movie, “Blade Runner”). Although the term “cyborg” wasn’t coined until 1960, he more or less turned an old man –– presumably also disabled –– into a cyborg, by combining its intelligence with the “body” of a spaceship. This spaceship later comes to represent the collective “body” of not only humanity but all living things, and I think it’s a wonderful meditation on the discursive possibilities available for disabled/hybrid/chimeric bodies as we talk about the future of…everything we know, love, and hope for. It really turns that whole idea of “disability as antithetical to futurity”* on its head. I mean, what’s more futuristic than making your body a spaceship?

Part II: Saturday.

I was so, so energized on Thursday, and as I mentioned then, it’s those times when I feel at my best and at my most confident. Since then, things have gone back to normal, and I’ve been sleeping in (and sleeping much better, now that I’ve returned to a study/work schedule). I don’t think I’m cut out for vacations as such, but that’s another thought to wring my hands over in a different post.

In addition to continuing all the aforementioned activities for the next month before school starts, I’m contending with two relatively-significant changes in my life: one recent and chosen; the other a bit older and unchosen. First, the chosen change: I made a new group for “What’s Your Story?” (WYS) that is open for all (not just Mount Holyoke students) to join. I think I’ve been putting off doing this because it’s a terrifying reminder that I only have two years left until I graduate from Mount Holyoke. Although the future of my studies looks exciting, Mount Holyoke is the first community in which I’ve felt the degree of security that I do. I don’t think WYS would have been the same had it started anywhere else, with anyone else; because of this, I’m feeling all of these anxieties around the character of the group/event changing once it’s open to more people.

Although this is the only logical way to move forward with WYS (assuming I don’t want to abandon it come 2020, which I don’t think I will) I’m feeling this sense of nostalgia; this urge to cling to “the good old days” of WYS that are actually still happening. Nostalgic feelings are strange like that: the real pleasure (?) that comes from them isn’t in the actual thing you miss, it’s the way you dress up the thing you miss until missing it feels good on its own. WYS has always been a healthy combination of stressful and rewarding for me, and there is no reason for me to think that it will be any different once a new set of voices are ready to be featured in it. As more and more of the initial members graduate, I’m already wading into the new WYS talent pool, and it clearly hasn’t disappointed.

On a technical level, Facebook doesn’t make it easy to change a group. I couldn’t figure out if or how I could make the original WYS a group that was “outside Mount Holyoke,” so I had to start a new group from scratch. Fresh starts are great and even necessary at this point, especially as I have a better knowledge of how to make the group as accessible and as smooth as possible now than I did when this was new to me. As for the zine I’m editing, I’m still soliciting submissions, but I’m also planning to host discussion/creative meetings early this fall as ways for people to brainstorm responses to my prompt on disability and spacetime. We can be so much more generative when we’re together, plus, WYS group meetings are always a highlight of my semester.

Speaking of being generative together, there is the unchosen change. I’m going to have to switch therapists, as mine has taken a new job. My next session with her will be my last. I have never felt attached to a therapist before, and it is very much a privilege (although it shouldn’t be) that my current one is good enough to warrant that kind of attachment from me. She’s been with me through a lot, and has turned from a mere tool to get me access to transition, to a resource and semi-mentor for me in several parts of my life. I know that my experiences with her, especially as I’m a lesbian and trans person as well as psychosocially disabled, are rare. I have received nothing but support and respect from her. I fear that she is as much of a unicorn in her field as the most cynical part of my brain says she is –– and with the state of psychiatry as it is, even the “rational”  part of my brain has no reason to be optimistic.

Given the progress I have made in critical metacognition around my life, thoughts, and feelings, as well as the amazing steps I have taken in my transition, I am so glad this person has been part of my life, even though she’s moving onto something new now. No matter what happens with the next therapist –– as with the next iteration(s) of WYS –– I’m always going to have the amazing things I’ve learned already and the things I can remember forever. In the meantime, I have plenty to keep me busy until I move back to Mount Holyoke on September 1st. And once the semester begins, I’ll have significantly less time to make blog posts in which I wallow in my nostalgic confusion and fear of change (although I will still refuse to get up at 6:30).


* Read more on this in Feminist, Queer, Crip by Alison Kafer.

a word of recommendation: cringy old tunes

Every now and then, when I’m cruising through Spotify, I spot a song that takes me back. It’ll be totally unexpected; I may not have ever remembered liking this or that song independent of Spotify’s prompting. It will likely make me cringe, especially because throughout my life I have been convinced of the superiority of my own music taste. Yet the impetus to make a childhood music playlist grew with each nostalgic encounter. Finally, the urge proved too much to sit with. So, this month, I made it.

It is by no means a complete (play)list. In fact, the more music I’ve added, the more the inevitably-missing songs frustrate me. Nonetheless, I currently have 503 songs saved on a playlist named “sarah cavar childhood hits” (no caps, we’re keeping it casual). The rules regarding which songs I could add to this list are relatively simple. One, the songs in question had to have been listened to at or before age thirteen. I designate my graduation from eighth grade and beginning of high school as the arbitrary upper limit of my childhood for these purposes. Two, the songs could not simply be from a childhood artist that I liked, but rather, they must be individual songs I can remember listening to.

I have this playlist on shuffle right now and I’m going to write about whichever five songs that pop up as I’m writing this post. I leave behind “Layers” by Asobi Seksu, which provided background to my introduction. Incidentally, this group was the one that introduced me to “shoegaze” as a genre. It is also a group that scandalized my young ears when I learned its name meant “play sex” in Japanese.  Their music is as dreamy as one might hope play sex to be.

1. Onto the childhood song-shuffle. I’m now listening now to “Hero / Heroine” by Boys Like Girls. This is one of those whiny sad boy songs I rarely let myself listen to both back then and today. I didn’t yet understand the mass appeal of whiny sad boy songs, all I knew was that the particular tone of this song made me unbearably melancholic. I listened to this song on the way to my grandmother’s house lived. I stared out the window sadly, as one does in these situations. I finished the song as I am currently doing. I found myself caught up in whatever deeply emotional memories, even nostalgia, I may have had a decade ago. My stomach had dropped into sadness and wouldn’t rise. Sad boy songs suck. It should be noted that, as I finish working on this blog post almost twelve hours after beginning it, this song is still stuck in my head and continues to make the backs of my eyes feel like I’m about to cry. Well done, Boys Like Girls!

2. The song ended and “We Didn’t Start the Fire” by Billy Joel began. I still remember most of the lyrics/historical events from this song –– I had them all memorized years ago, back before I knew what half of them meant. When Joel sings about “children of thalidomide,” I’m reminded of a particular event in fourth grade I’m still unsure of how to look at from a disability studies perspective. Ah yes, “children of thalidomide.” He just sang that as I wrote the other sentence. Anyway, I was in art class in fourth grade and (as was popular in 2009?) watching several boys in the class tuck most of their arms into their short-sleeved shirts and wave their hands around, pretending as though their arms didn’t exist. Our then-teacher scolded them harshly for making fun of children of thalidomide by stuffing their arms into their shirtsleeves. I was proud to have context for what she said. Most of my peers were confused. Had I known the infamous term “special snowflake” back then, I surely would have called her one. Present me cringes at the memory. My problematic self took home a set of her scented markers that year.

3. A middle school song is on now. “Everest” by Ra Ra Riot. I discovered Ra Ra Riot while sitting on a pink beanbag with my iPod touch, hungrily scouring iTunes for good music on which I could spend a new gift card. I was smugly satisfied that I had discovered such indie bands such as Arcade Fire, of whom I was convinced no one else had ever heard. I was devastated when “The Suburbs” received critical acclaim, convinced that my beloved “indie band” had lost all its rarity and thus all its value. Ra Ra Riot was a recommended band beneath the option to purchase an Arcade Fire album on iTunes. It had received significantly less notice; fewer reviews. Well done, Sarah! I thought to myself. One of your indie bands may have been discovered, but there will always be another for you to dig up and hoard for yourself!

4. I’m listening to “Chocolate Chips” by Zoe Boekbinder now. I discovered the Boekbinder sisters via their act Vermillion Lies. I downloaded several of their albums from Bandcamp. I was very confused as to why people liked these quirky woman singer-songwriters who half sang/half spoke along with some strange instruments which likely weren’t instruments at all. This confusion grew as I discovered both CocoRosie and Regina Spektor, both of whom I shunted into this (admittedly too-broad) category. When I was trying to add music by the Boekbinder sisters to this playlist, I was struck by 1) how little of their work had made its way from Bandcamp to Spotify and 2) how deeply I now adored their music. I’ve been listening to the Boekbinders as often, now, as I listen to their half-siblings: Tune-Yards, Superorganism, etc. If anything, to me, this quirky girl music is antithetical to the sad boy music I bemoaned in item (1). It constantly makes you wonder, “Is this music? Is she just banging pots and pans together and speak-singing along with the sound? Either way, why do I like it so much?” I just do.

5. Lastly, the song “Noise” by Tokio Hotel comes on. I had a next-door neighbor I’ll call V. V introduced me to all kinds of things; among them were Invader Zim, Tokio Hotel, and the idea of “bandom” in general. She had a cardboard cut-out of Robert Pattinson in the corner of her room. Robert stood watch as we listened to the Hot Topic hits she had downloaded on LimeWire (RIP) and I forced myself to like them. Tokio Hotel’s music often strayed into sad boy territory, but this was one of the few songs that didn’t make me feel like I was melting on the inside. “Noise” was my go-to favorite Tokio Hotel song, the one I’d bring up when making conversation with V’s friends as I stared longingly at their scene apparel and prayed for the wherewithal to someday enter my mall’s Hot Topic all by myself.

Music has an uncanny way of possessing us; at least, possessing our memories. From this Spotify adventure I find myself learning, if nothing else, that the songs from my childhood I consider to be “cringey” weren’t so in and of themselves, but rather became that way through the memories and experiences I associate with them. Each time I turn on my playlist (and a “private” listening session) I’m struck by the way the public presence of these songs, charged with memory, force me to relive what I might prefer to keep hidden.

As I conclude this piece, “Kingdom Come” by The Civil Wars comes on. It’s a good song, from the first movie in The Hunger Games series. I (age thirteen) went to the premiere with my friends. I wore a black pinstriped fedora with a white ribbon, and my prescription glasses were thick-rimmed and tortoiseshell (“geek chic”?). Although I have destroyed all photographic evidence of that time, the song remains and forces me to encounter its redeeming qualities; perhaps even the redeeming qualities of my cringey, young self (though I’m still not sure there are any). 

the distinct odor of 1837 hall, and other recent things

I have heard several people comment recently on how quickly June is going by, and I agree –– May seemed interminable, and at first June was just an extension of that month. Now we’re nearing July, the middle of summer, and the last month-and-a-half feel like a blur in hindsight. When people ask me what I’m up to this summer, I will first mention my internship and next mention my Chinese work; then, perhaps, I’ll mention something vague about “reading and writing for myself”.

That phrase, “reading and writing for myself” feels so weak, so feeble. In reality, sometimes it can be. But it’s one of the things I love most about the summer; about all breaks from school, really. For the rest of the summer –– in fact, even beyond the rest of the summer –– I’m considering writing updates on what I’ve been reading. Let me know if you like that idea! I’ll begin today: I’m working on Humankind by Timothy Morton. Although its subtitle is “Solidarity with nonhuman people” it is, in fact, not a vegan polemic! Imagine! It has more to do with philosophy; corellationism* versus object-oriented ontology (OOOh!)** and how those different ways of considering materials in spacetime might allow us to consider the agency of nonhumans. There’s a lot to it and it’s pretty slow going compared to how I usually read, but it’s really an enchanting book.

I’m also working on The Archaeology of Knowledge by Foucault. It’s amazing how much easier it is to get through an otherwise-dense work now that I already have some basic knowledge of Foucault’s ideas at large. I don’t think I’d be enjoying it, and certainly I would not be able to read it as casually as I am, without having read and written about his work (and the work of his intellectual disciples, i.e. almost every theorist alive today, whether they agree with him or not).

Fiction-wise, I’m working on a fantasy novel called Uprooted by Naomi Novik. It gave me Beauty and the Beast vibes at the beginning — and in the bad, stop-doing-things-for-this-abusive-man type of way –– but it’s been surprising me pleasantly since I’ve gotten over that initial hump. I’m reading, in small chunks, various other books, too. But I’ll keep my book talk to these three for now, because the number of things I read concurrently is embarrassing.

On the subject of writing, or more precisely, curating and editing, I’m continually finding myself excited each time I see a new person express their interest in the “What’s Your Story?” zine I’m putting together. However, with each event or zine I do, I find myself more concerned with the….ironically enough, accessibility, of this work. When it comes to the logistics of the materials I provide, I have not heard any complaints about inaccessibility. But socially, I fear that my projects are not accessible by many disabled students who would otherwise be qualified to/interested in submit/ting. We live in a culture in which disability is only discussed in relation to its cure and/or its burdensomeness, and almost always through a medical lens. This is what makes self-narrativization so important for us; it gives us a way to “speak back” at those who attempt to speak for us.

Speaking back is important when any disabled person does it, but I’ve noticed in “What’s Your Story?” that the same people –– and the same types of people –– tend to be the ones contributing every time. Those who represent my project, including myself, represent the sorts of people who “represent” MHC at large: white domestic students, either cisgender women (mostly) or transmasculine people (closer to the fringes). I’m considering the possibilities that might allow me to solicit a more diverse body of work from a primarily-MHC demographic. This must be done without tokenization or pressure, but at the same time, must be done with more energy than I’ve previously been using (considering that my recent efforts at including more voices have had such limited effectiveness). If anyone has curated before and had similar struggles, please message me! Also, of course, if you’ve never submitted to WYS before and are interested, please get in touch by August!

In unrelated news, I’m pleased to report that I have finally been able to (somewhat literally) reap the benefits of my family’s having signed up for a farm share for this summer. Recent days have been awash with strawberries (that I picked myself!); fresh tomatoes, spinach, romaine, herbs, and more. We’ve never been enrolled in a CSA before and only have the smallest share offered, but I recommend it already.

And as for the most recent happenings in my life: About two hours ago I arrived home from an overnight stay with my friend Chloe at Mount Holyoke, where she’s working this summer. I had a great time and so deeply appreciate friends like her, with whom I can talk and talk and talk, and we can entertain ourselves by talking for hours and not get bored. 1837, the hall in which all people spending the summer at MHC are staying is the only hall I have ever stayed in at Mount Holyoke and the only hall I plan to stay in; walking (back) into the hall was such a comforting experience. Even the smell of old food and unpicked-up garbage quintessential to each floor’s kitchenette made me feel as though I had never left.

It was very nice to have a change of scenery for a little while –– to be away from my laptop, to read and write in a new space around someone I don’t usually room with. Next week is already the beginning of July. For now, I’m going to spend a bit of time missing Mount Holyoke since I just got a taste of it, but I’m also excited to keep on with my normal summer activities, potentially add new ones, and have air-conditioning in my room.


*Correlationism: When I (a human subject) see the laptop, the laptop comes into being. We can never know that it exists any other way.

**OOO (speculative realism): the laptop is itself more than I (a mere human subject) can ever think it to be, and exists whether I think it or not.

what is *really* required to prevent suicide

Content Warning: though abstract and not graphic, this is a post about suicide. Proceed with caution. 

I fantasize about cutting the root of our feelings of ruthlessness and despair at the moment that they begin. This is not something I –– nor anyone else alone –– can possibly do without a radical, cultural shift to bolster it. I see your good-Samaritanism in the face of two high-profile suicides by much-loved figures, and I raise to you this question: why are you so ready, even delighted, to post the requisite hotline numbers, to say “seek [professional] help,” to say “you can talk to me” as though a conversation alone will lead to supposed recovery from thoughts of suicide. Each of these acts make non-suicidal people feel a semblance of control over the lives they see are in free-fall, when the true sources of these cases more often lie in larger structures, whose complicity goes unaddressed.

This adoption of the personal responsibility to save suicidal people by those around them is well-intentioned. However, it can, and often does, result for the suicidal person in encounters with the police, (ensuing) institutionalization, and intrusive surveillance practices. There are many things to be said about this under-discussed and frequently-excused form of ableism and institutional violence, namely that it is regarded as the only way to “deal with” The Suicidal Person. But that is not what I want to discuss right now.

Instead, I would like to address the concerning thread that runs through everyday reactions to publicized suicides, suicide awareness, and situations in which someone is perceived as “at risk”. This thread is the assumption that personal, individual interventions are sufficient in supporting people in crisis. The thought here is: if we normalize talking about suicide, and telling our friends and loved ones when we are struggling, we will solve what is obviously a/n inter/national crisis which takes the lives of many every year. Although I have no doubt that these individual interventions save lives, they do nothing to unstick the root(s) of suicidal ideation in society at large. Ignorance of these roots does a disservice to those who experience suicidal thoughts, to those who have or will commit suicide, and to humanity at large; the latter in its refusal to acknowledge that there is no “type” of person who experiences these thoughts but instead a type of social and material conditions that can lead to the desire to kill oneself.

Sometimes I get tired of my own anti-capitalist screeds, but I’m even more tired of the havoc that capitalism wreaks on all of our lives, and especially the lives of the (multiply-)marginalized. A primary goal of capitalism is to erase (and to consume and commodify) the personal identities of those who work under it. As such, if I work in retail, I am no longer Sarah-who-works-in-retail, I am a Sales-Associate. Those sorts of labels affix themselves to us, so much so that questions such as “what do you do?” do not provoke hobbies or leisure activities as responses, but instead, almost uniformly, information on where (or if) we work for a wage. If you are a student, you will likely also feel this regarding your educational life; as such, a low grade or missed academic opportunity has the potential to obliterate your self worth. By grafting our occupations onto the space where our composite selves used to be, we internalize any slight against us at school or work (a firing, a lay-off, a low wage or grade, a poor review) as a slight against us as people. When it comes to work, this is even more destructive, as these slights can result in abject poverty and its associated risks.

By grafting our occupations onto the space where our composite selves used to be, we internalize any slight against us at school or work (a firing, a lay-off, a low wage or grade, a poor review) as a slight against us as people.

Given these conditions, feelings of worthlessness, emptiness, hopelessness, and other -nesses come as little surprise. Some, including other psychosocially disabled people, lament the way in which “everyone” is claiming “depression and anxiety” these days. These complaints also seem to locate depression and anxiety in certain, pre-marked bodies and not in others, again obfuscating the root causes of these experiences. Under neoliberal capitalism, the loss of one’s self and purpose (especially in the face of poverty and unemployment) and the constant, debilitating anxiety of ever-mounting debt and implicit knowledge that one will never do or be enough is near-guaranteed. The same can be said, sometimes, for thoughts of ending one’s own life: too often, our lives under this system of slow violence do not feel worth living. As such, the problems associated with suicide; with the depression and anxiety that “everyone” supposedly has these days; are not going to be solved by psychiatry and its pathologizing, individualizing, money-making ways. Nor is it going to be solved by individual responses to individual cases, although these individual responses may be helpful on a small scale.

Under neoliberal capitalism, the loss of one’s self and purpose (especially in the face of poverty and unemployment) and the constant, debilitating anxiety of ever-mounting debt and implicit knowledge that one will never do or be enough is near-guaranteed.

There is no way to understate the danger that lies in the assumption of a “suicidal type.” The location of suicidal thoughts in only certain bodyminds implicitly blames the afflicted person for these thoughts –– that is, it assumes that these thoughts emerge from something “wrong with” that person’s brain. Think about the way the media digs desperately into the lives of those like Bourdain and Spade; they search for “signs” that may retroactively confirm that these were the types of people at risk for suicide. Regardless of what evidence toward this is or is not found, it is still an act of erasure against those who do not fit said type. Crucially, in the media today, suicidality is near-exclusively located in well-off, white Americans and Europeans. Racialized others, especially Black women, are ignored in conversations on mental health supports and needs, which can be attributed to the longstanding stereotype of Black women as strong and immune to the psychological impacts of (among other things) racialized misogyny itself**.  The disproportionate focus on individual white celebrities –– and white bodies as a whole –– as the face of the “suicide epidemic” very literally kills those bodies of color which it excludes*.

I encourage all of us to think of feelings associated with suicide not as special feelings reserved for particular, “depressed” people, but rather as emotional conditions of life lived at constant risk of violence, abuse, and financial devastation. Not only will this reframing allow us to pay especial attention to those whose experiences go undiscussed by the media in the wake of public suicides, but it will also “end the stigma” around suicide, as so many will cry on pop-media without taking steps to actually do anything about it. After all, the source of the stigma around suicide –– around disability at large –– come with the perception that they are individual afflictions which mark particular people as others; as abnormal and bad. It is only when we remove the blinders of individual pathology and understand psychological crisis as a part of our collective experience that we will begin to make steps toward healing from these tragedies. And this healing cannot start until we rethink the way we assign life-value to certain bodyminds (including our own) and which we do not, largely based on productivity and socioeconomic standing.

I propose that, as we grieve the deaths of Bourdain and Spade, we do not let conversations on suicide die so quickly. I propose that we do not halfheartedly attempt to “change the conversation on mental health” (if I hear that phrase one more time, I swear I’ll –– okay, bad joke, too soon, never mind) but rather change the structures that enable such high rates of psychosocial crisis. There will be no succinct list of risk factors nor list of hotlines or deferrals to the police or The Institution that will “cure” suicidality, because these feelings are endemic to our collective body and social conditions. For those who are experiencing thoughts of suicide, I say: don’t only seek help. Seek help and seek justice. Seek the basic rights to housing, food, water, healthcare, and human contact that you deserve but are not afforded under our present system; and seek out those who are aware that you deserve these things. It is only with the acknowledgment of this that we will make any headway against those murders committed by the ruthless hand of capitalism, with its friends, isolation and worthlessness.


*As we also know, applying our “standard” responses to suicide –– institutionalization, police, surveillance –– to suicidal people of color will in most cases prove more dangerous than they are to white people. Recognition of a plurality of suicidal experiences also requires a commitment to healing that does not involve exposure to state violence.

**See Salt’s brilliant prose-academic hybrid piece here for further information.

the story of “what’s your story?”

I mentioned here that I was considering writing the history (and even future!) of “What’s Your Story?” on this blog, both for the edification of others and also as a keepsake & reminder for myself.

I, a first-year, entered the 300-level disability studies course already sharing something in common with the professor I did not yet know: both of us were unsure as to whether I was qualified to be there at all. Luckily, the class in question was a joy to work and “prove myself” in, and became a major factor in my final decision to take up critical disability studies as an informing area of my CST focus/specific course of study and research.

Although I gradually grew more comfortable in the class as the months passed,  I grew more anxious at the looming threat of our final projects. We were heavily encouraged not merely to write a paper (the required length of which was still longer than any academic work I had written in high school) but instead to transform our classroom knowledge into an action project of some sort. I did to some of the requisite research for a paper topic, in case possible action project plans fell through (as I feared they would). I ended up writing –– for a different class –– the paper whose topic I researched, and nervously proposed “some kind of open mic, speak-out sort of thing, that I am not calling a ‘support ‘group’ therapy session.”*

I had initially come upon the idea by considering my irritation with the traditional group-therapy model: patients sit in circles to publicly confess their sins to the all-knowing professional, who then –– instead of giving them Hail Mary’s –– imposes upon them pre-determined Coping Skills as though said respective skills are a magic bullet for all people who might share a common diagnosis. The name “What’s Your Story?” emerged from a similar sense of irritation at having to divulge my (mental health) history accurately, consistently, and with gradually-increasing (not too rapidly, lest I look like a faker) degrees of self-awareness that will eventually conclude with recovery; sanity.

I have heard the phrase “what’s your story?” in myriad forms, contexts, and tones. What each shares in common is that they are coming from the mouth of someone in power. These people –– in their quest to intimately Know you, the Other –– creates the very narratives about the “causes of mental illness” and the pictures of “what insanity looks like” that they believe they are searching us to discover!**

Given this, I quickly realized I had to take my story back and share it on my own terms.

I figured that a way to radically reinvent the “story” conversation was to bring into the open –– and dare I say, “fight the stigma!” (although I always hate sounding like a highway billboard or inspirational video) around existing-as-disabled. Although I did not have much access to the knowledge and experiences of people whose disabilities are marked as “physical,” I knew the questions of “what happened?” paralleled in many ways the demands for story-disclosure with which psychosocially disabled, mentally ill, etc. people are barraged.

I made posters, sent emails, created Facebook events as well as a distinct group for attendees/participants, and haphazardly coordinated the physical space in which the event would take place. I bought allergen-friendly food, created the transcript documents for peoples’ performances, and set/cleaned up the space. My professor had generously offered extra credit to any of my classmates who showed up at my event, which only slightly diminished my then-anxiety around low attendance.

The event turned out to be as successful as it was exhausting. It didn’t run as smoothly as more recent events have (obviously) nor was I brave enough to share something of my own at the time. I don’t remember precisely how long the first event lasted, but I remember it ran far longer than I had thought it would, mostly due to the group discussion that took place after the formal readings were over. It occurs to me in hindsight that this was the first time I had experienced such a well-attended, compassionate discussion on disability. I had set the parameters clearly beforehand: abled accomplices were welcome to listen & learn, and would become unwelcome upon any attempts to dominate the discussion or claim upheld expertise.

I don’t know who it was who suggested to pass around a paper, taking down emails of attendees who wanted more events like that one. If they’re reading this, they’re welcome to email me so I can give them the hug they are most certainly due come fall. The desire to speak for myself and with others like me, instead of speaking of myself and to those who erroneously claimed authority over my life experiences, was clearly shared.

So, the next semester, I planned another event. And then there was a zine. And another zine, accompanied by an event. And then there was Amsterdam, and I was very sad to have missed out on hosting what I’m sure would have been a great event with amazing people. I’m excited to move forward now that I will be back at Mount Holyoke for four more semesters.

There were a lot of unintended, useful things that came of “What’s Your Story?”: organizing experience, planning knowledge, on-the-ground knowledge of what event accessibility can look like, learning to edit aggregated content, learning to recruit contributors, learning to publicize events via word-of-mouth and social media. My resumé has thanked me 1,000 times over. This series of events has also brought me closer to innumerable peers who I may never have known well if it weren’t for “What’s Your Story?”.  Finally, having assisted in producing, and certainly seeing, the benefits of peer-based disability organizing and the sharing of feelings and knowledge as equals and not inferiors gives me a way to talk about alternatives to institutional medicine & psychiatry in the real world.

Unfortunately, there still exist the conditions that necessitate events like this. These are the conditions that lead people, when I first try to explain “What’s Your Story?” to them, to scratch their heads. The notion of unmediated wisdom coming from the mouth of a disabled person is unthinkable when the producers of knowledge we see all have Dr., or at the very least, LCSW, attached to their names. As someone who, relative to others like me, has an increased degree of autonomy over their life, I do feel a sense of responsibility to keep organizing these events simply because I’m able to. But also, every time I (re-)read a zine, attend an event, or even simply describe the event’s ethos to others (as I’m doing now) I feel a sense of pride, accomplishment, and fun. Yes, disability can be fun; we can commune to revel in each others’ brilliant imperfections (if you will) with no need, no desire for “fixing.”


* There exist far more overlapping terms that psych-professionals use to talk about professionally-mediated spaces in which disabled people come together, and almost all of these are shortened to “Group”, which tends to be used as though it’s a proper noun.

** Obviously, I was not thinking about this as a first-semester first-year, at least, not in those terms. As I reflect now, I’m able to use such concepts thanks mainly to theorist Sara Ahmed. I’m currently reading her (2000) work, “Strange Encounters,” in which she describes the way the ego’s desire for knowledge of “the strange(r)” produces the conditions that make people “strange(rs)” in the first place.

this is not (only) a post about t

This post was initially just going to be a long-winded acknowledgement of my almost-(one day early) one year anniversary of starting a low dose of testosterone. At some point between my initial conception of the idea and today, I realized that that just wouldn’t do. There exists an expectation, I think, that every event or development related to one’s transition is going to come along with some constituent sob story. But the other day, while rubbing two graduated pumps of Androgel onto my freshly-showered back, I wondered how I’d manage over 1,000 words on what this entirely mundane aspect of my daily life. There’s no sob story to speak of, apart from periodic bursts-into-tears, elicited by a body that was rusty on how to deal with puberty. Still, this particular “journey” (as it were) isn’t worth wasting over 1,000 words on.

In lieu of some undoubtedly-emotional diatribe,  replete with “progress pics” and other things which are meaningful to many other trans people but are far less significant for me; I’m going to summarize briefly my year on T before moving onto other life updates.

I received my prescription for Androgel on May 25th, 2017. I had internally debated whether or not I wanted to start T at all since I first learned of the low-dose option*. I was plagued by unfounded fears that I would rapidly grow a full beard or spontaneously drop from my natural tenor to a deep baritone. Although for some, this (gradually) comes to pass, it did not and has not happened to me. I began on only 25% of the “normal” (that is, administered to your “average FtM” who wants a “fairly speedy transition”). Several months later, I upped my dose to 50% of the (scare quotes) average, and has not changed since. I have taken several breaks –– some due to the emotional instability, weepiness, and hypersensitivity that comes in the same package as (second) puberty, and some out of necessity; I couldn’t apply the gel immediately before or following my mastectomy. The changes have been subtle, though I like what minor ones I’ve seen.

I (much like every other person on the planet, gender notwithstanding) am not sure what my hormonal future holds**. For now, I’ll carry on with my low dose of T, administered in gel form due to my longstanding fear of having some thick and oily liquid injected into my body once a month. Unlike others, my having access to hormones isn’t a life-or-death issue, and perhaps someday I’ll get tired of taking them. For now, it’s an absolute delight to shape-shift merely because I can.

Now for other news. Yesterday I had my inaugural session with the Chinese tutor I will be seeing this summer, in order to catch up on my missed semester. It was lovely; energizing. I hadn’t realized just how much I missed Chinese while I was away, and am finding myself getting very excited about doing homework. I found myself somewhat rusty when reading aloud with the tutor, who nevertheless complemented me and thus increased my confidence. I found I needed to re-hone my listening skills: when the lesson hour began, she switched entirely to Mandarin, using the anticipated mixture of familiar and unknown words. I tried to make myself a child, over whom the words washed. I didn’t attempt to translate every single word or phrase directly. I found some of the words I had forgotten how to speak and hear enter my conscious mind, one by one, and was pleased with my decision. Learning how to string into coherency the 50% of a language you do know –– while simultaneously being barraged with the 50% you don’t –– is an under-taught skill in American foreign-language classes.

Speaking of under-taught things, I’m excited to be working on more disability / disability studies-related projects; namely, the latest planned “What’s Your Story?” (WYS) zine. If people are interested, perhaps I’ll devote one (or more) entire blog post(s) to a discussion of the inception of and intent behind WYS; there’s far too much to confine to a mere few paragraphs.

The call for submissions will be out on Facebook shortly, and at that time I will also link the associated Google Doc call for submissions, which is screen-reader friendly. The theme, chosen from a long list of potential themes with the help of my good friend Kayla, is disability and (s)pace. That is, disabled bodyminds and their interactions with spacetime. Between my research on queer space and disabled subjects, and my relatively-recent forays into the academic areas of “queer time”, “crip time”, and the fascinating, under-discussed “trauma time;”*** I’ve come to realize that a critical interrogation of the way time works is essential in studying disability.

After all, if disability has been produced via hegemonic notions of The Normal (which it has) than the supposed immaturity, slowness, stuckness, etc. that are so frequently attributed to disabled bodies have also been produced by these notions. Even the two events I mentioned earlier in the blog –– the one-year anniversary of starting T and my attempt at a return to a childlike mode of learning with Chinese –– only make sense because our collective understanding of how time and development occurs has been standardized. “Like a child” is a sufficient behavior signifier because we have all internalized certain notions of what it is to be a child. We celebrate anniversaries because we have all come to a conclusion –– or at the very least, conceded –– that 365/6 days of having done something is worthy of attention. And don’t even get me started on why we all understand what I mean by “second puberty!”

I’m excited to compile a WYS zine that will complicate sane/NT/abled conceptions of space and time…and give readers of all sorts of bodyminds the tools to expand our own understandings of the subject!

The other disability-related project I am prioritizing right now is my work as an intern with Not Dead Yet, on which I’m hoping to write periodic updates, so keep your eyes peeled! Here’s my intro blog post on their site. I feel so incredibly grateful to be interning/working for a cause I can genuinely get excited about, and for people who are good to me and with whom I share passions. I (and many, even most others) haven’t always had that experience at work. I’ve been doing writing, research, and some social-media work with them so far, and am really excited to see what I might be doing in the coming weeks.

From this, I conclude: So far, so good, summer.


*This website was my bible for several years. I still love and cherish it deeply, but after having taken much of what I need from it, I’ve put it back on the shelf (apart from that one post I wrote). I credit the site with my discovery and usage of “neutrois” in reference to myself, even though it requires extra explanation when I introduce myself to others, cis or otherwise.

**The key difference here is that trans and/or intersex people will usually acknowledge the great hormonal unknown far more readily than cis/dyadic people will.

***If you want readings and resources on any of these, feel free to email me, text me, or use the contact form on this blog. I have plenty of PDFs that I’m happy to share.