Wednesday, 31 December 2008

I've always...

...leaned towards reincarnation as a viable theory. Blame my Hindu ancestors or my mystical bent, or the fact that I've always felt that babies have this, "Oh shit, what am I doing here again?" look or can even appear incredibly wise.

There are also so many people that I mentally qualify as old souls, young souls, on their umpteenth go-round with THAT issue, that it's probably REALLY part of my conceptual framework already.

Of course, it also comes up in my own life with people with whom I think, "We've been here before, this is feeling REALLY familiar," or places that feel familiar that shouldn't.

I have a theory - one that was generated with my friend Anni late one night on the phone, years ago - that the afterlife is a bar with an infinite number of pool tables. Close groups that are to reincarnate together end up playing around the same pool table, discussing their most recent past lives, working out future relationships and issues, and saying things like..."OH GOD, NO. PLEASE LET HIM PASS. I CAN'T POSSIBLY DATE. HIM. ONE. MORE. TIME." or "OI, babe, you coming? You SO have to hear what I'm planning to get up to this time. What do you MEAN you're still pissed off about the time I was your mum and wouldn't let you go out with that jerk? Worked out for you, did it? Yeah, I SO did you a favour. Right hand pocket." *click*

A lot of times, these groups cluster in time and space: friendships from school, work, and so on. They just fall into place where you are. Other conversations probably sound like this: "Ok, ok, wait, let me get this straight: you're going to be born when??? TEN years after me. WHERE? Bora Bora? And I'm stuck in New Hampshire? How the hell is THAT supposed to work? FFS. Right, with whom do you overlap here? Ok, I can make it to Sydney in 2005. You? Hmmm." Somehow, it all falls into place.

Varying bond strengths, from weak hydrogen to powerful ionic bonds (that, as Ari once said, 'make it seem as if there are magnets attached to your heads') exist between members of groups. Of course, there are probably several other pool tables involved. Charlie Epps of Numb3rs would have a field day.

99.99% of the time, I have a good giggle and consider turning it into a book.

Then I run into that extraordinary someone who makes it seem very real - one who bypasses all the personality crap and hits the soul stuff. Someone who just...knows. And I can hear the conversation at the pool table:

"You've got to be kidding me. There's NO. WAY. this is going to happen."
"Of course it is. We ALWAYS manage."
"No, LOOK AT WHAT WE'VE DECIDED. I'm here in time and space. You're THERE. No. fucking. way."
"Excuse me, but yes. fucking. way."
"No. Every other time was easier. Closer times, closer space. How do you expect us, once we're human, to make the decisions that get us there? Too many variables. And look. There's so much that should, by rights, mean we won't exchange more than two sentences."
"Irim - that's what you're going by this time, right? - we will. When have we not?"
"Listen, even if I were at the pool table furthest from here, you KNOW we'd find eachother. Because it's what we do."
*Defeated sigh* "Ok. Do you want to plan it?"
"No. I'll see you there and then. Trust me." *Wicked grin*
*Inarticulate irimtated growl of rage*

Then, after a myriad of decisions on both parts, one day, you turn a corner, and there you both are. And before there is even a flicker of conscious recognition, you know what's happening at soul level:

"Well, hello. You won't mind if I say, 'I told you so.'"
*Rolls eyes* "Yes, dear. So this is there and then, eh?
Ready for another ride on this roller coaster?"
"Then get your ass in that front car and scooch over."

Saturday, 27 December 2008

En la noche oscura...

I do tend to underestimate my clerical friends, especially the number of them that read this blog.

One sent me a quick note that made me want to smile and cry at the same time:

clerical friends are not 'just to be supported' - well not this one anyway. [snip] Take care you...

Ps. John of the Cross in Spanish? oh yes - I think you would love it. He is not about depression at all... the dark night when read in spanish is electric and passionate... it's very you. just read the poem, forget the rest. x

*Hug*, hon, and thank you - you know who you are.

I've only ever read the poem in translation, or heard Loreena McKennitt's song adapted from it. It has always struck me as beautiful, but...electric? I could see the passion, but it felt sanitised; it didn't grab me. I loved the idea of being guided by the night more surely than by day, because I have always preferred moonlight to sunlight; the night's darkness and being guided by intuition to the day's bright glare and the guidance of logic and the outer senses. So despite my doubts, I always have had an affinity for it.

Oh. my. God. I had forgotten how much gets lost in translation. 'Electric and passionate' was the perfect description of the original. The sense of breathless movement, passionate searching for the beloved, and the joy of finding the beloved is just...incredible.

Lines like these just took my breath away:

¡Oh noche que guiaste!
¡oh noche amable más que la alborada!;
¡oh noche que juntaste,
Amado con amada,
amada en el Amado transformada!

[Oh night that guided me!
Oh night more lovely than the dawn!
Oh night that united
beloved with the lover,
the lover transformed in the Beloved!]

[note the use of the second person informal throughout, making the night familiar, a friend, not a feared stranger; also, please note that I have reservations re: amable = lovely, as it usually translates to 'kind', but I chose to keep the classic translation, unsure of older meanings.]

I was swept away - home. And so I leave you with the original Spanish version of San Juan de la Cruz. You know where to get a translation if you need one; what I want you to feel is the sweeping passion and breathless movement of the original.

Hang on tight. Or rather, don't.

San Juan de la Cruz
En una noche oscura

En una noche oscura,
con ansias, en amores inflamada,
¡oh dichosa ventura!,
salí sin ser notada,
estando ya mi casa sosegada;

a escuras y segura
por la secreta escala, disfrazada,
¡oh dichosa ventura!,
a escuras y encelada,
estando ya mi casa sosegada;

en la noche dichosa,
en secreto, que nadie me veía
ni yo miraba cisa,
sin otra luz y guía
sino la que en el corazón ardía.

Aquesta me guiaba
más cierto que la luz del mediodía
adonde me esperaba
quien yo bien me sabía
en parte donde naide parecía.

¡Oh noche que guiaste!
¡oh noche amable más que la alborada!;
¡oh noche que juntaste,
Amado con amada,
amada en el Amado transformada!

En mi pecho florido,
que entero para él solo se guardaba,
allí quedó dormido,
y yo le regalaba,
y el ventalle de cedros aire daba.

El aire del almena,
cuando yo sus cabellos esparcía,
con su mano serena
en mi cuello hería,
y todos mis sentidos suspendía.

Quedéme y olvidéme,
el rostro recliné sobre el Amado;
cesó todo y dejéme,
dejando mi cuidado
entre las azucenas olvidado.

Friday, 26 December 2008

I can't help...

...searching for favourite songs on Youtube on Boxing Day. Today, this one was the one I wanted to listen to over and over again.

I fell in love with this version when I first heard it. At the risk of being sacrilegious, I think it's 10x better than Elvis'. There's something about the quality of Corey Hart's voice - the tentativeness, the tenderness, as well as Corey's range - that suits this song infinitely better than Elvis' did.

The simple, unadulterated vocals give it the aching vulnerability that is the essence of the song, lost in UB40's version.

The way he sings my favourite line of the song, the question:

Shall I stay - or would it be a sin?

brings tears to my eyes. You can see him reaching for her cheek, the tips of his fingers brushing her hair.

Perfect. (Yes, I'm a hopeless romantic. But you should have known that already.)

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Christmas void

I'm not feeling the love. Or the magick.

When I was growing up in the States, long before I converted, I'd stay up in bed till after midnight Christmas morning with the sense that something special was happening, and I had to be awake for it. Shortly after midnight, I'd fall asleep, cradled, safe in the knowledge that the magick surrounded me.

Christmas always had that feeling, and after I converted, it was even better, because now, I was part of it.

But for the last two years, nothing. 25 December has been just another day. Part of me is terrified that what has happened is akin to what happens with me in relationships or situations where I've been unhappy/accommodating for too long: one day, I wake up and something has snapped. There's no feeling, no desire to keep trying, nothing. Whatever it was is broken.

It's known as the INFJ doorslam. It takes a long time to get me there, but once I'm there, it's not that the door is permanently shut. It's that there is no longer a door.

Not Christmas, please.

It used to be that I'd get excited about buying cards and presents in October/early November. I'd have my cards by 15 November; they'd be posted out by 1 December. The real anticipation began with "Carols from Kings", getting ready, followed by walking down to Midnight Mass/carols at 10pm Christmas Eve night. The beauty of the church, the carols, the first strains of 'O come all ye faithful'. (Note: those who wish to petition the O to have Midnight Mass in sung LATIN rather than English, let me know.) All of it used to help me reach kairos, where I could be in the manger at the Christ Child's bedside.

The last two years, I've been stuck firmly in chronos. To quote people suffering burnout speaking to Rachel Remen, "I don't know what's wrong with me. Terrible [and in my case, great] things happen in front of me and I feel nothing."

For someone for whom reading and picking up emotional resonances is easier than reading a book in her native language, it's like being stripped of a sense...of an ability you've always had. It's not the most comfortable feeling in the world.

I take comfort in Rachel Remen's explanation: we burn out because we don't grieve. We're so full of emotion, we can't hold anything else. As she points out, psychopaths don't burn out.

So she's reassuring me that I'm not a psychopath. *Phew*

But she is telling me that I need to unload. A lot.

As one of my friends said to me a week ago, "Irim, you've worked through a lot of emotional stuff lately, you've been working, learning and still supporting every person who needs you. And you're surprised because you're exhausted, cranky and you don't give a toss about Christmas. I'm not. You haven't stopped to process ANY OF IT. You HAVE to do it. Stop processing for everyone else."

Fair point. Now that I've stopped, it's all caught up with me. So, what to do?

I've heard the suggestion that I should talk to one of my numerous clerical friends. Reasonable suggestion. But, well, no.

"???????" I hear.

I can't. I just...can't. For me, clerical friends are to *be supported*. They get enough emotional drama crap from every Catholic who thinks they need a priest to sort out their lives; they don't need it from me. And whilst I love to challenge my men in black, I wouldn't DREAM of asking them to deal with my challenges. Many clerics are seriously uncomfortable with dealing with negative emotions: anger, conflict, sadness, doubt. Bring up a crisis of faith? Youch. That goes to the heart of their, can't mess with that.

And the ones who can deal? Well, every emotionally psychic vampire in the church (and the conservative wing has more than their share, as a lot of people here are using traddiness to fill a void) has already latched onto them. They need a shoulder; they don't need to BE a shoulder.

No, my spiritual conversations and support come from an eclectic spiritual community outside the church, which include the likes of Ari, Christine, Vera, and so on. The heart-to-hearts and long discussions on the nature of God and the directions in which our faith is taking us are blessed oases on my spiritual path. Often, they are huge pushes forward. But still, not the place to deal with this emptiness, because it's not about my faith in God; that's still there peeking out from behind the faces of my friends and events in my life.

So...where to?

For me, music.

Advent, Christmas and Epiphany have carols with some of the most wonderful and salient lyrics. I find these lyrics recurring at odd moments, so maybe I need to stop and listen:

Fear not to enter His courts in the slenderness
Of the poor wealth thou wouldst reckon as thine
Truth in its beauty, and love in its tenderness
These are the offerings to lay on His shrine

Ah. Maybe that's it. Maybe it's...about what I think I owe God.

Maybe it's about thinking that I have to BE something or FEEL something to earn God's grace. I'm very given to that way of thinking because I'm very given to the idea that one needs to make a difference, that one needs to DO to prove that they have any real faith at all. One of my favourite quotes is Gibran's "Your daily life is your temple and your religion", but perhaps I have been using it the wrong way: your faith should permeate your life, both being and doing; you shouldn't use your faith as a rod to drive yourself to exhaustion, doing what you feel needs to be done.

Let your actions FLOW from your faith rather than drive yourself to PROVE your faith.

Big difference, not least because the second framework means you judge others harshly for not living up to a standard of perfection you expect of yourself. It leaves no room for humanity.


I don't mind entering God's courts without material wealth. That doesn't bother me in the least. I fear entering God's courts in the slenderness of not having been there enough, listened enough, offered enough, tried to change enough, made my corner of the world better enough. Even tonight, I sat with my Christmas dinner balanced on my lap, counselling a friend online.

Enough. It may be my gift, but it doesn't need to be on tap all the time. Occasionally, it needs to be shut off at the mains. Or maybe, I need to let it flow through me rather than *do* it. My gift is to be a vessel for it and remember from whence it cometh.

And how does that tie into Christmas? Expectation. The insistence that I CAN'T be tired, that I HAVE to feel it every year, or I've failed.

The child in the manger wants ME, not the person *I* think I should be. It is, as Rachel Remen reminds us, about wholeness, not perfection.

And there's a glimmer of a star in the East of the void.

Meanwhile, I'm wrapping up in my slanket, processing, having the odd good cry, letting go of the need to BE in a Christmas mood, and entering the Lord's courts in the beauty of truth and love in its tenderness:

I am that I am.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Jossela, Miriam...

Ok, I'm changing font size. We'll see how this works.

H/T to Reiza, who put this up on her blog as a superb explanation of the differences between Chanukkah and Christmas. I'm particularly appreciating it as a Jewish couple came into work today, and my blood pressure plummeted the moment I heard the man say, "Baruch Hashem" [loosely, "Thank God"]. They nearly gave themselves whiplash when I wished them "Chanukkah sameach", and we had a lovely chat about the school where I taught. I felt a warm glow as they left, as if from...a menorah and latkes frying gently in the kitchen.

*Shakes head*

Having said that, I know this is irreverent, and even more so on Christmas Eve, but raise your hand if you can imagine me saying this to Joseph just before he travels off to Bethlehem (preferably in my new, beautiful, Limoges blue slanket):

12. Many Christians believe in the virgin birth. Jews think, “Yossela, Bubela, snap out of it. Your woman is pregnant, you didn’t sleep with her, and now you want to blame G-d? Here’s the number of my shrink”.

*Raises hand abashedly* Yeah, me too.

See you at Midnight Mass.

[ETA: Please read the comment section and join in. It's better than the entry.]

Monday, 22 December 2008


more animals

The first comment under this, made by Attila, was "I, for one, welcome our feline overlords."

I would just like to add that I particularly welcome our new feline priesthood, particularly the pope.

Finally,*appropriate* cattiness in the Catholic hierarchy. Which, interestingly, would also be banished by a healthy, liberal influx, as observation shows that on the whole, it's a narrow band of younger, more orthodox, repressed men sweeping in the innuendo and perpetual nastiness in the name of 'saving the church from evil liberals'.

Frankly, we liberals are sick of getting knocked for taking on the Church directly - where you can hit us back - and watching the Grima Wormtongues run rampant, destroying the church with their rumours and perpetual subtle digs at everyone around them.

Grow up, get some therapy, and work out who you really are. And remember:

The more you claim morality as yours and yours alone, the more amoral you are likely to be.

And your particular version of right-wing Catholicism is almost as amoral as it gets.

Be warned: I, and others like me, will fight you all the way. Before you destroy the Church we criticise because we *know* and *are invested in* its capability to become what God meant it to be.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Obsession v Secret Obsession - and the winner is...

...Obsession, the 80s classic. By a landslide.

Let's compare:

Top notes: Mandarin, bergamot, greens
Heart notes: Orange blossom, Jasmine, Sandalwood, coriander, rose and spices
Base notes: Vetiver, Amber, Frankincense, Oakmoss, vanilla, civet

(Interesting note: a friend once gave me vanilla musk from Body Shop, saying it reminded her of me)

Secret Obsession

Top: exotic plum, mace, rose Damascena
Heart: French orange blossom, Egyptian jasmine, tuberose, plum, woods

Base: cashmere woods*, burnt amber, Australian sandalwood

When I first went looking for a signature scent in September 2004, I didn't want to like Obsession. Really, I didn't. I wanted something warm and woody, for sure. But 1985's Obsession by CK??? WAY too tacky.

Hunt I did, at Boots and Debenhams. The women's scents were all too floral, too light. And anything with grapefruit will smell like cat piss on me after about an hour. Most citruses were right out.

But I kept spraying Obsession in the air and sniffing it. No, I insisted, I wanted mostly sandalwood, patchouli, ylang-ylang. But...I was falling in love. With THAT perfume.

Determined not to fold, I went to the men's section. Nothing. Stuff that might make grab the lapels of my male friends and go, "Don't worry, I'm not going to jump you, I just want to inhale (read: Obsession for Men - do we sense a theme?) for a few minutes." But none of it smelled quite right.

Finally, I took the plunge. I sprayed some Obsession on my wrist and continued shopping.

Game over. Rich, warm, spicy with the smell of vanilla lingering at the end...I was hooked. There are many kinds of sensual and sexy, and this scent dovetailed with my definition perfectly: more sultry, mysterious and dark than light and playful. More reminiscent of kohl-lined eyes, colourful, sensual fabrics and heat than the lighter Marilyn Monroe/Audrey Hepburn version of sexiness in fashion now.

Last time I ran out, a few months ago, I remembered I had some Body Shop sandalwood perfume oil, so I decided to take a break and use it for a while. Secret Obsession came out whilst I was on a break, so when the time came to decide last weekend, I re-sprayed Obsession on one wrist, but without thinking, rubbed it against the other, as is my wont.

Damn. Secret Obsession on back of right hand. Boy, was I sorry.
Despite the promise of the ingredients, the top notes smelled like Aquanet. Unfortunately, I didn't need my hair to hold position in a hurricane-force wind.

"Ok," I thought. "It's a top note, give it a chance."
I thought I might be prejudiced because several reviewers have had issues with its top and heart notes. Despite claiming sandalwood, jasmine, woods and amber as heart and base notes, Secret Obsession - which by its name should have been richer and deeper than the original - petered out into a light, floral scent that belonged on someone like Miley Cyrus, lacking the depth and edge of the original.

Which smelled as beautiful as ever on my wrists.

Secret Obsession an adolescent/very young adult fragrance, whereas Obsession's more complex fragrance belongs on a grown woman.

So I washed my hands.

President Obama, repeal the global gag rule

...on 21 January 2009.

More on what the global gag rule actually is here.

It is unbelievable that a country so rich in opportunity and resources would tie such horrific strings to money that means the difference between life and death. Abortion is LEGAL in the States, how DARE you insist that any aid money you give be tied to condemning it elsewhere? How DARE you kill people in the name of your own personal, rigid, black and white belief? This is relief money, and you have NO idea of the complexities and depth of their need. You have no idea what it means to force a woman raped by soldiers to carry a child to term, nor do you have any right to deny a mother whose life is endangered by her pregnancy the right to terminate it. Let the people who do know use the money unfettered, in the best ways they know how.

Charity should never have strings attached.

And as in the case of all things one tries to ban - the example of alcohol during Prohibition comes to mind - the consequences are never what you expect them to be. The impact on women's health has been catastrophic, and as is always the case, when women's health is damaged, there aren't just ripples, there are tidal waves. Read the executive summary of the report Access Denied here.

Lives over ideology, every time.

So, President Obama, welcome, and may your historic inauguration on 20 January go down as one of the most memorable in history. But on 21 January, whip out that pen and let's give women - and thus, everyone - in the developing world a fighting chance. Repeal the global gag rule.

Watch the video below and add your signature to the petition here.

Am I worried about excommunication latae sententiae for signing the petition and publicly asking others to join me in signing it? About priests/clerics who will tell me I should abstain from communion - or that they won't give it to me - the way the Bishop of Scranton warned Joe Biden he would be refused communion if he showed up at a Scranton communion rail?

Am I, f***.

In the first place, my priests have the wonderfully good sense to leave it to my conscience as to whether or not I receive communion.

Second, my conscience is absolutely clear on this - it won't even enter the confessional. Repealing the global gag rule is about saving lives. Women and children are dying - the global gag rule's impact on prenatal and maternal care, on HIV/AIDS, etc. is tremendous. Even if all I can do is sign a petition and donate a bit of money, it's what I HAVE to do.

To quote a favourite poster: Stand up for what is right, even if you're standing alone.

In my church, I most certainly will be alone on this.

But that's ok, because in my spiritual community and my world, I'm linked arm in arm with many others.

And I know that even if the Church excommunicates me, God most certainly won't.

(H/T Melissa at Shakesville)

An addition to the funny Nativity play stable

Pun intended.

My friend and I were chatting, as you do when you need to catalogue a book titled Civil society and international development and are desperately trying to avoid correcting the somewhat crap record.

She told me a story passed on by a friend whose colleague had been to his child's Nativity play:

There was a child with autism playing the innkeeper. During Monday afternoon's dress rehearsal, Mary & Joseph knocked on the door and asked if there was any room at the inn. The innkeeper repeated his line perfectly, saying, "No I'm sorry."

On the Tuesday night, which was the actual performance, Mary & Joseph duly went up to the inn and knocked on the door, which was then opened by the innkeeper:

Joseph: Is there any room at the inn?

Innkeeper: No there isn't, and I told you that last night, so fuck off!

Now, I couldn't stop laughing, and am still having trouble keeping a straight face. After all, one can hear so many children saying that after far too many rehearsals. One can also hear the actual innkeeper saying that, after trooping down to the door to answer the gazillionth knock, thinking, "Bloody !"£$%^&*()(*&^%$£ census!"

But here, there's a point to be made. We often forget that things we take for granted need to be explained. In this case, it's obvious: autistic children take things *literally*, so the concept of a play and having to repeat the same line over because it's 'make-believe' needed to be explained clearly to the young lad playing the innkeeper. He did nothing wrong; he was just living his role.

Albeit less obviously than the young innkeeper, we all live our roles - those we choose for ourselves and those placed on us by others. And in our lives, the need to be clear can be equally obscure. We need to remember that others don't live in our heads, don't think the same way we do, and that needing to explain things outside the normal societal consensus (e.g., what we're upset about, what's going on in our heads) is *natural* and doesn't mean that someone else doesn't care. Then we need to remember to listen when others are trying to explain to us.

That's the power of love.

Fitting lesson from a Nativity play, non?

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Tuesday, 16 December 2008 Manhunters

This week, it's "Manhunters: Meet the Gigolo".

Clare and I haven't stopped laughing and squirming yet, and it's 23 minutes in. My chest hurts.

Since my computer was on (obviously), we decided to check out the male escort site that hired the Italian, Rico, who had come to London from Milan, hoping to see if we could find someone we'd put our money together and hire for the 'boyfriend' experience.

As we scrolled through, we discovered a couple of interesting things. For example, we're both traditionalists when it comes to men's hair - we prefer short back and sides. I wouldn't have thought she was, and I thought I was over my traditional male hair phase - I thought I was a bit more open than that.

And I have to confess, to my shame, ZZ Top is describing me when they sing:

Clean shirt, new shoes
And I don't know where I am going to.
Silk suit, black tie,
I don't need a reason why.
They come runnin' just as fast as they can
Coz every girl crazy 'bout a sharp dressed man.

Gold watch, diamond ring,
I ain't missin' a single thing.
Cufflinks, stick pin,
When I step out, I'm gonna do you in.

When I was young(er), I always swore he'd have to be a man in a suit. Again, I thought I'd outgrown that...but if I examine it more closely, that particular 'requirement', as it were, has changed. Now, if you do understated elegance - lose the diamond ring, show me 1/4-1/2 inch of cuff, wear *real* cologne (e.g., Trumper's Sandalwood rather than Lynx) - you ARE going to do me in: my head will turn so fast, I'll get whiplash. It's not the money; it's the...self-assurance, the alpha-maleness that often comes with it. There's nothing as sexy as a man who knows who he is and isn't afraid to be that person. And yes, I'm aware that there's an irony in saying that about what's essentially a uniform, but it's HOW it's worn that matters - you can tell by his bearing, by how he moves. It's only truly sexy if a man wears it like it's his second skin. If he's just trying to ape the image, it's as unsexy as it gets. That's true about anything.

Therein lies the rub (*snort*, hahahaha) with these male escorts - they're flashy, insecure and just...slimy. Honestly? Because they're set up by men, they're far better as *gay* sites, because these men are setting up sites for what they want. Women don't want (to quote one of the sites) a 'dildo on legs'. I, like most other women, will stick to the Rabbit, thanks.

To be honest, this is really beginning to sound like a lot of male projection to me. Let's take a look at part of Rico's personal statement, shall we?

Let him prepare for you every time a different juicy recipe to slowly taste and remember, to enjoy and open your centre of pleasure.

Is he really thinking about my pleasure?

Sounds to me like the most elaborate request for a blow job ever.

Not a single woman I know - I suspect not even Samantha from SATC - would go down after that. We'd all be too busy collapsed in a heap of giggles on the bed or the floor.

Yeah, this is sounding like a masturbatory (not mutual) exercise.

The conclusion of the presenter that "Women lining up to pay for sex? That sounds like a male fantasy, not a female one"?

Finally, someone on this programme has hit the G-spot.

I want this...

Ok, this is now JUST behind the slanket in the Christmas stakes. I want this t-shirt so badly I can taste it. And I have a number of candidates for the collared one...

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Bizarrely sweet

This week has been one for odd conversations.

Today, I'd just settled into an afternoon of church reception when a clerical friend passed by to enter church, but the wedding that had started over an hour earlier still hadn't finished.

"How long do [these] weddings last?"
"Well, it's been over an hour, usually they'd be done by now."

And at the point where the conversation would stray into rubrics/liturgical discussions/etc., he nearly left me speechless:

"So, how long will your wedding be, then?"
"Depends on how many of you are on the sanctuary."
"We would love to see you wedded."
[Language note: I would use 'wed', as I think of 'wedded' as more...modern? Also more specifically for the phrase 'wedded to (an idea, plan, etc.)'. Interesting. His language is usually so precise, I'd have expected 'wed' from him as well.]
"Well, so would I. Then there would be the fight about who would baptise the kids."
"There's going to be a fight? So, is there a man?"
"Well, I need to find a man who can handle me."
"Ah yes, a man who can handle Irim. We want to know what he's like."
"Me too. I'd like to meet him."
"So would the rest of Oxford, Irim. We all think he'll be tall, dark, butch and brutal." That last adjective, spoken with emphasis, made me flinch - though he didn't mean ill by it, brutal is a hard word, it' *angry* word. I know he meant a man who could tell me, "Irim, you're out of line," not someone who would slap me around, and not someone who could deliberately inflict suffering on others. He'd never put up with a person who could do that.

I laughed and responded, "I think you're possibly right with the first three."

OK, so far, you get the bizarre, ja?

But the sweet? Well, it's hard to explain. I once had a similar conversation with another cleric who said to me, with feeling, "We think you'd be incredible in a relationship and an *amazing* mother."

These are moments when they let me know that they see me as something other than the angry, liberal Catholic woman or the sensible person you can ask to do just about anything that needs doing. It's their way of saying they'd like to see me happy. It's their way of saying, "Ok, we treat you like an angry bitch, but we really do see you as a woman." Yes, I know the feminist in me should be angry/offended/whatever, according to some.

Instead, it just makes me go "Awwwwwwwwwwww" and melt. It's a slip of the tough mask usually worn with me, and I find that very endearing.

And in the case of today's cleric, I was taken aback because this is someone who usually gives me no quarter - he's almost always unrelentingly tough with me, though ever polite and kind. Today, there was an undercurrent of gentleness and affection in his voice that was as heartwarming and welcome as it was unexpected - and something I never expected to hear till the day he gave me extreme unction.

Feminist I may be, but that doesn't preclude me wanting to be a wife and mother -
and I find it very moving when others tell me they wish that for me. After all, feminism was always about opportunity and CHOICE, not contempt for those who don't make the same choices we do.

Oh, collared friend - you've been rumbled, you big softie. :-)

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Letter to a friend


It's just me.

I wanted to let you know that I was thinking of you Sunday as I wandered along South Bank next to the London Eye, looking out at the the most beautiful part of London's skyline in the glorious winter light. My heart should have been full to bursting with joy at the sight of the first city I ever really fell in love with. Instead, I gazed out with nearly unseeing eyes, pretending it was the breeze off the river making my eyes water. My heart was heavy and I was desperately trying to put on a happy face before meeting Ali and David.

But all I could do was reflect on our friendship, from the moment (or half an hour) of mutual understanding when we first met, through long emails, long evenings and lots of laughter. I remember being able to talk to you about anything and everything; you being able to laugh at yourself; hours spent laughing till we cried; being able to say, "Hey, I need to talk," and having you be right there.

Inch by inch, over the years, I've watched that - and you - slip away. I've heard the lies become more elaborate and more frequent (and yes, I know) ; I've taken the brunt of inexplicable snaps of anger that you forget about, but I don't; I've watched you lose interest in things you used to be passionate about; I've watched you stop laughing - both at yourself and at life.

Before I say to you what I need to say, let me apologise. I need to apologise for not having the integrity to do this face-to-face and deal with the consequences, though I've touched on it in the all-too-brief windows where you've brought it up. I apologise for every time I've put my hand on a wine bottle to pour for you. For every time I didn't say, "You don't look well." For every time I didn't challenge you. No, no one else is, true, but challenge is what I DO, and for me not to have done it in our friendship is unforgivable. Now it is a matter of life and death, I think, and you deserved far better from me.

If it is at all possible, hear this and know that I do not hate you, though I know that's what it will feel like. Know that I see in you immense potential and many gifts, and that above all, you are incredibly lovable and loved by more people than you know, even at your darkest. Maybe if you could feel that, if you could know that you are loved when you are angry, depressed, hurt, vulnerable, you wouldn't be here. I know no other way of letting you know that but through words and by being here.

I'm afraid it's not enough.

And now, here is what I have to say, what I should have said to you face-to-face, but this is the only way I know to really speak to you anymore:

You are an addict and despite the fact that you appear to be functioning normally, you are in deep trouble.

I'm sorry I didn't tell you earlier.

How do I know, you ask defensively? Your paleness, the sweating, the fact that you're not eating properly - and yes, I know you lied. But what scared me most was that when I went to hug you, your stomach didn't give. That means we're not talking fat; I suspect we're talking ascites, which means that you're in some stage of cirrhosis, and I'm guessing later rather than earlier. I'm guessing you're not eating because you *can't* - it makes you feel ill, because you can no longer process your food properly. To put it simply and starkly:

Cirrhosis is a serious condition. Only 30 per cent of patients with this problem will survive five years after diagnosis and the outlook is worse if the cause is alcohol and the patient continues to drink.

That means you need to face this. Not after Christmas, not tomorrow. NOW.

Know that this doesn't mean I'm going to say it and walk away. If you want help, I'll be here to help move mountains to make sure you get it.

Yes, I know you may think it sounds judgmental or pompous or hateful. You may well think I've betrayed you. I think I'm ready for that, though I'd really rather not be.

But before you snap at me about how it's your life and doesn't affect anyone else's, let me tell you only a few ways in which you're wrong.

The tightness of your friends' voices when we talk about you, the masks we wear, the worry beneath them - even the smartass comments of some - would speak volumes, as would those words we don't say. Your name gets mentioned and whatever ease was in the room flows out faster than sh** downhill. Masks get put on; words are guarded. When you come up, we can't even talk to each other.

I heard echoes of us in the voice of a woman who was looking for help for her husband, a cocaine addict. He had used coke almost every day, gone into rehab, and was now slipping about once every eight weeks or so. I gently suggested AA or NA, but she said that he felt he was beyond that and that he didn't want to be with people in the full grip of addiction and be reminded of how he had been at his lowest. I heard our voices in her attempt to deny that he was still addicted; her weariness; her desperation.

It was a bit too close to home for comfort.

What about me? Let me lay it on the line: you are one of my inner circle friends. That means that to me, you are one of the people who really knows me: one of the people who can handle me when I'm angry, depressed, stressed out, sad, unable to be the supportive friend to everyone and everything. I'll never forget times like the one where you said to me, "That's the second time tonight you've been really down on yourself. What's going on? You ok?" You were always one of the people who could take care of me, not just be taken care of by me. Those moments were always worth so much more than they might have seemed to you, because I knew I was absolutely safe. No more. Now I'm always on eggshells, trying to avoid the next moment of unpredictable lashing out, grateful for the eggshell walking practice I had growing up.

What you've done for me in those moments and beyond is incalculable. It has opened so many possibilities and made me a far better person. Thank you, more than you will ever know. Even if, God forbid, we were never to speak again, there is a place in the inner circle that will ever be yours. If you can't *feel* that because of what else I'm saying, *know* it.

Dealing with your addiction has made it harder for me to let people into my inner circle. It always was, true, but I had reached a balance. I knew I was less trusting than most, that I threw up a lot of tests, but I'd learned to recognise that and accomodate it. When you, someone already on the inner circle, became unpredictable and hurtful, difficult to trust, that created an imbalance. I'm getting balance back, but it hasn't been easy. I expect angry friends to act like you; I can't quite trust friends who want to catch me when I need support, because I expect them to use it against me. Yes, it's feeding on something already there and it's my responsibility to sort it, but it doesn't mean that the effect of others is negligible.

Then, there is the fear.

The fear that one day, I will answer my phone to the news that will shatter my world the way a rifle shot shatters the air around it, never to be the same again.

I'm not afraid every day or every minute. Every so often, I wonder. When your STD code shows up on my phone, I freeze, briefly, afraid it's one of your friends or colleagues going through your phone, making the phone call none of us ever want to have to make.

Those are only a few of the ways in which your addiction affects some of those who care about you. I can't speak for anyone else, I can only speak for myself. And it boils down to this:

I miss you so much, it feels like I'm grieving already. Like I've grieved over and over again.

What do I want from you, I can hear you asking. Above all else, I want you to be happy. I don't know what that means for you or where it will take you, but I do know that it means that you have to be whole, that you can't be hiding from yourself and trying to amputate parts of yourself that you don't think you should have. I know it means you have to face the demons you've been numbing with drink, and all I have to offer is that the shadows are often much bigger than the demons themselves, of whom it could be said:

Everywhere I see bliss, from which I alone am irrevocably excluded. I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous.

You've seen them as evil, imprisoned them, tried to kill them...let them in, face them, and I think you'll find that they are born of pain and grief that you've never let yourself feel. Those feelings are nothing to fear. Trust me, you'll find more gifts and more wholeness in them than you could imagine. Let yourself become whole.

I'm not promising you that it will be easy or that it will feel good. There will be times it will hurt like hell, times you'd rather be dead or with a bottle in your hand. Finding yourself is hard enough if you've been committed to it your whole life; it's a hundred times harder if you've been running.

But I can promise you friends who love you, who will cheer for you, who will stretch out their hands to you. We can't walk the darkness for you, but we can walk WITH you and be there for you. I promise you, if you put ONE fingertip within reach on the edge of that abyss, someone will have your hand. Please, give us a chance. Please.

Because watching you die is killing me.


Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Flash of insight

Ari and I tend to have three conversations going at once on MSN: the normal one, one in square brackets [] and one in curvy brackets {}...of course, they cross over quite a lot. Below is a square bracket conversation that gave me a huge amount of insight. I don't think any commentary from me is needed, but comments are most welcome:

Irim says (23:08):
[is Maahi ve addictive, or is it just me?]
Ari says (23:08):
[Not as much as the songs from K3G, but I can see how it could be.]
Ari says (23:09):
[I'm not addicted to it because all the videos I can find are jerky, and I haven't seen the film.]
Ari says (23:09):
[It's different if you've seen the film, no?]
Irim says (23:09):
[oh yeah. Agreed. SRK's sacrifice...SOB]
Irim says (23:11):
[weirdly, I'm finding Maahi ve...SOOTHING]
Ari says (23:11):
Ari says (23:11):
[What does it have that you need?]
Irim says (23:11):
[It's like being with my cousins and aunts and uncles when they were around and young and happy]
Irim says (23:11):
[it's like the summers in Pakistan]
Irim says (23:12):
Ari says (23:12):
[You were meant for that kind of dynamic really, weren't you?]
Irim says (23:12):
Irim says (23:13):
[the culture fusion? Or the SRKajol dynamic/SRK and verbal sparring female?]
Ari says (23:13):
[The close large family with lots of colour and music.]
Irim says (23:13):
Ari says (23:13):
[All of it, really, but that in particular.]
Irim says (23:14):
[it's why I'm so jealous of friends with big families who are really close]
Irim says (23:14):
[I was meant for an extended family
Irim says (23:14):
and the person who said they could see my husband and me coming down the steps on a Saturday morning with 20 kids on the family room floor
Ari says (23:15):
[LOL ]
Irim says (23:15):
and looking at eachother and going 'Erm, did we have this many?'
Ari says (23:15):
[LOL ]
Irim says (23:15):
'Erm, no'
Irim says (23:15):
'Are all of ours here?'
Irim says (23:15):
'1...2...3...4...' yup
Irim says (23:16):
Ok that's fine. Let's go back to bed, they're asleep, we'll deal with breakfast later'
Irim says (23:16):
That's me.
Ari says (23:16):
Irim says (23:16):
I was told I would be the neighbourhood mum. I believe that.
Irim says (23:16):
And that's the kind of man I would marry.
Irim says (23:19):
it's that kind of man I need to be with.
Ari says (23:20):
It is the only kind of man you could be with.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

An Oratorian Christmas Carol

It's Ellen's fault. She started it.

My Facebook status mentioned the MC at mass last night, and she asked why the Oratory couldn't say mass with less than a heavenly host.

I responded with the standard Oratorian light bulb joke:

You know the light bulb joke? How many Oratorians does it take to change a light bulb?

Answer 1: None. Why change?
Answer 2: A celebrant, deacon, subdeacon, thurifer, two acolytes, MC....

El then said, "And a partridge in a pear tree?"

That was it. It had to be done. El, I've changed three (again) so it scans (French hens gives us only two syllables) and ten to 'lace-albed' - hope that's ok. So, sharing credit with Miss Ellen Robertson, I present you with...the Oratorian Christmas carol:

On the first day of Xmas my true love gave to me: a thurifer in a pear tree.
On the second day of Xmas, my true love gave to me: two acolytes and a thurifer in a pear tree.
On the third day of Xmas, my true love gave to me: three subdeacons, two acolytes and a thurifer...
On the fourth day of Xmas, my true love gave to me: Four candelabras, ... three subdeacons….
On the fifth day of Xmas, my true love gave to me: FIVE GOLDEN COPES!!!!!!, four candelabras….
On the sixth day of Xmas, my true love gave to me: Six altar candles, FIVE GOLDEN COPES!!!!, four candelabras….
On the seventh day of Xmas, my true love gave to me: Seven servers serving, six altar candles…..
On the eighth day of Xmas, my true love gave to me: eight tri-peak birettas, seven servers serving, six altar candles….
On the ninth day of Xmas, my true love gave to me: nine lace-albed priests [one was a bishop so he was wearing a mitre rather than a biretta], eight
tri-peak birettas….
On the tenth day of Xmas, my true love gave to me: ten silken maniples, nine lace-albed priests [one was a bishop so he was wearing a mitre rather than a biretta], eight
tri-peak birettas….
On the eleventh day of Xmas, my true love gave to me: eleven Latin masses, ten
silken maniples, nine lace-albed priests [one was a bishop so he was wearing a mitre rather than a biretta], eight tri-peak birettas….
On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: twelve St Philip statues, eleven
Latin masses, ten silken maniples, nine lace-albed priests [one was a bishop so he was wearing a mitre rather than a biretta], eight tri-peak birettas….

Modifications/suggestions welcome, not least from the Oratorians themselves - this is a dynamic work :).

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Kal ho naa ho (Whether tomorrow comes or not/Tomorrow may never come)

I'm loving the juxtaposition of this entry with Baghdad St. and the fact that they happened on the same day.

Last night, I kicked back in front of white boy's computer to watch a film he's been bugging me to watch for years. Even though I was reintroduced to Bollywood about five years ago, I have to say, I've only seen Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham in full, IIRC, though CJ and others can correct me. Not out of any wish to avoid them, but because there are only a few people with whom I can watch them - white boy, as stated above; CJ, who's in the States; Almut, who's in London. Yaq is a possibility.

So, when I told white boy that I was coming to the big city, he asked what I wanted to do. I said that I still hadn't seen Kal ho naa ho (he'd shown me a snippet ages ago), so he suggested we watch that.

He insisted on using the English subtitles (which he finally found under 'Dutch' or something), which I tend to find distracting, and quite often, missing the sense of what was said. I was surprised, since his Urdu is miles better than mine, as he taught in Pakistan for several years.

So, when we were partway through the film, I asked him, "Erm, white boy, do you need the subtitles?"


"Oh," I said, trying not to sound surprised.

"It's Hindi and it's too colloquial."

My eyebrows nearly hit the ceiling. *I* don't need them, why should he? He lived there, colloquial would have been what he spoke; and Hindi and Urdu are like nearly identical twins, except for the script.

He carried on, "See, like right there. He said, 'paanj saal kilia'. It should be 'panj saal se' - He said 'for five years' and they always say 'since five years'."

Now, I could be wrong, but 'paanj saal kilia' didn't jar me - I'm sure I've heard it used more than once. I think it's valid. Yaq, if you have a thought on this, post a comment, homeboy. And lose the Lucknowi Urdu, ja? Of Pathan descent you may be, but you're a Lahori boy. Speak like one. ;)

I was also chuffed to realise how naturally I translated - my parents only spoke English to us, so none of my mental processes are in Punjabi/Urdu, but for the most part, I translate into English effortlessly, unless the vocab is unusual (obviously). I'm better than white boy, proving the truth, I guess, of his comment, "I may have lived there, but it will never be my culture like it is yours."

The second thing that interested me was his comment on the hand gestures as choreography. I said, "No, white boy, *I* move like that when I'm gesturing and talking to a Pakistani. My hands do that naturally."

[Ari, you may want to look away now. Spoilers below.]

Back to the movie, which was brilliant. The story revolves around a young woman, Naina, whose father committed suicide, leaving her mother to raise their children alone, with the unfortunate addition of the mother-in-law who blames her for the suicide. Naina, angry and sensible, is driven crazy by these rows, and escapes to her MBA class and her somewhat senseless best friend Rohit (I mean, how stupid do you have to be to tell a female friend that she's not pretty and sexy??)

Enter Aman, her new neighbour, and begin the verbal sparring that always indicates fabulously explosive chemistry and the possibility of a love *and* lust relationship. To cut a long story short, Aman loves her, but is dying, and so convinces her he doesn't when she realises that she is in love with him, and sets her up with Rohit.

The song below is from Rohit's and Naina's engagement party. Rohit's Gujarati family begin the custom of competitive singing with a...short, valiant attempt. At this point, kicked back, with my legs over the arm of my chair, I turned to white boy and said with the self-assured certainty only a Punjaban could have in this situation:

"You know, the Punjabis are about to kick their ass."

"Oh yeah. You know, it was choreographed by three Sikhs, which is why it's really Punjabi/bhangra."

"Is that a problem? And Sikhs aren't the only Punjabis, you know."

"No, but they're almost a caricature."


But enough. Decide for yourselves (K3G fans, keep an eye out for the cameos):

I love this song from the moment that Aman blows the Gujaratis a kiss and gets the it going in that Punjabi accent (the actor is Pathan). For me the song REALLY becomes Punjabi (really listen to the background music here) when they start the section of lyrics that all end 'rubha rubha' (meaning, 'Lord, Lord').

The mother and daughter part, which made me tear up (though that could have been his Spanish cigarettes, honestly), translates as:

"Moon (a term of endearment), My moon,
How can I make you understand how dear you are to me,
All the happy things however many there are,
I will go out and find them all
And attach them to your doli (wedding carriage)."

*Sigh* Perfect. As the Punjabis tell the Gujaratis in the video, "That's the way..."

Fun, cheeky and passionate...enjoy. And you'll all finally realise why it took me so long to realise George Michael was gay. In my world, straight men could dance.

But my favourite moment of the movie? The end, when Aman is in his hospital bed, and he says to Rohit:

"In this lifetime, she's yours. But in every lifetime after this, she's mine. From birth. Promise."

And the camera pans back to show Naina looking in the window, tears running down her cheeks.

*SOB* If there's any cosmic justice, that's the way it will be, from here to eternity.

Don't pass go, don't collect £200. If you like Bollywood, you HAVE to see this.

Don't know if you do? Start with Khabhi Khushi, and if you love that, see all the films with SRK and Kajol.

Then decide whether or not tomorrow will come.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Baghdad Street

'Baghdad St' is the irreverent nickname of a street I'd be more likely to refer to as 'Burqa Boulevard'.

My latest adventure down it came as a result of what is usually one of the highlights of my London visits: lunch with a friend who's a priest in the capital. As always, we talked and laughed our way through our lunch - and thanks to him, I discovered that I DO like anchovies on my pizza.

After a banoffee pie with ice cream (me) and a tiramisu (him), we discussed the possibilities. He needed to be at hospital for 3pm and I was free as a bird. We decided to walk to where he needed to be, and with a wicked grin, he asked me if I wanted to walk down 'Baghdad St' and count burqas.

How could I say 'no'?

"It's not the prettiest walk," he said, offering me a way out. "That would be by the canal."

"Oh, but this is by far the most culturally interesting," I said. "Just let me know when we're coming to it and I'll let my hair down."

As I was wearing a lacy, lowcut camisole - every heterosexual male knew the colour of the bra beneath it - under a cardigan, I left my coat open despite the cold. This was going to be good.

I made one crucial error - I forgot that when we met, I had been mock horrified at the fact that he was wearing a collar for lunch with a good friend, and he had taken it off. Had I remembered, I'd have had him slip it back in before we turned the corner.

"Ok, here it is," he said under his breath. Out came the clip, I shook out my hair, and we turned into a street that could have been anywhere from the West Bank to Lahore.

"Right," he said, "this is a bit disappointing. Headscarves, but no full burqa yet. Surprising., 1."

"Ok," I said. "I'm going to count the 'you-betrayed-your-religion-bitch' disapproving looks. None yet. Disappointing."

He continued burqa counting. "2, 3..."

Helpfully I added, "4..."

"Nope, not a full one. It doesn't count."

I laughed, as we both did for the full three blocks of the market.

"Mmmmm. Cardamom. INCENSE."

"That's where you and I are different," said he, ruefully.

"OOOOOO!" I said. "YES! Disapproving look 1, and from a man. Ok, hon, here's what I'm going to do - I'm going to grab your sleeve so that it looks like we're together, which makes it more of a 'bitch betraying her culture', since you're white."

"That's absolutely fine," he grinned. So I did. "6...7...have you noticed the mix," he asked, referring to the heavy Asian population with the occasional older, white face.

"Ok, that was an 'I fancy you' look, so we're 1-1 now. Come on, where are those 'bitch' looks, I'm getting really disappointed. Yes, I had."

He burst out laughing and turned towards me. "Look behind you, fabulous - that full burqa, and she's using her wheelchair for the shopping. Yes, it's the Asian population mixed with the older Irish population, who were here first."

I nearly fell over in a fit of the giggles. "OOH, second disapproving look, from a woman. You know, I'm tempted to stop at the stalls where the men have shaved their heads and are wearing the prayer caps and just stand there for a little while."


"14...OOO, check that one out, that's good."

And as I was looking to my right, past him, I got the grandfather of all looks. An older man standing behind his table was staring at me, his face contorted in an expression of mingled rage and desire - the "I-hate-you-traitor-bitch-whore-but-I'd-shag-a-rebel-like-you-given-half-a-chance" look - one I am all too familiar with. I tilted my chin up and stared back briefly, then turned my attention forward as we moved on.

By the end, he had counted 25+ burqas and I had at least 4 disapproving looks (that last one could have counted as two) - all in all, a productive outing.

Then as we turned towards the hospital, up came the mother of all burqas, similar to the one I'd worn when I convinced my cousin Amna to go out to the shops in Okara with me during a visit to Pakistan when I was 9.

As we turned, discussing one last stop before he became official again, I checked to see if he'd been wearing his collar, and we expressed regret that he hadn't been. Up came another one, but the headpiece was makeshift and he said it best as he shook his head and declared,

"Poor standard."

I agreed, then we nipped off for a particularly Western end to our visit.

Black coffee (him) and hot chocolate (me).

Monday, 1 December 2008

Sex and the City interlude

I didn't fall in love with "Sex and the City" until it was almost over, so I'm watching it in re-runs.

Sometimes though, it just says what you need it to say - the quintessential moment for me is "Katie girl" from The Way we were (google it), but tonight's episode, where Carrie tells Charlotte that her need for her wedding to be perfect means she's missing the experience:

Carrie: Charlotte, you have a man who will always be there to catch you.

I wish I could find a man strong enough to catch me.


But at the end:

It wasn't the perfect catch, but I was ok, because I had a big safety net.

As do I, because I have the best friends in the world.

But I still want the man who can make me trust enough to make me let go and let him catch me.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Brick Lane

I'd heard about Monica Ali's debut, Brick Lane, years ago. I keep meaning to read it, just as I do Zadie Smith's White teeth. Should do that soon.

Last night, I had the opportunity to watch Brick Lane on C4, which I duly did. It wasn't bad, but it was lacking the depth that the novel is purported to have - e.g., I have very little understanding of why she had ANY attachment to the husband she had been made to marry, as he is irresponsible, disrespectful, spoilt and a complete chauvinist. There was very little about her network of female friends so touted in the novel and no real understanding of how her self-realisation came to blossom. What drove her? What made it unfold? We see *one* shot of her after what I only later understood to be a nervous breakdown, then she was fine again. Often a problem with scripts, but that's the reason you grab Monica Ali and sit her down with the scriptwriter.

Having said that, there were places where it really hit home.

The first place,
right near the beginning of the film, was the most unexpected and the most difficult. She is in bed, clearly uncomfortable, her husband is half-asleep beside her. Then, his hand moves to her unresponsive hand. The tension building up in me should have warned me what was coming. It didn't.

When he (much bigger than she was) rolled over on top of her and did his business whilst she remained completely unresponsive, I was taken back to being underneath my uncle with such vividness and force, it was like being punched in the solar plexus: I doubled over and couldn't look at the screen. It was so bad, I actually thought I was going to have to go worship at the altar of the porcelain god, which is criminal if you haven't had the drink (and fun) to deserve it.

For those of you who don't know what it's like, for me, a flashback is being there. I can see my childhood bedroom furniture (light yellow), feel my uncle's breath in my hair, feel him pinning me down. I actually forget to breathe. It's usually better if someone is with you - just like it's nice to have someone hold your head/hair when you're about to throw up - but 9 times out of 10, you're alone, and in the end, you go through the experience alone no matter who is with you, so you need to learn to handle it on your own.

I'm out of practice because it has been YEARS since it was anywhere near this bad (now it just tickles the edges of my brain when it does make the rare return), but fortunately, a small part of me always remains present and says, "Breathe. 1 and out, 2 and out, 3..." It takes some time, but it works, as it did last night, though the aftereffects linger: last night, I was seriously shaken and felt a bit out of it; today, I'm probably a bit difficult to touch unless you're a very good friend. But, as always, this too shall pass.

Yes, it was awful while it lasted, and the aftereffects aren't great, but I think it was probably a 'good' thing in the end: I'd fallen into a sense of complacency about having dealt with every aspect of that, since I've watched all sorts of sex scenes and been physically close to men without any problems for years. This was a heads up that I haven't and that I need to do some more work in that area; that it may have effects that I'm not seeing. So, thank you, Brick Lane, for making me sit up and pay attention.

Crikey. /derail. Sorry about that.

The second scene that really hit me was the scene where the heroine's mother just walked into the river until she drowned. Having felt trapped and strangled enough by the culture to consider suicide, even after having been born and raised in the West, I felt that. (Those of you that don't know the Irim bin bag/balcony story, ask me when you see me, or the next time we're out for a drink.)

That tied into the claustrophobia I felt through the rest of the film, with the small flat, the nosy neighbours, her husband's invasiveness and sneering misogynistic comments, the lover's demands. The script may have been thin on the relationship front, but it caught the feel of the narrowness of a South Asian woman's life beautifully. Nazneen's coming into her own, not least through the aegis of her Westernised daughters ("Amma, TELL HIM" being one of the most moving scenes in the film), is wonderful to see, though it isn't nearly developed enough in the film.

I did, however, roll my eyes at the following quote near the end:

No one told me there are different kinds of love. The kind that starts deep and slowly wears away. That seems you will never use it up and then one day it is finished. Then there is the kind that you do not notice at first. To which adds a little bit to itself everyday. Like an oyster makes a pearl… grain by grain.

In the film, at least, that was meant to mean "the first was the passionate love I had with my lover, the second, the love I share with my husband, you know, the one where I can't bear to have him touch me. The real stuff of marriage."

That was the second time I nearly went to worship at the altar of the porcelain god, and let me tell you, I'd have felt it was justified.

Bad Monica. No Monica biscuit. I should SLAP you, Ms Ali, for perpetuating that myth of 'passionate love bad, pasionless love good'. Instead, I'm going to write a blog entry about the big, deep, passionate love that adds to itself every day - key example, the Obamas, who have been married for 16 years and made me feel like a voyeur when I looked at their Ebony shoot. Big, deep love that gets deeper and is HOTTER than hell. In fact, judging from pics, it's hotter now than it was on their wedding day. I love it.

But that's another entry. And I should kick your ass for a forced, too neat passage like that. But another time. I will, however, say thank you. Thank you for making me think, for making me feel those things I don't want to feel but need to, for reminding me of what is beautiful about South Asian culture, for giving me plenty of material for future blog entries (sorry, folks). I'll be picking up the book soon.

The film is redeemed by the fact that Nazneen and her daughters end up on their own: she says no to Karim, her lover, and Chanu goes back to Bangladesh without them, leaving her - them - to find their own way, not somebody else's.

Which is how it should be.

Monday, 24 November 2008

When the O gets it O-so-right, or: the Story of O

Ok, the O really has taken it in the neck from me, and blog readers must be thinking, "Jeebus, Irim, if you're in Dante's 8th Circle and can get out, you do not pass go and don't collect £200. So f***ing leave already!"

*Sigh* How to explain? Being at the O can be a bit like being in love with an emotionally unavailable man. He'll never let you all the way in because there's too much baggage. You get close and he runs in the other direction. Give up and walk away? I can almost time the return chase.

The push and pull will drive you crazy. Finally, you get fed up and swear you're gonna walk...

...and then he does that THING. You know, that THING that no other guy could ever, ever do. The one that drives you wild and keeps you going back.

Vespers last night was a manifestation of the O thing. I was on my way back home from class and decided that I wanted the utter stillness that only Latin Vespers can bring. I slipped in early, had the half-lit church to myself for a while, then watched the brethren slip up the side to the sacristy.

Then, the processional and the sharp smell of incense - last night's made me want to go up to Yaqoob, grab the thurible, bury my face in it and inhale.
Bliss. Stuff the liturgy.

The tableau was gorgeous...brethren in black and white on each side, accented by the gold copes of the cantors and the celebrant. Candles on the altar. The half-lighting remained.

This was when the marriage of the simplicity (Minimal organ, simple chant) and beauty/sensuality - the textures, the smells, the movement - that *thing* the Oratory does for me really came into its own. The office was the picture and the beauty was the perfect frame. No fussiness, no over-ornamentation, no self-consciousness, just 'Here it is.'

And the liturgy became more than itself and a real stairway to heaven.

Oh, and I can't leave it without congratulating the cantors - Dom and Saffadeacon. I just closed my eyes to listen to you two.

Then I stayed for mass and thought, "Yeah, this is the *thing*, too."

So, what other manifestations of that *thing* are there?

1. Fr Dominic singing mass. Every single time. O. my. god. I will NEVER forget the first time I heard his voice in isolation: it was at Benediction on a Friday night (I was coming in for mass) and I just froze. Jane once said that his voice reminded her of Venice - you look over your shoulder and you half-expect it to be gone; it seems so fragile and ethereal. YES.

But you have to hear him for yourself. He claims to only have 5 notes. It's the only lie he tells.

1b. (corollary) Fr Dom singing the Regina Caeli during Eastertide. I would BRIBE brethren to tell me when he's on. Basically, Fr Dom singing anything.

1c. (corollary 2) Well, Fr Dom, full stop, really. Incredible singer (already noted), brilliant confessor and friend. Wicked sense of humour. Not a bad Indian accent, either.

2. Fr Joseph saying mass, which was the source of last night's 2nd manifestation. He says mass with such utter faith and authority, the liturgy transcends itself every time, whether it's a Monday, 7.30 am or the Sunday 11. Oh, and especially his adoption of the old mass habit of crossing you with the reminds me of my friend's dad, who used to cross the foreheads of all the kids going to sleep in the house, whether they were his or not. This makes me feel just as safe as that used to.

2b. Fr Joseph with children. He can come across as really tough, but bring a child in and he melts faster than butter in the Pakistani sun. He's just wonderful with them and I have to say, I would happily leave any child of mine with him sans thinking twice. I'd be a bit worried that she'd come home able to recite the catechism at me, though...;)

3. Their capes. So help me, Lady, I'm going to 'accidentally walk off ' with one in the near future. Capes with sleeves. WANT.

4. Palestrina. Tallis. Byrd. VICTORIA. (Please feel free to lose everyone after 1850, folks. Hinthint Oh, except for ND Jacob, he's pretty good.)

5. Latin. And not because I'm a stickler for tradition, but because Latin is sexy. YES, it is. Listen to those vowels, people!

6. The fact that mass is given reverence and pride of place. Can it be a bit uptight and too fussy at times? Ja, absolutely. But far better that direction that the other. Mass is the centerpiece of the faith, the re-presentation of Christ's sacrifice and is worth your full attention and reverence.

7. Incense, incense, incense. I WANNA BE THURIFER! No, I am NOT an addict. At all. Really.

Ok, ok, I admit, I have a problem. Hi, my name is Irim and I'm an incense addict.
All together now: Hi, Irim.

8. The pleasure of MCing from my seat without having the responsibility on the sanctuary. Which means I can imagine and play with ALL sorts of evilly difficult scenarios :-D

9. Triddy/Newman Society baiting. 'nuff said.

10. Black vestments and REAL unbleached candles.

11. Laughing in the confessional. Yes, really.

12. Working at the Lodge and having members of the community drift in for a chat.

13. The fact that Fr Jerome knows almost everything. And he visited me at work! :-)

14. Fr Robert telling it like it is, like a true Northerner.

15. Fr Richard's giggling fits when something happens on the sanctuary. When he gets started, he can't stop, and if I looked at him, I would have to leave the church.

16. ANY one of them cracking up on the sanctuary, though for me, Dom, Saffadeacon and Nick would be the worst, b/c they've got these huge grins that light up a room. When the shoulders start shaking, I keep custody of the eyes, or I'd have to leave.

17. The fact that, though they take mass seriously, they CAN crack up on the sanctuary.

18. Discussing HP with Fr Daniel.

19. Saffadeacon, for his steady presence, humour, friendship, sermons and generally being a pillar of sanity. With the more than occasional klap that I've needed ;).

20. 'Qoob, my bhai-ji. Who just makes me laugh and is good practice for my Lahori accent.

21. Asta, who has been a surrogate mother since we met. I love you.

22. Margaret. You know all the reasons why.

23. John Lynam. Surrogate Dad I, or cuddly dad, who will listen to anything, tease me gently, and just be there. My general/cryptic crossword puzzle partner and the reason I'll move heaven and earth to make it to the O on a Monday evening. Funny, lovable and loving, and the maker of a MEAN gin 'n' mix. Nick would be able to weasel those birthdays he wants to know out of me after only ONE of those.

23b. Jeanne Lynam.

24. John Ferris. Surrogate Dad II and Walsingham partner in crime. My real theological study partner, b/c even though he says, "Some of your views horrify me," he listens with respect and without judgment and thinks about his responses. No matter what I tell him, I'm absolutely safe and still loved.

24b. Elizabeth Ferris.

25. Those friends I haven't mentioned above and those I've met at the O and am still friends with, even though they're no longer there.

26. Everyone who volunteers - porters, cleaners, Social Club, the lot. THANK YOU from me - I remember how hard it can be.

27. Holy Hour, Benediction and the pre-7.30am hush.

28. The Lady Chapel.

29. Oh! The 40 Hours, especially Friday night if the lights are out/down.

30. The Easter Triduum - the stripping of the altars Maundy Thursday would send chills down your spine. Christmas midnight mass. All Souls'. The biggies.

31. Fr Anton in the choir

32. Br Nick - his looks of mock horror when I say something to shock
keep me in stitches. Always followed by a deceptively mild/confused response, just leaving me time to duck an absolute zinger delivered in that Capetonian accent. Can be trusted to be the one mirroring my "WTF?" look when someone says something seriously stupid. Another good friend and pillar of sanity.

33. Have to end with Saffadeacon, our (temporarily) resident redhead, in pink on Laetare and Gaudete Sundays. The last chance to see him thusly dressed is Sunday, 14 December at 11am. Be there. I most certainly will.

What with 33 being the perfect number/age, I'll stop there.

Does this make ANY of the emotional stuff I've talked about any easier? Does it make it all sunshine and rainbows? Of course not. It's still hard work.

But it's an insight into why I can't break up completely, and why, even though we can't be a committed couple, the Oratory and I need to keep seeing eachother.

After all, if the sex liturgy is that good, with kindred spirits amongst our mutual friends, surely that's worth the more-than-occasional booty call?

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Advice for the O

Ok, I've decided that complaining about the O has gotten counterproductive. It's turning me into the kind of victim I can't stand. Clearly, I'm not willing to leave, because I have too many kindred spirits there.

So let's try something different. What would I like to see the Oratory CHANGE?


1. I know a lot of you are shy, but one of you coming up to a newcomer after mass would make a HUGE difference. Just a 'hello and come again,' nothing too deep. It's nice being noticed.

2. This one has always been a biggie: those who are difficult or will throw a paddy if they don't get what they want are almost always given what they want (*coughchoirmastercough*). First of all, that makes them worse. Second, people who wouldn't normally act that way realise that they need to act that way to get what they want. GAAAAAAH. NO. I know it's hard - *I* have a hard time doing it, but 'No, I'm afraid that's an unreasonable request and we will NOT accept this kind of behaviour.'

3. I'm the first to admit that some parish women make ME want to mock them ceaselessly. But please, don't generalise to all of us, because it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we turn out to be endlessly needy (as do a lot of the men/altar boys, to be fair!), fine, avoid us, call us on it, whatever. But give us each a chance to be ourselves before you pigeonhole us. Don't assume that every request we make is going to be a burden. And don't assume that every complaint we make is to be dismissed: quite often, we'll have a better awareness of emotional resonances and be better judges of character, simply because people mask themselves and try to be good for you. If you hear several of us say the same thing, it's probably time to take note.
I either tend not to mask or be worse than my usual self because you're authority. But I'm the exception.

4. Don't avoid problems/look the other way. They may not be easy to deal with, but nip them in the bud before they become the size of Mt Everest and make things difficult for everyone. They tend to be like kudzu if you don't get them early...a root structure that could make you CRY.

5. You're human. Be yourselves. You're allowed an off day, you're allowed to snap, you're allowed to be genuinely funny. It would bring a huge amount of vitality to the place if you were the people *I* know from the Lodge and from outside church. You guys can totally rock.

6. Bend a little - be orthodox, but be thoughtful and compassionate. The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.

7. We need more groups - real, vital parish groups that do things. Our youth need to do things like go to Ghana, not Sydney. You're missing out everyone between 18-60. That's a HUGE amount of untapped resources.


1. Be real. Be yourselves. Stop kissing priestly ass. It annoys them.

2. Call them on their bad moments - kindly, but honestly. They're not gods or even demi-gods. They're men, good men, but with faults. Calling them on those faults helps to make them better priests, and that's good for everyone.

3. Be real. Be yourselves. Stop kissing... oh yeah. Ahem.

4. The church needs all hands on deck - if you can clean, do. If you can help with something else, do. Those few who do everything get temperamental and tired for good reason: they have their own lives too. All shoulders to the wheel, even if it's only a donation of something the Church needs.

5. Be real. Oh, sorry...

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Defecting in place

A little while ago, I was re-reading A woman's journey to God by Joan Borysenko. I put it to the side because things were getting very busy, but I think it's time I picked it up again. She talks about church leavers and returnees and how women find their way in religion and spirituality - their anger at being trivialised, the walking away, the emptiness, the way they live what they believe.

It's a wonderful read, but one that can be very difficult, as it strikes so close to the bone. She also mentioned a book that I want to find called Defecting in place: women claiming responsibility for their own spiritual lives.

Which is exactly what I need to do.

I've never really felt spiritually at home in an organised religion. I've felt spiritually at home with people, or in certain places or at certain moments, but never in a religion. Not even in the one I chose for myself, knowing that I had some real disagreements with the pronouncements of the hierarchy.

But as I've said before, I need resistance and a good fight.

Over the last several years, that fight has centered around the Oratory. As I said to Yaqoob and another friend last night, the misogyny there is palpable, and dealing with the contempt that is dished out towards women on a daily basis is Chinese water torture. I told them that if you asked most of my friends, I'm seen as sensible, calm, the person who you'd want around when there's a problem. My exact quote to them was, "At the Oratory, it's like I have permanent PMT, I get so angry." You can't treat people like that and then complain when they turn on you. Actions, consequences.

Trying to make that point, I once told an Oratorian that a woman who played the organ for them noted how at Blackfriars, she was always thanked. The response? "You can't always be saying 'thank you' to people." I'm ashamed to admit that I bit my tongue then, though I wouldn't now. The correct answer to that would have been, "Yes, you can. It's called 'manners', and it is two little words - Thank. you. If you can do it when sycophants buy you guys drinks every Sunday because they want something, then you can do it when someone does something your liturgy depends upon."

There was always a part of me that wondered if it would have been an issue if it were a man. I thought I could answer that; maybe I really can't.

I was very involved at the O, then left for a while, and am now trying to come back a bit, namely because there are people I'm close to and because I like the odd bit of liturgy to frame my spirituality. All Souls', Christmas midnight mass and Easter Vigil resonate on levels that run through all traditions; they're archetypal and incredibly powerful. I'm not about to give those up.

And so, how to find the balance? Can I defect in place? Can I find a way, because as one of the women in Defecting in place says, "I am still a Catholic and I refuse to be driven away from the community I claim as home."

I think I have, in a lot of ways. Most of the time now, I sit at mass, completely detached, feeling like an anthropologist or a psychologist, as if I'm looking at a beautiful painting, curiously unmoved, remembering that it once DID move me deeply. And in rare moments, when the liturgy meets archetype and becomes something much bigger than itself, still does. There is the odd intercession after which my mouth remains firmly shut, because I cannot, in good conscience, pray for that; there are verses I can't sing because I can't lie anymore; there is the occasional response I won't make.

Or am I fooling myself, and in reality, is it just that my body is there and my soul has been long absent, finding its refreshment elsewhere?

I know I love there, so my soul must be present, even if only occasionally. What I do know is that it needs more depth than it has found.

Yes, I defect. Whether it is in place remains to be seen.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

The BNP list

Yesterday, the BNP membership list was published on the internet. 12,000 names, addresses and occupations of racist, right-wing, white supremacist Neo-Nazis who could be next door to you.

Today, the Neo-Nazis who throw around words like 'filthy Paki', 'nigger', spew hate-filled invective and toss the odd petrol bomb through a letterbox are complaining about 'privacy' and 'threatening phone calls'.

My heart breaks. No, really. I'm playing the world's smallest violin. I know it really sucks when you get a taste of your own medicine. Not a drop of schadenfreude here.

Well, maybe a whole ocean.

Amongst the BNP members are teachers, police officers, government workers, all people who have lied to their employers - as it is illegal to be a member of the BNP if you are a member of the police or armed forces, and frowned upon in other professions.

The icing on the cake, though, is that they are using the Human Rights Act to protect the privacy of their members...that's right, the act they desperately want defeated in the European Parliament. Frankly, I hope they lose, because knowing where BNP members are is as important to me as knowing where paedophiles are.

I have to have a grudging respect for those who have come out and said, we ARE members. But those who want 'discretion'? Who can't admit that they're members of a party they've CHOSEN to join, whose precepts they claim to agree with? Deep down, you KNOW you're wrong. If I can stand up in a conservative church and tell clerics that I'm pro-choice/artificial birth control, pro-married priests, pro-women priests and pro-premarital sex, surely, if you REALLY believe what the BNP stands for, you can stand up and say, "I belong."

So the publication of the list shouldn't be a big deal for you. You and your ilk have hidden behind executioners' masks, white sheets, and ignorant darkness for so long, don't you think it's time you came out into the light?

Obviously, for whatever reason, someone did. You've threatened people, their families and their livelihoods for years. Now, cosmic justice is asserting itself.


I know a lot of us out here certainly will.

Strictly come...goodbye, John Sergeant

I'm sure, no matter how fond anyone is of John Sergeant, we can all agree that he is a bad dancer and has probably improved as far as he can.

There is no shame in that; I certainly could never be the journalist he is. Like John Simpson, he is a true journalist of the old school - he has travelled the world, worked at his craft, asked the tough questions and his analysis is second to none. He has also shown the loveliest personality on "Strictly come dancing" - game for anything, graciousness in the face of ungracious judges, and a wonderful self-deprecating humour. Marvellous.

If this were "I'm a celebrity...get me out of here", the yearly jungle show hosted by Ant and Dec, personality would be everything, and I would be voting my heart out for John Sergeant to win - not least because he isn't the young, vacuous looker or the older-celebrity-searching-for-the-fountain-of-youth that overpopulates the show. John Sergeant is just...John Sergeant, and I love that.

Alas, this is "Strictly come *dancing*". There is skill involved here, and NO ONE should win on personality alone. John Sergeant has been saved by the popular vote every week. This was fine as long as other bad dancers were being eliminated. Now that dancers better than John are losing out, it's a travesty. John bowed out saying that he had a real chance of winning, and "that even for me, that would be a joke too far."

I'm now about to say something that will be fiercely unpopular: he was absolutely RIGHT.

I'm saddened, but not surprised, at how many people feel the need to excuse his leaving by saying he was bullied by the BBC and the judges. I doubt the BBC would have given him a hard time; John's presence generated a great deal in viewing figures and revenue. As for the judges, John shrugged their comments off week after week. But people have reacted with rage, both at him and at the judges, for this decision.


Because he has forced us to look in a mirror and reminded us that there is something we're not good at. A lot of things, in fact. When he spoke the truth in public, he reminded us of this truth that we are so desperate to keep private.

We have become a society of "I can do anything I want" affirmation addicts. I can make myself feel better by telling myself I can do and be anything and anyone, we cry. Truth is, no you can't, and accepting your limitations is as freeing as embracing your gifts. Most of us will never be talented athletes, gifted musicians, academics. Yet we all feel the need to be extraordinary at something and resent the fact when, simply by dint of probability, we end up being ordinary.

But ordinary isn't a death sentence. Autumn leaves are ordinary. Cherry blossoms are ordinary. They happen all the time. Ordinary days make up the majority of our lives. Love is built and maintained by the ordinary things. That doesn't make them any less breathtaking or beautiful - and we all are in our own way: quiet or loud, steady or passionate, good listener or raconteur. So we must take our talents and put them at the service of our little corner of the world and make it a better place. And we must admit to what we can't do and allow those who can to do.

A black thread in a tapestry will never be gold. But it will be one of the most essential and abundant colours of the tapestry, and without it, the tapestry would not exist. So even though our eyes are more caught by the gold, let us always give thanks for the black thread.

John Sergeant said, I can't dance and so I'm bowing out of a dancing competition because someone who CAN dance should win this. He's right. If only everyone would do this: I can't do this job, so X should. I, George W. Bush, can't think my way out of a paper bag, so I shouldn't be president. I am really bad with people, so I shouldn't come near the priesthood, but my gifts lie in this direction. Imagine a world where people used their talents and by embracing weaknesses, harnessed their hidden strengths - a quick temper to galvanise people to action, for example. Bluntness to get to the heart of a situation. And so on.

So let's make "I can't" as much a statement of integrity as "Yes, I (we) can." An "I can't" that isn't "I won't" or "I don't want to try" - one that is simply a statement of truth. "I can't lift 100 lbs, so maybe I shouldn't be a firefighter until I work out and see if I can." "I can't understand engines, so I shouldn't try fixing my car." And so on.

So, everyone, repeat after me: "I can't...

and that's ok."