Saturday, 30 December 2006

Size wars...

On Wednesday, my friend Asta (who is basically an adored adopted mum) and I went shopping for her extraordinarily generous Christmas present to me - a winter jacket or coat. Now, when she told me she'd reconnoitred Edinburgh Woollen Mill's collection, I intuitively knew that was where we were going to find my coat - that feeling of absolute certainty settled in my solar plexus. So I should have known that I really needed to steer her away from Debenhams and just go straight down to EWM...

I confess - I *hate* Debenhams and never go in there for clothes - for cosmetics or perfumes, fine, or even, erm, essentials. BUT. NOT. CLOTHES. The layout by designer rather than type of clothing irimtates me beyond all reason, and the clothes are just too trendy and self-conscious. However, since Asta, a Berliner, was in full Germanic efficiency mode, far be it from me to disrupt her, I thought.

We started off with breakfast in the Debenhams cafe, which was fine. Then I started trying on coats. In almost every shop, I am a UK 14/16 (read US 12, basically). Put me in anything at Debenhams, however, and a UK 16 makes me look like I have Jordan's boobs (I love my cleavage, but I don't need to be made to feel that each individual component is the size of one of Jupiter's satellites) and b/c the top part is pulled tight around the back, my bum needs a sign that reads, "Caution: wide load". And the journey through Debenhams coatracks were no different - it left Asta saying, "You've gained weight, your bum is sticking out." I rolled my eyes affectionately and refrained from saying, "Well, of course. Because these aren't 16s, they're more like...12s (US 8)."

Onwards and upwards guessed it. EWM. Downstairs were the short coats, and the moment I tried on a 16, Asta noted the difference in size, cut and line. We asked about the long coats, which were upstairs.

And there it was - a long, gorgeous single-breasted coat in blackberry and a size 16. I pulled it on - and not only would I be able to fit an Arran jumper under it, I'd be able to fit the sheep it was knitted from without any trouble. Mission accomplished by 12.30.

But that got me thinking about the recommendation that an obesity warning be placed on all size 16 clothes. First of all, as you can see, there IS no standard size 16. I did not lose half a stone and several inches in the 2 minute walk to EWM. How can you put an across the board warning on something with such variation *across the board*? And isn't there quite a difference in shape between size 16s - for example, a 5'10" woman who is a 16 and a 5'0" woman who is? You cannot define obesity and health risk by a number on a label.

The AVERAGE size in the UK is...16.
The AVERAGE size 16 woman has a waist of 30-31". Since when is a 31 waist considered obese? Since we decided that it was ok to come up with a size 0, which by its very name says, "You are nothing. You do not exist." To wear a size 0 means you have to have a 22" waist...the AVERAGE WAIST OF AN *EIGHT YEAR OLD CHILD*. Instead of obesity warnings, maybe we need anorexia warnings. Instead of harping on about Muslim women wearing veils, maybe we need to look at how we in the West veil women by forcing them into ideals of beauty that deny them breasts and hips and a real womanly figure. I asked one of my male friends once about size 0 women. His response? "EWWWW. If I fancied one of them, I'd be a child molester." (He feels the same way about Brazilians and Hollywoods.) Harsh? Perhaps. But thought-provoking, nonetheless.

So, I have a proposal: we're debating not treating obese patients on the NHS. Let's be fair - let's not treat anorexia patients on the NHS. After all, if you argue that obese people choose to put food in their mouths, you can also argue that anorexia patients refuse to put food in their mouths and thereby take up a disproportionate amount of mental health and hospital resources better used on people who are more likely to be successfully cured. So why is it ok to treat them and not obese patients? Because they're trying to fit the societal ideal of beauty and thus deserve our sympathy?

Either you decide that both sets are victims of their own choices and treat neither, or you allow that both sets have underlying issues that they cannot resolve on their own, and you ungrudgingly offer them the resources to deal with the problem, not the symptoms - at the microlevel, that will involve comprehensive psychological and nutritional plans to help individuals...and at the macrolevel, it will involve examining, widening and changing what we, as a society, define as beauty and value in ourselves and others - not just women.

If you're comfortable in your own skin, if you care about others, if you live life to the full - then you're absolutely gorgeous, no matter what size is on that Debenhams label.

Monday, 25 December 2006

I dreamed a dream...

Ok, I've been meaning to publish these one by one, but instead, you're getting a three-fer. Now how much would you pay? I'll throw in a Ginsu knife as well...

Recently, I've been having dreams that have me sitting bolt upright in bed at about 2.30am on a regular basis. I'm going to record the three most vivid ones - you know, the kind that you really *live* through and wake up from completely confused because you're in this reality.

Important things first: I always dream in colour and my biggest fears are tsunamis, tornadoes and spiders. The tsunami and tornado fears have the same root: the utter stillness/silence that I imagine in the moments that precede their arrival, the sense that all the energy is getting drawn out of the atmosphere, creating a vacuum that is about to be filled by immense destructive force. No spiders in these dreams. Oh, and you also need to know that I have NEVER been south of the equator. All thoughts/interpretations welcome.

Here they are in chronological order:

1. I was looking out to sea - it was a beautiful day, near sunset, but dark clouds were gathering, though the sea remained smooth. I knew I had to go out across it to go back where I'd come from, and I was trying to remember how I did it. Just as I was remembering that I needed to 'speed skate' across, the sky went dark and a line of F6 tornados came in my direction. I knew I had to go, so I started, and the line passed to my left, but continued in the distance as far as the eye could see. As I carried on, another line of F6s passed to my right, hemming me in. I could see blue sky in the far distance and kept hearing a voice saying, "Stay to the middle and you'll be fine. You can do this."
2. I had a dream where I was teaching using a smart board. Suddenly, on the board I was using,
up came a picture of a [white? is that possible?] skyscraper, and a voiceover said, "Irim, we
have a problem." In the next second I learned why from the faceless voice: "We're in Melbourne.
There's a bomb. The building's going to go at any minute. We need you to make a decision
about evacuation."
I have no idea why I was in charge; I don't know the city *at all* and I started to panic,
thinking exactly that: without any knowledge of the city, I had no way to make a decision of
such import. How many blocks? We couldn't do the whole city, but...20? 25? Suddenly, a calm,
assured, familiar male voice came up behind me, saying, "You'll need to evacuate about 30,
here's why...and because of the river..." I can't remember the detailed city information,
but I was swept by a wave of relief and made the decision:

"Evacuate the building - get a chopper to the roof to make it quicker, and evacuate a 30 block

Just as they finished, the building collapsed - but oddly, it had suddenly moved from the centre
of a crowded city into a field where it was the only structure - it was bright, sunny, and suddenly,
a child ran behind it - a beautiful, beautiful little girl...huge eyes, wavy blonde hair, pale skin.
She paused and looked straight at me...then ran off into the distance, down a dirt road leading
away from me. There were other children on the road and I noted that the weather was greyer in
the distance; she kept looking back over her shoulder, as if she expected me to follow her.
Down the audio line, I heard the distant voice say there had been no casualties, but above
that I heard the familiar voice behind me say, deeply relieved, "That was my niece. Thank you."

3. This dream is in present tense b/c it's still unresolved; whenever I read it, I feel like I'm
living it again, and I find myself incapable of changing it to past tense at the moment:

I'm in a huge house that's very light, and built on the water...and I mean *ON* the water,
not BY's floating on the water, not on stilts. I'm in a kitchen with a cathedral ceiling,
painted white, it's very bright. The house is HUGE and light, and I'm looking out a window that
stretches from floor to cathedral ceiling. Everything is grey: from the sea to the sky (mist/fog?),
there is no differentiation in colour and there is an eerie stillness, as if the world
were holding its breath, but there appears to be no threat. Suddenly, I look up from the paper to
see several tornadoes (about 5) approaching us from across the water - the leading one is fat,
light grey and straight, the one behind it is thin, black and curvy, and they're flanked by three
that are in between - I blink and they're gone, the scene tranquil again, but I know they're coming.

I go and grab my...husband? boyfriend? (for the sake of clerics reading this, let's say husband)
and tell him to take our girls downstairs. He nearly refuses and tells me to come down with
them - I refuse, and he asks me what I think I'm doing and when I'll be down. I respond, "Soon, I
promise," knowing it's the only way he'll go with the girls. At this point, the house gets a lot
darker and looks much more like the home I grew up in - the hallway, the entrance to the
basement, etc. I'm so anxious, I practically shove them down the steps, and then go
back to the kitchen to look out the window.

They're coming now, exactly as I'd seen them, and I'm not moving - I'm about to
face them down. As they reach the house, I wake up.
First dream, I can see the message of not going to either extreme, to keep to the middle, to keep my head. Second dream, I think part of the message is that if I am asked to make a huge decision, or to take a leap of faith, the information will come when I need it - so, as per Nike, just DO it.
The third one...still pondering. Please feel free to leave any thoughts at all - I look forward to them and dream analysis is one of my favourite things - I am a Jungian, after all!

A blessed Christmastide to all who celebrate it, and happy 2007 to all.

Sunday, 24 December 2006

Mission impossible...complete

As of a week ago today, I had not sent a single Christmas card and had only gotten Christmas presents as necessary: I exchanged with Catherine and Elizabeth in November (I think I gave you Xmas cards, girls, if not, I apologise) and I took a birthday and Christmas present to London last week. For some reason, the Christmas spirit eluded me - I wasn't interested. The Advent hymns at mass had been lovely, but offered only a brief glimpse of said Christmas spirit. I'd bought my Christmas cards but found that the moment I considered writing them, I felt the need to clean the cats' litter tray...Holly and Poppy were seriously impressed.

I tumbled into this week unprepared: sans my usual list with 'cards' on one side and 'presents' on the other. Sunday was the sabbath, I told myself, no shopping then (plus, I was coming back from London). Come Monday, reality ran by and said, 'tag, you're it', thus ending my attempt to avoid it. Christmas was 7 days away; the time had come.

Occasionally, my life adopts a soundtrack. This week's: Mission Impossible. "Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to write out your list, post/hand out your cards, get all your Christmas shopping done, and get gifts to everyone before're excused if your friends are in Italy or Germany. This tape will self-destruct in 5 seconds."

Lunchtimes, evenings after work (thank you, Borders and Thursday late night shopping!), Lodge duty, afternoon coffee - all these were fair game for the necessary shopping, writing, etc. as the "Mission Impossible" theme ran through my head. As usual, I found that once I started, it fell into place and started taking care of itself. I really need to learn to take the advice I used to give students, rather than living by the maxim, "Take my advice, I'm not using it."

And a funny thing happened on the way to shopping for friends' presents and sending cards with a personal line or two. As I wrapped them and gave presents to friends and saw their faces, Miss Scrooge began to edge towards the door. She was given her final notice on Thursday, when I grabbed a tag from the Giving Tree at Borders and bought something for a 7-year-old girl in hospital. Rach and I discovered it last year finishing our respective last minute shopping tasks, and it put the biggest smiles of the Christmas season on our faces. That's going to become a yearly tradition for me, I think.

Once the shopping was done, cards were posted on Thursday (and they have all reached their destinations - mazel tov, Royal Mail!), presents were wrapped, and all those who were in town had received theirs...the last one at 7pm tonight. Go me! Mission impossible accomplished, and more blessedly, the theme has faded from my life's soundtrack - for now.

Today, I did the next week's food shopping, saw off my last housemate, and settled in to cocoon over the next several days. The house, at long last, is mine for a few days...bliss.

I'm going to come clean - I'm spending Christmas *on my own* this year - and as much as I've loved the times I've been away and the people I've been with, I can't wait. I want to wake up late, schlep in my pyjamas, play air guitar to "Bohemian Rhapsody" on VH1 Classic, pop Christmas lunch in the oven, read, snooze and watch "Dr Who" and "Hogfather". My introvert needs a bit of pampering - there has been a lot of 'tugging at my skirts' over the year - and for a change, my introvert is going to get it.

Starting with a bath using a red, glittery bath ballistic from Lush.

Absolutely, erm, lush. Happy Christmas, everyone, and see you after "Ruby in the Smoke". Not that I'm planning my hols by the telly instead of religious observance or anything...

Wednesday, 20 December 2006

Getting into the Qristmas spirit...

Brought to you by Tales of the Bitter Rose, the letter 'q' (what else?) and the Australian qoala bear - with many qongratulations to the Aussies for qiqing our qarse and regaining the Ashes with some fantastiq qriqqet - Irim gets into the holiday spirit:

With true love and qoala
Each other now embrace.

God rest ye merry, gentlemen
from the Christmas Song Generator.

Get your own song :

Indeed. And thanks to the Surrealist Christmas song generator, we now know the truth of what happened that night in Bethlehem long ago...

While shepherds watched their flocks by night,
All seated on the ground,
The qoala of the Lord came down,
And glory shone around.

While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night
from the Christmas Song Generator.

Get your own song :

And on Epiphany, the wise men sang:

O qoala of wonder,
Qoala of night,
Qoala with royal beauty bright!

We Three Kings Of Orient Are
from the Christmas Song Generator.

Get your own song :

Amen. Chanukkah sameach and Happy Christmas, everyone. Off to wrap some pressies...oh no, work, I meant work!

Tuesday, 19 December 2006

Stranger than fiction...

A couple of weeks ago, I went to see the film "Stranger than Fiction" with my housemate Anna. We'd seen a trailer for it when we went to see "The devil wears Prada" and thought it would be quite interesting. We both loved it; at the end, it was interesting to hear the range of reactions as we walked out from "not that great" (someone down a mobile phone to her friend) to puzzlement to those that echoed our own.

The premise is simple: an IRS agent who has done things in exactly the same way (e.g., brushing each of his 32 teeth 76 times) for as long as he can remember suddenly hears a female voice narrating his life. That's fine as long as he's tying a single Windsor knot, but when he hears
neurotic author Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson), who is desperately searching for a way to kill off her main character - Harold Crick - say:

“Little did he know, events had already been set into motion which would result in his imminent death,”

he realises it's time to get help. He finds it in the form of the the splendid Dr. Jules Hibbert (Dustin Hoffman), a professor of English literature.

Through romance, a desperate attempt to pinpoint the source of the voice, lines such as "I'm an IRS agent. Everybody hates me," and Harold's attempt to find meaning in his life - as well as his watch's attempt to get his attention - the film moves smartly through mostly predictable plot twists.

What really makes the film work are its sharp observations of human nature and the questions it raises. In one scene, Harold is on a bus, reading Kay Eiffel's manuscript and the death she has outlined for him (things only happen to him once they're typed, so the death is written out on legal size paper). What would you do if you were given that manuscript? Those sheets of legal paper - the ones you could change? What would you do if you were to die tomorrow?

*Hands up* Yes, as you've guessed from my blog, I'm one of those people whose idea of a great evening is to discuss questions like that over a bottle of white (or madeira or Bailey's or amaretto...) till 3am.

We admit to having a bit of that desire all the time - "Oh, I'd love to be 25 again, but only if I knew then what I know now." We'd love to give that 25 year old the manuscript and say, "I know it seems awful now, but look, it's going to open the doors to some wonderful things," or "Don't say that, you'll regret it a decade on. Let it go, it's not worth it." I'd like to believe that some part of me was able to reach back to that young adult I was and say, "It's going to be ok. Really. Bring that leg back over that railing, go inside and cry it out, and I'll see you in a few years."

So what would you do? One of the questions asked over that glass of wine included, "God comes down and says, 'Here's your soulmate, but there's a catch. You can have him, but he dies after a day/week/month. Now, here's someone else, you can settle happily with him, he's lovely, but you'll always be just a wee bit restless. You get him for 60 years. If you choose your soulmate, you'll be alone for the rest of your life.' Your reply is..." For me? The soulmate, every time. Then, it was because I wanted to be able to make that choice. Now, it's because I know I can. Of course the big question - as it was for Harold Crick - was "What would you do if you knew you were going to die tomorrow?"

Funnily enough, as religious as everyone seems to think I am, I wouldn't go to mass, or seek out confession or last rites, or kneel in a church. If my whole life is a prayer - which it should be, and I hope it is - then I need to pour out my life as a libation, not in ritual. I would make sure everyone I cared about knew how much I loved them, I'd drink and laugh with friends, listen to their problems, people-watch, appreciate the beautiful world we live in...and make sure my will and organ donor card were in order, as well as give away my books to those who would love them. Rach, you get first dibs on the clothing, you fashion template! (I know you'll give most of them to Oxfam, but make sure your mum gets enough to replace what you're always 'borrowing'.)

Oh, and I'd remember to look back and love the ordinary things and moments that make up the main threads of the tapestries of our lives - as Kay Eiffel says near the end of the film:

"We must remember that all these things, the nuances, the anomalies, the subtleties which we assume only accessorize our days, are in fact here for a much larger and nobler cause. They are here to save our lives."

In fact, why wait? I think I'll start now.

Friday, 15 December 2006

A cricket prayer...

To amuse and cheer up all my clerical cricket fan friends, as well as those who are Catholic and Anglican laity. I'm not being discriminatory, it's just that they're the ones closest to the shape of the mass, and will thus understand the following re-write of the responses and the Eucharistic preface.

I am so going to hell for this, but it will be oh so worth it:

V: Blessed art thou, our new bowling attack, for limiting the Aussies to under 300 and giving our
batters an easy chance. We are sorry they wasted it.
R: Blessed be the bowlers in this match and all that follow.

V: Blessed art thou, Kevin Pietersen, no. 5 batsman, for helping our innings to over 200 and
holding the tail together. Please value your essential wicket more highly.
R: Blessed be Kevin in this match and all that follow.

Preface for the third day:

O game of heaven, it is right that we should always give thanks for you: you are the one
Game of the heavenly hosts. Through all eternity you are played by those in unapproachable light.

Source of summer joy and agony, you have shown us many things, you teach God's creatures
with every inning and help all men to understand the necessity of balance. May we always
remember that good bowling must be capitalised on by good batting, or we will always
lose, and never come to fullness of understanding of all your lessons for us.

United with the angelic teams, and in the name of every creature under heaven and the words
of 10cc, we too sing your praises as we say:

We don't like cricket, oh no, we love it.
I'd recommend not standing near me in a thunderstorm anytime soon...or maybe for the rest of my life.

Oh, and Chanukkah sameach to all my Jewish friends!

Tuesday, 12 December 2006

Sexy Spanish...

Argh, this is going to entail a revealing confession.

Ok, here's the hard bit: I watch Classic FM's video channel. I'm sorry if that destroyed anyone's image of me as cool, collected, capable and classy. I'm cheesy and romantic and a load of other things. I ALSO WATCH VH1 CLASSIC AND MAGIC. AND "KNIGHT RIDER" IF I CAN FIND IT. TAKE THAT. *Ahem* So there. :)

Tonight, the video for "Regresa a mi" by the quasi-classical (rather hot) group "Il Divo" was on. And I fell in love with Spanish all over again. It was my elective language from 7th to 12th grade, and I just loved the way it rolled off the tongue (the upside down exclamation points didn't hurt either). If I'm being tender, it's the language I'll tend to fall into - somehow it's more given to that than English is - there's something in the combination of rhythm and sound. I've heard Italian and it's close, but it just ain't Spanish. Spanish flows like molasses around you; Italian can be too...staccato, to borrow a word. It's lovely, but.

Many of our books are Latin and Greek, quite a few are French and German - but nothing makes my day like finding an old Spanish book that needs cataloguing - the writing is so beautiful that just saying the Spanish to myself makes me smile - the structure, the sound, the vocabulary (yes, the letter q, too, though Latin takes the qake there!).

But I digress. I sat down and listened - for those of you that don't know, "Il Divo" has 4 members - American, French, Swiss and Spanish. The song started, and...finally, Carlos Marin, the Spanish baritone, sang his verse. Oh. my. God. Stiff competition for triple chocolate cake and great sex...

There is nothing like hearing Spanish sung by a native speaker (Julio Iglesias is a borderline case). It sounds obvious, but the difference between a very good non-native speaker and a native speaker is far greater than one might think - the inflection, the rhythm, the pronunciation (of course!), the fluidity, the...almost carelessness with which the language is used by a native just can't be touched. When Carlos opened his mouth, the Spanish came alive - painting images of Moorish architecture, flamenco, siestas and sangria...bliss.

The next sexiest thing in the language top ten is having an Italian saying Latin mass (damn, I said that out loud) - let me tell you, tripping off an Italian tongue, Latin could be resuscitated if it were found in Tutankhamun's tomb.

So, gracias, Carlos, for making my evening. Viva el espanol - o, en Espana, el castellano! (Arrgh, how do you do tildes on this thing?)

Saturday, 9 December 2006

Crowd control...

Whilst I was on the Lodge at church today (read: receptionist/shop assistant), I read an article that put forth a proposition that flies in the face of conventional wisdom about crowds:

James Surowiecki, author of The Wisdom of Crowds, asserts:

"Assemble a bunch of randoms, ask for a real solution and you will get a clarity of answer born of disagreement and contest [emphasis mine]. Assemble a bunch of experts and you will get consensus, compromise and sycophantic specialisms." (
Psychologies, January 2007)

Proof for what my intuition has been telling me all along, and for those who have written that even science, that bastion of the search for pure knowledge and truth, has been directed and decided by social consensus.

Leaving science aside, my thoughts turned to the Catholic Church over the last 30 years or so, and the steady silencing of dissenting theologians: Hans Kung, Charles Curran, Leonardo Boff. To the statement of the current pope that perhaps the Church would be better and stronger if it were smaller and more narrowly focused. My heart sank.

You see, over the last 11 years of my life in the Catholic Church, something has been nagging at me. There have been flashes of truth during that time, but something has constantly niggled, even during the beauty of a high mass in Latin. A sense that it' longer fully anchored, that it's no longer whole. A feeling that the colours have been washed out and the vibrancy lost. Most conservatives would tell you that's because of Vatican II. I would argue that it is because of the silencing of dissent has eliminated the need to really look at and put forth vigorous, coherent arguments for the doctrine of the Church and change them or develop them where necessary. Conflict is essential for development, because it makes us REALLY look at WHY we believe what we profess to believe: ten years ago, I opened my mouth to defend my support of the death penalty to my friend Catherine - and suddenly thought, "I don't believe a word of what I'm about to say." The discussion, diversity and sparring that arises from conflict gives the Church life, vibrancy, fullness and depth of passion and integrity; note that Christ's interactions with the Pharisees and those who challenged him - such as the woman at the well - are the most rich, vivid, riveting parts of the Gospel. Christ died for everyone - not just those who nodded and gazed up adoringly at him: the Catholic Church is for all. Reduce ourselves to just those who believe whatever they're told, and the Church will wither and die, like the branches that that are no longer anchored to the vine.

Hard to believe? Just look at many of the blogs ("Whispers in the Loggia" is a notable exception, Rocco Palmo is incredibly thoughtful; and of course, "Godzdogz" is fabulous) that say, "I believe everything I'm told by the Church without thinking, and I will defend her to the death, hooray! Anyone who disagrees with mother Church is being led by evil. I'll pray for them. *Big smile*" You can hear the vacant, helium, Stepford voices across cyberspace as the bottles of Papal Prozac pop open. It always fascinates me how those who profess to follow Christ neglect to notice how their smug intolerance and lack of compassion nail Him to the cross.

As for arguments, here are some snippets from an argument against same-sex marriage, widely hailed as brilliant in conservative Catholic circles:

  1. To deny driving licenses to the blind does not assume that they do not deserve equal respect and consideration as persons, but that they are different from other persons in respects relevant to driving. [Well, of course, because blind people driving would put others at risk. Gay people marrying does not.]
  2. Exclusivity, dependence, duration and sexual nature are not the relevant aspects why marriage is privileged by the State. They are only the conditions of those aspects that make marriage unique: the vital function of procreation and the socializing functions of bridging the male-female divide and raising children. [You don't need to be married to procreate; I've been bridging the male-female divide all my life; and healthy, happy children can be raised by any permutation of loving adults. And why would the State legislate it for those reasons? Is the writer afraid that if it wasn't legislated, people would stop reproducing and society would cease to be? Or that everyone would be gay? Not going to happen. The state makes laws about marriage so that it can define how it takes place, define it legally, tax it...essentially, so it can control it.]
  3. The other objection is that marriages fail, to the detriment of children, spouses and families at large. But if individual marriages are in crisis, the correct inference cannot be that social policy should institutionalize this failure rather than counteract it.[No one I know has ever made that argument in favour of same sex unions, but more to the point, legalising same sex unions does NOT institutionalise the failure of heterosexual marriage - it couldn't possibly, b/c homosexuals, by definition, don't WANT to engage in heterosexual marriage. It *broadens* the definition of marriage. For example, do dark and white chocolate 'institutionalize the failure' of milk chocolate? Or do they broaden the definition of chocolate, allowing more people to enjoy it?]
If this argument - one which a bright 12 year old could take apart with a dictionary by her side - is considered one of the best in the defence of Church doctrine on this issue, then Surowiecki's point is made. In the presence of healthy argument and resistance, this could have been a coherent, well thought out piece - I'd disagree, certainly, but I would have been able to respect and appreciate it. Instead, it is long-winded, fallacious and intellectually lazy, as so much Church discussion is these days, because there is no real challenge in the greenhouse. It's one big mutual admiration society - approving of the Grima Wormtongue sycophants, dismissive of the challenging Gandalfs...and like Theoden, will wake to find itself the weaker.

So, bring back dissent - challenge is no threat to those who have the truth, and as per Edward Murrow during the McCarthy years:

We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it."

Amen. And that goes for any human institution - God given or no.

Tuesday, 5 December 2006

Australia 2, England 0

Trust England to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory - or at least a draw. It was dire - the batters collapsed for 129, after an assured display of 551-6 in the first innings. A lot of people are screaming for Ashley Giles' head b/c he dropped Ponting on 35 in the first innings. However, they forget that McGrath dropped Pietersen, who went on to make more runs than Ponting - and Australia still went on to win. Now, I'm not a fan of the Ashley Giles selection, but he isn't why we lost. The problem runs far deeper than that. Whereas if Australia is behind, they'll give you two fingers up and relish the challenge, believing they can win, England will choke time after time - even as they're about to win...note the 2003 Rugby World Cup final, which England won, but should never had made it into extra time.

Whilst contemplatively slurping my chicken soup from Pret, let me share some thoughts - slightly edited from my TMS blog post - as to what's going on with our very talented team:

I've always felt that if you want to understand an organisation, look to the head - the ethos and mood trickle down from there. So if you want to understand a classroom, look to the teacher. A monastery, look to the abbot.

If you want to understand a team, look to the coach.

I think Peter English at cricinfo made an excellent point when he said that Duncan Fletcher's mood seemed to have infected the team on the morning of the 5th day after the optimistic end of the 4th. He sat there, arms crossed, immobile - you can see that mood reflected in Ian Bell - until now a confident, intuitive batsman in this series - doubting his teammate's call for a tight single. Colly KNOWS what he's doing - from both the batting and fielding perspectives - Bell just needed to *trust* him and go. Why didn't he?

It's the retrenchment mindset - don’t lose any, rather than go out to win. So when a healthy risk is taken, Bell baulks…b/c he can’t appropriately assess the risk - ANY risk is dangerous. And that’s the atmosphere Duncan has created. Only Michael Vaughan neutralised that to a great extent. You HAVE to trust your partner and TAKE THE RISK. That's the only way a team works. This incident where one teammate didn't trust another's calculation of risk is symptomatic of what ails the team and I suspect it's very telling re: Fletcher's leadership.

Fletcher strikes me as the type of coach who is really good for one thing: building teams from nothing and instilling stability and security (e.g., central contracts)...brilliant for us in 1999. However, he doesn't seem to know what to do once he has built the team - he's like a parent with an adolescent, unable to let go and allow for growth, increased risk-taking and independence whilst granting unconditional support. He's done well by us, but he now has a bunch of talented cricketers who need to be allowed to fly, not be kept on jesses. They need someone who would have been smiling this morning and said, "Go for it, boys, you can play your game. Watch Shane on this pitch - it ain't over, but get out there, you can do this." They needed encouragement and pride in what they'd done so far...and to be told to keep taking it to the Aussies - it looks like they were just told to survive the day. And if that's your goal in a contest like this - or lack of one, really - you may as well just hand over the prize now.

The way the English team is playing, they remind me of pupils I used to teach who had over-anxious, over-controlling parents. They would freeze b/c they were afraid to fail...but the freezing guaranteed that failing is exactly what they'd do.

Thanks for everything, Duncan, but you're impeding the growth and success of this team now. We need someone who can take a group brimming with talent and turn them into a team where partners trust eachother's decisions, have faith in their ability to take the necessary risks, and never say die. And someone who will make proactive, not defensive, decisions himself - letting the team know that "I know you guys can go out and win this - and that's what we're going for - whether we win, lose or draw." That is the difference between potential and champions.

Even the Aussies agree - to quote an article in "The Australian", 02/12/06:

Australia only became the world's champion team when Mark Taylor became captain and brought a positive attitude, sweeping aside Simpson's [ex-Australian coach] ghosts and bringing light where there was fear and darkness.

England needs an enlightened approach for the sake of Panesar and all those who follow him.

It is clearly not going to dawn as long as Fletcher continues to cling to his empire."

It may be coming from our archrivals, but...Amen.

Darren Lehmann, come on down - a South Australian who will tell the team to be careful when it's warranted, but who will inject some positive thinking and some Aussie bolshiness and grit into this side.

Bring it on. Losing this series could be the best thing that ever happened to the England cricket team.

Thursday, 30 November 2006

Advance Australia fair...

The best prescription for what ails the England cricket team is here, despite my doubts about the Daily Telegraph being a 'quality paper' (reference to blog entry entitled 'Hoist with one's own petard'). Fletcher and the team should follow EVERY word:

Mark Nicholas in the Telegraph

No more of this polite South England, public school cr**. It took a "Seth Efrikkan" - and one with Boer roots, at that, looking at his surname - to take the game to the Aussies. Kevin Pietersen stepped out to meet the Aussie bowling attack as if to say, "You want a piece of me? Come and get it." Finally, the fire of last summer blazed brightly, if only briefly. But it was *there*, at had been smouldering, not extinguished. Pietersen's 92 runs in a match where England batters were dropping faster than swimmers in "Jaws" is nothing to sneeze at, and shows a scrappiness and strength beneath the flamboyancy that makes me glad he's with us, and has me looking forward to watching his fledgling career unfold. KP, bottle that spirit and pour it over your teammates - now!

Come on, England. You're in the country whose national motto is "Give blood. Play rugby." They invented Aussie rules. Do you really expect a gentleman's game? Do me a favour.The Aussies respect nothing more than grit, raw passion, straightforwardness and resilience. Show them that, win or lose the toss, and we'll have a series worthy of last summer. Show them indecision, defensiveness and caution and you'll be taken apart faster than one of the swimmers in "Jaws" - except it won't be as painless.

We need passion, cojones and guile in equal measure...Captain Flintoff, you need to know the Aussie batsmen and adjust field placements accordingly - frustrate them and they'll make mistakes. Don't depend solely on your bowling. Now let's get out there and kick some Aussie a***. Let's turn "Advance Australia Fair" into "RETREAT, Australia - BEWARE!"

The lion does NOT sleep tonight.

Friday, 24 November 2006

From the Gabbattoir

Day 1, Thursday am:

I knew sleeping through it was the right decision.

I knew it was bad when I asked one of my housemates if Mark, our fellow cricket-mad housemate, was still up when she went down at 6am, and she said, “No, it’s all dark and quiet down there.”

I knew it was bad when my friend didn’t text back with the night’s results straight away.

But I didn’t know HOW bad. 346/*3*? Jesus Christ on a pogo stick, people, was ANYONE aside from Freddie bothering to bowl? Reading the commentary, my jaw dropped. BELL bowled? KP?? IF YOU’RE GOING TO BOWL KP, WOULDN’T IT HAVE BEEN USEFUL TO HAVE MONTY THERE, PER CHANCE? And wouldn’t this wicket suit Mahmood? Mind you, he’d have to be MUCH more consistent. But then again…

Well, looks like the old Aussie joke is ringing too true for comfort:

“What do you call an England cricketer with 100 on the scoreboard?
A bowler.”

Earlier, I made a prediction about Ponting getting 157. Well, cross my palm with silver and ask me about your futures…

Oh, crap. Reading the previous entry, that was Langer. Sorry. I *MEANT* to say Ponting. Does that count?

And let’s hope Harmy isn’t about to go the way of Trescothick. I have an uneasy hunch that may be the case.

But test matches can turn on a 5p piece, right? So as per Scarlett O'Hara, "Tomorrow is another day..."

Only if the Aussie team all step on cricket balls whilst playing rugby for fun...or warming up...
Day 2:

Aus: 609-2 dec, Eng: 53-3

I've got the routine for the Ashes down to a science now:

1. Go to bed before the action starts at midnight.
2. On waking, do NOT ask Suzanne if Mark is still up. Go straight to shower.
3. DO NOT TURN ON COMPUTER, TELEVISION OR RADIO BEFORE LEAVING HOUSE. Play with cats and read instead. Clean litterbox.
4. Whilst walking into work, people watch and appreciate natural beauty of changing leaves and Oxford traffic.
5. Get to work, make coffee, turn on computer.
6. Check emails - those with no cricket content first, Rach's last. Try not to read Rach's subject lines such as "Innings defeat, anyone?" before one really must.
7. Read Rach's email, then go to BBC or cricinfo and read day's summary - quickly, as if pulling off plaster (Band-aid to Americans).
8. Carry on with day in haze of gloominess and pessimism.
9. Rinse and repeat.

Wednesday, 22 November 2006

Here we go, here we go, here we go...

Ok, not the most *inventive* of titles, but I'm too nervous to be inventive right now. We're 35 minutes from the beginning of Ashes coverage and 95 minutes from the first over being bowled. Will we win the toss? Will we bat first? What's the pitch like at the Gabba? I know what the weather like is in Brisbane - I've checked obsessively. It's sunny, already 23 C (73 F) at 9am local time, with a predicted high of 27 C (80 F). Good cricket weather, except for the 95% humidity - and they're ready to start cooking in that cauldron of a cricket ground. I'm also keeping an eye on the BBC Ashes countdown, which has comments from everyone from Andrew Flintoff (our captain) to people going down for the test in Melbourne come Boxing Day.

Not that I want to be in Australia, mind - too many large and/or poisonous spiders, toilets flush the other way, spring in November and so on. (Do we hear the sound of a cricket fan convincing herself, boys and girls? I think we do!) There are good things about Australia - Ian Thorpe in a Speedo comes to mind - but all in all, I'm quite happy to be home with the autumn nights drawing in, on GMT with the ability and excuse to sleep through the Test matches. Yes, you read that right. *SLEEP* through them.

Why, you ask? Because I can't bear to watch. I'm fine if England is in the field. If they're batting, I'm a wreck, waiting for wickets to fall with every ball bowled at them. Just ask Headingley, when our opening batsmen faced the last over of the day and ran for a tight single, I buried my head in her shoulder and screamed, "DON'T DO IT!" Highlights? Great. Live, with this much pressure against the Aussies? Only if I want to die of a heart attack within the next seven weeks. It's a weird excuse that leaves my friends scratching their heads, "It matters far too much to watch it live. If I know we're screwed, I can grit my teeth and watch the highlights. If we're winning, I watch the highlights with pleasure. It's the uncertainty I can't bear."

I'm not that way with all cricket matches...if it's an ODI (One day international), no problem. West Indies? I love Brian Lara, no problem. But if the match is REALLY important? Like a crucial Ashes opening Test match? PROBLEM. As in "problem the size of Siberia".

Right, taking a peek at the Ashes countdown, just a *peek*, mind - the wicket looks hard, bouncy and fast. Like the Oval. CAPTAIN FLINTOFF, IF YOU WIN THE TOSS, BAT, MATE. AS IN B-A-T. THE VERB, NOT THE ANIMAL. NONE OF THIS NASSAR HUSSAIN CRAP WHERE YOU *FIELD* FIRST AND HAVE THE AUSSIES LAUGH YOU OUT OF THE COUNTRY. There's going to be enough trouble with Geraint "oops, I dropped Justin Langer on 5 and he went on to get 157" Jones and an uncertain Ashley Giles...rather than a Chris "caught Langer on 5 and ran Ponting out on 8" Read and Monty "destroy the middle order? No problem" Panesar. (WIN THE TOSS.)

*Deep breath* Twenty minutes till the toss and the final team announcement (BAT). Erm, maybe it's time for me to stop typing and go. to. bed. Oh, a friend has just come on MSN..that means I'll be online for at least an hour. Till after the start of the match. (WIN THE TOSS.)

Not that I'll check cricinfo or anything. Or sneak downstairs to peek at the television screen Mark will be watching avidly - except I'll be doing it through my hands. (BAT. This isn't an attempt at subliminal persuasion, I swear.)

Here we go, here we go, here we matter what disagreements I have with the selection, good luck, boys, every last one of you. Do us proud.

As per Aussie Scott at the Corridor, "let's get ready to rumble" - may we get some fantastic cricket - and may the best team win. (WIN. THE. TOSS.)

Saturday, 18 November 2006

Nobody expects cleaner inquisition?

As I was doing my shift on the Church Lodge (read: receptionist/shop asst duty) today,
MR, a friendly acquaintance, came up to me. I apologised profusely, as I'd missed our coffee
last week, so we rearranged for a fortnight's time.

With that business out of the way, M told me the following story, leaving me helpless
with laughter:

As he was suiting up to serve the 10am mass a couple of Mondays ago, M told T(our sacristan)
that he was having coffee with me. Didn't think any more of it.

A little while later, he was in the sacristy with G, our money counter/Lodge person/cleaner,
etc...ex-civil servant (very serious, not at ALL like Sir Humphrey Appleby - whom I *adored* -
*twinkle*), when G said quite suddenly:

"I hear you're going out with *that* Irim."

[which? where? An *Irim*? Run screaming!]

M replied, "It's coffee, G. It's nothing remarkable."

G said quite seriously - he doesn't do tongue-in-cheek (as I'm sure you've deduced):

"Ooooh, you don't want to do *that*...she's a liberal; she has very heretical ideas."

Damn, that's what I should have dressed up as on Halloween.

I haven't stopped giggling since. And it got even funnier, b/c I gleefully told Br. J (whose face
was a picture, and he promised "not to tell anyone...outside town"), Fr. D the Younger and
Br. A.

Then Fr R the Younger came in, and as I was about to tell him, he told me he had heard...
except NOW, it was "Ooooh, you don't want to MARRY HER...etc."

*Laughs hysterically*

*Pounds table*

*Wipes eyes*

Never let it be said that religious men don't gossip as much as church women. Bless.

You know, it's really a shame I can't give in to the part of me that loves to wind people up
and go back to G with this and say,

"Me? A heretic? Well, I've been working for the Dominicans for a couple of years, and they haven't
noticed anything amiss. And if I recall correctly, they're the Inquisitors, so they should know."

He'd be mortified, poor chap.

Lead me not into temptation...

Awww, go on then. The confessional beckons...

Wednesday, 15 November 2006

Morning delivery...

The post was being delivered as I walked in the door to work this morning, so I cheerfully grabbed both bags - one of which was heavier than Luciano Pavarotti on a neutron star - to take upstairs for one of the brethren to sort and place in pigeonholes.

As I was about to do this, Fr. Ben, my favourite mathematician, came up to me and put out both hands to receive them. I magnanimously offered to take 'Luciano' upstairs, at which point Ben noted the tag on the bag and gleefully said, "It's for the library anyway." Giving a silent "D'oh," I schlepped it up to the library, trying not to poke Ben in the eye with the point of my golf umbrella, as he was two stairs behind me.

I made it to the library, removed the velcro band from the post office bag, and opened the box (dodging styrofoam packing peanuts, which seem as attracted to one's person as long white cat hairs are to a black pair of trousers) to discover several volumes from
William of Ockham's Opera Philosophica et Theologica.

Razor sharp? Without a doubt.

Razor thin? Satan will be hosting the Winter Olympics...

Saturday, 11 November 2006

We will remember them...

Recently, I've catalogued a number of books printed between 1910-1920, which have brought home what World War I meant to those who lived through it. Prefaces that spoke of the book being printed posthumously because the author, a chaplain, had died in the field. Books that were delayed. Professors talking about how in some ways, their subjects and classes seemed trivial, yet how important it was that they carried on amidst the horror around them. What is most striking is the easy self-confidence of 1912 versus the numb, traumatised tone of 1919.

It is only in my time here in England that the impact of the World Wars has really hit home - particularly World War I, since our American history classes spent ages on World War II. We barely glossed over World War I, when we joined the fray in 1917, demanded immediate payment of loans from the English, and crowed about how *we* won the war. To us, Armistice Day is simply "Veteran's Day" - a three day weekend with great sales.

Here, there are cenotaphs with the names of the war dead in every town I've visited. Oxford colleges have panel after panel of names of their war dead. From mid to late October, there are poppies on nearly every coat, reminding us of those who lost their lives defending their countries. The ceremonies begin with a national 2 minute silence at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, when the guns of World War I fell silent. On the second Sunday in November, known as Remembrance Sunday, poppy wreaths are laid at every cenotaph and most masses or Christian services are requiems for the war dead.

Tonight, the Royal British Legion holds its Festival of Remembrance with singing, music, tributes. We've seen a war widow who lost her 20 year old husband, after barely a month of marriage. We've heard Nimrod, that evocative, melancholy, noble tune from Elgar's Enigma Variations. Soon we'll hear the "Last Post" and watch poppies flutter to the ground in silent tribute to those who sacrificed themselves for us.

I would love to step sideways into a world where World War I never happened - a world where women married - or had long, happy marriages with - the men they loved, rather than lose them to the new, terrible machine guns and the green fields of France. Where being a student at Oxford or Cambridge from 1914-1918 meant the same peaceful life as being a student between 1907-1911. Where children in the early part of the last century grew up free of fear and loss, and the men (boys, really) we lost in this world were allowed to grow to maturity and fulfill their vocations. Where would we be now? There is a Jewish proverb that goes "If you kill a man, you kill a whole universe. If you save a man, you save a whole universe." By that reckoning, we lost 20,000 universes in one day at the Battle of the Somme.

Heaven forgive us.

Tomorrow is Remembrance Sunday, but as today is actually the 11th day of the 11th month, I would like to pay tribute to all those who have fought and died on the fields of war. One of my favourite poems is by Lt. Col. John McCrae, a Canadian surgeon who died in the field of meningitis and pneumonia in 1918. Inspired by the death of his friend and former student, Lt. Alexis Helmer, in 1915 during the Battle of St Julien (Second Battle of Ypres), this poem has become a staple of Remembrance Day ceremonies in the UK and beyond:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

We will bear that torch, I promise. I'm so sorry that it wasn't the war to end wars, like we's happened again and again. We have broken faith with you. We are only human, not perfect...but we have taken up the quarrel with the foe - war, poverty, disease, genocide. And one day, though probably not soon, we *will* win. Your spirit and the spirit of all those like you promise us that.

Thank you. All of you - from the first war to the most recent.

They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.

We will remember them.

Hoist with one's own petard...

Hoist with one's own petard - idiom, to fall into one's own trap, to have one's plan backfire... to be injured or killed by one's own weapon.

Believed to be coined by Shakespeare in Hamlet
when the Prince of Denmark ensures that the death warrant carried to the King of England by his schoolfellows, Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern, bear their names, not his:

There's letters seal'd: and my two schoolfellows,

Whom I will trust as I will adders fang'd,

They bear the mandate; they must sweep my way

And marshal me to knavery. Let it work;

For 'tis the sport to have the enginer

Hoist with his own petar;

I ran into a fabulously funny example of this yesterday whilst talking to a good friend online. All names have been changed to protect the innocent...or, rather, my friendship:

Teacher: I got shafted today in Year 12's lesson
Irim: what happened?
Teacher: a few weeks back Jasmine and Susan were looking at a newspaper
Teacher: I told them to stop and pay attention and they did
Irim: carry on...
Teacher: I said something like, "And if you are going to bring in a newspaper at least bring a quality paper, not something you get free on the tube...."
Teacher: Jasmine: "Like the Mail, sir?"
Teacher: Me: "Find a dictionary; look up 'quality'"
(Irim's aside: When reading this last line, who else had the same feeling that one gets during a horror film when watching someone go into the dark basement alone? Yeah, thought so...)
Teacher: Today.....
Teacher: the newspaper re-appears
Irim: ok
Teacher: Me: ".....and this argument is valid but unsound because...... erm, Jasmine?"
Teacher: Jasmine: "Sir?"
Teacher: Me: "Lose the paper"
Teacher: Jasmine: "But sir, it's the Telegraph.... pause"
Irim: uh oh...
Teacher: "Britain's biggest selling quality daily......"

Absolutely priceless. I couldn't stop's exactly how I used to be with my kids.

And as for Sir? I told him he had been hoist with his own petard. His response?

Teacher: indeed
Teacher: but pleased I'd got her to buy a good paper

A teacher till the end, then.

Monday, 6 November 2006

Autumn anniversaries...

Autumn is my favourite time of year - nothing beats October to Christmas. Mellow, ethereal sunlight; nights drawing in; cosy evenings; comfort food; nesting under duvets. It also brings the best of the liturgy with it - All Souls' is my favourite liturgy of the year, in a tie with the Easter Vigil. I love the descent into the darkness, the silence, the depth of the symbolism...the stillness that leaves room for God.

Autumn also brings its anniversaries. I was talking via IM to a friend who is converting to Judaism from Catholicism, and she mentioned that she had lit a Yahrzeit candle for her brother's best friend, John Ross Fisher, who was like another brother to her who committed suicide on 13 October, 2004 whilst on leave from Iraq. She wanted to write a tribute to him; I've offered to put it here when she's finished. May he rest in peace.

Naturally, that discussion turned my heart towards personal anniversaries. On around the same date as John Ross, but 16 years earlier, my Aunty Suraiya died - the second of my mother's sisters to die that year. I remember always being a little wary of her - she always seemed so silent and preoccupied. Just occasionally, when something funny was said, that wrinkle in her brow would disappear, she'd throw her head back, and a surprisingly warm, rich laugh would come out...her face transformed completely, from that beautiful real smile to the unexpected wicked twinkle in her eye.

It wasn't till much later that I learned why - her husband, my father's cousin (the same one who betrayed his family during Partition - a real gem), used to abuse her. I remember talking to my mother about her sisters once, and she said the following (approximately):

"I remember, she used to be so beautiful. Long, thick hair - we all wanted it - and she used to laugh so much. All the time. She was so funny, always playing jokes."
"Sorry, mum, which one of you?"
"Your Aunty Suraiya."
"WAIT. Did you just say 'Aunty Suraiya'? NOT Aunty Razia?"
"Oh yes. Suraiya used to be beautiful and laugh all the time. Until she got married."

At that moment, I swore no man would do to me what he had done to her - he'd never extinguished her light, but he'd driven it into deepest hiding. Her death was a shock - she'd been ill with what seemed like a cold, and wouldn't go to the doctor. When she died, the huge shock was compounded by the fact that copies of her will were everywhere in the house - in the sugar tin, in her room, in the cupboards...

I wish I'd taken the time to make her smile more.

Early November - the 4th to be exact - brings the next anniversary...a suicide. The irony is that we both worked at hotlines in the same room - she, on the child protection hotline; me, on the *deep breath* suicide prevention hotline. Relationships get very close very quickly when you're dealing with such intense issues.

Lou was in her 50s with grown kids, and treated me as one of her own. We'd talk for hours, mostly about what I was going through at that time. She was encouraging, and she told me that no matter what anyone said, I'd move when I was ready. I remember thinking that she cared about me, not what I could do, and I treasured that.

The last time I saw her was Columbus Day weekend that year - her replacement hadn't come by the time I left, so she'd gone into the next room to work on some sewing. I quietly peeked around the door to see her intent on cutting out a pattern. I didn't want to bother her, so I didn't go to hug her as was my wont. "I'll catch her next time," I thought.

I later learned NO ONE showed up that weekend, and she had kept the Child Protection hotline manned for 72 hours straight.

When she didn't show up on the morning of the 4th to take over someone else's shift, I wasn't too worried - things sometimes cropped up. The next Saturday, I came in to the news that someone on Protection line had committed suicide. I looked up in horrified fascination and asked, "Who?" And heard, "Lou." I can't tell you what was said after that.

I'm not sure I can put into words the complex emotions that arise from the suicide of a friend. I can only begin to imagine what it is like for parents, siblings, spouses, children. It takes your world apart in a way few other events can. Shock, grief, anger, guilt, fear...I had loved her dearly, but I was so angry, I didn't go to her memorial service. Yes, I regret that to this day, and every anniversary, it haunts me. Especially when 4 November is a Saturday again.

Suffice it to say, many demons drive me - and amongst them is one that reminds me that I will never, ever miss the signs of suicidal depression in those close to me again. (I know I'm human, and I know I will, but...)

The final anniversary, 6 December, is mine alone. It involves a very difficult year, an 8th floor balcony, a leg over the railing, and the choice between leaping into the abyss or onto concrete.

I chose the abyss. Only time will tell if I made the right decision.

It was the most incredibly painful place I had ever been.
There were no barriers, no defences, no illusions. Everything I'd packed away, everything I'd pretended wasn't mine, everything chasing me met me there. It's...real. But painful and frightening though it was - and still is - the abyss is an amazing place. I learned that in its...nothingness, it is the place where all degrees of freedom are present and where every creative possibility is equal. And it was the place where I could feel God along every inch of my skin, in every cell.

As per Genesis 1:2:

"And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness [was] upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters."

I came out the other side never completely belonging to this world again. That doesn't mean I don't get irimtated (as most of you reading my blog will have guessed), that my myriad faults disappeared and I became a plaster saint (pass me a bucket, someone), that I lost my acerbic humour or my earthiness, or that I go through my life in some ethereal haze (I tend to slap people who do - figuratively, of course). Most of my life goes by in the everyday normalcy that everyone else's does, for which I am profoundly grateful. But in moments of great joy or great sorrow - in the pleasure of an evening spent in the warmth and love of friendship, or during events that make me feel like I am walking through hell - as I feel completely caught up in them, as anyone would, there is a part of me that whispers, "Hold on to this; this moment will never come again...treasure it, hold it close, live it deeply," or "This too shall pass - soon it will be an hour past, then a week, then a will breathe again." There's always a sense that no matter how wonderful or how awful things are, there's a pattern, a tapestry, and each thread, light and dark, is necessary. It's an indescribable feeling, and a great blessing.

Another blessing amongst the many that arose from that time is the lack of terror in the face of someone else's darkness and the ability to move towards them, instead of away from them. The darkness is home, and somehow, one finds a way to slip between the cracks into a friend's darkness to sit with them. Sometimes, there are things to say, such as, "All will be well, hang on," or "Ok, if that's how you feel, let's plan your funeral." More often than not, there is nothing to say - you can only sit there, and put your arms around them, literally and/or figuratively, even as you know the only way out for them is through - and they have to go alone. And you pray, in the words of Vienna Teng's "Lullabye for a Stormy Night":

"And I hope that you’ll know that nature is so;
the same rain that draws you near me,

falls on rivers and land,
on forests and sand;

makes the beautiful world that you’ll see in the morning,
everything’s fine in the morning.

The rain’ll be gone in the morning..."

If I'm holding a friend's sleepy toddler in my arms during a stormy night, I know when their morning will come.

With friends, one doesn't know whether their morning will come on this side of the veil or the other.

but I’ll still be here in the morning."

And that's a promise.

Thursday, 2 November 2006

Letter Q synchronicity

I cannot thank Reiza Mara enough for introducing me to them...although my bosses may feel differently. As always, I know I'm on the right track when synchronicity it did in today's cartoon...

Savage Chickens: Scrabble Rematch Cartoon

Or maybe that should be synqronicity.

Quixotically, quintessentially Q.

I'm off to qiq some qarse.

Quisquis, everyone.

Saturday, 28 October 2006

The letter Q...

Whilst on IM with a good friend of mine, we qame up with:

Quail Qaesar,
Quite qute questing queen qoala quintuplet quorum
qourageously, quietly quaffs qoqoa queerly, quickly, quixotically,
quasi-qooqily qonqing qoqonuts qoyly,
qrying 'quack quack' qooly,
qooing qutesily,
qalmly qicking quavering qats,
quibbling quirkily, quintessentially,
qapering qhaotiqally, quivering...'

I'm qoming out of the qloset...I love the letter Q. I always have - when I watched Sesame Street, I was thrilled when it was sponsored by the letters q and x or z. Qs just looqed so perfeqt, with that tail in both the qapital and lower-qase versions. It's also the sound it represents, I think - partiqularly in Urdu/Punjabi and Semitiq languages - that 'k', but further baq in the throat...I just loved the way it felt, the way it sounded, how nice it was to be able to do it.

And part of it is my penchant for the underdog...q's just don't get used nearly enough, and only before 'u's - hence my being a founding member of the Qoppa resurreqtion society and my love of transliterating anything from Hebrew, Urdu, Punjabi, Arabiq with the letter 'qaf'.

Queer, I know.

But Q is...exQuisite.


Friday, 27 October 2006

Practically perfect preaching...

This week's sermon award goes to one I didn't even hear - my friend Jan came in and asked if I wanted a copy. On hearing who had preached it, my response was "Absolutely!" I'd heard about it briefly during coffee last week and had been intrigued, but didn't want to bother said Father by asking for a copy, though I was hoping against hope that I'd get to see it at some point - or work up the courage after term to ask for a copy...and Wednesday, it falls into my lap. There IS a God.

From my clerical friends, I know that the reading that strikes fear into the heart of the most seasoned preacher is the one where Jesus speaks on divorce...what do you say that won't re-open painful wounds for your divorced/divorcing/separated parishioners, especially when the teaching of the Church is so rigid? It often inspires courage, as it did with one of the MiB up the road 9 years ago, when he preached about the "Church needing to learn"; too often, though - and understandably so, I guess - it becomes an excuse to trot out a defence of the Church's teaching on divorce. It was on this reading that Fr "Current prior, pro librarian" preached his sermon a couple of Sundays ago.

Fr. Prior is, bar none, my favourite preacher...and that says a great deal, not only b/c he is part of an Order known for its preaching and his house presents a great deal of stiff competition, but also b/c I'm a tough Catholic customer. I dislike lazy sermons, sloppy arguments, browbeating, thoughtlessness, any of that. Start off poorly and you'll either lose me or put me in a pugilistic mood - I can't tell you how many sermons I've mentally taken apart by about 6 minutes in. Never, in the years I have heard him preach, have I gone either way during one of Fr Prior's sermons.
It's not because I tend to agree with him, though that probably plays a part in my feeling safe enough to open up and listen; my ideologically diametrically opposed friend and I both have hung on his every word. Nor is it because he has a rich, deep voice that is a pleasure to listen to - rivalled only by the ex-Master of the Order and one of his younger brethren now preaching and teaching elsewhere.

No. It's because his sermons remind us that things aren't always what they seem - from nightmares to language, anything and everything is an instrument in getting you to look at things from a different angle, more deeply, with a greater awareness of the nuances and complexity of our faith. Every time I hear him preach, at some point I think, "I didn't know that! How qool!" or "OOOOO, looking at it that way means NOT A and B, but Q, X and Z. Which then leads to..." His arguments are always tight and elegant, and he challenges us and shakes us from our comfort zone - but always with warmth and humour. He reminds us that we can never stay still, that we ARE a pilgrim Church, we are called to grow and move forward to God, we need to be pushed - that faith is ALIVE; it grows and changes. And that is as it should be.

So, how did he approach the ever-so-scary readings? Oh, I wish I could just type all three pages here, but I can't. So I'll try to summarise, using his words where possible. He began true to form:

"What Jesus has to say about divorce in today's gospel will strike many as a hard saying: one that might seem to justify an inflexible stance by the church in the face of the irretrievable breakdown of marriage. But we may be mistaken if we suppose that the meaning of these words is immediately obvious: that Jesus is laying down a simple and categorical law. After all, not much of what Jesus said was immediately obvious. Indeed, earlier in his gospel, Mark tells us that Jesus spoke to the people in provoking riddles, and did not speak to them except in riddles."

He goes on to say that "whatever their theories about marriage may have been, both Jews and Gentiles saw marriage as a human convention designed to achieve certain advantages..."
and moves to take that view apart by taking us back to the Garden of Eden - "God's purpose, Jesus says, is to be found in our first reading, about the making of the earth creature - adam. [in my head, I gave it the Hebrew pronunciation]
"When we turn to that narrative, the first thing we learn about this earth creature is that he is defective. That is very surprising - certainly a clue that all will not be what it seems in this story."

Now we move on to God's realisation that the earth-creature's being alone is a mistake, and he desperately makes creature after creature to ease Adam's loneliness ("We have a picture now of God rather like an anxious parent...") - sans success until he takes one of Adam's ribs and creates for him "a companion and partner who was his equal."

Wow. I mean, purely and simply, WOW. I, personally, have never heard Genesis interpreted in this way - and I've had the benefit of hearing at least a couple of interpretations from clergy of each of the Abrahamic religions. This blew me away - it made sense, at last. It was like a kaleidoscope turning and a pattern falling into place. But it got even better...

"Where our version has Woman and Man, the Hebrew has the same word in feminine and masculine form - isha and ish. And to emphasise the complete equality of the two, the chapter ends, "and the man and the woman were both naked, and were not ashamed." He then spoke of veiling - crossing Jewish, Christian and Islamic cultures, and quoting St Paul's (heinous) verse on woman being the reflection of man, he said, "The veiling of women, in other words, is a symbol of their subjection and inferiority to men. But in our passage from Genesis, the woman is naked, and not ashamed. She is no sense inferior or subordinate to the man, both are equal." It probably IS a good thing I wasn't there on the day - at this point, I might have gone up to the lectern and HUGGED him for that.

Now, we part ways briefly - but only b/c of my personal view. His argument remains solid as he says that Chava's eating the apple ruptured that equality, making her subordinate to man as per God's words. I still tend to think of the story of the Fall in archetypal terms, and original sin is still a big issue for me - but it's MY faith that's at issue at this point - his worldview and argument remain completely coherent.

And the end...well, again, I'll let him speak for himself:
"But in today's Gospel we find Jesus telling us that we must not be content with this consequence of sin, telling us that we should not just reject divorce, but the human convention that marriage became as a result of sin, and pointing us back to that first moment of equality, to the union of equal partners described in the book of Genesis. It is only a union of that kind that can be described as having been joined by God, and therefore indissoluble by man: a union in which each spouse recognises the other as an equal human being and strives for the full flourishing of that partner and companion. Such a union, and only such a union, is fit to be called a sacrament of the new creation, a participation in the work of Christ, who restores, renews and remakes out humanity so that it comes to be as God intended it to be in the beginning."

Amen. I told you it got better - if only you could read it all, b/c the story-telling in the middle is as lovely as everything I've quoted here. And if you're reading it, Father, drop me an email and I'll correct anything I've misrepresented. Just noting the craftsmanship involved in its structure is a pleasure. And if you thought this was good, you should have heard him during Holy Week. Chills up spine kind of preaching.

And to boot, I can think of few other people I'd rather have at my back if I were in real trouble. He's one of the rare people that I've trusted immediately and completely. Doesn't suffer fools gladly, but endless patience if you have a real problem. The kind of person you'd leave your 3-year-old with for an afternoon without a second thought - but you might get a gourmet cooking lesson when you take her home. Always teaching, preaching, fixing, listening...all the things good priests do.

My only reservation is that he's an Aussie that doesn't follow the cricket (hard to believe, I know), so I won't get to test out the theory that Aussies ignore a sporting contest when they're losing. So if, in the middle of the Ashes, he comes up to me and wants to talk about the frog jumping contest in Alice Springs, it won't be because we're winning; it'll be because he's actually interested in which frog won. The rugby, I suspect, might be a different matter...(*she ducks and runs*)

But seriously, Father, this one's for you - thanks for everything you do for all of us, all the time.

Monday, 23 October 2006

The Garden of Eden - a prequel, wherein God and Satan strike a deal...

God: Lucifer...Lucifer, where are you?

Satan (thinks): F*** off. You made me like this. Don't come playing all "benevolent Creator" with me.

God: Lucifer...oh, there you are. Pray tell, what are you doing?

Satan: I believe, Lord, the colloquial expression would be "eating dirt".

God: Oh yeah, sorry about that. Had to make an example of you, see. Couldn't have the others thinking they could get away with it.

Satan: Yeah, got that. Thanks a bunch. What do you want?

God: Listen, I, erm, need your help.

Satan (interested): Oh really? And what the, Eden, am I supposed to do from down here? I mean, all-powerful Lord, what is it that the three aspects of you can't manage without humble little me?

God (squirming): Erm, I want to lose Adam and Eve.

Satan (eyes widening, slithering closer): REALLLLLLLY? I'm all ears, erm, I mean vibration sensors.

God: Look, they're not really meant to stay up here. There's no resistance; they need to grow. Adam's getting a beer gut and Eve is becoming vain...and as for their lack of character, oi vey. I saw it and it was good, but they're boring me to tears now.

Satan (slyly): So, what is it you want me to do? And what might I get out of it?

God: Sand dunes of dirt to eat?

Satan: Hmm. Sounds like the Ruach has deserted you. Not inspiring. Take two.

God: Hmmm. Ok, ok, you get to be a trickster - introducing an element of chaos, and a bit of temptation to keep things interesting. I'll also throw in your own real estate, with hierarchies of demons to mirror the angels you were in charge of, 'cos you'll need the help. The paperwork will be murder.

Satan: I'm listening.

God: I've already tried. I told them that they can't eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Satan: AND THEY'RE STILL AVOIDING IT?? WHAT IS WRONG WITH THESE CREATURES OF YOURS? Send them back to the workshop and get a refund.
(suddenly comprehending) Ah.

God: Yeah. You see the problem.

Satan (thinking): Hmmm. Has the Ruach run out of ideas?

God: Free will is a sticking point here. I can't exactly cajole, coerce, strongly suggest...

Satan: So you need an external agent.

God: Whatever it takes; just get them out of the damn garden.

Satan: Right. They're your creations; any suggestions on how to approach this?

God: I'd go for the woman. She thinks for herself, which is more than I can say for that lump of clay currently developing a beer gut.

Satan: You know what that means, don't you?

God: That men will rule the earth, subjugate women and have a monopoly on organised religion?

Satan: Yes. You sure you want to do this?

God: Absolutely. It'll make things more entertaining: the women will rise up over time and take their rightful place - on top - in the bedroom and the boardroom.

Satan: Are you SURE?

God: Or men will make the human race extinct. Doesn't matter; we'll start again.

Satan: Can I be an angel again then? The brightest of them all?

God: Of course. Just remember to bow when I ask you to, next time.

Satan: My neck's a little stiff...

God raises a celestial eyebrow

Satan: Ok, ok, you're on. It's a deal. Oh, and Jesus?

The Son: Yes?

Satan: I'll see you in Hell.

The Son: Wouldn't miss it.

Thursday, 19 October 2006

Racism on the underpass...

This morning, as I approached the underpass I've used for nearly nine years now, I saw something I've never seen before - a silver swastika painted on the downhill pavement that leads to the underpass. As I looked at the walls, there were silver messages of hate everywhere - "I hate Pakies me", "Kill Pakies", "F*** Pakies" [the creativity was amazing], "NF" [National Front - a far-right British party opposed to immigration and multiculturalism], "BNP" [British National Party, which "stands for the preservation of the national and ethnic character of the British people and is wholly opposed to any form of racial integration between British and non-European peoples."]

My instantaneous reaction was shock, before my lips compressed into the cold, controlled anger that meant I would detach from any horror, fury or fear that I might otherwise feel, especially two days after seeing pictures of the unspeakable horrors at Belsen. Instead, my detachment allowed me to note the absurdity of certain things:

  • The swastika was left-facing - not the exclusively right-facing one used to represent the Nazi party and the BNP. If you are going to use an offensive symbol, have the grace to get it right.
  • The irony of using a symbol that has a huge positive significance in *my* ancestral culture against me - it has been on Hindu and Buddhist temples for millenia. It is derived from Sanskrit -"su" meaning "good", "asti" meaning "to be", "ka" being a diminutive. [Or "tika" meaning "little thing" or "mark"] So a swastika means "to be good" or "good little thing". In my ancestral language, a**hole.
  • As repelled as I am by the idea, Hitler adopted it in admiration of the Indian Aryans. Of which, as a Punjabi, I am one. Compare my genetic markers with yours, and you'll find that in terms of what's important in your small-minded, racist, evil idea of "racial purity of the Aryan race", I win.
  • If you're going to complain about how "furriners" never learn the English language, do feel free to use it properly: the correct spelling is "Pakis" and the correct grammar is "I hate Pakis".
  • Do you ever eat a curry? Shop on Christmas Day at your corner shop? Go to the hospital or the doctor's surgery and see a South Asian physician or nurse? Without multiculturalism, you'd have none of that.
Ok, I'm not so detached anymore. But nor am I going to stop walking through the underpass I have walked through for nearly nine years. I'm not giving him that kind of control, and I believe that those who graffiti don't often do. But am I going to be more careful?

You bet.

Friday, 13 October 2006

Once an addict...

...always an addict. "Hi, my name is Irim, I'm an INFJ and an Enneagram 2w1 or 8w9 depending on the day, and erm, I'm a self-discovery test addict."

In unison: "Hi, Irim"

I've been trying to limit myself, but seeing Jacquetta and Reiza Mara (you're right, CJ, I love her blog and definitely feel a kinship with her!) had done a few broke my resolve:

Your Quirk Factor: 72%

You're so quirky, it's hard for you to tell the difference between quirky and normal.
No doubt about it, there's little about you that's "normal" or "average."
How Quirky Are You?

Your Element Is Water

A bit of a contradiction, you can seem both lighthearted and serious.
That's because you're good at going with the flow - but you also are deep.

Highly intuitive, you tune in to people's emotions and moods easily.
You are able to tap into deep emotional connections and connect with others.

You prefer a smooth, harmonious life - but you can navigate your way around waves.
You have a knack for getting people to get along and making life a little more peaceful.

Such an INFJ addiction! Must stop... not a bad assessment though. I LOVED these two questions:

"You openly express opinions that are unusual, controversial, or just plain old strange."

Moi? Nah, never.

"You say things purely for shock value."

Wouldn't dream of it. I'm, erm, shocked that you'd suggest it.

*Pounds table* *Wipes eyes* Ah, that was good. Guess they appeal to the 8w9 in me - the "challenger/leader" with a "peacemaker" wing (go figure). What's really funny is that I looked up ideal mates for my enneagram type of the day - and it's 2w1. I should marry...myself.

No wonder I'm still single. It's all becoming so clear now...