The Inner Baby and Tweetaholism

It seems I have been singing so many qasidas* lately that new depths of my own vanity, ambition, immaturity, wounded pride and overall silliness are being clarified, like ghee simmering over a low heat.

Firstly there are the ambitions that don’t seem to disappear no matter how many steps closer I come, no matter how many achievements trickle into my life. It seems I’m not content to be the mother of three utterly hilarious beautiful creative inventive intelligent healthy beings (ALHAMDULILLAH!), nor that I am a writer as I’ve wanted to be since age 6, living in a beautiful place with no drizzle, and a community of amazing open-minded people who occasionally provide amusement with their bizarre antics.

No, there is always something else, always some other challenge that sets my jaw a-champing…and like a blindfold hamster believing it is going forward to some wondrous destination I am still always looking into an imaginary future where I’ll finally feel fulfilled by this, that or the other accolade.

Digging into this curious state of affairs I am finding that there is a very deep, childish sort of wound still being nursed by my unconscious being that lies behind my need to ‘be better’, one which goes back so far it has no visual clues to it, only a vague, pervasive, unsettling pain. My mother tells me that after my sister was born I refused to let her hug me for two years, just going all stiff (I was two at the time – I hasten to add that we have since become very close loving sisters, although it did take 22 years or so to get there).

It’s not like I was a neglected child – I was a longed-for baby who (according to my mum) received all the attention and adoration she could lavish on me, which was perhaps why it was such as shock when I was no longer the littlest one of the family. There is a photo of my mum holding my baby sister, aged 1 day, with our dear late grandmother cooing over them, and me in the foreground grimacing into the camera. She still bears a tiny scar on her cheek from where I was meant to kiss her as a baby but scratched her instead.

Could it really be that such an ancient, primary experience as losing first place in my parents’ affections has stayed with me all this time, morphing with age and accreting defenses to hide behind? Seeing how intensely my children react to seemingly small things like one getting 5 minutes more on the iPad than the other (these are the times we’re living in), I can imagine it might.

The emotions of children are all the more intense because they have no easy means of expressing themselves, other than through screaming or throwing things. The difficulty for us Brits is that such behaviour is generally totally out of the question, even if you’re 2. I suspect a lot of us have bottled up these pre-verbal angers and upsets, which have fermented over time and now provide a rich vintage of putrified infantile ire.

This then spirals forward into the present, either being channelled into other angers (xenophobia, racism, hating on Jeremy Corbyn…whatever’s the fad of the moment) or laying the foundations for a sensitivity to any similar kind of hurt (abandonment, isolation, criticism…).

Which makes me wonder this: is our collective attention-seeking, expressed through social media, merely an adult expression of the primary infantile experience of the loss of the mother’s adoring gaze, bathing her newborn in total love and devotion, making it sense that it is completely cared for and – well – interesting? Is this the root of the neediness that compels people like myself to perform, to ‘share’ compulsively, including on confessional blog posts like this one? Are we really just longing for the primordial breast??

So that is the resumé of my thoughts tonight. Facebook should be renamed Breastbook. The end.

*Sufi songs of love and longing for God, like the ones found in this book, which you need to buy: https://ianwhiteman.wordpress.com/2015/03/16/the-diwan-a-new-translation/

The Mother With No Mind

The angle he sees me at
makes me all triangles
jawbone, earlobe, nose
elbows everywhere

A table is an overhanging rock
on a wind-bitten mountain path
the room a cave cathedral
with electric stalactites
the stairs a Giant’s Causeway
our diminutive patio is a
basketball court, zones marked by
patches of cement
dogs are like elephants
except the neighbour’s pug
which is more like a chaise longue
that snores
children are Titans
and we adults are mobile skyscrapers
with the power to pick him up
and stride vast distances
yet he is not daunted
by his size. His reality is not
that he is 8 months small but
that we are infinitessimally tiny
and he is merely
one degree tinier

*

Writing with anything
on anything –
stubby felt tip in
older son’s school book –
grabbed at any time –
5.30 am after a night of
insomnia induced by
unidentifiable itching
(a flea, or incipient allergy to lentils,
or too much coffee and thrillers)
I wonder if this
mothering life
is what they call
No-Mind?
Get up – don’t think! –
set the mechanisms of family in motion
food made, mouths opening,
“WASH YOUR HANDS!”
clean dishes, break up fisticuffs,
hang out laundry
(there is ALWAYS laundry)
continue thus until the bedtime story
is garbled as mouth loses contact
with brain and I crash out anywhere,
on anything –
is this surfing the crest of ego,
always slipping just out of its sticky reach?
It is khidmah, for sure,
although maybe my complaining
nullifies its bounties, or am I just
not taking time to witness them?

*

He sleeps on my lap now.
Here are the gifts: glossy curls
forming at the back of his head;
his hand laid flat on my belly
fingers kneading as he dreams;
his warm velour’d weight on me
and the breathing
deep and restful
even if I am not.

Afterbirth

image

The carob seedling that took two years
to grow two feet was planted over
half of the placenta that took
nine months and eleven days to develop
and forty minutes to birth
into a bucket, so dense with my blood
it looked like crushed raspberries.

There are pieces of me buried all over,
one beneath a pomegranate tree
in a nearby Andalusian garden;
another under an apple tree in a
Norfolk farm – the only one in the orchard
to fruit the first year.

The goodness of meat
that once nourished my babies
before they opened their mouths to eat
the meat that died in the act of birth
now feeds those stalks and leaves,
sipped thoughtfully by xylem and phloem
(words I learned eighteen and a half
years ago, the only ones that have
travelled forward from Science GCSE)
and plumps out fruit that I
shrink from eating lest it be
cannibalism:
my flesh into theirs,
vegan victuals from viscera.

Parts of me are already underground.
The backward-rolling echo of tombs
reaches me half-asleep, feeding
a dozing baby, not knowing if an hour or
ten minutes have passed, the way
the mind dashes forward during prayer
and a third rak’ah feels like a fourth.

Time is plastic when one has already put
an organ into a tiny grave, when one’s footprint there
roots the soul to the soil. It owns me now
in three segments, yearning for the last piece
(currently in my freezer) to join them underneath
an avocado sapling, followed one day
by the rest. Like taproots busy seeking
low lying aquifers there are unseen ligaments
that tie me to the world
so that the hot air balloon of my thoughts
– straining against its ropes –
does not spiral off and be vaporised
by the sharp edge of the atmosphere.

There are parts of me
all over, buried too deep
for dogs and foxes to despoil
deep as the bones of an ‘aqiqah lamb
must be buried too.

Muslimah at a Public Pool

This is where your invisibility stands out at its starkest. Where teenagers snog in bikinis with recently-inked tattoos in styles that will go out before the summer does, fitness fanatics show off their moves, and even middle-aged couples smooch over the cooler with flesh rolling out of optimistic swimwear, there you are, nervously twitching a sarong over your shoulders because you feel exposed in a one-piece.

The justifications are clear: it’s a heat wave, neither your house nor your car has A/C and driving three kids including a baby who cries every minute of every hot car journey makes it impossible to get any further than the campsite a few minutes’ walk away. Your sanity thus stretched, getting into cold water is not just necessary, it is un-do-without-able. And with this many buttocks on display, modesty is surely relative.

But then there are those who know you are Muslim, and there are questions in their faces and at the edges of their comments. Ah, you must be one of those ‘liberal’ Muslims. You’re a free thinker – you don’t stand for all those poxy old-fashioned chauvinistic rules. You’re one of us!

A shudder goes through me at this thought, at the assumptions carried so blithely through so many minds. To paraphrase Ali G, ‘Is it cos I is white?’ There are priviledges that white Muslims have that most of us aren’t even aware of. I can’t imagine some of my Moroccan friends daring to go to a public swimming pool when their parents would hit the roof if they did. But there’s this creepy camaraderie that you get with white non-Muslims when you aren’t hijab’ed to the eyeballs. It’s as if they are saying, ‘You’re OK. They haven’t got you completely. You’ve still got one foot in our territory.’

It makes me laugh to think how infuriating it is to have to scroll down the list of countries on one of those countless petition websites to find United Kingdom (or United States, for that matter). What are we doing down there, after Afghanistan, Barbados, Togo and all those random islands in the South Pacific no-one has even heard of? Shouldn’t they just put us at the top, so we don’t have to spend all those nano-seconds scrolling down, reminding ourselves that the rest of the world exists? Good grief, our thumbs get tired!

Tangent over. This is a just a late-night snapshot of my two-cultured brain, on the one hand glad that I can pop to the shops without covering my head and worrying that Muslims will think less of me (I live in a very open-minded community), and yet cringing when I do cover my head and people stop me to ask questions, or corner me into describing where my faith lies on the liberal-conservative spectrum. If I’m hijab-less because I’m pressured into not wearing it, does that really mean I am free?

What strikes me as being on of Islam’s greatest strengths is that when it really comes down to it, no-one can judge anyone else on their faith at all. ‘Allahu ‘Alim’; only Allah knows. And how are the people of Paradise described in Qur’an, over and over? ‘Alladhina amanu wa ‘amilu salihat’: those who believe and do good works. It doesn’t even qualify them as Muslims, or having a religion at all. Is that not the most progressive, out-there kind of religion there is?

You wouldn’t believe it if you read the news (and I am boycotting it: I don’t want to feed horror stories into my baby’s mouth though my milk). But the news has never been an accurate reflection of the way the world is, only pinpricks of horror in the vast fabric of normality that are gathered together to make us see nothing but a fistful of blood. It’s isn’t reality at all, only shock waves filtered through journalists’ lenses, managed by editors whose salaries are paid by advertisers who want readers to be kept agog by more and more horror. We have to keep reminding ourselves to lift our heads from our newsfeeds and stay present: no website will represent reality to you better than your own eyes.

And in the same way I have to remind myself that onlookers don’t know what’s going on beneath the surface of me, veiled or otherwise, and I don’t know what going on under theirs, either. Good people still carry prejudices unawares: people with prejudices can still be good people. My ideas of what they ought to think are still only my ideas, and may well be wrong anyway. God guide us. Amin.

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.

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.