Chromatography

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The lowest arms of the almond tree
hang scrawny, leafless, dark:
a reminder of winter.

I take off my paper sun hat
sweating (why did I wear black?)
sun bleached by a thin cloud veil
pushing the sleeping baby uphill,
4.30pm, July.

He’s poured water over a scarf that
I’ve arranged to shade him
and my red wool bag strap
bleeds pink into the blue.

His muscular eyebrows furrow
beneath dirty blond curls, the boy who was
dreamt of being welcomed by the arms of his
long-departed grandmother
in a Persian aunt’s sleeping head.

“Let us see your hair,” they had urged me;
“Is it real, the colour? Can we touch it?”

I grinned painfully, was their doll for a while,
let them thread my puny brows,
ruthlessly devoid forehead and top lip
of hairs only Iranian women can see.

We European women have been liberated of
facial hair!
I cried inwardly, eyes watering
with each every rip.

(She did do an excellent job.
My eyebrows, in dye, came alive.)

In the women’ section of the bus in Tehran
girls in school uniform laughed
still too pubescent to be allowed
the monthly ritual of a trip to the salon
their black brows luscious and combed
combined with blood red lips.

We got off a speeding fine
en route to Isfahan
because of the “khariji” guests
in the car: the free pass
that Europe grants
and who would rather pay?

“Pesar-e-khariji-e-man!”
“He’s so cute and blond,
he looks just like you!”

My husband says I’m his amulet,
lucky charm in official places,
a signal that he’s a
Middle Eastern Man Done Good.

But there is a ruefulness to his good fortune:
they glare at him like a shopkeeper at a thief.
He asks me not to wear a headscarf
lest they think he’s forced me.

Greedily, I seek out our son’s Asian features
glowing to think he’s struck out from
pork scratching pink
the pasty British skin on
a nose they’ve chosen to
sever from the face of the continent
forgetting the Viking, Saxon, Norman,
Roman and yet more exotic genes.

“¡Qué blanquito!”
How they praise him
for his pallour
to his caramel father’s ears.

A talisman. Not powerful enough to
stop the waiter snubbing his order
sneering at his polite reminder
or when, at the police commissary,
trying to fix my residency
after six years as an illegal American
always treated as though I belong
the Spanish official barked at him
for his papers – in order since a decade ago –
checked them on the system, tossed
the card back without meeting his eye.

(If they only knew
what a nightmare I am to live with
they would see he is my talisman, his patience
my salvation.)

We need to raise colour blind kids!
I rant silently on insomniac nights.
Those of us at the top of this
pyramid of privilege
didn’t rise here because of the
buoyancy of our merit:
our forebears clawed their way up
trampling millions of black and brown backs
and no-one else can rise until we step down because
we are taking up space!

Wash your feet honey:
they’re black with dirt.

Malaga is easy to fly through, I say.
Not for me, says she – they always make me
show under my skirt, my hijab.
Oh! Really? That’s outrageous!
But, you know, she says, drawing a circle
with one finger around her face,
wry Somali smile.

I don’t wear hijab through airports.
Am I being practical, or cowardly?
Would I beat out every last bandit
every ugly, self-congratulating thought
expose their emptiness as
phantom confidences
if I put myself in the same
rocking, overcrowded boat
with the flimsy life jackets
and the leaking hold?

We reach my parents’ house
forbidding black gates,
cornflower blue door.

Beside is a bougainvillea
bursting alternately with
deep fuchsia and
palest green lanterns.

Inside the summerhouse
the dark wood stain has bled through knots
forming irrevocable pools on the blond wood.

“Make me a new sandwich!”
“I took out the avocado…”
“But there’s still a stain
on the bread!”

My daughter is fuming, tearful;
a veil of reddish clay lies over her face
wiped unthinkingly at craft time earlier
and two tears have dried
leaving pale tracks with brown outlines.

Clean your face, honey,
your tears have run brown.

Every story is edited at bedtime,
the blackness accidental, not evil
the lily white princess made ruddy and tanned
her long golden hair darkened
water babies not just cherubic because they’ve been
washed of all that terrible oafish soot but
pure of heart and soul.

At the Jumu’ah meal she asks,
Are angels white?
With exquisite Senegalese women on all sides
I answer, no, they’re made of pure light:
light is all of the colors put together.

But science won’t stop her from thinking it.

Our heads need cleaning! I declaim silently
All these messages upon messages
that make us look down on others!

Black is beautiful. Brown is gorgeous.
Look at her style.

Sweetie, I can’t explain I why,
walls just look better white.

The kids splash my notebook
and the turqouise ink splits
inexplicably to vivid pink

I write my second draft
in indelible black.

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Jobs for the Boys

farm boy

From ‘The Puffin Book of Nursery Rhymes’, collected by Iona and Peter Opie, Puffin, 1963

Today is the eighth birthday of my eldest child. This time eight years ago, I was giddy with tiredness and wonder, nestling in bed with a round-faced little sun of a boy. The first night I noticed how his chin would shudder forward like a tortoise’s, with that newborn quality of skin that is lost so soon – softer than air, and slightly bath-wrinkled.

I still see the same boy when he is asleep, though now a thousand preoccupations flit through my head at various times that obscure the view: mostly it’s when he’s lounging about the house after school reading comics, pestering me to play videogames, or – my biggest bugbear – to watch YouTubers play Minecraft. Really. Blue-haired twenty-year-olds who probably still live with their mums but who are gods to squillions of kids who aren’t even bothering to playing the game themselves. Agh.

I am realising that I place so many expectations on my firstborn, which were perhaps placed on me as a firstborn, or which I place on myself. There are vague notions of integrity and resilience, thinking-outside-the-box – which is in tension with the need for respecting authority (i.e. MINE) – and all sorts of health issues, from not eating tons of gacky sweets and Cheeto-type polystrene-covered-in-cheese-powder to going to bed early, changing socks regularly, getting fresh air (do children even notice when air isn’t fresh?), not staring at screens for long periods, and doing ‘improving’ things such as learning to play musical instruments or doing sports. No wonder all he feels like doing is flopping out and reading comics.

(I have to say I read them too when I was young – I was the one who introduced him to them. They are very funny, if you like surreal slapstick Spanish violence.)

But I wonder how children, boys in particular, are meant to get a ‘healthy’ picture of work, when there is no-one around – particularly men, their prototypes – to show them how it’s done, until they’re already adolescents and way too interested in squeezing their spots to be learning how to use a radial saw.

Basically, work is either too dangerous, or too child-unfriendly to be able to involve kids in, which is all to the detriment of children’s future working lives. By contrast, both of my parents worked from home: my dad had an office in the attic where he did graphic design, and my mum ran a shop on the ground floor (part of our house) from which she also sold books mail order.

This gave me a strong image of self-employment, which seemed as attractive then as it does now. My dad would take breaks from tiresome computer work to go into the garden and dig up potatoes, while my mum would play Motown, soul and country on a tape recorder and sing along loudly whenever she could get away with it. It seemed like the perfect way to balance different interests without having to be overburdened by any of them for too long – just right for a person with a lot of interests. Who needs a steady income, right?

Now, though, my eldest son sees me working on a computer or iPad – emails, translations, etc. – and the only work he sees my husband (his stepdad) doing at home is emails too. (My husband manages a mobile restaurant which he takes to trance festivals…not really the ideal environment for an 8-year-old to do work experience in.)

His father, on the other hand, is a carpenter, which might offer plenty of wonderful imaginary opportunities to whittle things together, but in practice usually involves heavy machinery that could slice your arm off if you’re not careful, as well as late nights keeping to deadlines and dusty, noisy site work. It’s all a bit stymying for a kid who wants to get stuck in and learn first hand, quite the opposite of the bad old days where boys of six would be expected to look after herds of sheep (“Little Boy Blue, go blow your horn, the sheep’s in the meadow, the cow’s in the corn…”)

The general idea nowadays seems to be that kids should avoid all thought of adulthood until they near the end of school, by which time the classes themselves will have shaped their interests and nurtured their skills enough to give them a bash at choosing a career. But I don’t buy this one bit. I knew I wanted to be a writer, to live abroad and learn different languages, from my son’s age, and I never really wavered in that decision. Careers advice at GCSE told me I should be a prison warden.

Having time to daydream, play music, study, travel, make things, meet people…that always figured heavily in my career plan. Since leaving university I haven’t written a single CV. I can’t say I’m earning bags of money, of course…or that I even have that much time on my hands, with three kids on them too…but, you know, it’s the principle of the thing.

So how do we show children the realities of the adult world without stultifying them with computers from a tender age? I don’t really have any answers, but I get the feeling that we need to be less stultified by computer work ourselves, for a start. Maybe combine it with gardening jobs, or painting and decorating, all the manual labour jobs that self-made intellectuals look down on but which actually provide a neat bit of income, as well as mental space to stretch out in.

Then there are all those dreaded afternoon kid’s activities, which parents have to practically have a PA just to organise, especially with several kids who all want to go in different directions at once. Take my advice: have quintuplets, then you can just take them all to tennis and read a book in the stands.

Maybe what we need is activities that adults and kids take part in together (a tricky one to achieve when you have a toddler who rips everything to shreds, but one can dream). Perhaps pottery, or swimming, origami, or forest school outings where everyone can learn something and/or teach something to someone else. It all seems too separate, the pre-teen’s world and the adult’s, and yet there’s this terrifying gulf in the middle called Teenagehood to traverse without a canoe let alone a paddle in sight.

The blame often goes to peers luring kids off in the wrong direction, but peers only take the place of adult role models when those adult role models aren’t there, or when their lives are protected by plate glass. Apprenticeships could help for older kids, but the imprinting starts much younger. The very nature of modern adult work is at fault, and no-one can hope to change it but us.

Of Men, Mothers and Mercy

How people think hippie women look. Actually from an advert for a Hallowe'en costume.

How people think hippie women look. Actually from an advert for a Hallowe’en costume.

Recently I picked up a copy of Dr. Christiane Northrup’s classic (and colossal) book, Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, and haven’t been able to put it down. If you know any hippie women, you will almost certainly have seen it on their homes, alongside Healing With Whole Foods, B.S.K. Iyengar’s Light on Yoga, and an amethyst geode propping up the shelf above.

Far more useful than a piece of furniture, however, this book has revived my appreciation of the feminine principle, a principle so easily suppressed or chased away in a city where everything is judged on how it scores in the masculinity charts.

An OB/GYN, Northrup shows the relationship between women’s negative attitudes towards their bodies, especially when it relates to sexual abuse or trauma, translates very clearly into their sexual health. Positive changes in these attitudes often have immediate effects on their physical symptoms. But I am shocked at how deeply the negativity runs for so many women. So many who attended her practice manifested signs of loathing or being ashamed of their bodies, and of giving up responsibility for its health by expected a paternalistic doctor to ‘take charge’ and ‘do something’. It made me so thankful not to have absorbed that thinking – at least, not enough to have ended up in her surgery.

The Gulf of Mixed Metaphors

It is clear that for thousands of years, qualities we think of as being ‘masculine’, such as winning by brute force or imposing authority on others deemed to be inferior have trumped such delicate, ‘feminine’ qualities as understanding, nurture, patience, and sharing in responsibility and success equally. Yet few women embody these qualities fully; one of the failings of western feminism is that in order for women to be considered as successful or empowered they must prove themselves by ‘masculine’ criteria by reaching the top of their profession (even if it be by hook or by crook), imposing authority on others, or winning accolades that distinguish them as being superior. Between Mother Teresa and Maggie Thatcher there’s a awfully big gulf.

How not many people think hippie women look. No jokes abut Hallowe'en costumes, please - let's be civil.

How not many people think hippie women look. No jokes abut Hallowe’en costumes, please – let’s be civil.

Another aspect of this ‘patriarchy’ – which Northrup calls the ‘Addictive System’ coined by Anne Wilson Shaef as an alternative to the negative, man-bashing term ‘patriarchy’ – is that of hierarchies. A tribal chief, so the theory goes, must impose authority on elders, who in turn impose it on the ordinary men of the tribe, who in turn impose it on the women, who in turn impose it on the children. Everyone has their place in the pecking order. Thus patriarchal (or addictive) thinking instills the idea that some men are born more equal than others.

I’ve noticed how hard it is to convince women (and often men) that they are able to write something beautiful, or do something creative. Why is that? I think it’s because we’ve learned that experts do these things, experts whom we’ve placed above ourselves in the hierarchy of creativeness, whose work we happily consume but wouldn’t dare try to rival. The opposite approach is to see all people as being essentially equal and all people’s subjective experiences as being equally valuable. Coming from this angle, workshop participants can relax into the idea that they don’t have to compete with others to produce something ‘good’, and in the fact that the whole criteria for quality needn’t come from others in the first place. No-one need judge themselves higher or lower than others because of their creative output.

Birth: the Ultimate Oscar

There is a creative power in pregnancy, birth and childrearing that trumps all of the worldly trophies that a culture obsessed with masculinity can offer. Women giving birth experience more pain than any man is capable of experiencing without passing out, and also the highest levels of endorphins that any human being can experience (immediately after a drug-free, non-interventionist birth – and the baby shares the same high). After the birth of Caveboy, I came back from having a bath feeling ready to deliver an acceptance speech for an Oscar: “I’d like to thank my mum for making me tea, my midwife for not hurrying me along, my birthing pool for being so floatatious…”

Seems so relaxing...

Seems so relaxing…

While there are men who witness this awesome process, and male midwives are privy to it on a regular basis, men can’t fully understand it because they can’t live it themselves. It occurs to me that God shares a secret with women – both those giving birth and those witnessing it – that men have to strive through a lifetime of personal and/or religious efforts to learn. Nevertheless, if we start crowing about how amazing we are for going through this process, we’ll get sucked into the same story of competition and hierarchy that we’re trying to escape. Unfortunately, even having a ‘natural’ birth can end up a kind of competition, with women blaming themselves when things don’t go according to plan or envying mothers for whom things did.

Blaming patriarchy is part of the very patriarchal values that divide people into ‘good’ and ‘bad’, encouraging some to assert their superiority over others, and leading to a perpetual cycle of reaction and aggression that has left most of the Middle East now (not to mention DRC, Sri Lanka, Burma, and countless other places) in bloodied shreds. Of course Muslim societies have become patriarchal; so have all societies around the globe. That’s not because patriarchy is superior all round, only that it’s physically stronger, and the more powerfully destructive military technology becomes, the more difficult it is to stand up against it.

The rhetorical expression ‘fighting fire with fire’ doesn’t work if you’re a firefighter. You calm fire with water. Hatred cannot neutralise hatred; you have to practise its opposite.

Of Men and Mercy

When Islam first emerged, it was in an Arabia so deeply entrenched in a vicious form of patriarchy that not only would internecine wars go on for decades and claim the lives of tens of thousands of people, but quite literally baby girls would be buried alive in the desert. A Bedouin man once bragged to the Prophet Muhammad (s.): “I have ten children and I have never kissed any of them,” to which the Prophet replied, “He who does not show mercy will not be shown mercy.”

Makkah as it was in 1850, before the real estate developers moved in

Makkah as it was in 1850, before the real estate developers moved in

Attitudes towards masculinity at the time were that men had to be tough, brutal warriors who didn’t just stand up for themselves but would fight aggressively to defend their ‘honour’ (whatever that meant to them). Muhammad (s.), on the other hand, refused to fight the Quraysh of Makkah, who responded to his early attempts to talk them out of their oppressive economic and cultural practices by throwing stones at him, boycotting him and his followers and drowning out his voice with jeers.

At the time he lived in the house his wife Khadijah (r.) built for them. She, incidentally, was 40 when she cajoled him into marrying her when he was 25; was a wealthy, respected, educated, literate noblewomen, as well as his boss; and was twice widowed with three children when they married, upon which she bore six children! Even years after she died, whenever her name was mentioned Muhammad (s.) would turn pale and tremble from missing her so much.

Archaeological dig of Sayyidah Khadijah's (r.) house, c. 1988. The larger room at the bottom of the pic was where they lived for 28 years; it measured about 6x4m.

Archaeological dig of Sayyidah Khadijah’s (r.) house, c. 1988. The larger room at the bottom of the pic was where they lived for 28 years; it measured about 6x4m.

In the courtyard of this house was a stone shelf under which he would hide under when the neighbours threw stones at him in his own home. He didn’t move house, or throw stones back, or even complain. There was also an elderly woman who would leave thorny branches outside his door each day; when one morning he saw that the thorns weren’t there, he went to her house and asked after her health. He even send his own daughter together with a number of the Companions to Abyssinia (modern day Ethiopia) to live under the Christian Emperor Nabash, where they could live in peace under a just ruler.

All of this was utterly astonishing to the Quraysh. What kind of a man would refuse to stand up for himself with violence, telling his followers to return evil with good, to forgive your oppressors when they ask for forgiveness, and prefer emigration over retribution? Mercy was considered a feminine quality, and therefore something that represented weakness and inferiority. The word rahma, or mercy, is related not only to the two most oft-repeated Names of God, Ar-Rahman and Ar-Rahim, the Merciful and the Compassionate, it is also related to the word rihm, meaning womb.

All of the battles between the Muslims and their opponents occurred not in or around Makkah, but around Madinah, once the Quraysh and their allies came to the doorstep of the new Muslim community seeking bloodshed, and it became clear to Muhammad (s.) that they would have to defend themselves or die. When the Muslims wanted to return to Makkah to perform the annual Hajj – a ritual that dated back to Abrahamic times, but which had been monopolised by the Quraysh, who had filled the Ka’abah with effigies of their deities – the Muslims came to Hudhaibiyah, a village outside Makkah, and signed a treaty with the Quraysh effectively rendering them second-class citizens, simply in exchange for being able to perform the pilgrimage. They entered Makkah unarmed, performed Hajj, and a flabbergasted Makkah surrendered without a drop of blood being spilled.

This might all sound like a rose-tinted picture of the history of Islam, and certainly there are narrations that seem to tell a different story. What is clear is that when under duress, including starvation and threats of murder from his own clansmen, the Prophetic example was to remain kind, tolerant, and forgiving. He taught that patience, service, humility and gentleness were qualities elevated far above forcefulness, egotism and aggression. Restoring family ties, helping enemies to make peace, and being on the same level as even the most lowly and vulnerable of society were praised in the highest terms.

Referring specifically to childbirth, a man once came to the Companion Ibn ‘Umar (r. – some narrations say it was the Prophet, s.) and said: “I have carried my mother on my back all the way from Iran. Have I done enough to repay her?” to which he replied: “Not even for one contraction.” More recently, a Sufi master called Muhammad Ibn al-Habib (rahimahu Allah) told a bunch of English converts who visited him in the 1970s: “Don’t argue with your wives. Just tickle them until you both fall to the floor laughing.”

Feminism Free From Finger-Pointing

All this seems a far cry from the misogyny that is now endemic, whether in the Muslim world or the planet at large. Yet I can’t point fingers at patriarchy, or men in general; men have excellent qualities that women also benefit from. If I were giving birth in a real life cave I’d feel quite safe with a big burly bloke stationed at the mouth of the cave with a burning brand to scare away the sabre-toothed tigers.

"Go, on shoo, you lot, I'm 'avin a baby"

“Go, on shoo, you lot, I’m ‘avin a baby”

I recently dreamed of a friend being pregnant and going to see a male healer, who gave her what I can only describe as an incredibly feminine, loving, nurturing kind of healing. It made me realise that I dismiss the idea of men having this depth of love and care – despite being married to one who does!

Abandoning our internalised patriarchy means rejecting blame, dualism, competition, envy, and judging self and others based on a hierarchical criteria of superiority. It means taking stock of ourselves from the inside out, addressing our relationships from our own failings and projections before blaming others, taking responsibility for our own problems instead of expecting Big Daddio to come and rescue us or bring out the big guns.

This may or may not be ‘feminine’ thinking, but it certainly links up our emotional intelligence with our rational minds in a much more rounded way, just as the female brain connects right and left hemispheres with a thicker bundle of nerves. Patriarchy might be nothing more than lopsided thinking after all.

The Invisible Muslim, part 1

 

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Victoria Park panorama, Lawrence Fredric White (Wiki Commons)

  Taking my kids to the V&A-designed playground at Victoria Park this morning, where toddlers in swim nappies braved the indecisive English weather to splash in a trickle of water pumped into a sandpit, I was sitting on a rock to watch my children climb the wooden castle when a girl of about one stumbled up to me, grabbing my knee to steady herself, and stared earnestly into my eyes.

  Her brother seemed embarrassed; smiling, he tried to coax her away, back to her pink Disney princess toy buggy, with the blonde haired, blue eyed, gormless-looking dolly sitting in it. He spoke to her in Arabic; both had tumbles of black hair, and a skin tone that I found hard to place on my Mental Map of Ethnicities: perhaps Sudanese? Or Southern Egyptians? 

  There was another sister, who wore a vivid purple satin dress with a flowered sash, unusually festive for the sandpit, where my son and his friends were exploding damp sand-balls off each other’s shoulders. She also seemed particularly excited, amazed even, at this place. At some point I realised that they did not speak enough English to talk to the others, only speaking Arabic to their mother (a pretty, round-faced woman in a brown hijab and jilbab, or long tunic coat) to to each other.

  Then I noticed that in the process of doing my best impression of an exasperated mother (why is it I can’t stop doing that impression sometimes?) I was yelling out the names of my kids and their friends – all of which were Arabic. I might have imagined that the mother’s ears pricked up, looking out for the Muslim-named children, but it seemed as though they did. 

  The peculiarity of the situation struck me. A couple of white, English-looking people, shouting Arabic names to their equally white, English-looking kids…without a means of communicating fluently with a Muslim family right beside us who probably would have been glad to have been able to communicate with someone there. Did the mother or the children think we’d just given our kids those names because they were fashionable that year? Beyoncé, Travis, Chantelle…Muhammad, Sakeena, Jamal…

  And did our kids understand that they had something in common with these other kids, playing alongside them silently, their wide eyes reading the playground and all the sandcastles and plastic watermills like a sort of field trip to England?

I started hunting for a pretext to practice some of my (rather limited) Arabic with the mother. Spoken Arabic is always the bugbear of classroom students – and me perusing a dictionary or bouncing grammar questions off my friends’ heads doesn’t even count as a classroom lesson. ‘As-salaamu ‘alaykum an…er…afham…‘Arabiyya…er…shuayya shuayya!’ Not the scintillating conversation I’d like to have, but I’ve started worse in other languages and still received warm responses. There is something about the language barrier that has always made me want to scale it.

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Aerial shot of Victoria Park by Bald Boris (WIki Commons)

  But the family moved on before I got a chance to ask where they were from, if they were holidaying here, if they liked Victoria Park/London/all that smalltalk stuff, if they needed any help with translation, what their kids’ favourite games were…In any case, I wouldn’t have been able to ask all those things. 

  And who knows what their response would have been? Wondering why my friend and I weren’t wearing scarves? I’d avoided the SOAS Islamic Society like the plague for the first few years of my time there out of fear of being judged; when I was eventually lured by the smell of free iftars, in my fourth and final year, I noticed how many people there dressed like me: with the subtle veil of normalcy (well, relatively speaking). I had wanted to kick myself at prejudging the ISOC as being so judgmental. 

  How many beautiful connections had I missed out on because of my avoidance tactic? It is so hard to know how you will be taken, accepted, rejected, treated as a kindred spirit, scolded, looked after, criticised, hugged; but the years are proving to me that the worst of it happens very rarely, and the best of it happens more often than you realise. 

  Probably the greatest fear of randomly speaking to other Muslims is the unavoidable fact that I will never be one of them – at least, not in the sense of their homeland, their food, their customs. Language seems like one of the only ways, bettered only by praying in jam‘a, that I’ve really felt a part of a Muslim culture other than my own, English micro-culture. It’s a bit of a pathetic fear, though. I’d rather focus on this wonderful filament that connects us.

  Only a few days previously, I’d been in the exact same spot, being alternately drizzled on and sprayed with sand, when I’d seen a group of Bangladeshi women strolling their kids and buggies through the park, some hijab’ed, some nijab’ed. And the sight of one of them, dressed entirely in black with only her eyes showing, sent a shiver of fear through me.

  I have never had to wear a face veil, and always thought it would feel suffocating; but a new friend, met this summer, relates that growing up in the city of Medina, girls looked forward to being able to wear a niqab, as this was what grown-up women did. It was like owning your first pair of high heels – equally impractical, and yet so deeply ingrained into our understanding (in the West, at least) of womanhood that it feels like you’re hopelessly conservative if you don’t wear one!

  But, as I am beginning to see, there is so much I still fear about my own fellow Muslims. The papers must be getting to me.

P.S. A very funny new animated cartoon from Pakistan, Burka Avenger, takes the idea of this fear and turns it on its head; the term ‘ninja’ couldn’t be more apt!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XahbqLdCVhE

 

This post is part of a forthcoming series of reflections, ‘The Invisible Muslim’.

Song for the Crocodiles

London, 27th August 2013

 

  Crouched among biodynamic farms an ancient coppiced woodlands, like a child suppressing laughter in a game of hide-and-seek, is the breathtakingly lovely Emerson College in Sussex, whose festival of storytelling ‘Everything Under the Sun’ took place over Bank Holiday weekend. Improv, world folk tales, listening for the story that is waiting to emerge from the most forgettable object – the experience was so light, shocking in the simpleness of its fun, it felt like it was changing my approach to writing with every minute that passed.

  Reflecting on it over the past few days, the shock lay in remembering how alive I feel in the making of a story, or the performing – the telling – of one. It is about as far removed from the illusion that fiction appears to be as a ship so far from shore that only the ocean can be seen. 

  It’s something I’ve struggled with a little over the years; Sufism has everything to do with reality, with freedom from illusion, but story-crafting seems to be all about dipping into the imagination and even – when it’s a really good – being lost in it. Wahm, vain fantasy or illusion, is spoken about in derogative terms; I have read several prayers seeking protection from it.

  Meanwhile, another question – interconnected to the previous one – has been on my mind, more and more over the last few years: how can a child be raised in such a way that s/he does not lose that wondrous state of openness, of sensitivity and play, that children gift us with – when we can stop our frenetic activity and enjoy it with them? Or, put differently, is it possible to bring up children in such a way that their instinctive trust, their belief in what they cannot see, remains undimmed without stunting their growth into adulthood?

Etching made by my sister Hanna Whiteman - see her website www.hannawhiteman.blogspot.co.uk

Etching made by my sister Hanna Whiteman – see her website http://www.hannawhiteman.blogspot.co.uk

  The two questions came together at this festival. Well-known for having a strong Waldorf connection (storytelling is central to Steiner school education), the storytellers showed me very plainly that adults do not have to lose that sense of wonderment and playfulness, can remain free-spirited and open without falling into silliness, vain fantasy, or the kind of wimpy escapism that often gets associated with alternative education (or, indeed, a certain breed of religionists).

  On the contrary; these were deeply wise people, not in the way you’d perhaps envision wisdom (no long wispy beards or monk hats), but in a way that was integrated into adult competence and confidence, our ability to organise and lead and teach. 

  The impression I had, particularly from a creative nature walk I took with Malcolm Greene, veteran storyteller and teacher at Emerson (and elsewhere), was of an adult who welcomed every new idea without criticising for the sake of being bigger than the one criticised – yet that didn’t mean he wouldn’t call out a clanger.

  I was astonished at my own amazement that this was possible. I wonder where I got the idea that adults had to be cynical, that without this ‘healthy’ cynicism they would come across as childish – by which, I regret to say, I mean pathetically weedy? Instead I felt completely respected, heard, ‘met’ as an adult, but the inner playfulness I hardly ever dared to let out (except while playing with my kids) was fully met, too.

  One of the exercises we did was to find an object in the woods we had walked to and turn it into a story. So a fern became the original Christmas tree for early British people, who were really very small, and who would gather together at ritual times and dance around the fern plant, kicking away the damp humus on the floor, eating the tiny white pearly mushrooms that were actually drops of elf milk that had spilt from hazelnut shells carried by mothers who had rushed too quickly to their children at night, while the amber beech leaf was in fact the lost earring of the gossamer lady of the lake (a crumpled spiderweb), who was coming to the dance and dropped it…

  There is a huge difference between thinking a story like this and making it up together with other adults, telling it excitedly in bursts as each one thinks of a new thread. We are kids again. It’s a new game. The feeling is wonderful; the adults in us are still there, providing us with thesaurus searches when we need a good word, but the playfulness is back and as vivid as it was when we were six. You inner child is alive and realer than you’d think.

  Which brings me back to the education question. What causes a child to shut off that vivid reality, in which anything could be anything else? Is it really as simple as using plastic toys, playing video games, or watching television, as many a Steiner school will tell you?

  I don’t think those things help, especially. But I think there is something we do as parents that is far more influential in this sense. We tell our children to stop being so silly.

  Remember that? “Don’t be ridiculous.” “Act your age” (a real dose of adult idiocy there). “Stop crying.” “Be a big boy.” Or even the unforgivably cruel, “Grow up.” Is that the example we were expected to grow up to be? 

  Quite apart from the damage done in negating the things pictured in the technicolour showstopper of a child’s imagination, I would like to point out that being silly is really very amusing. I have a friend who recently admitted that she has a photo from her wedding night in which she and her new husband posed as the freakish inbred villagers from the League of Gentlemen. I am unashamed to admit I do a lot of silly walks, dances, faces, gibberish invented songs, partly to distract my kids from incipient brat-outs, and partly just to get a laugh. It’s cheaper than putting a family through psychotherapy in years to come. I see it as a sound investment.

  Perhaps we are so keen to cut off the imaginative drive because of the fears that so often brew in the cauldron of that wildly creative brain. My kids have told me on countless occasions that there is a monster in the house. At some point, I stopped saying ‘Don’t be silly’, and started listening to them. 

  It was hard at first, remembering the fear that rises like floodwater at the thought of these perceptions; many times I have also felt the presence of something peculiar, or benign,  or even protective, or simply a being who is sitting on the sofa, keeping me company. At times the feeling is suffocating (the toilets at my best friend’s studio are definitely home to something creepy, I can almost feel it closing a hand over my throat; no surprise her 3 year old son says there’s an octopus in there). 

  It might be difficult to believe what I’m saying; we’ve all been given so much conditioning that monsters don’t really exist in the closet, there are no crocodiles under the bed, nothing is looking in the window at night…yet horror films love to play on these fears, and if you remember being a child, I can guarantee you can remember the chill you felt of lying alone in a dark room, or going to the bathroom at night, or going into the garden at night – why was it always at night?

  Let me tell you story now, and you can choose to believe it or not. Last night, I was working on a translation. It was a book by Ibn ‘Arabi, the great 13th century scholar and mystic of Murcia, Al-Andalus. (I was working on the Spanish to English; it has already been translated from Arabic to Spanish).

  Something about translating a person’s words immediately makes me feel their presence. Sometimes it happens when reading their work, but often writers have been so edited, or were writing in such a detached way, that their essence doesn’t come across well at all. But translating a classical manuscript has a different feeling to it. It’s difficult, clumsy; often you feel you are blundering around in the dark.

Andalusian mystic and author, 1165-1240 CE

Andalusian mystic and author, 1165-1240 CE

  And out of the dark loom figures. I’m not sure if it is the spirit of the writer, or some other being come to help you work it out. But when I turned off the computer at 1.30 am, and went to pray before bed, there were people sitting on the sofa. They had their hands on their knees. I would say they were probably men, though gender didn’t have anything to do with it. They were aware of me. One of them, I felt, could have been Ibn ‘Arabi, summoned to help put me on track with this mind-numbingly difficult translation.

  It’s happened a few times recently, particularly during Ramadan, when I was often up in the night at strange hours praying. You might say it was a hallucination brought on by lack of sleep. I’ve slept much less and still not hallucinated, and in any case, there was nothing visual there – which is precisely what answered my question about imagination.

  There is a vision in the head, and a vision in the heart. Rarely do the twain meet – at least in the daytime, when there is enough light to distract the eyes of the head and so much activity for it to be getting on with. The heart’s vision usually takes a back seat – unless you make an effort to be reminded of it, or you are of a highly intuitive nature (in which case it can be paralysing).

  At night, when this intuitive state returns to many of us, especially children, those entities that we are too busy to notice in the daytime start to demand our attention. (You might want to call them energies, if that takes away the creepiness factor for you.) 

  But a while ago I realised that addressing my children’s fears directly, not by declaring those entities as non-existent but by calmly accepting their perception of them and offering them some practical way to deal with them, helps them cope with their fears without shutting off their heart’s vision. So we blow raspberries at monsters, shoo them out by shaking towels, make lots of noise, tell them to go home, sing songs loudly about how we’ll chop them up and put them in a peppery soup, squirt water at them, close curtains and light nightlights, sweep dusty neglected underbeds and air out stuffy wardrobes and bathrooms.

  The head doesn’t want to accept the possibility of these entities existing, partly because it doesn’t want the competition of the heart’s vision (heads are territorial like that), and partly because it just doesn’t have any way of dealing with it – which really is terrifying. How does the rational mind come up with a solution for an intuitive problem?

  You have to revert to play to find the solution. You have to go back into the child’s space of anything being possibly anything else to come up with the next page of the story, the next event. Sometimes it will seem quite crazy. Other times there will be so much wisdom to it your jaw will drop at your child’s perspicacity. 

  Cavegirl, who is now 3, remarked to me the other day, while I was on the computer sending emails, “Mummy, wake up!” I replied, “I am awake!” to which she said, “No. You’re asleep”.

  A commentary of technology’s habit of disconnecting us from other people aside, that showed me how well her heart vision was integrated with her head vision – as, I suppose, all children’s must be, up to a certain age. She described me as she saw me – yet she knew I was not literally asleep, because I was sitting up in a chair, typing. But I may as well have been. My heart-light was switched off, and only head activity remained. I was, to her, in a different world, detached from the reality she perceived. I certainly wasn’t sensing the presence of night visitors then, I can tell you. 

  In story, the two visions, heart and head, converge. Head is there offering adjectives, guiding story arcs, planning ahead a little, reminding not to waffle. But heart has taken centre stage. Heart is on the stage in fact, dressed in wild batiks with a staff in hand, enthralling the page with visions that may or may not ever have been but feel real – and that is true enough.

  When fears emerge, whether your child’s or yours, story offers access to your intuitive ability to problem-solve in the non-physical realm, where there certainly are crocodiles under your bed – or something that only the word ‘crocodiles’ can adequately describe. Write the crocodiles a letter to tell them to go away (politely – you don’t want to get them annoyed). Sing them a song, or play a tune on a penny whistle, à la the Pied Piper of Hamlin, and lead them out the front door (locking it shut afterwards). Send in a team of pirhanas to devour them…I don’t know, they’re your crocodiles, you make it up. (Add them in the comments when they seem to work!)

  Most of the time, it makes you laugh to play out these solutions, which itself acts as a detergent to fear. And the side-effect of getting rid of a crocodile infestation is appreciating those protectors, teachers, guards who appear when you need them. 

  Why is it always at night? Because that’s when the stories emerge from their dens.

A Place to Disconnect

The internet, with its ability to free or enslave us, has changed the way we relate to money, and its ability to free or enslave us. We can work online from anywhere in the world as long as it has an internet café. We can even use BitCoin, the fastest-growing and stablest currency in the world, and one that is (almost) completely digital.

The internet has changed the way we relate to people, mediating our exchanges by way of social networking sites or chat apps and converting personal conversations into freakishly ungrammatical bursts of hyperbole. Now we can have the pleasure of video calling anyone we want to talk to, and witnessing their downcast eyes while they observe the pictures on screen, of us, also with our eyes averted.

The internet is also, I am realising, changing the way we think of place. Websites are, we assume, places to connect, meet, share, download, learn. It seems to be a word that pops up frequently online: Google’s Places for Business for example. Forums are another virtual meetingplace; the word refers back to fora, “a public square or marketplace used for judicial and other business” in Ancient Rome. Foro in Spanish has a general meaning of ‘capacity’, or the number of people you can fit into a place.

There it is again! And even if the word is not physically present, it is thought; because we’ve only ever known things to happen in a place, as most of us are not prone to conducting our daily basis on the astral plane, therefore whenever we ‘do’ something, there is the assumption that we must be doing it somewhere. In all our 58 million year history on earth, we’ve never had to deal with this concept of placelessness before, of carrying on an ordinary life in the depths of the void.

Nelly and Smudge.

Nelly and Smudge.

I am writing this with a little black-and-white furry bundle on my lap, two kittens abandoned by their mother and rescued by my best friend. The mother had abandoned them; one sibling had already died when the other two were taken, soaked in pee and sticky-eyed, out of the cardboard box they were born in, wrapped in a bit of hessian.

These days it is especially heavenly in this valley: the intoxicating smell of orange blossoms; poppies, sorrel, hundreds of kinds of wildflowers pepper the green; the sun is at its most benevolent, warm enough to get a tan but not so hot you roast. So when the kittens got their first look at the outside world they gazed with hazelnut-shaped blue eyes in wonder at the blue of the sky they had never seen, the sun they had never felt directly, the landscape and colours they would not have known existed.

They were badly dehydrated; I’m back to a newborn baby sleeping schedule to keep them pipette’d with Pedialyte. They’re washed and suddenly adorably fluffy. But mostly they are sleeping, if not on me, wrapped in an old towel, or in a box next to some stones heated up on the woodburner. They are still too young to be able to walk or lap milk out of a bowl. All they are wanting is warmth, stroking, contact. Cold means death; touch is life.

And so I return to this double falseness in the thousands of sites online that promote themselves, or are simply thought of, as ‘places to connect’. There is no place to actually meet or feel the presence of another person, let alone any touch being really got into. What can that connection boil down to? The flinging of scraps from a digital diary out into space with the confidence that other pods floating around this vast emptiness will be able to find and see them.

I am also understanding more now about why cats are the way they are. They like to be scratched or stroked on the forehead, on the ears, and all down their backs, because this is what the mother does with her velcro-coated tongue when they are still too young to see or move about on their own. The world is still a blur beyond the edges of the hedge, or cardboard box, or airing cupboard. The look of bliss is enough to signal that this is what they need, not only as babies, but as adults if they are domesticated.

The internet cannot produce this look of bliss, because in no way, and at no time, is anyone ever really connecting. There are words that are flung out of passing spacepods that might reflect the light or resonate for someone in another. But they are no substitute for the warmth of a gurgling stomach, an embrace, a kiss.

I fear that we are becoming a generation of emotional lepers, only capable of throwing out an emoticon instead of really feeling and sharing an emotion. It is easier, less painful, less raw, and less dangerous. Not having to deal with another person’s emotion means you can sink into the protective swaddling of your own ego, where the wounds can only fester.

In a more obvious way, internetic events are anachronistic echoes of real events. Information is a means to an end, and so the internet is a wonderful means – the kittens’ lives were probably saved by information found instantly online – but the information alone does nothing. Only when it is put into action, by a person, in a place, is it of any use. You have to get up in the night with a pipette to save a cat’s life – and even then you need something else, grace perhaps. The email won’t do it for you.

The void is filling up with scraps of information, some of it valuable, some of it poisonous, most of it junk. The trouble is now not how long it will take to get the information needed – we have spiders that find and select the information when we ask them to – the problem is using it appropriately.

Calendulas.

Calendulas.

The more time I am spending outside, finding herbs, sowing vegetable seed, planting trees, engaging my hands and eyes and feet with what there is around, the more perspective is opening up to me. A river from a distance, with all its tributaries, could just as well be a leaf close up, with all its veins. There is a sense of utter bliss, unlike anything I could receive from a screen, or even from a book.

I find the internet horribly addictive, especially sites like YouTube or Facebook, or even Wikipedia, where new information is added by users all the time. This design website sums it up quite well: http://huttonbrown.wordpress.com/2013/04/11/are-you-addicted-to-facebook/

The volume of information online is paralysing. My head feels like a million hamsters are ticking away furiously to keep up, and then where does it all end up going? The pressure it creates has to be vented by watching something truly stupid online for a giggle. And the cycle begins again.

gate

Oh I am tired of all this information. Let’s go to the garden instead.

A Place to Disconnect

The internet, with its ability to free or enslave us, has changed the way we relate to money, and its ability to free or enslave us. We can work online from anywhere in the world as long as it has an internet café. We can even use BitCoin, the fastest-growing and stablest currency in the world, and one that is (almost) completely digital.

The internet has changed the way we relate to people, mediating our exchanges by way of social networking sites or chat apps and converting personal conversations into freakishly ungrammatical bursts of hyperbole. Now we can have the pleasure of video calling anyone we want to talk to, and witnessing their downcast eyes while they observe the pictures on screen, of us, also with our eyes averted.

The internet is also, I am realising, changing the way we think of place. Websites are, we assume, places to connect, meet, share, download, learn. It seems to be a word that pops up frequently online: Google’s Places for Business for example. Forums are another virtual meetingplace; the word refers back to fora, “a public square or marketplace used for judicial and other business” in Ancient Rome. Foro in Spanish has a general meaning of ‘capacity’, or the number of people you can fit into a place.

There it is again! And even if the word is not physically present, it is thought; because we’ve only ever known things to happen in a place, as most of us are not prone to conducting our daily basis on the astral plane, therefore whenever we ‘do’ something, there is the assumption that we must be doing it somewhere. In all our 58 million year history on earth, we’ve never had to deal with this concept of placelessness before, of carrying on an ordinary life in the depths of the void.

Nelly and Smudge.

Nelly and Smudge.

I am writing this with a little black-and-white furry bundle on my lap, two kittens abandoned by their mother and rescued by my best friend. The mother had abandoned them; one sibling had already died when the other two were taken, soaked in pee and sticky-eyed, out of the cardboard box they were born in, wrapped in a bit of hessian.

These days it is especially heavenly in this valley: the intoxicating smell of orange blossoms; poppies, sorrel, hundreds of kinds of wildflowers pepper the green; the sun is at its most benevolent, warm enough to get a tan but not so hot you roast. So when the kittens got their first look at the outside world they gazed with hazelnut-shaped blue eyes in wonder at the blue of the sky they had never seen, the sun they had never felt directly, the landscape and colours they would not have known existed.

They were badly dehydrated; I’m back to a newborn baby sleeping schedule to keep them pipette’d with Pedialyte. They’re washed and suddenly adorably fluffy. But mostly they are sleeping, if not on me, wrapped in an old towel, or in a box next to some stones heated up on the woodburner. They are still too young to be able to walk or lap milk out of a bowl. All they are wanting is warmth, stroking, contact. Cold means death; touch is life.

And so I return to this double falseness in the thousands of sites online that promote themselves, or are simply thought of, as ‘places to connect’. There is no place to actually meet or feel the presence of another person, let alone any touch being really got into. What can that connection boil down to? The flinging of scraps from a digital diary out into space with the confidence that other pods floating around this vast emptiness will be able to find and see them.

I am also understanding more now about why cats are the way they are. They like to be scratched or stroked on the forehead, on the ears, and all down their backs, because this is what the mother does with her velcro-coated tongue when they are still too young to see or move about on their own. The world is still a blur beyond the edges of the hedge, or cardboard box, or airing cupboard. The look of bliss is enough to signal that this is what they need, not only as babies, but as adults if they are domesticated.

The internet cannot produce this look of bliss, because in no way, and at no time, is anyone ever really connecting. There are words that are flung out of passing spacepods that might reflect the light or resonate for someone in another. But they are no substitute for the warmth of a gurgling stomach, an embrace, a kiss.

I fear that we are becoming a generation of emotional lepers, only capable of throwing out an emoticon instead of really feeling and sharing an emotion. It is easier, less painful, less raw, and less dangerous. Not having to deal with another person’s emotion means you can sink into the protective swaddling of your own ego, where the wounds can only fester.

In a more obvious way, internetic events are anachronistic echoes of real events. Information is a means to an end, and so the internet is a wonderful means – the kittens’ lives were probably saved by information found instantly online – but the information alone does nothing. Only when it is put into action, by a person, in a place, is it of any use. You have to get up in the night with a pipette to save a cat’s life – and even then you need something else, grace perhaps. The email won’t do it for you.

The void is filling up with scraps of information, some of it valuable, some of it poisonous, most of it junk. The trouble is now not how long it will take to get the information needed – we have spiders that find and select the information when we ask them to – the problem is using it appropriately.

Calendulas.

Calendulas.

The more time I am spending outside, finding herbs, sowing vegetable seed, planting trees, engaging my hands and eyes and feet with what there is around, the more perspective is opening up to me. A river from a distance, with all its tributaries, could just as well be a leaf close up, with all its veins. There is a sense of utter bliss, unlike anything I could receive from a screen, or even from a book.

I find the internet horribly addictive, especially sites like YouTube or Facebook, or even Wikipedia, where new information is added by users all the time. This design website sums it up quite well: http://huttonbrown.wordpress.com/2013/04/11/are-you-addicted-to-facebook/

The volume of information online is paralysing. My head feels like a million hamsters are ticking away furiously to keep up, and then where does it all end up going? The pressure it creates has to be vented by watching something truly stupid online for a giggle. And the cycle begins again.

gate

Oh I am tired of all this information. Let’s go to the garden instead.

A Place to Disconnect

The internet, with its ability to free or enslave us, has changed the way we relate to money, and its ability to free or enslave us. We can work online from anywhere in the world as long as it has an internet café. We can even use BitCoin, the fastest-growing and stablest currency in the world, and one that is (almost) completely digital.

The internet has changed the way we relate to people, mediating our exchanges by way of social networking sites or chat apps and converting personal conversations into freakishly ungrammatical bursts of hyperbole. Now we can have the pleasure of video calling anyone we want to talk to, and witnessing their downcast eyes while they observe the pictures on screen, of us, also with our eyes averted.

The internet is also, I am realising, changing the way we think of place. Websites are, we assume, places to connect, meet, share, download, learn. It seems to be a word that pops up frequently online: Google’s Places for Business for example. Forums are another virtual meetingplace; the word refers back to fora, “a public square or marketplace used for judicial and other business” in Ancient Rome. Foro in Spanish has a general meaning of ‘capacity’, or the number of people you can fit into a place.

There it is again! And even if the word is not physically present, it is thought; because we’ve only ever known things to happen in a place, as most of us are not prone to conducting our daily basis on the astral plane, therefore whenever we ‘do’ something, there is the assumption that we must be doing it somewhere. In all our 58 million year history on earth, we’ve never had to deal with this concept of placelessness before, of carrying on an ordinary life in the depths of the void.

Nelly and Smudge.

Nelly and Smudge.

I am writing this with a little black-and-white furry bundle on my lap, two kittens abandoned by their mother and rescued by my best friend. The mother had abandoned them; one sibling had already died when the other two were taken, soaked in pee and sticky-eyed, out of the cardboard box they were born in, wrapped in a bit of hessian.

These days it is especially heavenly in this valley: the intoxicating smell of orange blossoms; poppies, sorrel, hundreds of kinds of wildflowers pepper the green; the sun is at its most benevolent, warm enough to get a tan but not so hot you roast. So when the kittens got their first look at the outside world they gazed with hazelnut-shaped blue eyes in wonder at the blue of the sky they had never seen, the sun they had never felt directly, the landscape and colours they would not have known existed.

They were badly dehydrated; I’m back to a newborn baby sleeping schedule to keep them pipette’d with Pedialyte. They’re washed and suddenly adorably fluffy. But mostly they are sleeping, if not on me, wrapped in an old towel, or in a box next to some stones heated up on the woodburner. They are still too young to be able to walk or lap milk out of a bowl. All they are wanting is warmth, stroking, contact. Cold means death; touch is life.

And so I return to this double falseness in the thousands of sites online that promote themselves, or are simply thought of, as ‘places to connect’. There is no place to actually meet or feel the presence of another person, let alone any touch being really got into. What can that connection boil down to? The flinging of scraps from a digital diary out into space with the confidence that other pods floating around this vast emptiness will be able to find and see them.

I am also understanding more now about why cats are the way they are. They like to be scratched or stroked on the forehead, on the ears, and all down their backs, because this is what the mother does with her velcro-coated tongue when they are still too young to see or move about on their own. The world is still a blur beyond the edges of the hedge, or cardboard box, or airing cupboard. The look of bliss is enough to signal that this is what they need, not only as babies, but as adults if they are domesticated.

The internet cannot produce this look of bliss, because in no way, and at no time, is anyone ever really connecting. There are words that are flung out of passing spacepods that might reflect the light or resonate for someone in another. But they are no substitute for the warmth of a gurgling stomach, an embrace, a kiss.

I fear that we are becoming a generation of emotional lepers, only capable of throwing out an emoticon instead of really feeling and sharing an emotion. It is easier, less painful, less raw, and less dangerous. Not having to deal with another person’s emotion means you can sink into the protective swaddling of your own ego, where the wounds can only fester.

In a more obvious way, internetic events are anachronistic echoes of real events. Information is a means to an end, and so the internet is a wonderful means – the kittens’ lives were probably saved by information found instantly online – but the information alone does nothing. Only when it is put into action, by a person, in a place, is it of any use. You have to get up in the night with a pipette to save a cat’s life – and even then you need something else, grace perhaps. The email won’t do it for you.

The void is filling up with scraps of information, some of it valuable, some of it poisonous, most of it junk. The trouble is now not how long it will take to get the information needed – we have spiders that find and select the information when we ask them to – the problem is using it appropriately.

Calendulas.

Calendulas.

The more time I am spending outside, finding herbs, sowing vegetable seed, planting trees, engaging my hands and eyes and feet with what there is around, the more perspective is opening up to me. A river from a distance, with all its tributaries, could just as well be a leaf close up, with all its veins. There is a sense of utter bliss, unlike anything I could receive from a screen, or even from a book.

I find the internet horribly addictive, especially sites like YouTube or Facebook, or even Wikipedia, where new information is added by users all the time. This design website sums it up quite well: http://huttonbrown.wordpress.com/2013/04/11/are-you-addicted-to-facebook/

The volume of information online is paralysing. My head feels like a million hamsters are ticking away furiously to keep up, and then where does it all end up going? The pressure it creates has to be vented by watching something truly stupid online for a giggle. And the cycle begins again.

gate

Oh I am tired of all this information. Let’s go to the garden instead.

How To Overlap With Your Love

It’s been six months since I got divorced.

In the time elapsed, I’ve met my soul mate, and with the usual Sufi tendency of throwing normality to the wind, we are already wondering when we’ll be able to do our own sort of marriage – albeit more of a picnic affair, with a bit of wedding thrown in for good measure.

Most people will clearly think I am one currant short of an Eccles cake for even contemplating throwing my lot in with a new man, not only so soon after my first marriage was dissolved, but that being a marriage that I’d also rushed into (four months after we’d first met). But there’s been a long, slow evolution in my understanding of marriage, and I’d like to share it with you.

The word ‘marriage’ sends tremors up the spines of most of the Western world. Either it’s a woman contemplating the horrors of bra strap tanlines when putting on a strapless wedding gown, or a groom wondering if he’ll have a panic attack and stuff the priest’s face into the bride’s bouquet, or the in-laws jointly hoping that it’ll be worth the cost incurred and all the hoo-ha generated.

I hope he isn't going to be this annoying for the rest of our lives. I will just have to CHANGE HIM.

What seems to worry us is not so much whether everything is fine now between the happy (though slightly nauseous with stage fright) couple, but how everything will be in the future for them. Most of this, it must be said, is going through the heads of potential brides, often before a potential mate has even shown his face on set. It sounds a something like this:

“How will we earn a living when I have a baby? What if he goes off me when I’m saggy from breastfeeding? Would we move to the countryside? Will I ever like his friends? Where will we send our kids to school? Would we go on holiday to places like Tuscany and the Algarve, or would it be more of a Manhattan/Tokyo type relationship? Where will we retire? Will he be rugged and sporty but tend towards paunchiness and early hair loss later in life? AND WILL I HAVE TO CHANGE MY SURNAME TO ‘BOGIE’??”

Don't lose yours.

In short, the concept of marriage does not mean ‘letting it be known publicly that these two are in a sincere, close relationship and want to celebrate it’, but instead it means ‘the plan of how two people’s lives will be forcibly intertwined forever and ever, mortgaging their souls to the lifelong expectation of wedded bliss’.

Well, maybe you could call me just a tiny bit cynical. I’m certain there are plenty of soul mates out there who are up to their eyeballs in wedded bliss, who are so easy in their togetherness that they don’t ever need to worry about how things will pan out.

It’s true that in the petalled flush of love no obstacle seems too great to somersault. And I’ll bet that if that love is strong and sure enough, it would be so rooted in their reality that the winds of change might knock out a few bird’s nests, shake off leaves, ripen and strike down fruit, but the love would keep thriving. Like two trees that have grown around one another, sheltering each other’s shape. This love does exist. It is rare, but real.

So when does the tingling momentum of love start crystallising into shapes like the Bogies’ imaginary wedding, above? When the euphoria of sharing your life – this present moment – sigues into the plotting of shared lifetimes that stretch away into the future in rows of neat articles, numbered one to fifteen trillion. Now you’re not sharing your lives on the horizontal plane, in every facet, sickness and health, good times and bad, but on the vertical plane, in the undefinable, unplannable realms of what comes next.

The sharing slips into comfortably physical forms. Instead of telling your lover about a funny dream you had about the cat, and a moment of total joy you experienced while watering the geraniums, as your partner listens agog, eyes molten pools of adoration, you are sharing bank accounts, the sofa to watch the telly, a nice bedshirt you rather want to nick off him. Instead of hugging under a cloud of duvet and wishing this moment would never end, you are scheduling activities for later that week: cinema trips, the weeding, fixing a kitchen cupboard door, even (shudder) washing up rotas.

I’ve done it. I’m not immune. It is too easy to ignore what is going on inside when it is nebulous, confusing, unhappy, angry, hopeless, or just plain numb. Some of us have been so well pumped with brainly information that we haven’t got a clue where our hearts are at. So relationships drift into tensions, covered up with plans, thinking ahead, worrying. Stoppering up our ears when our hearts are screaming for attention.

The sane ones nurse their limping relationships back to health by doing whatever is necessary to find out who they are. The really sane ones find out who they are before getting into a relationship, before the surprises happen, the disappointments sink in, the resentments ferment.

Instead of looking for a person who will plug a gap in their personalities, they fill those holes for themselves, from the inside out. There’s no need for dependencies, insecurities, power struggles: you are whole, and when you find another person who is likewise whole, you overlap like two circles of coloured paper to find a new colour in the overlapping Vesica.

So that is my vision of why people would want to get married, why I want to get married again. I feel like it’s already happened spontaneously, and all that remains is to have a party. It is not a state to enter into, contriving it, but one that you might find yourself in already: your present overlaps with his. With trust that you can share anything of importance with this person in your life, the future gleams with bold, vivid blankness.

Heraclitus wrote: “You cannot step into the same river twice”. Time is a river; we don’t know where it’ll take us. But there’s only one way to enter that current, and that’s to step into the water.

How To Overlap With Your Love

It’s been six months since I got divorced.

In the time elapsed, I’ve met my soul mate, and with the usual Sufi tendency of throwing normality to the wind, we are already wondering when we’ll be able to do our own sort of marriage – albeit more of a picnic affair, with a bit of wedding thrown in for good measure.

Most people will clearly think I am one currant short of an Eccles cake for even contemplating throwing my lot in with a new man, not only so soon after my first marriage was dissolved, but that being a marriage that I’d also rushed into (four months after we’d first met). But there’s been a long, slow evolution in my understanding of marriage, and I’d like to share it with you.

The word ‘marriage’ sends tremors up the spines of most of the Western world. Either it’s a woman contemplating the horrors of bra strap tanlines when putting on a strapless wedding gown, or a groom wondering if he’ll have a panic attack and stuff the priest’s face into the bride’s bouquet, or the in-laws jointly hoping that it’ll be worth the cost incurred and all the hoo-ha generated.

I hope he isn't going to be this annoying for the rest of our lives. I will just have to CHANGE HIM.

What seems to worry us is not so much whether everything is fine now between the happy (though slightly nauseous with stage fright) couple, but how everything will be in the future for them. Most of this, it must be said, is going through the heads of potential brides, often before a potential mate has even shown his face on set. It sounds a something like this:

“How will we earn a living when I have a baby? What if he goes off me when I’m saggy from breastfeeding? Would we move to the countryside? Will I ever like his friends? Where will we send our kids to school? Would we go on holiday to places like Tuscany and the Algarve, or would it be more of a Manhattan/Tokyo type relationship? Where will we retire? Will he be rugged and sporty but tend towards paunchiness and early hair loss later in life? AND WILL I HAVE TO CHANGE MY SURNAME TO ‘BOGIE’??”

Don't lose yours.

In short, the concept of marriage does not mean ‘letting it be known publicly that these two are in a sincere, close relationship and want to celebrate it’, but instead it means ‘the plan of how two people’s lives will be forcibly intertwined forever and ever, mortgaging their souls to the lifelong expectation of wedded bliss’.

Well, maybe you could call me just a tiny bit cynical. I’m certain there are plenty of soul mates out there who are up to their eyeballs in wedded bliss, who are so easy in their togetherness that they don’t ever need to worry about how things will pan out.

It’s true that in the petalled flush of love no obstacle seems too great to somersault. And I’ll bet that if that love is strong and sure enough, it would be so rooted in their reality that the winds of change might knock out a few bird’s nests, shake off leaves, ripen and strike down fruit, but the love would keep thriving. Like two trees that have grown around one another, sheltering each other’s shape. This love does exist. It is rare, but real.

So when does the tingling momentum of love start crystallising into shapes like the Bogies’ imaginary wedding, above? When the euphoria of sharing your life – this present moment – sigues into the plotting of shared lifetimes that stretch away into the future in rows of neat articles, numbered one to fifteen trillion. Now you’re not sharing your lives on the horizontal plane, in every facet, sickness and health, good times and bad, but on the vertical plane, in the undefinable, unplannable realms of what comes next.

The sharing slips into comfortably physical forms. Instead of telling your lover about a funny dream you had about the cat, and a moment of total joy you experienced while watering the geraniums, as your partner listens agog, eyes molten pools of adoration, you are sharing bank accounts, the sofa to watch the telly, a nice bedshirt you rather want to nick off him. Instead of hugging under a cloud of duvet and wishing this moment would never end, you are scheduling activities for later that week: cinema trips, the weeding, fixing a kitchen cupboard door, even (shudder) washing up rotas.

I’ve done it. I’m not immune. It is too easy to ignore what is going on inside when it is nebulous, confusing, unhappy, angry, hopeless, or just plain numb. Some of us have been so well pumped with brainly information that we haven’t got a clue where our hearts are at. So relationships drift into tensions, covered up with plans, thinking ahead, worrying. Stoppering up our ears when our hearts are screaming for attention.

The sane ones nurse their limping relationships back to health by doing whatever is necessary to find out who they are. The really sane ones find out who they are before getting into a relationship, before the surprises happen, the disappointments sink in, the resentments ferment.

Instead of looking for a person who will plug a gap in their personalities, they fill those holes for themselves, from the inside out. There’s no need for dependencies, insecurities, power struggles: you are whole, and when you find another person who is likewise whole, you overlap like two circles of coloured paper to find a new colour in the overlapping Vesica.

So that is my vision of why people would want to get married, why I want to get married again. I feel like it’s already happened spontaneously, and all that remains is to have a party. It is not a state to enter into, contriving it, but one that you might find yourself in already: your present overlaps with his. With trust that you can share anything of importance with this person in your life, the future gleams with bold, vivid blankness.

Heraclitus wrote: “You cannot step into the same river twice”. Time is a river; we don’t know where it’ll take us. But there’s only one way to enter that current, and that’s to step into the water.