Saturday, 24 February 2007

By the pricking in my thumbs...

I stood apart, a few yards away, whilst they looked at the dead animal on the ground. Though very fond of the younger friars, something held me back from joining their circle. Deeply uneasy, I watched their white habits swirl about them as they changed angles and rapid-fired comments and questions like machine guns: "Oh my G-d." "What could have done this?" "Look at that." "Why kill it and not carry it off to eat?" "It looks like it just killed for the sake of it." "What do you think?"

I kept observing. One piped up, "It was probably a wolf." "Yeah, it looks like a wolf did this." "A wolf." "Yes, definitely, no question. A wolf." "What was that Our Lord said about a wolf in sheep's clothing?" "You're right." "Mystery solved." They started to walk away.

Horrified by this example of groupthink, I tried to shout, "No. This is *wrong*, evil. Wolves DON'T BEHAVE LIKE THIS. THEY DON'T KILL FOR PLEASURE. LISTEN TO ME,"
but no sound came out. I knew I was partial to wolves, since friends had once coined me an alpha female wolf, but I was certain not all was as it seemed.

Suddenly, I found myself walking quickly along a country lane, flanked by shoulder-high golden wheat. I was thinking, "We have to get to the bottom of this. I'm sure it wasn't wolves. *WHAT* kills for pleasure? Weasels? Hmmm. That's very 'Dark is rising'." As I thought, I looked down and saw a fox hidden in the wheat at the side of the road and nodded to him; a few yards later, I did the same to a rabbit. "Where are the wolves?" I wondered. Suddenly, a mangled, bloodied animal appeared at my feet. I stopped, went to move it with my toe, then knelt, and looked carefully. "Those don't look like wolf bitemarks," I thought, relieved. "The teeth are smaller and sharper...and...*weasels*? Is that right?"

Suddenly, a sinuous, black form crossed my path and stood over the body. I looked into its unnaturally red eyes and said, "Clever. Do the killing, let the wolves take the blame, since everyone sees them as an enemy already.The only thing that would make it perfect would be if you were where no one will ever look - the hierarchy."

"Who says I'm not?"

I sat up in bed and looked at the clock. Nearly ten. I leaned back, fully awake, aware that sleep wasn't going to happen and probably shouldn't. I showered, poured my Special K, and sat in front of Hallmark's House, M.D. weekend, letting the analysis percolate in my subconscious.

Wilson: That smugness of yours is a really attractive quality.
House: Thank you. It was either that or get my hair highlighted. Smugness is easier to maintain.

Advert.

Key dream points:

1. The group was made up of young religious, but it isn't about those particular individuals.
They symbolised how I feel about many of the Catholics who surround me: not looking deeply enough, going with the crowd, unquestioning, naive, unable to think out of the box, measuring their 'goodness' by the rules they follow, and believing, "It's all soooooo perfect!!"
It's a mindset incapable of seeing danger on the horizon and one that will look in the wrong direction for danger once it is impossible to ignore.

2. I knew them all well, consider them friends, but I hung back. That is very much how I feel about Catholicism - there is much about that I love: the sacraments, the core story - but I have never felt fully part of it and expect that I never will. I suspect that would surprise most people who know how involved I have been at church, that my day is spent working in a priory and how fond I am of the respective communities. Knowledge, awareness and affection doesn't equate with a sense of belonging to the institution as a whole.

3. I feel alone in my questioning, in my need to get to the truth of things, in my hatred of glib, easy answers. I'm not, as evidenced by the fox and the rabbit hiding in the wheat, and the wolves I sensed nearby, but I often feel it.

4. As per the tornado dream around Christmas, I will take on danger alone, and perhaps I need to learn to trust someone enough to take them with me.

5. I identify with the 'wolves' being accused of tearing the Church apart - questioning liberals. The problem is, Catholicism attracts those who need certainty and who want easy answers. They want someone to tell them what to do. These are people who *need* to feel "We're the best. It's us against the world," because they're unable to hold on to a solid sense of identity whilst someone disagrees with them. They're threatened by a point of view different from theirs that is *equally valid*, so they need to ridicule, bully and threaten. Anyone who dares to poke questions at that safe, neat worldview will always be seen as a threat.

6. The real threat is within the Church, well-hidden behind 'orthodoxy' and deeply entrenched. I've always believed that, and part of the proof comes in how the hierarchy handled child molestation in the States: protect the institution at all costs. You cannot try to protect the institution at the expense of what is right. Once you start worshipping the institution as all-important, you're doing the weasels' work for them - creating something hollow and easy to take down.

Hmmm. That's it for now, I think. Comments welcome. Back to House, M.D.:

House: Well, there's the fever that Cameron was looking for.
Cameron: We knew if it was myelitis there had to be an -itis. This must be the infection that set it off.
House: Yeah. Except in this universe effect follows cause. I've complained about it, but...

Sunday, 18 February 2007

Steel magnolias

Sunday night is television night - chores are done, time to unwind, unbreakable date with "24" at 9pm. At about 7pm, I was sitting down to dinner and decided to flick through the Sky channels...and came across what Sky info rightly described as "the Rolls Royce of all chick flicks" from 1989 - "Steel Magnolias".

It's the story of a tightly knit group of women friends in Louisiana. The main characters are: Truvy Jones (salon owner and all-round nurturer), Clairee Belcher (a well-to-do, easily amused Southern belle in her late 50s), Ouiser Boudreaux (a crotchety old Southern belle), M'Lynn Eatenton (Shelby's mum and all-round warm, hospitable Southern girl), Shelby (lively, funny, pink loving girl) and Annelle Dupuis (shy girl to party animal to religious fundamentalist).

The main storyline begins with Shelby's wedding and covers the next few years, peaking around her decision to have a child against medical advice (she's a diabetic) and the consequences. Parallel storylines include the unlikely closeness between Ouiser and Clairee, Annelle's metamorphosis, and Truvy's relationships with her husband and sons.

I've seen it at least four times, and it still makes me laugh till my sides ache and cry like a baby.

From Thelma and Louise to Beaches to Steel Magnolias and Sex and the City, there's something mesmerising about women's friendships. One might suspect that even men get sucked in (I have a male friend who admits to loving
Beaches). Yes, we know they can be bitchy, competitive, and co-dependent, but there's nothing like the bond between women friends who've laughed with, listened to and supported eachother over years. Shelby's inclusion in that tight knit circle reminds us how much women pass on to eachother down the generations, and how much of that we've lost - a theme also touched on in How to make an American quilt.

One may scoff and say that the bond between female friends is often romanticised in the media, and that's probably true - they do the same with romantic love, much to our detriment - no one can live up to THAT expectation. But there's more than a kernel of truth in their portrayal of our friendships: that's why most women I know cried at the scene in Sex and the City when the girls surrounded Samantha after they'd heard the news that she had breast cancer - it didn't matter that it was in the middle of Miranda's wedding reception; she was right there with them. Most of us *know* that feeling; we've been on both ends of it.

Just like we understand the scene in Steel Magnolias where M'Lynn is standing by Shelby's grave after the funeral. Her husband Drum goes to the car with the boys, looks back and waits a few minutes before driving off, expecting that someone else will pick her up. The camera pans to the set of friends one by one, each going off with her man. They look back to M'Lynn, and every one of them shoos her man off and goes to stand with her by the grave. No man could have been in that scene.

It is there, with these women, after months of nursing Shelby in her coma, pushing Drum away and being strong through the funeral that M'Lynn finally gives way when Clairee asks her how she is:

I'm fine, I'm fine, I'm fine. I'm fine! I can jog all the way to Texas and back, but my daughter can't! She never could! Oh God! I am so mad I don't know what to do! I wanna know why! I wanna know *why* Shelby's life is over! I wanna know how that baby will *ever* know how wonderful his mother was! Will he *ever* know what she went through for him! Oh *God* I wanna know *why*? *Why*? Lord, I wish I could understand! No! No! No! It's not supposed to happen this way! I'm supposed to go first. I've always been ready to go first! I-I don't think I can take this! I-I don't think I can take this! I-I just wanna *hit* somebody 'til they feel as bad as I do! I just wanna *hit* something! I wanna *hit it hard*!

At this point, Clairee grabs Ouiser and suggests M'Lynn punches her, since the entire parish has wanted to for years. They all dissolve into laughter amidst their tears, and M'Lynn goes on more reflectively:

They turned off the machines. Drum left. Jackson left. They couldn't take it. I find it amusing. Men are supposed to be made out of steel or something. I just sat there. I just held Shelby's hand. There was no noise, no tremble, just peace. Oh god. I realize, as a woman, how lucky I am. I was there when that wonderful creature drifted into my life and I was there when she drifted out. It was the most precious moment of my life.

That comment crystallises something about that special bond between women friends: women *stay* - through the laughter, the tears, the endless analyses, the darkness, when the angel of Death comes to do her job - and we are capable of considering those moments the most precious of our lives. On the Via Dolorosa, Jesus meets his mother, Veronica wipes his face, he comforts the women of Jerusalem and women stand at the foot of his cross. Women are also the first to see the tomb empty, and Mary Magdalene is the first to see him. Precious moments, every one.

We're always there - and as women, *how lucky we are*. Let's race up those ladders, ladies, but remember - *be yourself*. You become a priest or a CEO or a creative director or anything you want to be because of WHO YOU ARE. Even if you're in a male-dominated field, don't change yourself to become more like the boys. Be yourself, and bring your wonderful, unique qualities to bear - and change that field for the better.

And boys, we love you. And sometimes, we love being one of you. But right now, we could do with you changing a nappy or two...

Saturday, 17 February 2007

A brief plug...

Hi - a real blog entry to follow, I promise. But first, I'd like to take a moment to ask y'all to sponsor me online on the 5k Race for Life Walk/Run for CancerResearch UK. It's an all women's Walk/Run held at many venues all over the country in June/July. The focus may seem to be on breast cancer, but it's for everyone - our parents, our siblings, our men, our children, our friends.

It's a good cause, so please click on "sponsor me online" above to be taken directly to my webpage - it's fast, easy, secure, and for those of you who work in the UK, it's Gift Aided!

If you have trouble with the above link, cut and paste the address below into your browser's URL line. And yes, some of you will be getting emails. Sorry for 'cross-posting'.

http://www.raceforlifesponsorme.org/irimsarwar2007


We will now resume our regularly scheduled programme. Thank you.

Friday, 9 February 2007

A cricket fanfare for the common man



Well, it's been a while since the last cricket blog...the Ashes were so traumatic, I couldn't talk about England v Australia till last week, when we beat them in an ODI (one day international), after a start to the triangular tournament (3 teams, 3 matches twixt each [3 possible] team combination, best of 3 final - very trinitarian) that was reminiscent of the first day slaughter at the Gabbatoir. We lost to Australia twice, beat New Zealand once, then lost to them once - badly enough so the Kiwis got a bonus point. It looked like the boys would be home early to rest up for the World Cup next month. Then I stepped into a Salvador Dali painting...

First, we beat Australia. By enough to get the bonus point. Australia took it out on the Kiwis. THEN we beat the Kiwis by 14 runs. And we were in the final after having been in last place the entire tournament. We've just won the first game of the best-of-three final - against the best team in the world. Most of that is due to the superb fielding and smart batting of the man in the England shirt in the bottom picture: Paul Collingwood.

As Rach said in one of her blog entries, Colly makes being ginger sexy. Leaving aside his playing, there's a warmth, openness and intelligence to his face that makes him very attractive. He is a brilliant fielder (probably the best in the world), a decent bowler and a good batsman. Never flamboyant like KP and Flintoff, he constructs his innings using his strengths - singles and twos gained by intelligent choices - where to place the ball and when to run between the stumps. Performances like this win matches and "Man of the Match" awards. Colly is an excellent role model for the world today: he proves that humility, teamwork, hard work, going all out and playing to your strengths rather than trying to be someone else, is how big things happen. Substance, not style, is what counts.

Add to that his happy, easy temperament - aside from the occasional flare and unwise sledging - and you've got a definite dish.

Now, I've always liked Colly. But in the last few weeks, an Aussie (quelle horreur!) has been sneaking up the list of favourites. Even more embarrassingly, it's an Aussie I took the piss out of by using rhyming words (his own lyrics, mind you, so fair enough) like Indy, Hindi and bindi. Desperately wanting to unearth a Crocodile Dundee caricature, I looked him up...and my heart melted.

Brett Lee is a peroxide blond Aussie, true. He was the second option for man of the match yesterday, taking 3 wickets for 41. He has a ready smile, and if he *ever* hits a batsman with one of his 95 mph balls, he's the first one over to put a hand on their shoulder. Like Colly, he's a hard worker with a sunny disposition and a ready, open smile. Unlike Colly, he's at home in a tailored suit. When he's not playing cricket, he can be found working at Barclays Menswear pinning suits to customers and promoting his own clothing line. He fell into "gentlemen's outfitting" six months after getting his CA jacket fitted at Barclays, when the owner rang him up out of the blue and offered him a job. On his first day, he was cornered by a haranguing, fussy businessman who wanted a single-breasted suit with a notch lapel. Lee was flabbergasted; happy sadist that I am, I cried with laughter reading about it.

Lee had the sense to admit he didn't know and called his boss over. His boss, grinning broadly, introduced Lee to his best friend. Brett had been well and truly stitched up. In his words from 13 November's "Australian":

"I love [the menswear business]. I think if someone gives you an opportunity in life you should always stick with them, and I made myself a promise that I would stick by Richie the whole way. He didn't teach me only about suits, he taught me about life and how to deal with people.

"It's just a great reality check. I remember after the South African Test series I flew in at 11.30pm on a Sunday night and on Monday morning at 9am I was in there working. And after about an hour this South African came in and starts looking at me. 'Weren't you bowling last night (Saturday) in Jo'burg?' he says.

"I said, 'yeah mate, but it's back to the real world now.'

"But he couldn't believe it. 'Don't you need a rest?' he asks.

"I said 'no, this is what I like to do. It gets my mind away from cricket and puts some balance in my life'.

"I was talking to him in Afrikaans. He said, 'I can't believe this', but that gave me another edge to make the sale. I love the challenge of making a sale and look at a customer in much the same way as I look at a batsman when I'm preparing to bowl. You study him walking through the door, size him up and work on his weakness and try to take his wicket and make the sale."

Love him - not only for the sense of balance, genuine sweetness, humour and cheekiness that emanate from him, but also because he understands, in the words of ZZ Top:

Clean shirt, new shoes - and I don't know where I am goin' to.
Silk suit, black tie: I don't need a reason why.
They come runnin' just as fast as they can:
Cos every girl's crazy 'bout a sharp dressed man.
Spot on, Brett. Give us a bloke with a heart of gold in a sharp suit, and even tough
girls like me melt like ice cream on a summer day in Lahore. Substance over style,
every time, but substance AND style, well... With a Timex deal (
Gold watch, diamond
ring, I ain't missing a single thing
), the accessories are sorted(see picture above Colly).

Cufflinks, stick pin: when I step out, I'm gonna do you in.

You already have. We'll all come running just as fast as we can...


Cos every girl's crazy 'bout a sharp dressed man.

Tuesday, 6 February 2007

Shadow puppet theatre presents: Jung and fowl play

As a Jungian carnivore, I'm with the chicken, not the tofu, on this one.

Savage Chickens: Barry White 4 Cartoon

Thursday, 1 February 2007

In the name of love...

It has taken me nearly a month to write this. A month ago, almost to the day, a good friend of mine sent me this story. He can appear nonchalant and very controlled, but he feels things deeply, and he warned me that the story had left him in floods of tears. "Read it," he typed in the IM window. "I'll wait." I'll be eternally grateful that he did.

Forewarned, I clicked on the link with trepidation and read. And wept - initially, for the same reasons he did: the tragedy of true love lost, rent asunder by the apparently unresolvable tensions of the Muslim-Hindu divide. For the pain that never died, the dark tunnel that never ended that drove her to suicide. For the children who lost their mother and the others left behind. But when I wept again - and I did, more than once - my reasons and emotions were more complex...less sure, more textured, perhaps a touch darker.

Even as I read the story through the first time, swept along by the current to the inevitable tragic ending, noting the beautiful descriptive language along the way, I recognised the tightening in my solar plexus - the twisting tension that signals emotional dissonance, that tells me what I'm seeing is NOT what, or all, I'm getting. I looked more closely. On a second reading, the tragedy no longer seemed inevitable. His mother loved her, and his father even gave the couple his blessing before he died; her parents liked him, but family honour won the day and they arranged a match. Unsurprisingly, torn between her beloved and a seemingly inescapable loveless marriage, she sank into a deep depression.

Parnesh acknowledges this inevitability: "
Such conflict - a constant strain on her heart - would tear the strongest to pieces." But he forgets this when they're arguing because he's pushing her to choose him. Suddenly, she is "emotionally fragile," and the depression becomes a character flaw, not the result of an unbearable situation. He creates of her a burden, and of himself a martyr:

"But there were also other demons, mood swings from exquisite contentment to deepest depression. She fought these with my help, and, increasingly, the help of medication. There were nights of tears, of comforting, of visits to doctors. And one dreadful night, a pointless argument, a threat from me to leave, an overdose. I was frantic and rushed her to hospital, promising, and crying, never to hurt her again...But I, too, despaired as the realisation slowly came that it was beyond my abilities to help. I struggled to help, not to give up on her, to continue fighting the depression that, though infrequent and kept in check by medication, would surface now and then."

Parnesh, of course there were mood swings. One moment, she was with you and wanted nothing more; the next, the spectre of an arranged marriage loomed over her and you were threatening to leave. Where could she go but between those two extremes? There was no way out, especially when a heinously irresponsible GP thought *DRUGS* were the answer to a clearly situational depression. Medication at the beginning, perhaps, so that therapy could take hold. She needed someone to talk to: a strong, compassionate counsellor to show her a third option - walking away from her parents and walking away from *you*. The way out of the trap was learning who she was and what she wanted. You and her parents fought over her as if she was a prize doll, not a living, breathing person with emotions and a story of her own. None of you thought about what was best for her. She needed someone to help her work that out for herself. No one did.

Then, Parnesh, you show narcissism and ability for self-deception beyond belief to state, "
But my love, though severely tested, did not falter." Indeed. Considering that love is action as well as feeling and words, I presume that was demonstrated when you...pressured her to choose you and forsake her parents instead of supporting her? When you decided that she was defective because she was depressed? When you said goodbye, went to Cambridge and left her? When she rang you *the day before she was dragged to her arranged marriage, begging you to say you wouldn't leave her, so she could come to you and you said you couldn't promise that*? Tell me, Parnesh: WHEN DID YOUR LOVE "NOT FALTER"?

As you can see, I'm very angry. Knowing I was too close, that the story pushed too many triggers, I sent the link to another good friend who has excellent insight into people and relationship patterns. He found it odd that you couldn't promise not to leave her, and thought that your choice was revenge for her initial rejection of you. He wondered, and I did too, if your obsession with her wasn't born of that first 'no'. Was this, in fact, simply an infatuation born of the chase and the drama of the unresolvable, rather than love? Thus, when the going got tough, there was nothing to make you unselfish, nothing to make you care for her more than you cared for yourself, nothing to make you want what was right for her.

But I want to give you the benefit of the doubt. I want to believe you loved her, but that you didn't know how to show it, that you felt helpless and lost too. You tell us you heard news of her over the years, that you shut it out. She rang you last summer to tell you of her life and to hear about yours...and you said you sensed an "unfathomable sorrow", that she wept.

Then, a few months later, she died by her own hand.

I have worked on a suicide prevention hotline. I have had a friend commit suicide. I have been suicidal. Over and over again, from so many angles, I have told people that someone's suicide is *not* their fault. I am about to say something to you that goes against every fibre of my being to say. It's one of the reasons I waited so long to write this entry, because it verges on the unbearable to say these words, but I feel I must: because of the choices you made, the support you didn't give, your hand was on that bottle with hers. I'm sorry, but the four words, "I'll never leave you" would have written a completely different ending for you both.

How do I know? Sit down, Parnesh, and let me tell you a story:

Once upon a time, twenty-two years ago, a young Pakistani woman and an American boy from the Midwest fell in love. She was about to enter her junior year of college, and they had two years of unshadowed bliss. Just before her college graduation, she made the heart-wrenching decision to break up with him because she felt it was unfair to her parents. After a month of misery, she decided she couldn't live without him, and asked him to take her back.

Shortly after her graduation, as expected, her parents presented her with a prospective groom. She took a deep breath and told them about her American boy. They agreed to meet him on the long weekend of 4th July, 1987. After that meeting, her parents took her money, cards, and car keys and forbade her to leave the house without them or meet anyone except for a few high school friends; I believe they even took her house keys, vetted her mail, kept a close eye on the phone bill.

But love wouldn't give up. Those close friends rang him for her. Box by box, she shipped her belongings to him. Then one day, in the middle of August 1987, one of those trusted friends picked her up and drove her to the Greyhound bus station, where she bought a ticket to the Midwest and a certain welcome but an uncertain ending.

They married in February 1988; her parents relented and they had a Muslim wedding that summer and moved back East, where they've lived ever since. They're celebrating their 19th anniversary with their 3 gorgeous sons, and he still thinks she's the most beautiful woman he's ever met. She still thinks he's not half-bad...

Her parents? They adore him; apparently, her mum takes *his* side in their arguments now.

And so, yes, "life being what it is," nothing is certain. Neither was going to Cambridge, but you did. Love, too, is a risk. You have to step off the edge of the cliff in trust to win. Had you given her that reassurance, the ending to the story of my cousin and her husband could have been yours.

You live in my city and walk along my river. I have chastised you, tried to give you the benefit of the doubt, let you be the focus for issues you brought roaring to the surface. What would I say to you if we met tomorrow?

You say, "
But she remained always in my thoughts, as do memories of the long journey to the confluence of the North and South Thompson, and those wild and distant places we once visited. I can no longer travel those roads. And never will. Sometimes even the vaguest wisp of the familiar brings back her world. But no matter how much I hide from any evocation of her, she is always there..." I would tell you that you *must* travel those roads, you must turn around and face the memories, the evocations, face the darkness and forgive her and yourself. You can never hide; you will always be found. Meet the demons at your chosen time on your terms. Never regret loving her, and never stop.

I'm not sure I know what else I would do, my feelings towards you are so mixed. Do I want to yell at you and shake you until your teeth rattle? Yes. Do I want to comfort you in your grief? Yes.

Do I hope that every night for the rest of your life, you think of her and dream of her and weep - just a little - for her?

I do.