It is with great, great sadness that we share with you the loss on Saturday of one of Abelard’s founders, Shai Maharaj, who passed away far too soon.


Abelard simply wouldn’t exist without Shai. He was our principal for many years, stepping courageously into that position when both he and the school were still in their infancy (he was in his late twenties!). He was a charismatic and remarkable teacher who had a profound love for his students, and they in return showered their adoration on him.

Shai was a colleague and extremely dear friend who lived with us through the professional and personal successes and crises of over twenty years at both Abelard and Thornton Hall, until he was sadly no longer able to continue to do so a few years ago. We were saddened by his loss from the school and our daily lives then, and are even more profoundly devastated now by this final, permanent departure.

Alumni, we extend our particular condolences to you, who were his students. We know how much Shai cared for you, what a mark he made on your development, and how proud he was of you and your myriad accomplishments after leaving Abelard.

Let all of us who knew him try to keep the many, many good things we learned from Mr. Maharaj active in our lives. May he himself rest peacefully.

Michelle Lefolii,
on behalf of Alina Rossinsky, Mark Young, Brian Blair and Inga Bratchuli.

Abelard’s Reading List

We tackle an ambitious selection of great works in our English courses at Abelard. Of course, we hope that students enjoy the books they are tasked with reading, but we also firmly believe that great literature informs other aspects of humanistic (and sometimes scientific) study. Further, as C.S. Lewis once observed, literature enriches human experience:

“Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become.”

And so, in grade 9 our students tackle three different Shakespearean plays, the poetry of Robert Frost, classic novels like Catcher in the Rye, Huckleberry Finn, and The Great Gatsby, and more. Our grade 10 students explore the roots of the European canon, reading the Bible, Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad, the plays of Sophocles, and even Beowulf. Our grade 11 class pushes into contemporary literature, reading Hamlet against Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead; they also tackle other great works that facilitate connections to other academic disciplines, like Bartleby the Scrivener and philosophy, or East of Eden and students’ study of the Bible in grade 10. In grade 12, in addition to classical texts, students explore modernist and postmodernist greats like Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, and Ulysses by James Joyce. To this list, of course, we must add all the literature that students read in their second- and third-language courses, such as Hugo’s Les Misérables and Camus’ L’étranger.

One of the long-term benefits of this diverse and carefully curated reading list is that our students, upon arriving in at university, report back to us that they are immensely well prepared for the kind of critical discourse that is expected of them at a post-secondary level. After all, it is much easier to pick out a classical or biblical allusion if you’ve already read the source texts where so many great authors are inspired. We also find that our reading list affords our students the kind of broad cultural literacy that makes for better citizenship both while students at Abelard and once graduated and in the ‘real’ world.

As we look forward to the new school year, we are so excited to share all this great reading with our students!

Postcards from Paris

Our grade 11 and 12 French students have just returned from a week in Paris. On the flight back, they wrote some post-cards to the school. In no particular order, here is what they had to say about their trip:

The Paris trip was an amazing experience. The art was beautiful, especially in the Musée d’Orsay. The food was incredible; I recommend you try everything at least. My favourite part was going on a big ferris wheel with Madame and Ms. Silver. Chocolate: great. Macarons: great.

— Dominik

It still doesn’t feel real, I’m not sure we actually went to Paris. We saw so many things that I thought only existed on post cards, but we actually got to walk through them and take pictures. Being with my French class and getting to see everything with them made it so much more memorable. We got to walk along the Seine and tour all the museums and take some really great group selfies. The Musée d’Orsay and the Louvre were beautiful (I made Taz take about thirty photos of me in front of Olympia), my family is sure to be jealous. Speaking French with so many real French people was intimidating, but I learned so much on this trip, so much about the culture as well as the language. I’m so thankful for Mme. Rossinsky for organizing the trip and taking us to so many of her favourite places. This has been one of the best weeks I think I have ever had and I’m so glad I got to go.

— Willow

The trip to Paris was worth 4 years of French class and I’d honestly do another 4 years to go on this trip again. The trip was well worth the cost, even if my legs and feet were dying every day. The museums? Nice. The food? Nice. The sense of pride and slight fear you get when an actual French person speaks French to you? Nice. I’d give this trip 7.8/10, too much walking.

— Som-O

I adored visiting the city of lights! What struck me as interesting was that Paris, in its deceivingly monotonous colour palette of grey, comes alive in high flying buttresses and stain-glass windows that take your breath away. Its intimacy and meandering streets were something to revel in as well; on any given corner there could be a hidden gem of a bookstore or museum, or you might turn a corner and see a monument that used to reside within the confines of a post-card. And, of course, the food was amazing. Thank you to Mme. Rossinsky and to Ms. Silver for guiding us around the city.

— Carmina

Some of my best memories of this trip was just walking around and taking in the sights, being able to look at the monuments, landscapes, and architecture. Every building and even park has its own style and unique beauty to it. I also really enjoyed all the short moments of having a café noisette in some small cute place and having a laugh. We really got to feel fully immersed in the French culture. (We walked more than 110km!)

— Chloe

I really enjoyed being a guide and listening to my peers share their knowledge about different places in France. It was cool to listen to them talk about monuments they have never visited with such confidence. Although I loved all the places we got to go to, I would have to say my favourite was Palais Garnier. The opera has a very unique history and a very beautiful design; it truly feels as if you are in a palace attending a royal ball. Because I have studied Onegin previously, it was really interesting to see it brought to life through ballet. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to see Paris and I can’t wait to come back!

— Jessica

The Paris trip was truly an incredible experience. There was so much to see, so much to do, but so little time. All the museums, art galleries, and monuments were breathtaking and just packed with so much history. Most of all, the memories made on this trip are ones that’ll last for a life time.

— Sara

Paris was amazing! Such a beautiful city with so much to see. I loved how even regular buildings would have statues and carvings on the outside which made them look that much more elegant. Wandering the streets was such a joy, especially at night when everyone would be at restaurants and/or bars. Such a fun time 🙂 Merci Paris!

— Anastasiya

Our trip to Paris was incredible! From walking along the Seine, and exploring various Paris neighbourhoods, to wandering through art galleries, visiting monuments, and exploring the history of the city of love, this trip was a whirlwind of highlights. I came to Paris full of expectations and they were exceeded. I left Paris and already greatly miss it. The streets, churches, charming bakeries and shops on every corner, friends with whom I traveled, and Mme. Rossinsky and Ms. Silver truly created this magical, amazing, charming experience.

I ❤ Paris.
Paris is AWESOME!
Go to Paris!

— Josh

Paris was an unforgettable experience. From the food, to the charm and the buildings and the history, and the baguettes… So many baguettes. We spent our days walking around Paris and learning from each other about everything around us. It was delightful. Stay in French, kids.

— Ariel

It was an unforgettable trip!

I really enjoyed the museums we visited, especially:

– Le musée d’Orsay (focus on impressionist art, but I really loved the sculptures).
– Le musée du quai Branly (which displayed art and artifacts from Africa, Oceania, Asia, and the Americas)
– Le Petit Palais (which displayed art gifted to Paris from around the world, and had a really peaceful and beautiful garden)

But I have to admit what really stole my heart was the Seine. I could stand at its banks and stare at the water for hours. It radiates such a sense of inner peace…

I wasn’t too excited about the churches, which were built with the same overwhelming extravagance as any building related to Napoleon. (Really, Napoleon, enough is enough…) But Sainte-Chapelle was really incredible with its floor to ceiling stained glass windows. For some people, Paris’s churches really are its most beautiful features. I chose this postcard because my mother, when she visited Paris, fell in love with Sacré-Coeur, which sits at the top of Montmartre. To this day, she still talks about how gorgeous it was.

I think many of my classmates (including myself) had a similar experience of having their hearts captured by the city of Paris.

— Taz

Our week spent in Paris was a fantastic experience! All the destinations we visited and opportunities we had opened my eyes to a different culture and lifestyle. Some of my favourite activities were visiting the musée d’Orsay and seeing the ballet Onegin at the Opéra Garnier. I’ll never forget the view of the city from the top of Notre Dame. I know one thing for sure: I’m definitely going back to Paris one day! Thanks to Mme. Rossinsky and Ms. Silver for doing an amazing job of planning/chaperoning the trip.

— Emma

Remarkable Students Keep Us Busy!

The teachers at Abelard check in with one another regularly to keep on top of our students’ academic and extra-curricular (but school-related) lives. Although our students will tell you that our curriculum is demanding and that they often have homework, we do make an effort to balance their workload and allow them to pursue things that matter to them. A recent schedule check-in reminded us of just how remarkable our students are; we’re looking at a busy month!
In the next month, our computer science students will participate in a competition to test the skills and knowledge they’ve acquired with their teacher Mr. Woodford. The competition is administered by the University of Waterloo, and we’re excited to see how our class fares!
We also have students participating in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario’s Model Parliament as representatives for their respective provincial ridings. Over three days, they will get to meet key figures in our provincial government, and take workshops where they will learn about the history of the provincial legislature and about the legislative process.
At the same time, one of our students will be travelling to Ireland to write university entrance exams. We are really proud of our graduates and their accomplishments at universities around the world, so we are really happy to support students whose ambitions take them outside of Canada.
Our students are also hard at work preparing a show for the Ontario Drama Festival (formerly known as the Sears Drama Festival). The play, written by one of our own students, is an ambitious ensemble number that will be performed at Harbord Collegiate on February 26.
We are also thrilled that a team of our students have placed as finalists in the STEM Fellowship Big Data Challenge, and will be presenting their work later this month. The Big Data Challenge is designed to introduce students to data science and to hone their analytical skills.
In early March, we have a few excursions planned. We are heading out as a school on a ski trip, where we will all have a chance to relax and enjoy the great outdoors before March Break begins. During March Break, our grade 11 and 12 French students will go even further afield on a trip to Paris.
As you can see, we have a very busy month ahead. But that’s what happens when you have such remarkable students!

All the School’s a Stage – Abelard’s One-Act Festival

Now that we’re a few weeks into 2018, we wanted to reflect on Abelard’s first one-act play festival that took place in the middle of December. Students in our Drama class have been working hard on smaller dramatic projects all year, but in our classroom we’re always short one pivotal element of the theatrical event: an audience!

To practice working in front of a crowd, and to get the feel of staging a complete play, the class curated a selection of very short plays. Each play was only ten minutes long and featured a small cast of only two or three performers. Like short stories, ten-minute-plays tend to pack a real dramatic punch because they condense so much narrative into such a small package. Thanks to the short run-times and small cast sizes, we were able to perform each play six times.

The turnout was great, particularly given that it was a cold night. Audiences got to choose their own path and see as few or as many shows as they liked, in whichever order suited them best. Our evening included an intimate domestic drama, absurdist takes on the theatre business, a vision of the afterlife, a comedy about when life doesn’t work out how you’d like, and even a new take on Romeo and Juliet. The night was such a success that we’ll almost certainly repeat the experiment next year – hope to see you there!

Hamlet’s Great Foe

An essay by grade 11 student Carmina Cornacchia.

If Hamlet were its one-hundred-and-eighty degree opposite—a comedy—the audience would swoon from joy when Ophelia and Hamlet were married at the end. Unfortunately Mr. Shakespeare did not have such joviality in mind. It is pitiful indeed, that their two aching hearts fall still before joining hands in holy matrimony, but for these purposes their tragedy illustrates a theme of utmost importance in the play: mortality. For some, the use of that word may be amemento mori, or “reminder of death” in the way that a skull might remind one of their eventual end, and of course mortality is literally present in Hamlet. However, its meaning expands to vast and decadent layers. In “The World of Hamlet” by Maynard Mack, he comments that the play emanates mortality in the sense of, “the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to, not simply death” (Mack 53). Mack comments that the play exemplifies this “heartache” through the idea that human intent is ephemeral (53-54), and through themes and imagery of infection (54), poison (54-55), and loss (55). Mortality is the harbinger for the great tragedy that is Hamlet.

Mack provides ample substantiation for his interpretation of mortality. He remarks that Hamlet first acknowledges mortality when he realizes that humans can end up at a crossroads of poor circumstance out of pure probability, not their own fault, and that this can be the end of their character (Mack 53). Hamlet says it precisely: “nature cannot choose his origin” (Shakespeare 1.5.26). Mack states that Claudius too has noticed a deeper mortality; to his taste, love “dies of its own too much” (53), and so does human will (53). Mack exemplifies this with an excerpt from the vicarious play that Hamlet commissions to “catch the conscience of the king” (Shakespeare 2.2.607). The play’s “king” takes the affection of the “queen” with a grain of salt, knowing that her love is at the mercy of her recollection, which is not a reliable engine of intent (Mack 54). The strongest of Mack’s examples seems to be Claudius’s thoughts on intent. For a human may be ardently intending to carry something out, but that intent is dependent on his fleeting recollection, and the limits of his mind (Mack 54). A perfect example of Claudius’s description is Hamlet: instead of taking revenge on Claudius as he intends, he procrastinates and puts on a play instead. One example that Mack omits is Hamlet’s discussion of his own mortality in the soliloquy that begins, “to be, or not to be, that is the question” (3.1.56). At first glance the soliloquy is about literal mortality, and Hamlet’s decision to either commit suicide or not. But the soliloquy is also about the deeper facets of mortality and the way human endeavours are ephemeral much like their lives. Mack so eloquently describes this as, “Human weakness, the instability of human purpose, the subjection of humanity to fortune—all that we might call the aspect of failure in a man” (Mack 53). Hamlet is contemplating suicide, but a form of the aforementioned “failure” in his mind leaves him paralyzed and immobile at the thought of it. Hamlet describes his current disposition thus: “The undiscover’d country, from whose bourn no traveller returns, puzzles the will, and makes us rather bear those ills we have than fly to others that we know not of? Thus conscience does make cowards of us all, and thus the native hue of resolution is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought, and enterprises of great pitch and moment…turn awry and lose the name of action” (Shakespeare 3.1.79). This soliloquy, especially the aforementioned excerpt, is deeply multi-faceted. On the one hand, Hamlet is toying with the thought of his literal mortality, or the thought of committing suicide, and on the other hand he is exploring a more complex interpretation of mortality because his mind’s inhibitions render him incapable of carrying out his actions. His very will to end his life is mortal in itself. It is in concepts such as these that the pure genius of Shakespeare is most striking.

Mack goes on to elaborate that mortality extends to the concept and imagery of what he calls “infection—the ulcer, the hidden abscess” (54). He credits Miss Spurgeon with this addition to the lengthy list of concepts presented in Hamlet. Her proposition entails that Hamlet’s responsibility to avenge his father is a product of pure misfortune (54). He has had it thrust onto his unstable shoulders, and they are crumbling beneath the gravity of the expectations (Mack 54). The idea of having responsibility thrown on Hamlet’s shoulders without his consent resembles an infection, for he with the flu did not request his contagion (Mack 54). Rather, it has spread to him by virtue of probability, and he happens to be the victim (Mack 54). Not only has Hamlet acquired this infection from chance, but also it will surely consume him as well as those around him, all of whom are innocent in the matter (Mack 54). In Miss Spurgeon’s opinion, Hamlet’s situation is “the chief tragic mystery of life” (Mack 54). Mack states that the first time Hamlet acknowledges that he was born into this responsibility is: “when he describes how from that single blemish, perhaps not even the victim’s fault, a man’s whole character may take corruption” (53). The idea of the “corruption” of “character” is provocative here, and it could not be more true to Hamlet. Because of Hamlet’s disease of obligation, he will plunge his sword through a tapestry in order to kill whom he believes to be a spying Claudius, but is in fact Polonius. For this action he seems to feel minimal guilt: a sign that he has become morally disengaged. In reply to his mother’s cry of disgust, he counters: “A bloody deed. Almost as bad, good mother, as kill a king and marry with his brother” (Shakespeare 3.4.27). By this point in the play, the infection has irreversibly consumed Hamlet’s personality. It is of the essence to recollect that at the beginning of the play, Hamlet was a scholar from Wittenberg; he had no interest in revenge, despite his spurn for Claudius. The inadvertent donning of this particular responsibility is the “corruption” that Mack speaks of, and corruption has a way of becoming one with its victim.

Mack points out later on that the “infection” is not a disease per se in Hamlet, it is a substance, and by extension a specific person (54). This substance of great significance is poison, and Claudius is the root cause of the poison that seeps through every Danish family’s door until, “there is something rotten in all of Denmark” (Mack 54). Mack  continues to say that Hamlet, Gertrude, Laertes, Ophelia, and the nation at large suffer from this poisonous infection that spreads like a plague (54). According to him,

Hamlet tells us that his ‘wit’s diseased,’ the queen speaks of her ‘sick soul,’ the king is troubled by ‘the hectic’ in his blood, Laertes meditates revenge to warm ‘the sickness in my heart,’ the people of the kingdom grow ‘muddied, Thick and unwholesome in their thoughts’; and even Ophelia’s madness is said to be ‘the poison of deep grief’.(Mack 54).

One example that Mack omitted is Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. They too are infected by Claudius’s plague when they agree to comprehend through espionage, “Whether aught to us unknown afflicts him thus” (Shakespeare 2.2.17) in regards to Hamlet’s state of mind. This spreading of evil to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who are relatively innocent, through the imagery of poison brings to mind the concept of “the king’s two bodies”. This is the idea that the king has a “body proper” and a “body politic”, the former being his literal body, the latter including the entire country and its people. This is the idea that when the king is immoral, it affects the body politic, making the people “unwholesome”. The poison of Hamlet begins with a single drop in an elderly man’s ear, but by the end it has grown to an ocean that swallows up any character of importance, some even being killed by the poison they intended for others. Laertes is the supreme culprit for the play’s tragic finale, and by the end nearly every character has died because of his dripping green fingertips. That is what seems to be the case. However, despite poison being the primary source of maleficent diversification and ample death at the end of the play, it also causes a renaissance of sorts. As Hamlet is taking his last breaths on the floor of the castle, he bids Horatio “to tell my story” (Shakespeare 5.2.356). Thus, poison perpetuates the tragedy lest it be repeated. Poison acts similarly to Aristotle’s concept of catharsis in a way; they both ensure that the errors made over the course of the play are not repeated, but one pertains to future generations in Hamlet, the other pertains to the audience. Regardless, both assign meaning to the suffering.

Mack’s final argument about mortality is that: “the chief form in which the theme of mortality reaches us, it seems to me, is as a profound consciousness of loss” (55). The late King Hamlet’s anguished position on Gertrude’s relationship with Claudius is a model for this loss (Mack 55), and he expresses his melancholy so: “So to seduce! — won to his shameful lust the will of my most seeming virtuous queen” (Shakespeare 1.5.45). Hamlet’s father is in such disbelief of how quickly Gertrude’s love for him dissolved that he no longer sees her as “virtuous”.Ophelia evokes a similar reaction to Hamlet when he detonates with fury (Mack 55), telling her to “get thee to a nunnery” (Shakespeare 3.1.121). Ophelia registers this outburst as nonsensical ramblings being emitted from the shell of a man with whom she was once affectionate (Mack 55). She comments, “O what a noble mind is here o’erthrown!” (Mack 55), in other words, she has lost contact with his ephemeral “noble mind” to the infectious nature of Claudius (Mack 55). One example that Mack omitted is Horatio’s loss of Hamlet, which is perhaps the most stirring part of the play for an audience member, especially after hearing the heart-wrenching, “Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest” (Shakespeare 5.2.365). That being said, Mack’s initial statement about loss being the “chief form in which the theme of mortality reaches us” (55) is slightly unstable, especially in the choice of the word “chief”. If there is to be a supreme representation of mortality over-arching the play, then that is to be found in the concept of ephemeral intent. This idea that our intent can fade, change, or be manipulated is essential to the philosophy of the play and is the manifestation that gives life to the minor concepts of mortality as infection, poison, and loss. In Mack’s work he cites Miss Spurgeon, who insists that the concept of infection is “the chief tragic mystery of life” (54), but it seems that the washing away of human intent is more impactful because it is the sweeping generality that encompasses infection, poison, loss, and yet also swallows all three of them up as examples ascribing to a higher meaning, which is this: human consciousness is mortal without having to die. Intention can die out like a fire ember in the wind, without anyone to mourn for it. If a human is a product of their intention, then this is the ultimate tragedy.

But wait: there is more to the story. For neither Hamlet nor Hamlet are mortal; they have both been conserved in their entirety, and they could not be more vivacious. For every time someone opens up the script another soul empathizes with Hamlet’s story, his intentions, and his suffering. So in the end, there may be sustenance for Hamlet. As Shakespeare so wisely affirmed in his Sonnet 18, “ So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, So long lives this, and this gives life to thee” (13-14). “This” pertains to the play. As long as the universe is intact with all its stars in line and celestial bodies in order, man will never cease to acknowledge the tragedy of Hamlet.

1. Mack, Maynard. “The World of Hamlet”. United States of America: The Yale Review, 1952. Print.
2. Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. China: Cengage Learning, 2001. Print.
*Note: I assumed that The World of Hamlet was printed in the USA, because it did not say where it was printed in the handout.

Waterloo’s Math Contests

Most people who know about the University of Waterloo also know that it is recognized internationally as a centre that excels in teaching math, engineering, and computer science. Its programs are hard to get into and extremely competitive.

As a broad celebration of knowledge, and equally as a low-key recruitment tool, the University also runs annual math and computer science competitions for high school students. The Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing (CEMC), an educational outreach organization housed at UWaterloo’s Faculty of Mathematics, has become very well-regarded because of these competitions.

Recently, our wrote the Senior and Intermediate Mathematics Contests. The contest asks nine questions; three of these need full answers that show the student’s work, and the other six only require the answer. In preparation, our students took a short break from regular math lessons to discuss some contest-style problems. As you will see below, contest problems have their own style to them. They read almost like a joke, having a lengthy set up to a short punchline.

A strong result earns the student a certificate of accomplishment and a very strong result could earn the student a scholarship at UWaterloo. If a student is less successful, they will at least have had an opportunity to stretch their mathematical muscles without affecting their grades. The CEMC’s stated purpose is to “increase interest, enjoyment, confidence, and ability in mathematics and computer science” which is, we think, is exactly what they accomplish.

We won’t have our own students’ results for a little while yet, but if you think you’ve got math chops of your own and want to get a sense of the challenge that our students undertook, try one of last year’s questions.(And don’t forget to show your work!)

For each positive integer n, the Murray number of n is the smallest positive integer M, with M > n, for which there exist one or more distinct integers greater than n and less than or equal to M whose product times n is a perfect square. For example, the Murray number of 3 is 8 since 3 × 6 × 8 = 144 and it can be shown that it is not possible to multiply 3 by one or more distinct integers that are greater than 3 and less than 8 to obtain a perfect square.

  1. The Murray number of 6 is 12. Show why this is true.
  2. Determine the Murray number of 8. (No justification is required.)
  3. Prove that there are infinitely many positive integers n for which n is not a perfect square and the Murray number of n is less than 2n.
  4. Prove that, for all positive integers n, the Murray number of n exists and is greater than or equal to n + 3.

SciHigh Visit with Glow-in-the-Dark Mice

On Monday, the school lunch hour was taken over by a visit from SciHigh, a program run out of the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital. The volunteers were two graduate students in the Department of Cell and Systems Biology at U of T. They came to our school to share their enthusiasm and love of science.
The SciHigh program was developed in the late 90s to promote science in schools across Toronto. The experiments that they demonstrate are intended to make science fun, and to expose young scholars to things that go beyond what is possible in most high school classrooms. For us, they brought several kinds of model organisms including, fruit flies, nematode worms and glow-in-the-dark mice!
SciHigh Mice

A glowing mouse tail viewed through special glasses.


The mice had been transgenically modified to include either RFP or GFP, meaning that their tails and ears glowed in red or green when viewed through special glasses. Many of our grade 11 and 12 biology students have been learning about genetics and biotechnology in the past month, so this was a really unique opportunity. The facilitators talked about being a graduate student, their own research and why model organisms are so important. This discussion also touched on the ethics and responsibilities related to using model organisms in research.

All We Want is Love and War

A short story by grade 10 student Frida Purdon.

Three goddesses sit on the curb and chew bubblegum. It has just rained. The sky is tender like a bruise. It is the moment when people begin to notice the presence of silence after the storm like a man sitting in the corner of the world wearing a trenchcoat and smoking a pipe.

This is all very poetic of course. In fact, at this moment, the least poetic things in all the universe are the three elegant goddesses sitting on the curb, blowing pink bubbles. It is their perfection that is disturbing.

They subconsciously finger the human prayers in their laps and, with their smooth hands of moonlight flesh and birdsong bones—hands like summer nights—they rip them, these prayers, into smaller and smaller pieces.

The first goddess is Athena. Her hair is shaved close to her skull and her teeth are very white against her black skin. She wears big gold hoop earrings and a red bandana. She smells like New York bagels.

During Paradise Lost, Athena lead the Peace March.She and the wolves and the birds and the bears stood before the Gates of Eden and hollered, cried, lit the skies on fire and waited for some entity to use its immense voice and fill the basins of emptiness within their chests, fill them with love or art or misery or the ocean, which was so human it hurt to swim in it. They waited there until they could wait no longer. Lips and eyes burning like infidelity, they stuck their signs into the ground and then slipped away. The signs are still up there, white and distant, protesting one form of darkness or another.

“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness,” says Athena, loading her gun with pink cartoon hearts. Her many bracelets clatter around her skinny wrists. The words To Be or Not To Be are embroidered on the back of her leather jacket above a sewn illustration of spider with a long, oblong face and glistening doe eyes.

The second goddess is Hera. She has heavily penciled eyebrows and short purple hair. Her nails are ragged and short. She has a voice like a dead woman’s dream of walking barefoot on broken glass.

And Zeus can never get enough of her. His hair is soft like dandelion seeds and he takes pictures of Hera at the Heavenly Wafflehouse, whipped cream smeared on her upper lip like oblivion. The storms ravage this land and Zeus tattoos a skull onto Hera’s shoulder, says their love is as bright as a mortal’s. Outside, the souls ache breathtaking colour and rustle in the Destiny that sweeps the world and all its vestigial questions. Inside, the lamp burns. Zeus and Hera’s shadows on the wall look like dark children catching butterflies with nets and giving names to all the things they don’t understand.

“And I will show you something different from either your shadow at morning striding behind you or your shadow at evening rising to meet you; I will show you fear in a handful of dust,” Hera says, sipping her Coca Cola with a straw.

The third goddess is Aphrodite. Her hair is tangled and her knees scabbed. Her socks don’t match and her overalls are covered in obscure stains like clouds with no one to turn them into familiar shapes. A key hangs from a shoelace tied around her neck. Her face is smudged with soot. Her breath smells like a poem dragged itself to the back of her cavernous throat and died.

“She tied you to the kitchen chair, she broke your throne and she cut your hair and from her lips she drew the hallelujah,” says Aphrodite, poking at an animal carcass smeared across the road with a stick. Her eyes are enormous, like the infinity you feel when holding a newborn in your broken arms.

Across the divine street, a boy finds a golden apple. Being a good person is what pays the rent in this heavenly dominion so he decides to ask the goddesses sitting on the curb and chewing bubble gum if the apple is theirs.

“Is this yours?” the boy asks, “I’m Paris, by the way.”

Athena says, because the apple is not hers, “Nobody wanted your dance. Nobody wanted your strange glitter, your floundering, drowning life and your effort to save yourself, treading water, dancing the dark turmoil. Looking for something to give.”

The apple is not Hera’s either so she says, “The whole shadow of man is only as big as his hat.”

But Aphrodite is hungry and even though the apple isn’t hers, she says, “I desire the things which will destroy me in the end.”

The boy smiles. Aphrodite grabs the apple. She bites into the fruit and tastes all the wonderful things about death.

“Thank you.”

The boy nods, runs his hand through his hair and walks away. The other goddesses throw her scornful looks. They never approve of Aphrodite’s little games.

At a party later, Paris will tell a joke and a very pretty girl will laugh. She will cover her mouth with her hand.

Her eyes will be like the language of flowers.

“What’s your name?”


“Well Helen. Do you believe in love?”

“I don’t know yet.”

“Do you believe in war?”

“War believes in me. You know, every baby born is the Devil’s attempt to become a better person for the one he loves.”

“So you believe in love.”

“I guess.”

Athena and Hera find Aphrodite in an alleyway. She curls and twitches as though burning in a fire. Her eyes are misty, her lips form words but the letters are made of blood and bone, things they haven’t learned yet.

They shake her shoulders, slap her flawless cheeks.

“Rage, I will sing your rage, Achilles. I will sing, I will sing, I will sing.”

Dragging her through the streets, she kicks and splutters, cries and scratches.

Under a tree, Helen and Paris spill into each other.

“I will sing, I will sing, I will sing for you, Achilles.”

“Hush, Love.”

“Rage! I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry . . .”

“Hush, now. It’s okay, Love, you’re safe. It’s okay.”

“Rage . . .”

When Aphrodite was little, she always used to love building things. She could make a desert out of a sea, a night out of a day and out of a man, a grief so magnificent it gleamed like a polished car in the driveway.

She would tie her hair back and plunge her hands into his mind.

When she was done, her face would be ruddy, her hands bleeding.

“Do you believe in love now?”

“Yes,” says Helen. She smiles. It is dark and all Paris can see are the corpses of men scattered like roses thrown at an opera singer across the land.

Paris takes her hand.


And so it begins.


Come Learn About the Stars from Abelard Teacher C.J. Woodford!

If you follow science news, you will no doubt know that this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to the three scientists from the LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) Scientific Collaboration. Their accomplishment? They proved Einstein’s prediction by observing the universe’s gravitational waves for the very first time. The waves they saw had been created by the collision between two black holes, and took over a billion years to reach Earth.


On December 7, one of Abelard’s teachers will be giving a talk about these waves at an event that our grade 11 and 12 students will attend. CJ Woodford, who teaches computer science for us, is a 3rd year PhD candidate in the Physics Department at the University of Toronto. He works in the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics (CITA) and is a member of the Simulating eXtreme Spacetimes (SXS) collaboration, working on binary black hole simulations and gravitational wave analysis.

His talk will give you a chance to get an up-close and personal take on the several Gravitational Waves discoveries that have changed science for the better. With the discovery of gravitational waves in 2015 and the recent observation of a binary neutron star, the LIGO-VIRGO collaboration and partners have broken records in physics, astronomy, and interferometry – with still more to come. CJ will lead a talk about what went into the LIGO that discovered the first gravitational wave, GW150914, from theoretical, engineering, and computer simulation viewpoints, plus some of the major discoveries that have accompanied the detections since.
The very exciting news is that you, a member of the public, can join our Abelard students and attend the talk as well, not only to find out more about the cutting edge of research, but also to get a sense of what it’s like to be an Abelardian. For more information, visit the AstroTours website here. The talk will be followed by a chance to look through some telescopes, get a tour of the planetarium, and to check out some virtual reality demonstrations. We hope you’ll come along!