On One Line

Books have become my butterflies
alive for just one day or less
before the surf of routine comes
crashing down overhead
raising my feet
from ocean bed
helterskeltering along
the pages soaked
and distant.

These beings are reincarnated
every time I snatch
a moment’s
breath
released from their oceanic
suspension
open, new again
the plots and connections
different this time.

Books have become a bus stop
scratched with teenage loves
willing the passerby to want
to flee their own lives for an hour
a day, a night journey
to foreign towns, a round trip
when the back page flips shut –
but I always miss
the transport.

Books have become my hoopoes
trilling some way off, a
flash of black and white
too fluttersome to stay whenever
I approach.
Gone!
Perhaps I’ll catch a feather.

And on one feather I can fly
hit thermals so high even one line
would make me a kite and glide
over terrains no-one will ever see but I.

On just one letter I could ride to
caverns, canyons, cascades
altitude lakes blue as eyes
dry, red-streaked rocks and corporeal dunes
spruce forests so dense sounds
would fight to reach our ears
clearings where stand in moonlight
roundhouses of polished wood
in which I find circles of lovers
of the Word.

They must exist!
And I am going
by any vehicle
necessary
to find them.

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Sufism and Motherhood: To the Walrusnut!

The Prophet Muhammad (s.) once said that “Paradise lies at the foot of the mother”.
When I gaze down, mostly I see at my feet cake crumbs, bits of Ancient Egyptian Playmobil, ripped up paper, pens without lids, and the occasional puddle for which I shall not be held accountable.
I see his point, though. After having a few days in a row of luxurious kid-free time, in which I slept way past 8am, performed music, went on spontaneous wanders through London with friends and had uninterrupted conversations, it is all the clearer to me how much of a grind on the ego it is to spend all day every day with your own kids.
My irritability crept in after about 24 hours. I was unnerved by how fast my bachelorette turn had diminished my tolerance for screeching, spats, brat-outs over toys and their ilk. I could hear myself using that exasperated tone of voice that I would so hate to hear from anyone else. Does this sound familiar? “All this mess needs to be cleared up in five minutes or the My Little Pony gets given away. Come on, I want to see some movement here! Chop chop!”
However, when I really scrutinise my flashpoints, I recognise that they fell into four general categories:
1) Mess. Lego all over the floor. Rice, ditto. Pens left unlidded (see above). Generally, things not being in the place they should be.
2) Screeching. Theirs usually provokes mine, thus forming a vicious cycle.
3) Brat-outs, spoilt behaviour, over food, spoons, plates, toys…any action indicating that things mean more than people. Really gets my goat.
4) Fighting, hitting, bruising, throwing things (especially when it’s at my head). Often involves all of the above.
Essentially, all this is boils down to something happening that I don’t want to be happening.
This in no way means that it should not, in fact, be happening. I’m sure there is some psychologist out there who has definitive proof that children need to screech, leave Lego all over the floor, brutalise their siblings or freak out because the plate is the wrong shade of green as it’s essential to their brain development. Who am I to argue?
Now, the process of trying to simultaneously manage a household, not let your child die from eating poison berries, and stay remotely sane is a serious grind on your ego. Oh, the ego. That sumptuously curved, glossy-haired chick you see in the blurry periphery of a photo only to discover she is a warted frog with prickles all over its back that lives permanently in your spleen.
Our egos get a serious jolt when we have a baby. All our ideas about ourselves – so tenderly nurtured throughout our teenage and college years, attested to by thousands of photos at various stages of our well-staged lives – is thrown into the gutter, to be replaced by a shaky-legged, stretch-marked, tearful dairy cow who doesn’t have a clue what she’s doing.

And then heaven sends us one last chance to patch up our relationship to our old selves – Facebook! Here we can post selfies that have been Photoshopped to remove the black bags under eyes, wrinkles, grey hairs and look of raving desperation in our eyes.

Of course, there are lots of genuine benefits. (That’s the addict in me talking.) We can reconnect with old friends, send out requests for second-hand buggies, read endless articles about health, education, psychology, world politics and anything else that will fill us with fearful concern for our new baby’s future. And whereas the real world is full of dangerous, nasty people who sneer and criticise, Facebook language is almost always interspersed with hearts, emoticons, lols and lots of loves. So much emotion in so few characters.

In fact, we mums seem to spend an awful lot of time on FB. Quite a few mothers I have met who dash off to check their profile while the kids aren’t looking, race to the computer once the kids are in bed to post pics from that day, whose phones beep notifications which they check whilst boiling pasta.

I’ll save the platitudes about how none of this was necessary twenty years ago, when we still lived in communities and we had mums to tell us what to do about mastitis instead of Mumsnet, etc. etc…only, after reading this article about social media and narcissism, I can’t ignore the link between my FB use and my outbreaks of irritability any longer. Among the symptoms of narcissism – which were linked to excessive social media – along with believing oneself to be above the rules, hyperchondria and inability to accept criticism, was being quick to anger.

Oh dear. Not only is it a prerequisite to using social media, it’s actually making me MORE narcissistic. I was much calmer with my kids after reading that. Can’t have them thinking I’m a narcissist or something.

On a completely different spectrum of motherkind, the kind of mum whose example is passed around by Sufi-type women is the sort that has a dozen children, takes in waifs and strays too, teaches literacy and ethical values with compassion and patience, and reads Surat al-Baqarah in her spare time.

I’m not sure these women have ever existed. If they still do, I wonder if they don’t freak out when the kids are asleep and turn into vicious trolls, leaving scathing remarks on every YouTube video ever to be left open to comments.

And yet you do meet women who, eight or so children down the line, despite various health issues concomitant to those births, shrug off trouble quite well. Perhaps it’s because they’ve borne their fair share of it and have learned not to sweat the small stuff – or, indeed, any stuff. They have stories that would make your eyes pop out, or at the very least treasure your washing machine.

The allure of websites like Facebook (and to some extent WordPress, though I don’t find nearly so much time to write here) is that they present a window of opportunity to fly out of the mundane, hamster wheel existence in which your image means about as much as a raisin squashed into a sheepskin rug, and to relive, in some small measure, the lives we had before, when the world was a mirror of what people thought of us.

The thing is that in between issues 1), 2), 3) and 4) above, there are a whole host of moments spent with children that are riproaring fun without that old vampire bat, the ego, getting its feed.

Silly games or made-up words – just today we had walrusnuts, nasalnuts and toilet trees – provoke laughter that blocks the chattering mind for a few seconds at a time. Hugs do the same in a golden, peachy kind of way. Racing breathlessly through a puddly park. Painting, cutting random shapes out of paper, mucking around with clay, anything that gets you engrossed like them and not concerned with ensuring that they fulfil orders (unless you have a hard time letting go of order – in which case some messy paint is probably just the ticket).

The reason those moments are precious is because you were totally present, without the veil of your self-consciousness clouding the view. Once you’re there you access that limitless space in which imagination, innocence, and spiritual awareness become realities again. You can let go of the inner fascist and feel part of the infinite, beautiful harmony that is always in Divine hands.

Apart from all that, who wants to be remembered as that woman who cooked dinner and spent the rest of the time staring at a screen?

There’s always going to be more interesting stuff out there. It seems to me the only way to make any sense of it is to see what in here first.

The Night A Thief Showed Me Freedom

We were at a restaurant in Soho, one of those brightly-lit places with stylish wallpaper that lures designers and their ilk into this grimy crease on London’s streetmap, in which creep junkies, tourists in sunhats, reckless rickshaw riders, jazz joints and telephone boxes so filthy they make you clutch your mobile like a prayer book.

Image

S and I had been friends back in sixth form; she was about the only person I’d stayed in touch with since then, and had later moved to London herself to work. There is always something slightly giddy about meeting up with old friends. Each successive year intensifies the conversation you eventually have, compressing the changes into a solid mass, studded with events.

For my part (I’ll let her tell her own), I’d had my second child, got divorced, and fallen in love. See what I mean? So much upheaval and transformation – both painful and wonderful – condensed into one sentence. What is even more amazing is that after those potent little phrases pop out, with the shock and laughter that ensue, it feels like you can talk about anything, fluidly, easily. The stopper is wrenched off and the most intimate information pours out.

So engaged we must have been in our conversation that when it came to pay the bill, and I discovered a dusty corner where my bag should have been – right beneath my feet – I realised that it could have been an hour before that a thief had sneaked in the door and somehow (“Perhaps they used a crutch”, the policeman suggested afterwards) made off with my shoulder bag. It was a busy night. Soho is like that. The consolation, at the time, was that the restaurant owner said she’d let us off the bill.

We walked S’s bike, ticking, through the throngs of people getting progressively more smashed until we found a police station – checking the bins, fruitlessly, along the way, in case the thief had dumped the important stuff (i.e. my passport).

The police station was just closing up as we arrived, but an earnest, shortish man in uniform led us down to the basement where the graveyard shift was coming to life in order to make the report. Oh, that basement. If the theft alone wasn’t enough to deter me from visiting Soho again at night, the photos of criminals papering the walls along with details of what they were wanted for (dangerous dogs, rape, drug dealing, arson, assault, prostitution, mugging…) certainly would.

But like the dramas of the recent past that we had just been pondering over our wild mushroom risottos, this little drama, in comparison, was quite hilariously small. The immediacy of it brought our patience and good humour out in their most rarified forms. We must have sat for nearly an hour in that bunker of criminal terrors, listening to the amiable banter of the other policemen and being offered berry-flavoured tea, before strolling out – me significantly less encumbered – into the crisp night air.

The risotto may or may not have looked like this one. This risotto is an actor to protect the identity of the risotto eaten on the night of the alleged robbery.

The risotto may or may not have looked like this one. This risotto is an actor to protect the identity of the risotto eaten on the night of the alleged robbery.

I remember it as being a summer night, but logically it must have been sometime in April. Yet the sense of lightness was pervasive and strong. It spread to my feet, which still had their shoes on; to my hands, which were now freed to swing about instead of anxiously clutching at a bag full of important documents; to my head, mercifully still not processing all the boring bureaucratic details of getting an emergency passport in the two days I had before my flight back to Spain.

In a strange sort of way, moments like these make me happy to be unfortunate. Crises are never so critical when you take away the stress of thinking about them. It’s just another situation that need to be dealt with, like mopping up a spilt juice or lump of porridge thrown by a toddler exercising her triceps.

Generosity surfaces when a friend is in trouble, too. I borrowed S’s phone to call ahead, and she lent me her Oyster card with just enough on it to get where I needed to go. (Thankyou S!) Then a friend of a friend, who I’d never met, came to meet me at the Tube station. I suppose it was hard to mistake the one person getting off the train without any personal belongings.

What made it all the more blissful was arriving at a Sufi gathering among delightful people, singing and drinking tea and eating Turkish delight into the wee hours. I had sailed from central London to the outskirts, to a dark recess of Tottenham, constantly amazed at how little I had to worry about now that everything had gone. What else could anyone take?

That was when I realised how much of a strain it is having objects, possessions, and especially gadgets, most of which are supposedly meant to make life easier.

How much more stressful is life when you are constantly having to check beeping machines dangling from your person? Or clutching at bags containing collections of mainly useless things in case someone makes off with them, wanting the two or three useful bits and throwing the rest away? How much grief is spared when those scenarios are not imaginatively played out, recurrently, like scenes from a bad, made-for-TV film in which the actors aren’t getting paid? (See this previous post for more on that.)

And once I was reunited with my kids a few days later, my secondary realisation was that I spent a lot of my time with them in much the same way as I had been attending to my supposedly helpful possessions. “Oh, my son just beeped” – “I think she’s running out of batteries, better get home and put her on charge” – “WHERE ARE MY – oh, there they are” etc. etc.

There is so much unnecessary anxiety surrounding possession. Once you bust the notion that anything is actually yours in the first place – especially a human being – then the issue becomes more one of maintenance. There are steps needed to be taken to get from situation A (passport stolen/kitchen window broken/someone on my car seat) to situation B (emergency passport is reissued/kitchen window is fixed/car seat is clean). It ends up getting done at some point. The steps involved aren’t that painful, really.

The stress in the middle comes from believing that something is YOUR PROPERTY, and therefore you should get enraged or upset when something happens to it. If, instead of freaking out when ‘something goes wrong’, you pause and consider that nobody is dead (unless they actually are – in which case there’s not much you can do anyway), and everything passes, including horrible family moments involving swearwords, spitting, hitting, excluding, crying, breaking toys, slamming doors and all the rest, then it is easier to feel free.

It is genuinely possible to be a mother and shrug your shoulders when someone has a minor wound, and even to discipline the offending child while remaining calm and practical. I have seen it happen. It sounds out of this world, but it is true.

My usual reaction, on the other hand, is to yell. Or groan. But – and here’s where the patient, non-attached mother has a better time of it – if you can pause and observe dispassionately, is having a hissy fit really going to achieve anything? Generally it does little more than cause headaches, give me a sore throat, deepen frown lines, hurt little ears and send kids into a sulk.

More to the point, though, what is causing that volcanic feeling in the first place? POSSESSION. IT’S MINE. In the case of having a mum-fit, THE FAMILY AMBIENCE IS MINE. I have envisaged it, read dozens of parenting books, and spent years cultivating it. Therefore, IT IS MINE. When it all goes pear-shaped, something has been stolen from me. I have lost control. The image of a perfect family that I have been dreaming of is gone, and now I am clutching after it as if it were a phantom purse, recently snatched by a serial scumbag.

As confessionals go, this might not be so enjoyable to read – especially if you hear yourself shrieking at your kids frequently, or saying incriminating thing your parents used to say to you. The good news is this: THERE IS FREEDOM AT THE OTHER END OF THE CRISIS.

When our baggage is too heavy, we instinctively want to rid ourselves of it – and sometimes it’ll break a few greenhouse windows as it goes down. But there is lightness, too, and that is the important thing. Detaching yourself from the concepts of who or how your kids (or you) should be creates room in your being for a lot of joy. That makes for a much more beautiful experience of parenthood, and of life.

In short, travel light. It’s not worth paying the lockers along the way.

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.

STOP PRESS: Muslim Writer Says “Boobs Are Great!”

Aside

If there is a single person on the cyber-planet not yet bored to the back teeth with the Femen and Anti-Femen protests, I have a few small wee things to say.

1) There are serious problems facing women in many Muslim countries.

2) There are serious problems facing women in many countries, full stop.

3) There is no legal basis for stoning adulterers in Islam, for banning women from driving, for accusing pregnant single women of fornication (see why here), for a man beating his wife (you read right – read Laleh Bakhtiar’s excellent explanation why), and for a whole host of evils inflicted on women in the name of patriarchy in Islam’s clothing.

4) There is no death penalty by lapidation in Tunisia, and there were no executions at all in the last two years. Tunisia is a very Western-leaning nation among the Arab nations; the President once prepared on state television eating during Ramadan, and encouraging people not to fast. The threats against Amina (the Tunisian Femen protester who published a topless photo of herself online) are empty.

5) Boobies are wonderfully handy things. They make milk for babies. Breastfeeding is seen as a perfectly normal, necessary, nurturing act in Muslim countries, and is accepted everywhere. Men just look away.

6) Breastfeeding in most Western countries is considered as one of those things hippie women with hairy armpits do in public places, and may result in you being asked to leave a restaurant. (This may not purely be for prejudicial reasons. I know someone whose baby popped off the nipple one time and she accidentally squirted a waiter in the eye.)

7) Seeing punky white girls with the words ‘F*** YOUR MORALS’ and ‘RELIGION KILLS’ scrawled across their tits does not exactly make most Muslim women warm to their cause, even if it is, in theory, in their favour. (Incidentally, the biggest mass murderers of the 20th century, Hitler and Stalin, were atheists. Communism trampled on the human rights of millions of people in the Soviet Bloc, China and elsewhere, and it was aggressively anti-religion. There are, shocking as it sounds, many politically-motivated killings that occur all over the world for such charming causes as landgrabs, resource appropriation, torturing  purported terrorists and so on. The ‘Enlightened’ West doesn’t exactly have the cleanest bill itself.)

8) In the time of the Prophet Muhammad (s). many women went around bare-breasted. This did not – amazingly! – result in mass orgies in the streets in which lust-fuelled Arab men tore their thowbs off and ravished them. The men just had to learn to lower their gaze. If Muslim men applied this deeply-cherished Islamic principle properly, they wouldn’t even SEE a woman’s naked breasts, thus obviating any idea of her being immoral, whoreish, publicity seeking…or whatever.

Proof positive that hijab maketh not the nice Muslim girl

Proof positive that hijab maketh not the nice Muslim girl

9) It is true that there are harsh (hudud) punishments in Islamic law. However, if you read the small print, which is actually very large print but only appears to be small to myopic Saudi patriarchs and hysterical journalists, the chances of being able to apply these hudud punishments are effectively impossible. In order for a man to catch his wife cheating, for example, he would not only have to catch her in bed with another man. He would have to witness the act of copulation with his bare eyes, and he would need to have three male witnesses to the exact same act, all of whom must have such spotless records of morality and character themselves that if they have ever been seen to hit a donkey, their testimony in court must be thrown out. Even a women who becomes pregnant after not seeing her husband for two years is protected by the (clearly unscientific) concept of the ‘Sleeping Foetus’. The Qur’an furthermore states that “…No-one shall bear any prejudice against a woman because of her child” (2:233). In fact, to make an unsuccessful accusation of adultery carries a penalty only slightly less than that for adultery itself (eighty lashes). (Yes I know, lashes, bad. But still an improvement on stoning. I’m guessing the hope was that 1400 years later things would have continued to improve…boy did they guess wrong!) Technically, if the restrictions on hudud laws were put into practice, any kind of corporal or capital punishment in a Muslim country would have to be effected after a confession – and even then it would be rare. The Prophet was known to have asked the family and friends of a man confessing to adultery if he was mad, or drunk, and then he repeatedly asked him if he was sure he didn’t just touch her. (The tradition of stoning for adultery was banned by Shariah law in the lifetime of Muhammad, to his very great relief.)

10) The Prophetic example is one that cannot be condensed to a soundbite. While in his time there were certainly very ancient methods of dealing with social disorder which in our times nobody would stand for, the overall example he gave was one of compassion, forgiveness, humility, kindness, generosity, good humour, embodying beauty, and modesty (in its widest sense; he famously said “Modesty is a garment”, which to me says that the attitude itself is a protection, regardless of what is worn). If he were around today, viewing the other options we have on hand to deal with crime and disorder, I have absolutely no doubt that he would ban hudud punishments. Some Muslim countries are coming to this realisation, very slowly. We are obligated to campaign for its progress. These are vitally important causes, and yet poor research and knee-jerk reactions mean we’re getting mired in debates that only distract us from the real issues. Channel that anger right andwe might see some real victories.

So, if you have not already fallen asleep at the mere mention of the F word, those are my two bits. With the sexualisation of commerce and the commercialisation of sex in the Western world, frankly, I am bored to the point of numbness by the sight of a strange woman’s breasts. It seems like more of the same, be it Beyoncé’s bouncing bazongas or Femen’s anarchistic antics. Boobs are, to me, one of the greatest wonders of the world, but it’s not because of how other people see them, particularly not people all set to Instagram them. It might come as a shock to us, Internet-inured as we are, but really, the most beautiful things in life are not out there on the street, or on your iPhone, easily available and free to download. They are more subtle, and hidden, and precious than anything your media-invaded imagination can come up with.

There is a whole other dimension to this, which is how it actually feels to wear a hijab, which Femen don’t seem to be very interested in. But that will have to be a post for another day.

The Geometry of Day

Gyroscopic waltz
of clock-face time
lines thread triangularly
interlinking hours
the geometry of day is
hexagonally precise
minutes marching past
in ageless triplets

That lopsided rhythm
ebbs out into another
roof-like symmetry
swinging gait of walkers
two hands clapping
echos bounces back once
double blink
heartbeat call response
poles united in marital opposition
galloping tides
breathe in breathe out
that old familiar you and I
all live in binary code

His dark image has a copy
in blond, one half the height
mine’s a four-kilo brunette
we are reproduced the way
spontaneous eggs split
dancing outwards with
our doppelgangers
spiralling like genomes
non-existence without other
need a face to gaze into
my own to make it real

The four-footed chair
wears wonky if
the sitters scrape it down
drag it across rough terracotta
tiles from spot to spot.

We hold on to our form
together we take shape
in fourfold.

Cavemum’s Tips For New Mothers

1) Prepare to stink. Your armpits are a maelstrom of hormonal activity, ramped up by your boobs which will swell to watermelon proportions and will feel about as hard. Breastfeeding makes you want to eat like a horse and your pits are working double time to clear out toxins. You will shower and within seconds you will smell like a rubbish collector with a bad hotdog habit. Dribbles of milk will appear in random places – thighs of jeans, down your stomach into your pants, sleeves – and will add a top note of cheese counter to your aromatic bouquet.

2) Whereas before it was your thighs and butt that were doing all the work, now it is your arms. Hours spent on the sofa immobile because your baby is asleep in your arms and too cute to take your eyes off will give you stiff arms and shoulders. It’s good: they will eventually transform into muscles capable of carrying three bags of shopping with one hand and pulling a 14-kilo toddler out of a tree with the other.

3) The bit about your baby being too cute to take your eyes off…don’t expect it to happen straight away. Your baby will come out with a squashed-up face, possibly a disgruntled frown, perhaps red splodges on her face or nape, and hands white and wrinkly as though she’s been in a bath too long (10 lunar months to be precise). He’ll also be purplish-grey, maybe even blue, with white waxy vernix on his skin, and possibly some general mucousy gunk too. And her head will be moulded into something like a torpedo. In short, it ain’t a pretty sight. Fortunately, the first time he looks into your eyes – the first eyes he has ever looked into – you will be so blown away as not to notice.

4) At a certain point, you will be overwhelmed by the frustration of not being able to ‘get stuff done’. Give in; you will never be able to get anything done to your original level of satisfaction. Your clothes will all get sicked and pooed on, half your cooking with be done one-handed, your brain will be scrambled (especially if you’re breastfeeding) so every deadline, every important errand will seem like scaling K5 in stilettos and will mostly be forgotten. The great news is that you have the best excuse ever.

5) Sleeping 8 hours: it’s not going to happen. If you’re blessed with a baby who only wakes you up once or twice a night, for God’s sake don’t go crowing about it to all your friends from your pregnancy yoga group. Minimise the annoyance if she is waking you up more often by training yourself to sleep in whatever strange contortions who fall into while/after giving her the boob. Get rid of the clock by your bed; it’ll only tempt you to check the time and worrying about whether your newborn is falling into a good pattern or not. Don’t even count the number of night wakings. Just let it all melt into a sleepy, ecstatic blur.

6) Don’t bother trying to keep the house quiet while baby’s asleep. Inside the womb he was listening to a constant narrative of your digestive tract in stereo surround sound; gurgles, squirts, rumbles and what I’ve been told sounds like a vaccuum cleaner were his daily and nightly soundtrack. If you or I tried sleeping through the equivalent of a gastric hoover every night we’d go bananas; witness the resilience of the newborn’s sanity. (So there’s still hope for the rest of us!)

7) People of a bossy, paranoid, or scaremongering disposition with use this opportunity to bombard you with antiquated directives, such as to let them cry ‘because it’s good for their lungs’, not to cuddle them too much, to leave them outside in the snow to toughen them up, or to put laudanum in their bottles. They imply that if you don’t do as they tell you your baby will grow up to be needy, weak, an insomniac, psychotic, insecure, a social outcast, thick, a werewolf, etc. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD YOU LISTEN TO THEM. Simply nod your head mechanically at their terrifying anecdotes of children ‘still sleeping in their parents’ bed at 25!’ and offer the occasional tut or faint gasp, then politely change the subject and erase all that they’ve said from your mind. Which, if you’re breastfeeding, as alluded to above, will not be hard to do.

8) Try turning the upset into a laugh. Of course everything will get on top of you sometimes (just avoid watching a tearjerker on day three when your milk’s coming in) but if you talk to women with older kids you’ll find that motherhood is fertile ground for hilarity. Apparently you can’t think when you’re laughing, and there is certainly no better way of venting your stress, your fears, and your worries than a good old guffaw – look up ‘laughing yoga’ on YouTube if you need visual proof.

9) Savour every blissful moment with this brand-new person. As the otherwise deranged old wives’ club would say, it goes so fast. You will one day find yourself staring in amazement at your baby ‘all grown up’, and kick yourself for letting the small (though undeniably infuriating) annoyances cloud your appreciation, your joy, during their babyhood. This is surely the greatest challenge of being a parent, not to fall into the tisking, scolding, forbidding, condemning tyrant you always swore you’d never become, but who lurks in a corner of your conditioning, waiting for a suitable moment of built-up irritation to explode out and take control. It doesn’t have to; you can look it in the eye and make it cower, outwit it with ingenuity, kill it with kindness, outstare it with your patience. Remember that this is a miracle that will soon be outgrowing your arms; catch the wonder before it’s gone.

10) Give yourself a pat on the back. You’re doing awesome.

Coming soon: An account of the birth of Rosa Nour, born 29/04/10, and of our 6 day hospital stint…