Friday, 30 January 2009

Semi-random thoughts on love and change

This isn't going to be long, just a couple of quotes and a poem, I think. I'll be doing a post on love soon - I'll try to avoid the heinous V-day.

It's been an odd time lately: things seem to be shifting underneath my feet, it's like being in aboriginal Dreamtime, at the crossroads of kairos and chronos. Big dreams, big realisations, synchronicities speeding up.

Those will come up in various posts, the first one probably right after this one.

I've been thinking a lot about love lately: the lack of it, the desire for it, having it, what it looks like.

I ran across this quote just last night, and it was just a HUGE 'YES' - I talk about masks and personas all the time, so this just seemed perfect:

Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. --James A. Baldwin

That is one of the truest things about love: it *REMOVES* masks, it does not *IMPOSE* them. Changing for someone else or asking someone to change is about approval and control, not love.

Love removes everything, revealing the essential being in its divine wholeness. Approval does everything it can to cover it over or amputate parts so it looks acceptable.

About a decade or more ago, I gave a friend a card with two hedgehogs on it sitting down to tea and their prickly coats hanging on the coat rack. I can't remember the exact quote, something like "A friend is someone with whom you can be completely yourself", but it seems much the same thing as the removal of masks.

One quote I came across twice in completely different places, within two days of eachother - usually a marker that I need to really pay attention, this is important - is by Rumi, a favourite poet and Sufi. It's even more precious because my grandfather was a Rumi scholar, which makes me feel, weirdly enough, like he's legitimately *mine*.

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it. -Rumi

Very, very true for me. I have at least one fortress, if not an entire country of them, built in defence - but each constitutes a barrier against love.

And, of course, my favourite love poem, from Kahlil Gibran:

Then said Almitra, "Speak to us of Love."
And he raised his head and looked upon the people, and there fell a stillness upon them.
And with a great voice he said:
When love beckons to you follow him,
Though his ways are hard and steep.
And when his wings enfold you yield to him,
Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.

And when he speaks to you believe in him,
Though his voice may shatter your dreams as the north wind lays waste the garden.
For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you.
Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.
Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,
So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth.

Like sheaves of corn he gathers you unto himself.
He threshes you to make you naked.
He sifts you to free you from your husks.
He grinds you to whiteness.
He kneads you until you are pliant;
And then he assigns you to his sacred fire, that you may become sacred bread for God's sacred feast.
All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secrets of your heart, and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life's heart.

But if in your fear you would seek only love's peace and love's pleasure,
Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love's threshing-floor,
Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.

Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.
Love possesses not nor would it be possessed;
For love is sufficient unto love.

When you love you should not say, "God is in my heart,"
but rather, "I am in the heart of God."

And think not you can direct the course of love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.

Love has no other desire but to fulfil itself.
But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires:
To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.
To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully.
To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving;
To rest at the noon hour and meditate love's ecstasy;
To return home at eventide with gratitude;
And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart and a song of praise upon your lips.

Amen. I have yet to find anything that captures love's essence better than that poem; and I first read it over half a lifetime ago.

And the things that are shifting, that feeling of being at the crossroads of kairos and chronos, of deep shifts bring to mind other words from Gibran's The Prophet:

And in the twelfth year, on the seventh day of Ielool, the month of reaping, he climbed the hill without the city walls and looked seaward; and he beheld the ship coming with the mist.
Then the gates of his heart were flung open, and his joy flew far over the sea.
And he closed his eyes and prayed in the silences of his soul.

But he descended the hill, a sadness came upon him, and he thought in his heart: How shall I go in peace and without sorrow?
Nay, not without a wound in the spirit shall I leave this city.
Long were the days of pain I have spent within its walls, and long were the nights of aloneness; and who can depart from his pain and his aloneness without regret?

Too many fragments of the spirit have I scattered in these streets, and too many are the children of my longing that walk naked among these hills, and I cannot withdraw from them without a burden and an ache.

It is not a garment I cast off this day, but a skin that I tear with my own hands.
Nor is it a thought I leave behind me, but a heart made sweet with hunger and with thirst.
et I cannot tarry longer. The sea that calls all things unto her calls me, and I must embark.
For to stay, though the hours burn in the night,
is to freeze and crystallize and be bound in a mould.

Fain would I take with me all that is here. But how shall I?
A voice cannot carry the tongue and the lips that give it wings.
Alone must it seek the ether.
And alone and without his nest shall the eagle fly across the sun.
Now when he reached the foot of the hill, he turned again towards the sea, and he saw his ship approaching the harbour, and upon her prow the mariners, the men of his own land.

And his soul cried out to them, and he said:
Sons of my ancient mother, you riders of the tides,
How often have you sailed in my dreams.
And now you come in my awakening, which is my deeper dream.
Ready am I to go, and my eagerness with sails full set awaits the wind.
Only another breath will I breathe in this still air, only another loving look cast backward,
Then I shall stand among you, a seafarer among seafarers.
And you, vast sea, sleepless mother,
Who alone are peace and freedom to the river and the stream,
Only another winding will this stream make, only another murmur in this glade,
And then shall I come to you, a boundless drop to a boundless ocean.

I know not yet what these changes mean, what I must leave and to where I must come.

But I know the sea waits.

And as the water has ever been home, I step on board with joy and no little anticipation.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Language rage

Yes, I know I'm overreacting. So I know this is really about something else.

Today, after I'd restarted my computer as per Windows instructions, I lost my network connection. Tried it about three times. Nothing. Now, no biggie if my work didn't require me to be hooked into Oxford University Library Systems; if I were just on Word, Excel or whatever. For me, however, it meant I couldn't catalogue. For almost forty minutes.

I began to seethe after the first 10. I went up to my colleague, whom I love dearly, and asked:

"Is GeoCat working for you?"

Now, I don't know about *you*, but for me, that is a commonly used American AND English construction with the understood subtext of "Do you have GeoCat up, and if not, *could you please bring it up and see if it works for you*, so I can decide if it's the server or my computer?"

If someone came to me with that question and I didn't have GeoCat up, my response would be, "Hold up, let me check. I'm working on X right now, but let me bring up GeoCat and see."

Normal response and reading of subtext, right? Did I get that?

Did I, f***.

Instead I got, "I don't know. I'm working on this particular list."


I then asked him if he'd done the Windows restart, because it was after that I'd had the problem. He said he had.

So what do I get asked, not two minutes later? "Did you restart your computer when it told you to?"



So now I get the calm "So what do we do next" spiel. Yes, I was already there, ok? PLEASE JUST LET ME *VENT*.

So I went over to our computer officer, poked my head round the door and said, "Hon, I've restarted, but it won't connect - would you mind checking it out when you get a chance?"

"Two seconds - I'll be with you in two seconds."

"Fine, whenever, do what you need to do." And I meant that. It wasn't his fault, after all.

So then I come back down, grab what I need to grab and stride out in a huff to lunch, leaving my computer for our computer officer and telling my colleague that I was off to do something productive.

Posted some mail, banked some cheques, grabbed some lunch and came in to sit in the kitchen and eat. By the time I met another colleague coming up the walk, I was fine, and told her how I'd left in a huff. After I'd eaten? Absolutely fine.

Till I came in and heard him discussing it at top volume with a friend. And the shutters came down.

Then they tried to joke me out of it. I stayed calm and played along, but Aetna was seething again.

And it got worse when the CO came over and said, "I presume it's fine since you haven't come over and killed me yet."

WTF? I'd gone over to him and asked him to check on it in the *word for word exchange you see above* in my usual 'hey, do you mind' manner.

So how the HELL would he know how angry I was?

Only if my colleague had said, "*Sharp inhale* You'd better fix it, Irim's on the warpath."

Not CO's fault or problem, I honestly said to him, "I wasn't angry at you, just Bill Gates and the world at large."

I sensed what I refer to as "Oratory problem #3 - Dealing with anger, especially in women".

It was like being at the O, where a genuine vent turns into "you angry feminist" far too often; or someone tries to cajole me out of it; or dismiss it as trivial; or tries to turn it around, "Irim wants all men to be afraid of her."

Here's the response I should have given in the forecourt: "Look, instead of projecting them onto me, why don't you actually *deal* with your issues with women? Or your real issues with me?"

Now, clearly, this is a pattern *I'M* setting up. It is almost a carbon copy of how my emotions were dealt with in my household: dismissed unless they were the same as my parents'; ridiculed; trivialised; mocked; condescended to and cajoled.

Hmmmm. Sounds like I'm trying to play something out here, doesn't it? I'm playing this role over and over until I do something different enough that "Groundhog Day" is officially over.

So, what are the similarities?

Both places appear to be lacking anger/conflict on the surface - there seems to be a remarkable...not quite uniformity, but cohesion, and people seem lockstepped in their beliefs. There's a lot of agreement and nodding and kvetching about the other side. But something is missing. Real fire, passion. Real *emotion*. You hear a lot of tittering in the Oratory forecourt, but you don't hear real laughter. A vitality is missing in both places; a vitality that comes from the heat of anger and real engagement with conflict and strong emotions of every description.

However, dip beneath the surface, and the waters are roiling with anger and everything else that is being suppressed. As a child of the family I grew up with, that's an emotional temperature I'm going to express if no one else does. So already, because of the atmosphere of places I choose to be in, I'm more likely to *become* angry because of the undercurrents around me.

In both cases, I chose someone who is very uncomfortable with anger. The immoderately moderate one, I suspect, because he's afraid of how far he'll go if he gives into it. The other, I'm guessing, because he's not supposed to be angry, considering what he believes. So in both cases, I locked myself into confrontation with someone who would take my anger and magnify it or would try to defuse it in any way possible.

I set myself up to be disrespected, trivialised, ridiculed when I'm angry.


I need to think about that. But my initial impression is that there's something unresolved in this dance and that I'm choosing people who reflect back to me how *I* feel about my anger. I'M trivialising it; I'M dismissing it; I'M trying to cajole myself out of it. I'm the one who's ashamed of it.

That needs to end. And I think it's beginning to, with the advent of friends - including one at the O - who handle my need to vent/be angry with care and respect, letting me know that my feelings matter.

So, for myself and those who have to deal with me when I'm angry, here are a few tips:

1. Just hear me out. If I'm loud and armwaving, it's going to pass pretty quickly and I'm just venting. Once I'm done, I'm done. If I'm quiet and icy, buckle your seatbelt or be aware that someone/something has pushed me WAY too far. Just letting me go 'RAAAH!' is usually all it takes for me to settle down.

2. DO NOT tell anyone else to 'watch out, Irim's pissed off'. If I'm NOT already angry at you about something - like I was with my colleague earlier because I was feeling patronised - I'm not taking it out on you. I have NEVER been known to take my irritation out on waiters, salespeople, messengers, whatever. There was NO NEED for CO to even THINK I was coming after him. If I take it out on you, that's a pretty good sign you've pissed me off already and we probably need to have a chat.

3. DO NOT try to cajole me out of it, tell me it's not that big a deal, try to put me in a mood that makes YOU more comfortable. I probably already KNOW it's not a big deal, I just need to go off on it right now.

4. DO NOT label me as a man-hater, angry feminist, any other bs label that deprives me of the right to be a complex human being or pull the "Awwww, Iwim's angry" technique. That's just lazy stereotyping, lets you off the hook, and makes me want to push you up against a wall. Or, if you're a man who prides yourself on being a gentleman, it makes me want to pay you the ultimate insult from a woman: *slap* you.

5. If you think the anger is out of proportion - as today's was, no question - DO call me on it. Say, "Hey, [insert term of endearment here: you, babe, hon, chuck, doll - there is the odd favourite that will bring my bp right down], what's wrong? You seem really angry about something that wouldn't normally bother you so much. What's really bugging you?" That's different from trivialising because you're pointing out a delta, or a change, from my normal response, and asking about it. The question will get me thinking.

6. But most of all, whatever you do, treat it as valid, with respect and give me the support and space to work it through.

As I would hope to do with you - allowing for human imperfections, of course.

No longer a deal-breaker

When I was living Stateside, I'd have categorically told you that smoking was a deal-breaker, even for friendship.

Well, considering that the last man I was with bordered on chain, and I now have so many friends who smoke, I wish the smoking ban would be rescinded - at least for the winter, so I don't have to make the choice between interrupting a really good conversation and freezing - I think we can safely say that I have flip-flopped.

In fact, I've had more than one friend offer me a cigarette because I make comments like, "You'll want to be nipping out for a smoke now," or I'll simply appreciate the act of lighting up.

Mandatory disclaimer about hating how my hair and clothes smell and being worried about my friends' health. I genuinely AM, but I know nagging them will get me nowhere and just piss them off. I'd rather keep the friends, thanks.

The other week, after I'd mentioned yet another male friend who smokes, one of my friends asked me, "What IS it with you and men who smoke?" I think part of it is statistics: men from Europe and elsewhere around the world just smoke more than American men, so more of my male friends here smoke. I don't know if there is any other correlation, really.

Well, maybe one. They're just so damn cute:

Humorous Pictures
more animals

Yeah, you kind of had to know this whole entry was composed just for one of the cutest lolcat pics ever.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Music - and advice - from the heart

The other day, my friend Janice's facebook status was "Janice is listening to Enigma at work :D".

Enigma. One of my absolute favourites, and one I hadn't listened to in years. "Sadeness", "Mea culpa" and the one that I sink into like a hot bath: "Return to Innocence".

This week, it made me think of friends who have placed themselves in boxes that are too small for them; places where they clearly don't belong. In some cases, I think, "What are you atoning for? What do you feel the need to pay for with the rest of your life, with your wholeness? Nothing is worth you destroying yourself in payment."

Instead, I offer my favourite Enigma song. Come home. Be whole. Forgive yourself. Know that you are loved no matter what...and that will be your return to yourself, the return to innocence.

And leave the box that is way too small for the person God meant you to be.

That's not the beginning of the end
That's the return to yourself
The return to innocence.

[Love - Devotion
Feeling - Emotion]

Love - Devotion
Feeling - Emotion

Don't be afraid to be weak
Don't be too proud to be strong
Just look into your heart my friend
That will be the return to yourself
The return to innocence.

If you want, then start to laugh
If you must, then start to cry
Be yourself don't hide
Just believe in destiny.

Don't care what people say
Just follow your own way
Don't give up and use the chance
To return to innocence.

That's not the beginning of the end
That's the return to yourself
The return to innocence.

Friday, 23 January 2009

I can't stop...


I thought it was just going to be Tuesday, when we got to say goodbye to the worst president in the history of the United States and hello to an intelligent, gifted, *thoughtful* man. I alternated between grinning and welling up all day.

Then, he immediately halted all proceedings against prisoners in Guantanamo. Then *he ordered Guantanamo closed*. Then he ordered *the closing of all CIA ghost prisons and the end of the torture of prisoners*. And it went on.

On Thursday, the anniversary of Roe v Wade, he reaffirmed his commitment to a woman's right to choose:

Statement of President Obama on the 36th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade

On the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we are reminded that this decision not only protects women's health and reproductive freedom, but stands for a broader principle: that government should not intrude on our most private family matters. I remain committed to protecting a woman's right to choose.

While this is a sensitive and often divisive issue, no matter what our views, we are united in our determination to prevent unintended pregnancies, reduce the need for abortion, and support women and families in the choices they make. To accomplish these goals, we must work to find common ground to expand access to affordable contraception, accurate health information, and preventative services.

On this anniversary, we must also recommit ourselves more broadly to ensuring that our daughters have the same rights and opportunities as our sons: the chance to attain a world-class education; to have fulfilling careers in any industry; to be treated fairly and paid equally for their work; and to have no limits on their dreams. That is what I want for women everywhere.

That's right. People who think abortion should be SAFE AND LEGAL don't necessarily think it's the most wonderful thing since sliced bread, capisce (capisci, if I know you)? We recognise it as a necessity, not as something we desire. You are never, ever going to stop abortion by making it illegal. It has been around for millenia in various forms. The way to stop it is by reducing unwanted pregnancies by going after the factors that cause them. Go after the causes, and abortion becomes unnecessary = no more abortions. Makes far more sense than sending women to back streets and coat hangers.

And then, and then...he repealed the global gag rule. *Weep*

And his choice for Secretary of State walked into her office and spoke about women and girls like they were real people, not receptacles for male seed or male playthings. And then she said:

But be of good cheer and be of strong heart, and do not grow weary, as we attempt to do good on behalf of our country and the world.

Finally, someone at the State Department who understands what the true purpose of America's wealth, talent and position is: to do as much good with it as possible around the world and to help those who need us.

And they both spoke of debate and disagreement as part of the normal order of things.

As Rachel said on my facebook status, it's like waking up in a parallel world where the last eight years were just a horrible nightmare.

I won't agree with him on everything, and he'll piss me off, I'm sure. But at least it will be an intelligent, thoughtful man pissing me off, and I'll know there will have been a reason for what he did, even if it's one with which I really disagree. And I think I can trust him to tell us what it was, not just ask us to take it on faith. We'll see.

But I live in hope. And as the 44th president of the United States once said, "There is nothing false about hope." Amen.

I can renew my passport now - with a sense of pride, not shame.

Deo gratias.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Dream journal 16/01/09

I have a slew of blog posts in the works, but this one needs to be written - it feels like the one that is blocking the rest of my writing, including my essay. As you can see, it's from 5 days ago, so really needs to be done now.

Last Friday night, I had two dreams that I remember very clearly. The first was an anxiety dream, which always shows up as travel problems for me: being late for a plane, missing a bus, not having my luggage, can't find where I'm going. In this one, I was sharing a room with one of my male friends and his girlfriend (don't ask, I don't know either), and I had to get going. I went shopping in a mall at night, and then went out to find the LAST bus that night. Even though I left the shop with everything, I no longer had my jacket or my bag and had a hard time finding the bus stop. When I did, I couldn't get on and was getting really upset when I woke up.

Classic anxiety.

The next one was big.

I was outside the house (much bigger than the real thing), sharing with the same housemates I have now. Up the (non-existent) drive came Fr Simon, current prior at BF in his habit (sans cappa) and his straw sunhat, bringing me the post for the house. I cursorily flicked through it, but my interest was taken by a bouquet of gorgeous tropical flowers with a huge box underneath it. I looked at Simon and joked, "WHY does my housemate get all the nice stuff??" Simon laughed and left, carrying on his rounds, I guess.

It had been a bright but chilly day outside, yet as I walked up the stairs to put the post by various people's doors, it became darker, as if only moonlight and starlight were coming in the windows. The carpet on the stairs and in the upstairs hallway was off white and plush under my feet, the walls were white...clean, not clinical. The hallway was dark as I entered it, with three wooden doors at the far end. At the top of the staircase, I needed to turn sideways to avoid a large, standing wrought-iron candelabra with about 10 candles in it. The candles were white.

I had put a small package for me on the kitchen counter downstairs. When I reached the upstairs hallway, I put down the gorgeous tropical bouquet, and as I did so, noticed that the large central flower was a protea. I went to put the box by Clare's door, pettily thinking, "God, why doesn't someone send me something like this?" [I know what this ties into for me, which is something very human...there are times when I think, "I am so sick of being happy for EVERYONE ELSE."]

Then it occurred to me to do something I hadn't yet done: see to whom it was addressed.

It was addressed to *ME*.

I sat down in the candlelit hallway a bit sheepishly and opened the box. It was stunning. There were gorgeous scented candles, bath things, the most beautiful blue-green translucent stones that I kept running through my fingers. It was all pampering stuff, and I realised that the gorgeous bouquet was for me as well. I couldn't stop smiling. In the corner of the box, I noticed a letter on pink stationery.

I picked it up and started to read, and as I did, the voice of one of my closest friends, an art therapist, started reading it:

Dear Irim,

Here is a gift for you so that you can prepare for your man.

I laughed, and looked down at the box, which had gotten far bigger. In front of me was something new - real gold...tweezers or tongs - and further along were little compartments I couldn't see into yet, but desperately wanted to.

I picked up the letter again and flipped to the back, and was surprised to see that it was signed "Jack" - and my friend isn't a Jackie or a Jacquelyn.

Today, I went round to hers and told her the dream, which she loved. Several things came up:

1. She noted that it was in colour and every sense was represented.
2. Also noted: every 'element' was represented - fire, air, earth, water - and for the 5 element Chinese system, wood.
3. She asked what 'Jack' meant to me...and I said names? It certainly didn't have a male feel to it, and the only Jacks I know are male (sorry, CJ, don't think of you as one).
She said, "No, brainstorm. Surprise gift - jack-in-the-box. Jack of all trades. Jack it in."
We discussed it further and she mentioned that the one feeling she had from it was 'be still' and the phrase about Our Lady "she pondered these things in her heart."
That led us to my reading the first and last part of the letter, rather than reading it all the way through. "Jumping Jack" came up then, as did the need to go through everything, rather than rushing.
4. I noted that I had assumed that the flowers and box *weren't for me*, that the good stuff *never comes to me* - that it was so much a part of my mindset that I hadn't even LOOKED to see who the addressee was.
5. She noted that the box had gotten bigger and was still giving - she called it a cornucopia. "Ah," I said, "Demeter, the eternal mother, is my main archetype." We discussed Persephone, Queen of Hades as part of that as well.
6. She felt that these were *my* inner gifts that were coming into fruition/consciousness. Makes sense as I came UPSTAIRS - from the subconscious into the conscious.
7. Also noted - the gifts were of cleansing (bath), spirit (candles/stones) and change.
8. I'm running around chasing too much - I need to let things/God come to me. And they will. I need to sit, wait, be still - and I think there's a real call for my prayer to become more meditative.
9. I'm being taken care of/nurtured/mothered.

Over to everyone else - I'd love to hear from you.

And now, let's see if the writing block to everything else is over...

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Spot the Torygraph error...

Go here for a quick analysis of First Lady Michelle Obama's (*chokes up*) inauguration dress, which makes ME wonder if I could get away with wearing gold.

But spot Hilary Alexander's mistake here:

Her ensemble, by one of her favourite designers, Isabel Toledo, was a strong, modern statement, which was in marked contrast to the classic, conservative, tailored, high-necked skirt-suit in a pale delphinium blue chosen by the outgoing First Lady, Barbara Bush.

And the TARDIS takes us back to 20 January 1993...

More on the inauguration once I stop being so choked up.

Monday, 19 January 2009









[I can't get it to crop any better, so click on the comic to read it properly.]

To misquote C.S. Lewis:

The [nightmare] is ended: this is the morning.

Actually, if they arrived today or tomorrow, it would be fine, especially if they're into garbage disposal/recycling, they can take the old leader and his cronies away...

[H/T to a facebook friend - she knows who she is :)]

And how appropriate is it that today we celebrate Martin Luther King's birthday (it's actually on 15 Jan).

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

Though that dream is not yet a reality, Dr King, tomorrow at noon EST, 5pm GMT/UTC, we will take one giant step towards making it so.

And despite the rolling back of our civil liberties, and the contempt for the rule of law in the last administration -

We shall overcome,
We shall overcome,
We shall overcome someday:

Oh deep in my heart,
I do believe
we shall overcome some day.

The whole wide world around.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Letter to Israel

Dear President, Prime Minister, people and unconditional supporters of Israeli policy,

I started writing this ten days ago, long before a ceasefire was in sight. That tells you how difficult it was to write.

On the subject of how you maintain security, I can no longer keep silent.

I have tried, and tried desperately, not least because many of the people I love support you and your policies ardently, and I have tried to respect that. I don't want to lose friendships, lose the precious ties that bound me to my ex-students, some of whom have found me again via Facebook and all of whom I am loath to lose. I love you all. Remember that challenge is a form of that love.

I have also kept silent out of my passionate love for Judaism. I came so close to entering your fold, but one of the things that held me back was the unspoken rule of unquestioning support for Israeli policies. I loved Judaism because I was allowed to discuss faith passionately and question it, but I was troubled by the fact that I couldn't question the politics of its homeland.

Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people and as a representative of God's kingdom on Earth, absolutely.

Current Israeli actions? Never.

I have had serious questions about Israeli motivations ever since I can remember, beginning with Sabra and Shatila. I could never quite believe, even when I was young, that it was about defence. It was...too much, too aggressive, too angry. Surrounding the camps whilst the Phalangists massacred people? Indiscriminate bulldozing, firing and bombing? The rage with which you respond is the rage of extermination and revenge, not the righteous anger of those protecting their own.

If you were truly protecting your own, you would respond with surgical and precise force, not that of Goliath.

What HAS been surgical and precise is the dismantling of the Palestinians' hope, leaving them nothing but inhuman ways to respond. I can understand why THEY respond with reptilian attacks - they have no prospects of a good education, a good job, of ever escaping the hell that is the huge, 60-year-old refugee camp of Gaza. In a misguided attempt to keep the Palestinians from being a threat, you made them one. You took away everything that could have given them hope: access to the lives that every human being aspires to. In dismantling - or preventing - an infrastructure of education and economy, you created the monsters you feared.

Had you come in and built Israel together with Ishmael's children, made them full Israeli citizens with the opportunities that every person deserves, Israel and the world would be a very different place. A better one, I suspect.

So why not?

I've thought about this long and hard, and the answer that keeps recurring is a troubling one. It starts in Egypt at the time of Moshe, during the first Pesach.

Your God killed the firstborn of every Egyptian to set you free. He killed *every first-born child* of people who *were also His creation* so YOU could go free. Parents lost their first-born children so you could go free: people who didn't know you were slaves, didn't necessarily have anything to do with your being slaves, lost children to pay for your freedom. Parents grieved the greatest loss because your God valued you more than He valued them. I'd like to think that I'd have told my Egyptian neighbours to put blood on their lintels.

That story has always bothered me - the idea that some lives are worth more than others to a God who created them all. Why murder innocent children? Why not completely freak Pharaoh out in some other way? Surely the God who created him knew what his weak spot was.

Then, I'd hear snippets that would be dropped in conversation - snippets about how charity was 'towards another Jew', leaving me to wonder where there that left the rest of us. And though this next argument is only discussed in the narrowest band of Judaism, I was horrified to discover that the question of whether or not it is appropriate to save a non-Jewish life on Shabbat was even entertained.

Yes, I understand the desire to protect your own, especially when you're a small group of tribes/nation. But there's a fine line between protecting your own and believing that those outside your tribe/nation are somehow less human than you are, and therefore their lives don't have the same value as yours. We all do it to some extent with those who are 'other'. It's not right, but it's human.

I just want one of you to stand up and tell the truth:

"Honestly, we view the Gazans as cockroaches, not human, and we're trying to exterminate them."

It's the only explanation I can come up with for why it is possible to imprison 1.5 million people in a small square of land, blockade them into near starvation, then bombard them relentlessly from the air, then prevent humanitarian aid from reaching them as much as possible.

It's the only explanation I have for why the country with the *best* surgical strike team in the world didn't use that to grab several hundred Hamas members you'd been keeping an eye on, rather than using a broadbrush ground and air assault.

It's the only explanation I have for bizarre excuses for large numbers of casualties, such as 'they dug up bodies from graves to pad out numbers of casualties.' Sorry, but decomposition and erm, empty graves would be obvious markers of that.

It's the only explanation I have for the lack of remorse at over 1,000 deaths. They're simply collateral damage.

It's the only explanation I have for the angry defensiveness at any kind of criticism from anyone, including the indiscriminate use of 'Holocaust denier'.

Every last one of which is a sign that you need to take a good, long hard look in the mirror.

It's the only way that I can make sense of the fact that people who are amongst the most thoughtful, humane, caring people I have EVER met can do what has happened in Gaza.

It's the only way to explain why people who are amongst the best at nuanced thinking can suddenly only think in black and white when it comes to the issue of Israeli security, and lose sight of creative solutions that might actually work, rather than repeating the same heavy-handed force that fails time after time. Your security and the security of the Palestinians are intertwined. They are NOT mutually exclusive.

To quote one of your own: "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

It's time to grow up as a nation and accept responsibility, admitting that whilst your intentions were good, the end does not justify the means, and that the abused has come perilously close to becoming the abuser.

Look into your enemies' eyes. I think you may find that they are just like yours. One day at a time, one friendship at a time, this must end. And know that every goy's life is worth just as much as one of yours in God's eyes. Then, I think, it will all fall into place. And all those wonderful qualities you bring to bear in discussing your faith will come into your politics.

Surely sixty years of this is enough. Shalom.

Remember that every time you dehumanise another human being, you dehumanise yourself. And it breaks my heart to see that happen to children I have taught and people - a people - that I love.

But don't just listen to two excellent analyses, Robert Fisk and your own Avi Shlaim, who fought with the IDF in the 60s, offer food for thought.

And know that as tough as my criticism is, I love you dearly. I wouldn't have bothered if I didn't care.

G-d bless,

How to tell when an Oratorian has had a hell of a day...

[read: the liturgy went terribly wrong...]

1. Uses the wrong glass for a G & T.
2. Uses the wrong method for getting to the bottom of said glass for the last few inches of the G&T...

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

And justice...

...has a chance of being served.

First of all, a huge thank you to those of you who brought it to our attention by recording it on your phones and taking pictures of it on your cameras, then posted it on youtube and various sites around the world.

Well done, everyone who spoke out, emailing, phoning, blogging and through peaceful protest.

When we pull together and speak as one, things happen.

Next stop: Gaza. I've been writing that entry for a week, but have found it very painful going. But it has to be said.

Silence costs too much.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Cynical consortium

From the British Retail Consortium:

"Many hard-pressed customers couldn't be seduced into spending."

Wow. That is just so...breathtakingly, callously self-absorbed, even Narcissus would be hard-put to beat it. A true statement of the core values of our economy.

Newsflash, BRC: If hard-pressed customers are holding their ground and NOT spending money they don't have, maybe the economy is going in the right direction. We need to learn that everything moves in cycles, up and down, and if we'd allowed for the smaller economic downturns, rather than trying to keep the economy artificially inflated by encouraging - oops, sorry, seducing - people to spend money they don't have, we wouldn't be here.

After all, how much meaning can there be in a medium of exchange whose value is determined by the words:

Fiat, fiat voluntas mea?

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Oscar Grant and BART

Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old black father of a 4-year-old, was shot by Bay Area Rapid Transit police on New Year's Day. The video is here, warning, *trigger*:

New Video of Bart Shooting Is Clearest Yet
Posted using ShareThis

the story is here.

Possibilities for action are here.

And here is my letter to the BART board of directors, Chief Gee of the Oakland police and Sergeant Chlebowski of BART:

Dear Director Ward Allen, Board of Directors at BART, Sergeant Chlebowski and Chief Gee,

As an American citizen living abroad, I was horrified to hear about the shooting of Oscar Grant on New Year's Day. Unfortunately, having been born and raised in the States (near Washington, D.C.), despite having been born years after the Civil Rights Act was passed, I was not surprised.

I tried to believe it was an accident. I WANTED to believe it was an accident and that, as Linton Johnson told CNN, the officer was devastated. I tried to picture a scenario where the accused was unrestrained, fighting, trying to run away - was in some way posing a threat.

Then I saw the video. And my horror and rage went incandescent. It is painfully clear that he was sitting against the wall, first pleading his case with a police officer - as is clear from his body language. Then, a police officer comes from off camera, apparently telling him to stand up, which he does. At which point, his standing up becomes an excuse for TWO OFFICERS to put him on the ground, one restraining him at his head in some way.

The second officer, *WITH MR GRANT FACE DOWN ON THE GROUND*, pulls his weapon - and please don't pretend that he confused it with a Taser, because, as any many police officers with a district or state have publicly stated, they feel VERY different - and calmly removes the safety and pulls the trigger (thus negating any theory that he thought it WAS a taser).

It was obvious to me that Mr Grant didn't pose a threat. Officer Mehserle needs to be tried for first degree murder. As TwoStrayDogs says over at Shakesville:

"I watched the train-window video several times with several of my colleagues; we're all members of a major northern CA PD. No, we don't know what was being said, or what closeup details were missed in this incident. However, all of us looked at each other and said, "Oh, Jesus." Suspect was down, under reasonable control, two officers pinning him by his arms and shoulders with the third officer near his lower back. There was no "Taser mixup." You don't draw and fire a 50,000 volt device at danger-close proximity to other officers involved in a melee. The chances of hitting your partner(s) are too great. He drew his weapon deliberately, took aim, and discharged that weapon. You can also see the surprise in his partners when they jump up after having the round slam into the suspect inches from their faces and torsos. I have no idea what that shooter was thinking, but the video sure looks like an execution."

Not only he, but also his colleagues, none of whom said, "WTF are you DOING?" need to be tried for murder and as accomplices to murder. Nothing else would qualify as justice.

I would also like to see police officers getting more than *72* hours of training in when to draw their weapons and how to use them. They should get 100s, if not 1000s of hours of training in how to cope in a crisis situation. It MUST become second nature, like breathing. This is what they deal with ALL THE TIME. In addition to trying them, you MUST examine their training.

Clearly, in standard police procedure, all the suspects would have been patted down for weapons. What I don't understand is, if they were seen as threats, WHY OFFICER ME


There's nothing here to exonerate him, and the officers are further damned by their attempts to confiscate all cameras and mobile phones to hide the evidence.

After eight years of wanting to burn my passport, I finally felt proud to be an American again after we elected an African-American as president in November.

Please do the right thing here. Please, let me continue to be proud to be an American again.

I've spent too long being ashamed.

Thank you.

Kind regards,
Irim Sarwar

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Dream journal, 04/01/09

As part of my New Year's resolution to read signs and patterns more clearly, here's the first big dream of 2009.

I dreamt that I'd just had a baby girl, and was bringing her to be...baptised? Named? Dedicated? The reason I hesitate is that it wasn't a proper Catholic baptism - there was no font, I couldn't see a priest, etc. I couldn't see myself and my husband, though I could hear our conversation.

What I COULD see was the baby (and she WAS gorgeous, if I do say so myself ;D) in her disposable diaper (sorry, folks) and naught else; a white background - which I later worked out was an altar covered in altar linen; and the most beautiful wrought iron candelabra with short, fat, white candles, already lit. The altar seemed to be divided into thirds:

1. On (my) the right third of the altar was a moving picture of night scenes and constellations, a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis/Australis.

2. The centre was where the candelabra was.

3. To the left was a circle with symbols around it; I think it was in red and blue. It looked similar to an astrological circle, but I don't think that's quite right. There were also objects at various intervals around the circle.

I placed the little one on the centre of the altar, behind the candelabra. It looked like the candelabra was up against her physically, and I freaked out briefly, as any good mother would, but that turned out not to be the case. She was very content there, kicking happily, and I watched the right hand side of the altar, the stars wheeling past, and one scene that looked like "Song of the Sky" from Digital Blasphemy. I wish I could remember what my husband and I were saying, but I think it was mostly inconsequential.

Then I picked her up and placed her in the circle on the left hand side and her right hand reached out for one of the objects - interestingly, a golden candlestick with a white candle in it. I must have known what it symbolised in the dream, because I turned to my husband and said with deep amusement and affection, "Looks like she [takes after your side of the family]," then gently disengaged her hand from the candlestick and picked her up.

I woke up, as I do after all big dreams, committing it to memory and musing on its meaning. As it was only 04.20, I fell asleep again and had another dream, but all I remember is having to go underground to teach, standing at a blackboard with someone else and some recalcitrant students, trying to get them to commit something essential to memory. The irony is, of course, I can't remember what it was...

Any and all thoughts welcome. Over to you.

Pause for thought

From one of my favourite worst films ever, "The Prophecy" (1995).

It's the first time I've seen it in 13 years, when it was in general cinematic release. I had just become a Catholic then, and I couldn't resist when it popped up on Sky tonight. Thirteen years a Catholic, what would I think?

The film opens with an ordination, during which Thomas Daggett (Elias Koteas) is plagued by visions of an angelic war in heaven as he prostrates himself during the ceremony. We fast forward at least a decade, and Thomas is a police inspector, soon to be caught up in the angelic war he envisioned.

What surprised me, 13 years on?

*My unease at the archangel Gabriel being unabashedly evil. It was a film. Why did the concept of an archangel being evil, lacking in mercy cause such a visceral reaction? I know what angels DO. Why the shock?

*I ADORED Lucifer. Menacing, evil to the core, funny as hell. Pun intended. Someone I'd want to cross verbal swords with.
His redeeming quality was being utterly honest about who he was and what he was about. Wouldn't want to spend eternity with him, though.

*Something below the awful execution of the film resonated. Really resonated. Part of it was needing to test my faith by turning it upside down, by really pushing it. Something about looking into the abyss. But there's more to be explored - something that attracts me to Hinduism, something about the dark, violent side of God that Christianity always denies and/or splits off from God, something that must be present in God, or it wouldn't be present in His creation. It creates a fragmented, weak God, just as the shattering of the Dark Crystal created two weak races, rather than one whole, powerful, vibrant one.

Acknowledging that, bringing it back, would make Christianity whole, robust and finally, real.

To that end, here are the quotes I want to play with:

Simon: Oh, Gabriel. When was it that you lost your grace?

Thomas Daggett: Some people lose their faith because Heaven shows them too little. But how many people lose their faith because Heaven showed them too much?

Gabriel: I'm an angel. I kill firstborns while their mamas watch. I turn cities into salt. I even, when I feel like it, rip the souls from little girls, and from now till kingdom come, the only thing you can count on in your existence is never understanding why.

Thomas Daggett: Did you ever notice how in the Bible, when ever God needed to punish someone, or make an example, or whenever God needed a killing, he sent an angel? Did you ever wonder what a creature like that must be like? A whole existence spent praising your God, but always with one wing dipped in blood. Would you ever really want to see an angel?

Lucifer: Y'see, I'm not here to help you and the little bitch because I love you or because I care for you, but because two hells is one hell too many, and I can't have that.

Gabriel: This war is mine!
Lucifer: Your war is arrogance. That makes it evil. And that's mine.
Gabriel: Lucifer. Sitting in your basement. Sulking about your break-up with the boss. You're nothing.
Lucifer: Time to come home, Gabriel.

And perhaps the most oddly touching moment of the film:

Thomas Daggett: If you wanted to prove your side was right, Gabriel, so badly, why didn't you just ask Him? Why didn't you ask God?
Gabriel: Because He doesn't talk to me any more.

No, Gabriel. And to think you once spoke for Him.

Lucifer is right.

Time to come home. But only you can decide where.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Facebook status update

Sometimes, facebook status updates and the follow-up comments just need to be put here for my non-facebook friends' amusement. Enjoy.

My facebook status this morning: Irim can't believe someone is going to name their child 'Tron'. She's looking up 'mandatory sterilisation for idiots' in the Catholic catechism, to no avail.

Follow-up comments:

ER: Erm, did you see what Bristol Palin called her son?

JL: Ha, ha, ha, ha...Irim, you make me laugh. I love you!

Irim: Oh my god, no, El. Please tell me. xx

ER: Tripp.
Not only is it a stupid name, but she can't even spell it correctly.
My vicious mind is contemplating all sorts of cynical potential comments...

Irim: Honey, you start. I'll follow. Damn, I don't have any food in. Looks like takeaway - but Domino's or Indian? xx

ER: Well, I am wondering somewhat if she's giving us a hint as to the circumstances surrounding his naming- was she tripping at the time?


Irim: We are truly kindred spirits. I've pulled out the Indian menu.

LOL. I just assumed they were on a trip from Wasilla to...Anchorage? I was thinking...back seat of the car on the hard shoulder? Or in the diner car park?

BTW - thank you, just got it today. It was gorgeous :).


ER: Who doesn't love a good road tripp? ;)

You're very welcome. I saw it and thought of you.

JB: Course, their other choices were Sark, Clu, and Yori. So maybe the kid got off lightly...

Irim: Fair point, hon, fair point. I'd vote for R2D2 or C3PO myself.
My fave, though? Darth. A little darkness is good.

ER: My vote's for Chewbacca

Irim: Oooh, yes. For some reason, that name gives me a warm fuzzy feeling...


xx [Yes, the slanket addiction lives]

ER: "Ah, yes, those mad, bad and dangerous kids are Irim's twins: Chewbacca and Darth. I suppose they can be forgiven for behaving like that... y'know, given what she called them. That's why you shouldn't name your children in a drug induced haze...."

Can you imagine the parent-teacher conferences???


LOL! I was a teacher - I SO can.

Erm, Mrs. [my married name], hello.

Hello, Mrs Poinsettia, how are you?

Fine, thank you. So, Chewie and Darth.

Chewbacca. We call him Chewbacca.

Erm, yes. Yes. Chewbacca and Darth.

So, how are the boys doing?

Well, I'm glad you came in. Darth seems to, erm, keep trying to cut his classmate Luke's arm off with a torch that he claims is something he calls a 'light-sabre' and saying, "Luke, I am your father." Chewie - sorry, Chewbacca - keeps hanging out with this kid named Hans, and we're worried about his speech development. And they're both...terribly stubborn and given to pranks.

I see. And, how are they doing academically?

Well, very well, indeed. We have no complaints there.

Excellent, well, they're like this in first communion class, except Darth keeps trying to cut the priest's arm off instead...the apple doesn't fall far. Thank you very much, Mrs Poinsettia. They are very fond of you.

Thank you, ma'am.

[This blog entry will be edited as further comments come in. Watch this space.]

Friday, 2 January 2009

Happy New Year...

I must confess, there's nothing like seeing the softest expression and gentle behaviour from a man who is usually tough. It's even more likely to make me melt if he's in uniform.

All I have to add to this is that I hope 2009 means No fite and just rubs for hoominz too. We might be amazed to find that listening and trying to understand, rather than trying to destroy what we refuse to understand, may find our way through where guns won't.

So, again, in the words of a late 20th century bard:

"...a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear -

War is over, if you want it
War is over NOW."

Happy New Year...

one and all, and may 2009 be a wonderful one for all of you. May each year be better than the last.

I would also like to take this opportunity to publicly thank Fr Richard Conrad, OP, for the *best Christmas pudding I have EVER had*. I mean that - I'm going to admit that I usually can't abide the stuff - it's too heavy, too dry, no matter HOW much cream you pour over it. This was...a little slice of heaven. I think you may have converted me, Padre, but possibly only to yours.