Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Emotional Allergies

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Asha & I, circa 2003

Allergy (n): 1911, from Ger. Allergie, coined 1906 by Austrian pediatrician Clemens E. von Pirquet (1874-1929) from Gk. allos "other, different, strange" (see alias (adv.)) + ergon "activity"

Last night I attended a magical horse show. You know, the one in the big white tents you can see from a mile away? It was as inspiring as I had hoped it to be.

But within 10 minutes of getting there, I felt my throat tighten. My nose became stuffy. My eyes started to water. Hives cropped up on my neck.

I discovered that I am allergic to horses.

The only time I had been on a horse was in the middle of Ooty, India, trotting down a winding road in the forest. I was riding Asha, a veteran horse with a calm demeanour. Our guides had gotten us lost and we ended up in a village slanted on a hill. We tried to avoid barking dogs (leashes? what leashes?) and beeping lorries. At one point, Asha bolted down a cricket field. By the end of the ride, I had a giant, unsightly bump on my neck. I thought it was an allergic reaction from the plants or trees I had brushed against. By the time we found our way back to the hotel, I had more bumps. The only doctor in town was 30 minutes away. Downhill.

Thank goodness for the little pill that made it all better.

Back to last night.

So what do you do when you're at a magical horse show and you suddenly can't breathe? Do you run out, panic, faint or act like there's nothing wrong?

I managed to survive the first half of the show. At the intermission, my sister ran around the concession stands asking if anyone had an antihistamine. Someone did. It fell on the floor before I could pop it in my mouth. The 5 second rule was in full effect.

Although my symptoms didn't magically disappear, I was able to enjoy the second half without suffocating. I love horses, but I painfully realized that I can't be around them.

When you have allergies, you can either suppress them with drugs or avoid the allergens. But what about emotional allergens? People seem to be attracted to things (people, situations, habits) that they're allergic to. Writers seem to enjoy revisiting things (people, situations, habits) we are allergic to on a daily basis.

We self-medicate through poems & pages. Our words become wounds so we can heal.

We become sick with syntax, ill with alliteration...ok I'll stop now.

But the most powerful writing is the writing that does not suppress or avoid emotional allergies. We need to suffer completely in our writing. We need to crave that vulnerability so that we can break ourselves open for our characters, our poetic phrases, our deepest insights.

There is no little pill to take away our emotional allergies.

All we can do is face them in every line we write.

Writers are not just people who sit down and write. They hazard themselves. Every time you compose a book your composition of yourself is at stake. ~E.L. Doctorow

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Sheniz Janmohamed

Sheniz Janmohamed is a spoken word artist, author and graduate of the MFA in Creative Writing program at the University of Guelph. Her first book, Bleeding Light (TSAR) a collection of sufi-inspired English ghazals, was published in 2010.

Go to Sheniz Janmohamed’s Author Page