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."

Thursday, 13 November 2008


Last night, Ari and I were MSNing, as we do at least twice a week. We discussed the usual: religion, academia, boys, Harry Potter Puppet Pals (Snape, Snape, Severus Snape), as you do.

Then I had what I call an 'electric shock' moment. It's the moment when your eyes meet someone's that you know will be important in your life; when you realise something BIG; when you see a picture of a place and think 'home'; any time you just *Know*, with no facts, nothing, but you know something with that certainty beyond science.

As Ari was typing in her MSN window, my eyes idly flickered to the top of mine, where the song she was listening to was displayed - "Weeping". And my heart - and time - stopped.

It wasn't a song I knew, so I couldn't understand *why*. It was sung by Josh Groban, someone I like a great deal, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo, a group I've loved for more than half my life. Most of the time I would have made a crack about how that could be really good but would more likely be hideously awful.

Instead, I KNEW I had to hear this song: Knew in the way I Knew when my maternal grandfather died; Knew when I had to move out of my parents' house whatever the cost; Knew when I was 8 that I would live in Oxford.

I asked Ari about it and found it on youtube. Now now, not just now.

After listening to it at least a dozen times, I looked it up and learned that it was originally a protest song sung by Bright Blue in the closing years of apartheid, incorporating strands of Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika, when playing the latter in public could get you thrown in prison. I still need to listen to the original. That explains a great deal about why I felt l had been slammed in the solar plexus when I first listened to it.

But I didn't know that when I first found the song, and all great music works on many levels, from the most deeply personal to the universal.

I pressed 'play' on youtube.

And spent 4:45 breathing through the pain, it hurt that much. Then I listened over and over and leaned into what Martha Beck terms the 'ring of fire'. Hard.

I knew a man who lived in fear
It was huge; it was angry; it was drawing near
Behind his house, a secret place
Was the shadow of the demon he could never face

God, how many men do I know like this, in so many variations? How many has my heart ached for, have I reached out to, have I felt helpless next to? My family, friends, men I have loved. One of the reasons I find ordinations so difficult is that almost every one makes me feel like that verse. Once, I nearly stood up and yelled at an ordinand, "Don't do it. It's WRONG for you. It will break your heart and destroy you." I remained in my seat, shaken. But every ordination after that has gotten harder, and now the only ones I will attend are those of close friends.

This time, my mind flew to only one man - the one who asked me to marry him, and to whom I might well have said yes, had there not been that demon behind his house that he refused to face. I would have stood by him, fought with him, moved heaven and earth, done anything to help him look it in the eye. I'd have walked through hell with him to help him heal.

Instead, like my father:

He built a wall of steel and flame
And men with guns, to keep it tame
Then standing back, he made it plain
That the nightmare would never, ever rise again
But the fear and the fire and the guns remain

But tame it wasn't, rise again it did, and fear, fire and guns choked the love between us, though from time to time, when the air was clear, we caught a glimpse of what could be. Those glimpses kept me in place for years, even as friends told me I wasn't myself, used phrases like 'emotionally abusive' and told me to run. Even when one of my male mates, Jack, grabbed me by the shoulders and said, "Babe, he's driving you CRAZY, there's nothing to hang onto. Get out," I couldn't hear.

I couldn't hear until I realised:

It doesn’t matter now
It’s over anyhow
He tells the world that it’s sleeping

It was over, and had been for a long time. If I could have lived on the surface, it might have been fine, but I am a creature of the depths. I need the closeness that only comes with real communication. I need to be allowed to ask the real questions and be asked them, knowing there will be real answers. I need someone not to be spooked when I say, "That must have hurt," or "Hey, you seem stressed/sad/upset."

I know a lot of relationships survive because of lies partners agree to tell each other. I can't live there. I especially can't live with the lie that a demon is sleeping and can be ignored. It can't.

So, I walked. Not immediately, and not without looking back over my shoulder, but I left and started to feel alive again. As I passed his back door:

But as the night came round
I heard its lonely sound
It wasn’t roaring, it was weeping

Much as I wanted to run to and hold that imprisoned little boy, I kept walking, though it was one of the hardest things I've ever done.

I knew I wasn't the person the little one needed comfort from.

From there, my thoughts spiralled outwards to the people in our lives and how we draw those with similar demons and those who will ask questions about the smoke rising from behind our houses...and how well we hide our demons...

And then one day the neighbours came
They were curious to know about the smoke and flame
They stood around outside the wall
But of course there was nothing to be heard at all

...our demons. When we are attracted to people and places, are we attracted because they have similar demons? Complementary demons? Or because they are people with whom and places where we can exorcise them?

I wonder that about my relationship with the Oratory and the Catholic Church. Last week, I said to one of the brethren, "I've just remembered how much I hate this place." I meant every word.

Yet I stay. Why?

The facile answer is that there are people I love there. When I go to mass, I go to see them - on the sanctuary, in the congregation. But that doesn't outweigh everything else that so often leaves me twisted inside: the open contempt for women, the aversion to healthy conflict, the people-pleasing and hypocrisy, the seeming placement of the liturgy before the people.

So the answer is not so facile.

Last Thursday, when I expressed my joy at Obama's election, Fr Catechism rolled his eyes and dismissed my happiness with the words, "Moving swiftly along from that..." It was compounded by the presence at mass of almost every parishioner who stands for everything I don't: the letter of the law over the spirit, priestly approval, comfort over passion and life, mockery and ostracism of those not like them. I looked out at them during my reading and hated them with a passion that I couldn't keep from my Oratorian friend after mass.

Looking back now, I know that like all hatred, mine was born of fear. Fear of being like them. Knowing I could have been like them, afraid I could still be. Fear of having them suck the life out of me.

So again, why stay in the Oratory? Why stay in the Catholic Church?

Demons and exorcism.

Though I hate to admit it, we share demons: a need for approval and comfort. My complementary demon is my need for resistance and a good fight, and to be fair, the Oratorians have indulged me tremendously with affection, amusement, and plenty of views to make me go, "WTF?" and gird my loins for that good fight.

But above all, both the church and the Church give me a far safer place than my family to exorcise my demons: my need to prove my worth as a woman, my need to resist openly, my need to prove to myself over and over again that I can live in an environment that isn't easy for me.

Perhaps that last is the most important, considering the family I grew up in. I am reminded of Rachel Remen's story of one of her patients who spent his whole life living on the edge. What lay behind it, she wondered? The answer finally came when he remembered hearing his father, furious at him being a sickly child, say that if he had been an animal, the father would have done what he did with all runts - left him to die. And so his surviving dangerous situations was his way of casting the deciding vote to live, over and over again.

Growing up in an extremely controlling household where children were simply extensions of the parents, I needed to cast that hidden vote every day. Whether it was reading romance novels, not doing as well at school as I could have, moving out when I did, I made the choice to LIVE in an environment hostile to who I was and am.

The church and the Church allow me to cast that vote over and over again: I AM a strong woman, I WILL say what I believe, I WILL wear fishnets to an ordination because someone needs to talk about sex, I WILL be myself in spite of your attempts to make me someone I'm not. I will LIVE and be passionate amongst these souls who choose not to.

Perhaps I deeply hate them because I know how deeply I need them. And perhaps I'm angry at them because they've been untrue to themselves and their God by choosing not to be wholly themselves and really live, all the while angry at myself, wondering if I've made the same choice.

Which brings us back to Fr Catechism. I thought, "Why do you always have to be, as a friend once said, immoderately moderate? Why can't you let go and *live*?" And in these words I heard his voice,

"My friends," he said, "We’ve reached our goal
The threat is under firm control...

...and along with so many in the Catholic hierarchy, the Pope, and so many governments, continuing,

As long as peace and order reign
I’ll be damned if I can see a reason to explain
Why the fear and the fire and the guns remain"

But it is our right to question that uneasy co-existence, and wonder if true peace is possible whilst fear remains. We deserve an answer - and it is one we should fight for.

Because in the end, only wholeness brings true peace: tameness alongside wildness; joy and sorrow; anger and compassion; passion side-by-side with reason; angels dancing with demons.

Anything less brings apartheid. When we cut off parts of ourselves, we cut ourselves off from others. "We the people" becomes "us" and "them".

Apartheid begins from within and is only then imposed from without.

And so, one night, several weeks ago, I found myself in the secret place behind my own house, since that is where we must always start. I dreamt I lay with my head against an amphora in the graveyard at St Giles' Church at night with a good friend anchoring me as I took a soul journey forward into the morning and woke dressed in white.

Suddenly, I was with my panicked 5-year-old self in the cacophony of the first grade classroom, knowing the kids hated me and that home would never be a sanctuary, and I heard her primal scream


which shook the adult dream-me to the depths of my being. I had the presence of mind to hold her and rock her and simply say over and over again, "I love you. I will always love you."

Then I woke, knowing I had found the demon that drove - and often still drives - me. The demon that makes me spiky, edgy, pushy, aggressive, clingy, needing to anticipate everyone's desires, often untouchable, everything that makes me cringe about myself. The demon I had hidden behind fear and fire and guns, so afraid of how big it was. Yet when I discovered it,

It wasn’t roaring, it was weeping

It was time to bring her home. It's time to end the fear and bring them all home.

Once we do, perhaps we all need to spend a long time sitting on the floor holding them...

..and weeping.


Nothing to say to this but:



Tuesday, 11 November 2008

To you from failing hands we throw/The torch; be yours to hold it high

Consider this my little rebellion.

Well, not really. Had I been home on Sunday morning, I'd have gone to the Remembrance Day Requiem mass at the Oratory, which is one of my favourite masses of the year - the recessional hymn always leaves me choked up.

I hate Remembrance Sunday - NOT in the way you expect. I hate it in the way I hate transferring holy days of obligation to a Sunday to make it more convenient. If a day is THAT important, you don't transfer it. Moving it to a weekend says, "You're not important enough for me to interrupt my work week for you." Holy days of obligation are THAT important. You stop during your week to remember God and go to church.

Equally important is the day that we remember those that we have sent to war to fight and die for us. The day we do that is NOT the closest Sunday to the day. It is THE DAY.

The 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour. The moment when the war that was supposed to end all wars ended. THAT is the day, whatever day of the week it is. And it is a day when the world should stop, when we should:

Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

Nor, on this day, must we forget the parents, spouses, children, lovers and friends of the fallen, those whose loss echoes these words:

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

We need to be there for them - remembrance is for the living as well as the dead.

It is on the 11th that we should keep silent for 2 minutes out of respect.

It is on the 11th that the words Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine should sound from every church at 11.02 am (Verdi, not Faure), the Mourners' Kaddish from every synagogue, prayers for the dead from every place of religion, whether it is a Sunday, Wednesday or a Friday.

It is on the 11th that we should lay wreaths at cenotaphs and war memorials and weep for the universes we lost with each of the fallen, for every single human being is a universe.

It is on the 11th that we close our eyes to offer our profound gratitude for the men and women who either chose to become career soldiers or who chose to put down the lives they were living to become soldiers when their country called them - and those who love them. The sacrifice they made for us cannot be put into words. No matter how we feel about the wars they fought, we thank them and pray for them, because they fought for us, even if those declaring war didn't declare war for us.

And it is on the 11th that we renew our promise to John McCrae and his fallen colleagues, past and present:

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.

With greater certainty and hope than in years past, I can say that I believe we have caught it.

May we never again break faith with you who have died...and those of you who have come back.

Thank you.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Rahmbama II

Should you need further proof of the fact that Barack Obama and Rahm Emanuel will make a perfect team, watch this. Note the deep affection in Obama's roasting of Emanuel.

Even more importantly, *watch Rahm Emanuel really laugh at himself*. This pitbull with brass balls who sends Republicans into fits of rage is sitting at this no-punches-pulled roast *really laughing at himself*.

George W. Bush never could.

And if that doesn't say it all, let me explain.

Having extricated myself from a relationship with a wounded, manipulative man who ripped my heart out, threw it on the floor and did a rain dance on it, I am painfully aware of the early warning sign I missed: he could laugh at everyone/everything else but himself. Even gentle teasing was met with a jab, or a tightening of the atmosphere that was only relieved by my walking on eggshells and stroking his ego.

I should have known - my father was exactly the same. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

But I won't make the same mistake again: that ability is one of the first things I note about my friends (especially men) now, and it *must* be present before I trust. Most recently, I told a friend, "Oh. my. god. You were *such* a prick!" when he told me what he had been like about a decade ago. Head in hand, he laughed sheepishly and said, "You're right."

Now that's what I call passing with flying colours.

Being able to laugh at yourself is a sign of a healthy ego, self-awareness, the potential for growth. It is closely tied to the ability to accept criticism. It is an essential component of a healthy personality. If you find it hard, work at it.

Trust me, it will transform your life - in the best way possible.

And now, back to Rahmbama. Enjoy the sight of Rahm Emanuel laughing his head off as Barack Obama thoroughly roasts him, then sticks the fork in.

I can hear the laughter from the Oval Office now. Heaven knows, we could use it almost more than anything else...after all, it is the best medicine.

Let the healing begin.

Friday, 7 November 2008


God, it feels AMAZING to be in love with politics has been so long. You can take a girl out of Washington, but you can't take Washington out of the girl.

The new president-elect is a calm, collected, deliberate, introspective man. He is a man of vision, who can paint the long-term in pictures that few other politicians of our generation can.

He has just hired Rahm Emanuel, a Democratic Congressman and former senior advisor to the Clinton administration whose personal style is...just a wee bit different. From Steve Hendrix and Michael Shear of CBS News:

It was another October midnight on Capitol Hill and the $700 billion economic bailout deal was flat-lining. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had the president's chief of staff, Joshua Bolten, on speakerphone and was getting nowhere on the final few sticking points. Next to her, Rahm Emanuel decided it was time to exercise one of his core political principles: When in doubt, shout.

"You gotta understand, Josh, this is politics at this point," thundered Emanuel, the Democrats' caucus chairman. In one of his signature high-decibel blasts, he described the relentless procedural torture Pelosi could inflict if the administration didn't yield. "That," he yelled, "will be like a fast football at your head coming down Pennsylvania Avenue!"

Within minutes, the White House bowed to the Democrats' demand, and by 12:30 a.m. Emanuel, 48, was settled in next to a statue of Will Rogers as Pelosi announced the deal.

And another Rahm bomb had found its mark.

To quote Paul Begala, an ex-colleague:

“He’s got this big old pair of brass balls, and you can just hear ‘em clanking when he walks down the halls of Congress.”

So, maybe just a little bit different from our president-elect, then.

Rahm is partisan, tough,
pragmatic and gets down to brass tacks - he prefers to take change in small steps, not large leaps.

On paper, this should be a marriage made in hell.

But as so many of those in arranged marriages have discovered, on paper means about as much as a promise from Dick Cheney.

The indefinable chemistry of relationships is often best spotted in photographs, like those below:

It just WORKS. The president and his CoS need to be tighter than God and the Pope. Again from CBS:

According to two previous inhabitants of the office next door to the Oval Office, Emanuel's key asset as chief of staff will be his well-established friendship with his new boss. That probably will be enough to compensate for the political brush fires sparked by Emanuel's flint-and-steel personality.

"The job is to tell the president what he needs to know, not necessarily what he wants to know," said Kenneth Duberstein, who served as Ronald Reagan's chief of staff. "Because of his relationship with the president-elect, Rahm will be able to deliver not just the good news but the tough news as well. He has the ability to be a reality therapist inside the White House."

Mack McLarty, Clinton's first chief of staff, who has known Emanuel since the "War Room" days of the 1992 presidential campaign, agreed.

"My sense is that they have a relationship that is authentic and that will give them an important level of trust," McLarty said. "Given that, I think the strength of his high-energy personality will serve him well."

I love the phrase 'reality therapist'. Every visionary needs one, and every person in a position of power needs someone to tell it like it is. Perhaps, most of all, someone in power who promised to listen to us especially when we are critical.

I also love the fact that Emanuel agonised over taking his family out of Chicago, where all their closest friends are. A pitbull with heart and the occasional soft touch. Perfect.

On a lighter note, to quote Ari:

Doesn't hurt that they're probably the hottest president/chief of staff duo in all of history, either...


A man with vision and one who can make it reality - let the change begin.

20 January can't come soon enough.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Tom Toles does it again...

Even when I was young, I used to flip to the op-ed pages at the back of the ONLY Washington paper ;), the Washington Post. I'd have read the 3 pages of comics and Ann Landers, then I'd flip back to the political cartoons and read the letters to the editor.

Tom Toles, with his distinctive drawing style, was always my favourite - and yes, he did appear in the WaPo years ago when they would do collections of political cartoons. His simple style always made his point more powerful; he never had to use many words. I often found myself inhaling sharply at the impact.

Today, Shaker Bob mentioned Tom Toles had a wonderful cartoon summing up the election result...

...the election result that has made me a waterworks for the last two days. You'd think I had the world's worst case of PMT.

And Tom just started me off again with this:

that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it."

It took us eight years, but Yes. We. Did.

America, I am so proud of you. And once again, I am so proud to be ONE of you.

Thank you. Now excuse me whilst I go renew my passport.