Friday, 31 July 2009


...IM really is the way to go. I have friends who hate IM with a passion - those who will groan the moment an IM window pops up and pretend they haven't seen it. I totally hear that - sometimes playing around on the computer in your room is the ONLY time you get to be on your own, you don't want to have to talk to someone else; you just want the downtime.

But I love it. I love the combination of writing and real-time communication - it allows me the medium in which I am most articulate, especially when I'm upset and instant gratification. It also means that misunderstandings that explode via email can be corrected within minutes rather than days.

I also love the stream of consciousness, the way you can begin in London but end up in Perth, Australia, figuratively speaking. You can also layer conversations - with one friend, there are often three conversations happening simultaneously - one as you'd expect, one in square brackets [] and one in curly brackets {}. Fabulous.

But I think my favourite moments are those where the conversation becomes real - whether you're honestly saying to eachother, "Hey, look, we need to sort this out,"; laughing hysterically b/c you're being yourself, wickedly planning...oops, I can't say anymore; or when you're opening up and being vulnerable - and a friend just virtually wraps you up in their affection for you and reminds you, in the midst of everything that seems to be coming at you from all directions, that they think - no matter how crabby you get, despite your high-maintenance moments, your prickliness in certain situations, your need to organise everyone from your friends down to the nearest duck, whatever - that they think you're the bee's knees, whilst saying, "Hey, babe, take a hard look." That to them, it's about who you are, not what you do.

My last entry was, to some extent, about friends who get it wrong - well now, let me take the time to say that more than 90% of the time, mine get it RIGHT. And over the last few weeks, some of you have gotten it SO right - those who have simply said, I'm sorry it's a crap time; those who PM, IM and weigh in on 'Irim is going to kill someone/go crazy or postal/quit/become a permanently bitter and twisted human being' statuses; the one of you that popped up on IM last night and made me laugh so hard I thought I was going to die; the one who just knows to come up and say, "Are you ok? Are you sure?" and who, when I said I needed to see you, was there in no time to just let me fall apart in a way that almost no one sees, able to hold the space calmly, solidly and easily, not freaking out or trying to fill it, just letting me cry. Thank you all. Love you.

But today, it was Anna who popped up when one more thing cropped up, something that necessitated me leaving work in North Oxford to go to work in Iffley and back again. When she asked what was up, I just spilled and, with her permission, I reprint her virtual wisdom, which was, as usual, expressed as a huge hug with a gentle smack round the head.

look at what you have just told me

people who need an ear

there are 3 things there you cannot sort out

do I stay at church or go

brother, friends


your course work isthe most important thing for now

with my brother, it's just knowing that family ties are over
that even he doesn't want to be in touch.

instead of writing it on here write it on paper and burn it and let it go, you have done all you can do without changing yourself into what they want you to be


be nice to you Irim

I did good, didn't I?

you did
and you have been true to yourself
I think you are amazing

you are a strong beautiful woman who has the strength to stand against her entire culture to be who she is meant to be
family is blood and love, and is nothing without the love,
blood ties are very over rated xxx

Thank you. HUGE HUG
Do you mind if I quote you on that?

yeah thats fine by me lol just so long as you credit me withthe profound wisdom lol

Thursday, 30 July 2009


I'm tired of being accommodating.

I don't mind having flexible boundaries, not at all. I think there needs to be some give.

But I'm tired of being the one to make things 'all better' in a relationship, the first one to move towards some kind of resolution; the social secretary; the one who bites her tongue making allowances for others' moods; the one whose particular tendencies are first wanted, then excoriated when they no longer suit.

Do I set myself up? Yes. Do I get irritable? Yes. Can I be blunt? Guilty as charged. Do I love problem solving a little too much? Erm...ok, yeah. Can I be a bossyboots? HELL, yes. Do I make mistakes/errors in judgment? All. the. damn. time.

But is my heart in the right place? Pretty much.

People judge me all the time. I judge them; turnabout is fair play. It's not a problem if you don't know me; I don't really give a f*** that C or E from church think I look pissed off when I'm there. I generally am when I'm with OX2 'rah rah' types who kiss up to priests and treat everyone else like crap.

But if you KNOW me and make judgments without taking into account my personality, strengths, weaknesses, what you know is going on - if you don't make the allowances I generally make for you; if you treat me as some generic psychological specimen in a vacuum - problem. And it's even worse if you speak to me as if I were someone you don't know. I only do that when I'm coldly angry to the point of doing something irrevocable. Even then, I usually manage something friendly, unless I feel betrayed.

Taking personality and context into account when applying principles is the only way to make an approximation of someone's motives. Even then, you need to get around to asking them eventually.

But back to accommodation. Why do I do it? Because people are important. Far more important than things will ever be. If I'm measuring things up, people will always come in light-years ahead of things, and people are what I will bend over backwards to save. When I'm stressed, if I drop something, fine. If I drop someone, especially someone in crisis, there's no coming back from that. Bottom line.

I think one of the things that has really gotten to me over the last while or so is feeling like a commodity in various relationships: "I want this from you now, but if you fall into it here, it's an unforgiveable sin - God forbid you should be yourself when I don't want you to be"; "Hi, you're the one person who won't get upset, do you mind if I move *you*" (that has to be a pattern for me to get upset); or even those who think, "Irim can wait. She'll be there."

You'd be surprised. I'll bend over backwards for good reasons. But when it becomes a habit, that's something entirely different.

It has always been my feeling that one can unilaterally make a decision that involves something; that is just you and... a book. Or a cooking pot. Whatever.

But the moment that someone else is involved, you lose that right to make the decision on your own.

Of course, if you can't make something, you can't make it. Fine. But have the grace to be the one who takes the initiative to sort something out, so it's clear that you value the friendship, that spending time with this person matters to you. In fact, if they're the one who always sorts it - initiate every so often anyway, so they KNOW you want to be spending time with them and not dental flossing cats instead.

I'm gobsmacked at the number of people who think they can make unilateral decisions that have an impact on other people's lives, schedules, emotions. To quote a good friend, "Dude, WTF?" How dare anyone make a decision that involves another adult (obviously, children are another matter), especially a friend, present it as a fait accompli - and then expect it to be OK? What kind of chutzpah is it that they then get offended because the other person doesn't react in a way that suits them? It's a weird kind of lack of awareness - almost like the person is an object, without feelings, without a life, without their own ideas about the situation.

Now, that's not saying things can't change - they do and they should. But when you're making a decision that involves someone else - TALK TO THEM. Say, "Hey, this is what's going on with me, and I think it might involve you. This is what I've been thinking - what are your thoughts on this?" THAT shows respect, care and awareness of the other person as an individual, as someone you value.

A unilateral decision shows a lack of awareness at best, but more often, it shows a lack of care. (Obviously, there are times when it is appropriate - abuse, breakups, and so on. But hopefully in many of those cases (except abuse - RUN), one has tried to communicate, has tried those bilateral avenues.)

Clearly, a unilateral decision can only be accepted by the person to whom it is presented. But even the most accommodating person files it away with a sense of having not been considered as part of the decision.

Eventually, even the most flexible of boundaries can snap back like a rubber band. That can sting. But unlike rubber bands, they may never flex again for a particular person. Someone who had been a good friend for 13 years wrote a letter that was so awful that to this day, I will only refer to her by a pragmatic relationship - never as a friend. And I will never initiate contact with her again.

I don't believe in giving someone the other cheek to slap. It's just plain stupid to let yourself be abused again.

So yeah, I'm done accommodating. Except in appropriate circumstances and except with people who accommodate me and let me be who I am, warts and all.

And on a more serious note...

I have several 'Quote of the days' that find themselves into my inbox. One of my favourites is "Oneness" from Rasha, and the last two quotes have been particularly apropos:

"Allow the episodes of greatest intensity to play out unimpeded, for your judgment of the depth of your feelings could serve to inhibit the authenticity of your response. The objective here is not restraint, but rather, release."

"Trust that there are levels of consciousness within you that understand precisely what is happening and why it is necessary that you be subject to this period of upheaval."

And intense episodes and upheaval it has been indeed, from December with very little let-up over the last seven months. Bottom line? I'm absolutely shattered.

But faith keeps me putting one foot in front of the other.

"They are very small ducks"

I know, I know, I need to get round to writing some proper entries.

Meanwhile, love this, of which THIS is the BEST example. I was laughing so hard I needed supplemental oxygen afterwards.

Alongside the 'no pets', Mr Thorne's 'seven-legged spider' puts him in the premier league of 'crazy like a fox' emailers.

Fucking brilliant. Now I just need to get him to email the Vatican...

Friday, 17 July 2009

Candles, cathedrals and dreams

It must be a mark of how shattered I am that if I'm home before 6, like as not, I'll tumble into bed for a 45-60 min nap. And that in that short period, I dream. Vividly. And I'll still sleep like a baby at night. Well, maybe not my friends' babies, but...

This evening was no exception. I arrived home at 5.55 pm, went upstairs and fell into bed, falling asleep almost immediately. And suddenly, I was in a huge cathedral.

It reminded me very much of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Confection Conception in Washington, but without the angry Zeus Jesus on the ceiling and the pastiche of styles that make it truly ugly. High, white ceilings, HUGE, open, basilica - and it was a sunny day. I was standing at the back whilst a number of my clerical friends milled about and mixed further into the cathedral, grinning with pleasure watching them, but remaining behind the last row of pews, near a large pillar candle.

Suddenly, they decided to play around and have a mock procession through the cathedral, with Robert OP leading. It was a huge procession, and with the exception of my friends, the figures were shadowy. I thought, 'that looks like fun', and suddenly Krzysztof, hands shaking, came out of the procession and wordlessly handed me what looked like a menorah, but far more rectangular/angular than the ones that I'm used to (and fond of: I tend to prefer the classically round shape or some of the more antique looking ones).

It looked a lot like this, but gold, and I think there was only ONE branch downwards to the base:

For those of you who know the Oratory, it looked a lot like one of the rows at the candelabrum of Our Lady of Oxford.

There was only one white candle lit, and as I started to move to join the procession it blew out because of a strong wind from behind me that I had just noticed.

"Damn," I thought, "I'll light it again from the pillar and shield it, then I'll be able to keep it lit and get it out of the wind." No chance. That time or the several that followed it.

Finally, Robert and Nick came out of the procession to find out what was going on and why I hadn't joined them. As the others gathered, I explained and they tried, Nick reaching over to straighten the candle in its holder, whilst Robert took over trying to light it. But the wind at my back grew ever more insistent, and suddenly I looked down at the menorah/candelabrum and there were four white candles tumbled onto the base, slightly melted with the black residue that was the result of repeated attempted lighting.

At this point we paused briefly, as Robert talked out what might work and Nick stood back, brow furrowed, chin on hand, looking at me and the candelabra thoughtfully, trying to work out what was going on. And then it struck me. Not a breeze ruffled their hair or their cassock/habit. The pillar candle burned cheerfully, unwavering. The back doors weren't open.

I was the only one affected by the zephyr at my back that I now realised felt sentient.

I tuned back into Robert, who was saying, "We could do what we do with the Easter vigil candles and put plastic cups over them - you know, with the holes cut out of the bottom."

The words tumbled out of my mouth: "No, Robert, you can't. It'll keep them lit, but it'll shelter them too much - they're not meant to be sheltered, closed in like that."

I sensed the agreement as the wind blew harder at my back whispering, "No, no, no."

I woke, my eyes falling on the clock - 6.55.

My first thought was, "You can never light a menorah in a cathedral. It doesn't belong there."

Over to you - all thoughts welcome.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

How do you solve a problem like Maria (Goretti)?

There are millions of Catholic saints, many named, but most not.

Of those that are named, everyone has those that they have an affinity for and those that repel them. Whilst I adore Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross, I couldn't dislike Therese of Lisieux, Padre Pio or Jose Escriva de Balaguer more. Different strokes for different folks.

But Maria Goretti is something else entirely.

For those who do not know the story of Maria Goretti, here it is in short: born in 1890, it is claimed (with all the smell of a justifying backstory) that she was a particularly God-fearing, pious little girl. On 5 July 1902, her neighbour, Alessandro Serenelli, came upon her sewing and said he would kill her if she didn't let him rape her, at which point she told him it was a mortal sin and that he would go to Hell if he carried on. He choked her, she refused, he stabbed her 17 times. She died later in hospital, supposedly having forgiven her attacker.

She then became the patron saint of those who had been raped and sexually abused.

Do we see a problem here?

Let me sum Saint Maria Goretti up for you in four words: better dead than deflowered.

Several years ago, I sat in church on her feast day, open-mouthed in absolute shock as the priest stood up and waxed lyrical over how Maria had died to protect her purity, how amazing that was, and how she was an example for everyone to follow. My rather politically incorrect thought, and the only one that is vaguely printable, was, "WTF does a woman's purity matter to YOU, you aging queen?"

When I confronted one of his colleagues, who happens to be a good friend, about it, he responded that Maria Goretti's sainthood was about forgiveness, not her chastity. I know he believes that, but I think he's wrong - and here's why:

From Pope Pius XII:

"The value of Christian virtue is so great, so overwhelming, so imperative, that it is worth more than life. Purity is not just a separate part of our being. It belongs to our existence as a whole, it is essential for our life. Purity brings us in harmony of body and soul."

From JP II:

"Maria Goretti, so illuminating with her spiritual beauty, challenges us to a firm and secure faith in the Word of God, as the only source of truth, to remain firm against the temptations of this world."

"Young people, look at Maria Goretti, don’t be tempted by the tempting atmosphere of our permissive society, which declares, everything is possible. Look to Maria Goretti, love, live, defend your chastity."

Oh, and let's not forget the Maria Goretti Society which has cute pink t-shirts that say 'Maria Goretti Society: Purity is worth dying for'. Is it, fuck.

Of course, we all know that being threatened by rape is the same as being tempted by 'permissive society'. It's the same as choosing to remain chaste. I mean, after all, what's the difference between being a child, helpless in the face of someone twice your size or a woman threatened at gunpoint and saying 'No' to your boyfriend because you want to wait?

Obviously, none in the eyes of the above popes, and thus, none in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church.

So, let's look at virginity/purity. Worth dying for?

Virginity is simply the state of not having had sex - nothing more and nothing less. In and of itself, it is neutral. Value is placed on it by a patriarchy incapable of getting past its animal nature: a virgin bride/woman ensures that any children belong to the man who's sleeping with her (also the reason that a woman's faithfulness is more important than a man's, of course). Perpetual virginity, robbing a woman of her sexuality, makes a woman the eternal girl, meaning that she is non-threatening to the men who idealise her - making it impossible for any living woman to measure up.

I'm sure as hell not dying to protect that. And there is NO way I'd want a daughter of mine to, either.

I'm not saying, 'Wey-hey, everyone, go out and shag mindlessly' - unless that's your thing. You should never give up anything that is uniquely yours - and your body and the way you have sex is that - to win approval, to buy love, to manipulate, to fill an emptiness you can't face. You should give it because you WANT to, because you LOVE what you are about to do. And in that case, when you give it and to whom is no one else's business (unless you're doing it where I and everyone else have to watch).

The problem with Maria Goretti is the message she, and the priests & faithful who idolise her, sends - that those of us who were sexually abused or raped and lived aren't worth a hell of a lot. At the very least, we're worth less than Maria Goretti and those who chose to die.

Read my lips: Bullshit.

Whilst I absolutely respect and mourn those who have died, the courage and power of the survivors never ceases to humble me. Does some sheltered celibate REALLY believe that I would rather have a daughter of mine DIE a virgin than LIVE, having survived a horrific crime? How can you POSSIBLY even THINK that I would rather bury a child than hold her, help her make it through her darkness, teach her to trust, help her to take the steps she needs to heal?

Whilst we mourn and honour the women who chose to fight their attackers and died, we celebrate those who survived. Those who take those baby steps back towards trust, love, being able to be touched. Those who cheer every milestone: the moment a lover can touch you there; the first time you don't freeze or check out during a makeout session or sex; the first time a man coming up behind you doesn't freak you out; the first time you can sit in the middle of a row at the movies; the first time a man can touch your hair without your tensing up and oh-so-many-more things most people take for granted. Those who breathe through the flashbacks; through the two steps forward, one step back; those who wake up from the nightmares.

Survivors become rape counsellors. Survivors learn immense compassion. Survivors can enter almost any emotional landscape. Survivors make a disproportionate difference. And eventually, survivors thrive.

Don't you DARE tell me dying takes more courage. Unless you've been there or been beside someone who has, you know NOTHING. Speak not of what you know not - especially from the pulpit, where your words have immense effect - for good and for ill.

Worshipping a 12-year-old and glorifying what one of my priest friends sneeringly called 'infant chastity' is just *sick*. And making her the patron saint of women who have been sexually abused and raped reeks of contempt. Find us someone who has actually survived, suffered and overcome.

Go on. I dare you.

Maria Goretti's feast day is Monday, 6 July. A day that I can make it to mass. Will I go?

You bet. Why?

Because if one of the four priests most likely to go into raptures over how wonderful it was that Maria died protecting her chastity is up there and opens his mouth, I want him to have to LOOK at me when he says that.

And then, I want him to have to answer to me on behalf of every amazing survivor - man or woman - who has suffered rape or sexual abuse. I want him to understand exactly what his words could have done to someone in his congregation who has been violated in ways he can't even begin to imagine, or to impressionable children. I want him to remember that his vocation is to heal, not expound some twisted ideal - after all, he wouldn't suggest that someone who was mugged should have died instead, would he? No rape/sexual abuse victim bears ANY responsibility for the crime perpetrated on them. The responsibility - EVERY LAST IOTA OF IT - lies with the person who chose to attack and violate.

A small thing - one person, one statement. But a small difference is better than none at all.

And this one's for everyone who has the courage to survive - and find their way back to living, loving and laughing. One step at a time.