Volume 93 Arts and Culture Editor reflects on her time at the Silhouette and the immense healing inherent storytelling
Storytelling is a skill I feel I have undervalued most of my life. It wasn’t until this year that I learned to appreciate its full potential and power. A good story can draw out our deepest emotions, forge connections and inspire us. But there is also
a side to a story that can provide healing and growth.
My curiosity, love for stories and interest in writing are what initially drew me to journalism in high school. When I later joined the Silhouette in university, my main motivation for becoming a reporter was getting to know the Hamilton community better. I mostly viewed the storytelling I practiced through journalism as a medium to understand the spaces I was part of — that was until I had a conversation with Carmen Cooper and Carl Lambert from 541 Eatery & Exchange.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Cooper and Lambert to cover a new harm reduction initiative at the eatery called Concrete Tales which focused on ex- changing stories and teaching storytelling skills to people who are unhoused or experiencing substance addiction. They shared with me the differences these workshops were making on people’s lives and how it provided healing for everyone involved.
“Because I’ve been [working at 541 Eatery & Exchange] for four years, in some ways, I have earned the privilege and hon- our of getting to know some people who have had very hard lives and because I myself found healing and growing through storytelling, I wanted to offer that opportunity to other people,” said Cooper.
Since our conversation, this is a quote from Cooper I have continuously reflected on and held close to me. It showed me that stories can enable people to understand their lives, construct meaning from trauma and cope with reality. After reflecting on it further, I realized I, too, had taken advantage of this part of storytelling to cope with my own past trauma.
The most difficult event I had to endure in the last few years was the passing of my aunt. Growing up, with my mother often busy at work, it was my aunt who acted as the primary caregiver. Unfortunately, when I was in high school, she was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. The years following, and especially when she entered the palliative care home during the pandemic, were the most challenging years for us.
For a while, I couldn’t speak about her to anyone because all I would do was cry and so instead, I chose to suppress my feelings and tuck her story away. However, I finally revealed her story to the world through the Silhouette in 2021.
I found immense healing through the experience of retelling her story and her impact in my life. Recounting my memories with her washed away my sadness and brought warmth over the painful experience of watching her slowly deteriorate away. Since writing the article, I’ve also been more comfortable speaking about her to others and my family which provided further healing.
There is so much one can take away from stories and storytelling. I’ve continued to apply the lessons I learned by encouraging family and friends to ex- press their feelings and experiences and listening attentively to them when they are going through a difficult time. Even in conversations with strangers, I’ve had experiences where people would thank me for allowing them the space to share their story.
Storytelling can be a powerful skill to develop to help others understand their own narrative but also for you to better understand yourself. It is one of the most meaningful lessons I’ve learned through- out my time at the Silhouette and I encourage everyone to practice and hone this skills — whether it be through participating in journalism or reflection — to become a stronger advocate for others and yourself and navigate trauma and loss.
The intersections between love, sex, health and the facets of our identities
Intersectionality is an inevitable result of the fact that people’s identities are multidimensional. A term coined by law professor and advocate Kimberlé Crenshaw, intersectionality reflects how different aspects of who we are — from race to gender, sexual orientation to religion and disability to socioeconomic status — influence our lived experiences. In recognition of this fact and to honour these stories, we have asked our communities to share how identities intersect and shape our unique encounters with love, sex and health in this year’s Sex and the Steel City.
Growing up in a rather conservative South Korean household, I rarely engaged in conversations around love, sex and health, particularly mental health, with my family. I recall talking my mom about what I learned during health class in elementary school. The look of alarm and shock on her face when I said the word
, masturbation , in front of her for the first time forbid me from saying it again so openly. In another instance when I was visiting family in South Korea, my dad shot me a sharp, disapproving frown at my spaghetti strap tank top. I remember a wave shame took over as he told me to go change into something more appropriate for a young girl.
Developing a healthy relationship and mindset around love, sex and health took a long time, especially as I learned to accept our differences and overcome my family’s cultural views and biases around these conversations. It probably wasn’t until my senior years of high school when I began to speak more vulnerably about my experiences with these topics. It was all due to the friends, teachers and communities that taught me not be afraid to speak up and made me feel validated.
This is why spaces like Sex and the Steel City where people can freely and openly share stories and deliberate on these so-called taboo topics are important. This year’s theme, intersectionality, was inspired in part by my upbringing and experiences but also in recognition of the fact many others also understand how different systems of oppression and aspects of identity affect how we view relationships, sexuality and well-being.
This issue is home to intimate, perhaps what many may consider controversial, special stories. I want to thank everyone, including the Silhouette staff, who contributed their perspective, artwork and narratives to create this wonderful issue. I’m honoured and grateful for the folks who entrusted me and gave me permission to share their thoughts and experiences with the rest of the McMaster community.
To you, dear reader, I hope this issue can serve as a space to explore, (un)learn and reimagine what love, sex and health can look and feel like. There aren’t enough pages in this issue to capture all the different stories of intersectionality and love and I acknowledge there are missing voices in this issue. However, I hope you find and resonate with at least one memorable artwork, image, article, sentence or word while reading this issue — I hope we made an impact on you. Additionally, if you see a gap in the missing pages that you can fill;
, it’s also not too late to contribute to us.
A new initiative at 541 Eatery & Exchange creates a safe space for folks who are unhoused to share their stories and become better storytellers
Stories are powerful tools. They can shape, heal or challenge people in unexpected ways and help us better understand ourselves and others. At 541 Eatery & Exchange, a not-for-profit charity café, a new storytelling circle, Concrete Tales, is helping to instill this powerful tool in its community.
The premise of 541 Eatery & Exchange lies in the vision that all people deserve access to food and should be able to choose what they want to eat. Their goal is to provide an opportunity for people to help their community by paying it forward through its button system and making sure everyone has access to good food. They also hope to provide a sense of dignity and respect that is too often stripped away from those who are stigmatized in society, such as those who are unhoused or dealing with addictions.
“541 Eatery & Exchange is a beautiful way for people, who have more resources, to come and see and interact with people who are actually very, very strong and resilient—people who have lived on the streets and have seen and experienced tough, tough things—and see them for who they really are,” said Carmen Cooper, staff at 541 Eatery & Exchange and organizer of Concrete Tales.
Concrete Tales is the latest initiative at 541 Eatery & Exchange funded by Keeping Six, an organization focused on harm reduction in Hamilton. Its first session was held on Nov. 18 at the café and it will continue to occur every Friday from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. with dinner provided. Every week, one of the facilitators or guest speakers will exchange stories — some personal, some folk tales — of resilience and strength.
Cooper came up with the idea of starting a storytelling group and then later recruited facilitators to help run the sessions, including Carl Lambert whom she got to know through 541 Eatery & Exchange. Both their connections to the café and its mission run deep and long.
Cooper started working at the eatery four years ago but has been part of its family for a long time as a volunteer. She was drawn to this space by the sense of integrity, dignity and inclusivity offered by its community and while working here, she was able to learn the stories of folks who have had very difficult experiences and found herself healing and growing through listening to their stories. Concrete Tales came about because she wanted to extend this opportunity to others in the community and provide a dedicated safe space for folks to share stories.
“Because I’ve been [working] here for four years, in some ways, I have earned the privilege and honour of getting to know some people who have had very hard lives and because I myself found healing and growing through storytelling, I wanted to offer that opportunity to other people,” said Cooper.
Lambert is a long-time customer at 541 Eatery & Exchange and someone with lived experiences of being unhoused. Coming to the café for the past 6 years has been helpful for him in dealing with his addictions and getting a chance to socialize with the local community.
“[541 Eatery & Exchange] has been a wonderful place for me in terms of dealing with my addictions and re-socializing with people,” said Lambert.
Despite Concrete Tales being a fresh and new initiative, the response from the attendees has been powerful and encouraging. At the first session, the group established rules of engagement, such as respect, trust and how they use a piece of concrete as the talking stick. It was crucial to establish these rules as soon as possible to emphasize the fact it is a safe space where people accept each other and can feel comfortable offloading their experiences and personal struggles.
During the first session, Cooper also shared an African folktale to ease the group into storytelling before delving into too personal stories which can be tragic and triggering for some folks. As the closing remark, she read a poem followed by a moment of silence for reflection which she hopes will be a tradition the group will continue every week. Afterwards, many folks shared they were looking forward to coming back for more and showed enthusiasm for future events.
“Everyone said they are coming back . . . [And] the community at large is supportive of [Concrete Tales] too as well as the [attendees]. It’s wonderful,” said Lambert.
Looking further ahead to where the group would like to take these sorties and conversations. In February 2023, they hope to facilitate an 8-week workshop to teach folks how to develop their own stories, including proper structure, body language and effective delivery. At the end of the workshop, they will host a debut event for all the storytellers to share with the general public.
Teaching people, especially those who are unhoused, how to be strong storytellers is important in Lambert and Cooper’s perspectives because it is an essential skill and can be therapeutic and dignifying.
“Let’s say something happens and you’ve got to talk to a banker, you've got to talk to a cop, you’ve got to talk to a fireman about [how] your kid [fell] into the water — it's a story and the more effective you can do it, especially as a street person who tends to lose those social skills, it’s huge . . . Also, it’s therapeutic,” said Lambert.
“I think that the idea that even though you’ve lived a difficult life, [knowing] that you matter, your story matters — like there is substance there — it dignifies your life which I think is rare,” said Cooper.
Additionally, by sharing these stories, they hope to help the community unlearn harmful stigmas against people who are unhoused, such as that they are on the streets because they are lazy.
“I think the assumption is always like, "Oh, they are just so lazy, not hard working, drug addicts and have loose morals." There are reasons for these things . . . So far from the people that came [on Nov. 18], I think there’s an eagerness to be heard. They just need an audience; they need people to listen,” said Cooper.
To support Concrete Tales and initiatives alike, they encourage people to support community organizations like Keeping Six. Anyone can also attend future Concrete Tales events by emailing email@example.com to reserve a spot and learn to develop their own stories. Additionally, 541 Eatery & Exchange is currently looking for socks and gloves donations.
Everyone is closer to being unhoused than they think. Currently, extraordinary stories are being shared at Concrete Tales to destigmatize street people and normalize experiences of tragedy and hardship. Even if it is not at Concrete Tales, reflect on your narrative and try listening to someone else’s story to learn the power of storytelling and gain a new perspective.
The Quirky AF art fair is a chance to celebrate all things unconventional, quirky and weird this art crawl weekend
As we head into November, many of us are beginning to think about the holidays and the gift-giving season again. Along with events like Hamilton Day and the BIPOC Market, the Quirky AF art fair on Nov. 11 and 12 hosted by Hamilton Artists Inc. aims to help the community with their shopping and support local businesses and artists this winter.
Quirky AF art fair was first introduced in 2019 during an Art Crawl weekend on James St. N. The fair was created to showcase unique works by avant-garde makers and artists and to foster space for critical and challenging contemporary art practices addressing regional and national discourses. Attendees at the event able to find whimsical, experimental and overall quirky art, crafts and items.
“The aim of [Quirky AF art fair] is to bring together crafters and designers from across the region, who challenge expectations and take risks with work that is unconventional, experimental, political or all-around weird and quirky,” said Rachelle Wunderink, interdisciplinary artists and a member of the special events committee at Hamilton Artists Inc., in a email statement to The Silhouette.
In 2020, the event was held online due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. However, this November, after taking a break last year, it is finally back in-person and the team is excited to bring folks back into their space. This year, the fair will feature jewelry, prints, ceramics, toys, clothing, accessories and housewares from artisans and makers in Hamilton and the surrounding regions.
“We are so excited to welcome students and the Hamilton community back into our physical space after [the COVID-19 pandemic]. . .We hope all students will come out to celebrate with us,” said Wunderink.
Interested attendees can check out the Inc.’s Instagram page to learn more about each participating vendor. If any of the works or items interest you, this holiday season, get creative and gift something unique and bizarre by visiting the Quirky AF art fair on 155 James Street North this Art Crawl weekend.
For the first time 2019, McMaster EngiQueers marched in this year’s Toronto Pride Parade
The Toronto Pride parade returned to the city’s streets for the first year since 2019. Among the official marchers was the McMaster EngiQueers, a student group focused on advocating and providing a safe community space for 2SLGBTQIA+ engineering students.
The club was founded in 2013 when five McMaster University engineering students attended the Toronto Pride parade and saw engineering student groups from three other universities representing their school and community. Inspired by what they saw, they started McMaster EngiQueers.
Today EngiQueers has expanded across the nation with over 25 participating universities. EngiQueers Canada collectively represents all the member groups and is now a nationwide non-profit organization. The organization aims to celebrate, promote and advocate for diversity and inclusivity in engineering.
"Our main purpose as a club is to create a safe and welcoming space for any queer identifying engineering student but, of course, also any queer student on campus. We are a very small and niche community, so it is important to show other students that they aren’t alone in their engineering, under-grad or grad school journey and that they have a community to support them,” said Nasim Paknejad, co-president of McMaster EngiQueers along with Mymoon Bhuiyan.
Marching at the Pride Toronto is one of the club’s major events and members were excited to participate again in this annual tradition. This year McMaster EngiQueers marched alongside University of Waterloo’s Engineering Society and UWaterloo EngiQueers.
The clubs organized the march together as they had done in previous years, prior to the pandemic. They also provided marchers with t-shirts sporting the combined logo of the McMaster Engineering Society and the Waterloo Engineering Society, flags, other merchandise, food and transport.
Tickets to walk the parade with the group were open to engineering and non-engineering students at both McMaster and Waterloo.
With over 75 per cent of the tickets sold, many students, including non-engineering students, joined the parade and represented McMaster. A few alumni also returned to celebrate pride, diversity and love with the rest of the team.
"We had a very good reaction and response from the people who joined us. A lot of people really liked the shirt design that we had and everybody who came to the parade said they had a lot of fun,” said Paknejad.
This year was Paknejad’s third time as an attendee but their first time as a marcher. Throughout her three years in the club, she says the parade was her most memorable experience.
When they first joined the club, it was small and the pandemic had taken a big toll on them. During the pandemic, they poured in great effort to make the club more visible on campus through hosting games and movie nights. However, nothing surmounted to the excitement they felt when finally connecting with club members in-person at the parade and having the engineering faculty recognize finally them as well.
"There were a lot of people watching the parade who saw us. A couple of people told me and Moon that they got accepted into Mac just by seeing us. Both of us were really touched by that,” said Paknejad.
Outside of the parade, McMaster EngiQueers hosts a variety of community events and have an active Discord server with channels for checking-in with others students, sharing memes or music and seeking mental health support. Membership to the club is open to allies as well as queer students in or outside of the engineering program at Mac.
The success of the parade meant more than just great planning and organization — it was a day of forming new connections, reinforcing the community voice and celebrating love and living your truth.
For students interested in McMaster EngiQueers, applications for rep positions will be released in the first few weeks of Septem-ber and students can also look forward to fun Welcome Week events this year.