Wednesday, 23 February 2011

On being called ma'am

I hate it. I can tolerate it from those younger than me, but when it comes from those older than me, it's so physically repellent I want to throw up.

In this case, it has to do with a student who's older than me doing it.

Walking home from the bus stop, I remembered why it's so visceral. I used to joke about it making me feel old, but I always knew that wasn't it. Suddenly, today, I had this image of being in Pakistan and being about 9 or so, and having my relatives' servants call me 'baji' - same kind of respect as 'ma'am'...and feeling deeply, deeply uncomfortable with it. Even then I thought, 'This is so wrong. I'm a KID. Just because I was born into a family with more, YOU - YOU, who know more about life than I do, who have had a hard life, who works so hard - YOU have to call me 'baji'? I don't think so.'

The most fun I ever had in Pak, outside of time with my cousins, was with the servants. They read our palms, they babysat us, they gossiped, they loved us when we sat in the kitchen, they told stories, kept our secrets. They were REAL, and often happy in a way other adults weren't. I ADORED them and felt so guilty when they did stuff for me.

More times than I want to remember, one of my aunts or uncles would yell at them for the smallest infraction, because dinner wasn't ready fast enough or because they were taking out their frustrations on them. I might have spoken up, on occasion, saying that it wasn't their fault - and sometimes, if I wasn't dragged off, I'd stay and comfort one of the younger women if she was crying after being yelled at. That made me feel worse about going up to them and asking for something to hear 'Gee, baji?' From an ADULT to a CHILD. So wrong.

People would say it's an appropriate mark of respect. Respect? For a *9* year old? What fucking respect had I earned by being middle class? Exactly NONE. 'Sufi', 'Hajji', titles that are earned for some achievement or mark of character, ok. Otherwise? No.

And I feel the same way about priests. You get the respect of your office when I respect the man you are. Character gets respect. Titles aren't worth the graphite a pencil uses to write them.

This student calling me that? NO. No. He's older than I am, wiser than I am, a better person than I am, has done so much in his life. IF there's inequality here, it goes the other way.

In the end, that's really the crux of it: it creates barriers between people. It gets in the way of talking to you, finding out who you are, genuine meeting.

And taking the time to listen and spend time? Now THAT is real respect.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

8 Days. Day 8.

Day Eight: Four things you are terrified of, and four things you desire intensely.

4 things I'm terrified of.

1. An intimate relationship. For years, the thought of one brought on an intense sense of feeling trapped and difficulty breathing. The thought of having to share a room (my parents used to LOVE to 'clean' my room and invade it at all times), having to consider someone else when I wanted to get up and go, having someone else who HAD THE RIGHT TO DEMAND TO KNOW WHERE I WAS...FUCK IT. NO. I would go to my friends to have my parents ring 7 times to find out what we were doing; most of the time I couldn't leave the house. THIS. WAS. NOT. GOING. TO. HAPPEN. AGAIN. I. WILL. NOT. BE. CONTROLLED.

2. Living an unlived life. Again, see here. I know I've referred back to it before, but it really sums this one up.

3. Selfishness. OMG, I can't even begin to tell you how terrified I am of this one, of being a raging narcissistic beast who walks over anything and everything, who uses others as commodities to get what she 'wants'. The horror of it; the knowledge of the damage it causes...*shudder*

4. Dying without anyone noticing that I'm missing. This has a lot to do with a fear of not being important enough to someone for anyone to notice that I'm not there.


4 things I desire intensely

1. An intimate relationship. To be THE person in someone else's life and have them be the same in mine. The deep connection, the joint history built of ordinary and extraordinary moments - some difficult, some joyous, many of intimacy, just about the two of us - the emotional, physical and spiritual closeness. The little touches and looks. Nestling. Talking about everything. Witnessing each other's lives. Raising children. A shared vocation. Passion on all levels - real passion, not a flare, but a lasting fire - sometimes an inferno, sometimes banked.

Love shared in the deepest way possible in true union of body, heart and soul.

2. To make a real difference in people's lives, and thus, in the world. I know I want to do it big, working with people at the edge, working in some of the darkest places...but I'd be happy to do it in a quiet little corner of the world.

3. Deep connection in all my relationships. Truth, honesty, love - even when my heart breaks because of it, this.

4. Unfolding completely into the person I am meant to be and being able to always work from that wild space. Love, compassion, extending my talents to their fullest...flying, running at full stretch - then resting at full stretch. I want to be an alpha female in a wolfpack: at one with her alpha male, sometimes hunting, sometimes still and listening, sometimes playing...and rather often, nipping cubs' ears or picking them up by the scruff of the neck and moving them when they play too roughly, then lazily watching them again.

Home. That's what it's all about...coming home.

Monday, 7 February 2011

8 Days. Day 7.

Day Seven: The four most important things someone has said to you, and the four most damaging things someone has said to you

The 4 most important things.

1. I was talking to X [another teacher] and we think you have a huge, unexplored verbal talent. --Jean Hill, my Western Civ/American History AP teacher, senior year of high school

I adored Ms Hill. She kind of scared me in 7th grade, when she was all spiky, but when I ended up sitting next to her in my Western Civ class (she had a circle) and discovered we had similar dry senses of humour, we really clicked. I even rode down to the senior retreat with her and visited her daughter, Julie, when she was in Lower School.

It was, in fact, the day of the senior retreat that she said this to me. She'd pulled me into her office to find out why I wasn't going, and somehow, this came up as we talked about my parents and their expectations. I said something disparaging about my talent, and she responded with this and suggested that perhaps I shouldn't take them at their word when they said all I could do was maths and science.

It was too late for high school, of course, but not for university and beyond. Every humanities course I took, I got an 'A' in. And I learned that I love writing and am a pretty damn good editor.

Ms. H - as usual, you were right.

2. You were meant to go through the world two by two/You'll be a wonderful partner to some very lucky man/etc. --Various friends

I know that one of the reasons I never paired up - and only have the odd partner - is because of how trapped I felt in my family and how desperately unhappy my parents' marriage was. I was about 13 before I worked out that people married because, well, you know, they actually WANTED to. I still have a hard time with that, having known any number of dysfunctional couples who settled because they were afraid of being alone, or because their dysfunctions/wounds fit each other like an enzyme-substrate induced fit (look it up). Despite all the wonderful couples I know, these stick with me, as they elicit the claustrophobic near-panic feeling that I lived with growing up.

But another big part of it is this fear that I would be a horrible partner. Needy, clingy, sucking the other person dry. I'm terrified of this, even though it's not generally how I am in friendships, though I tend to feel that I am in close ones, where I'm more vulnerable. Every time, I think, 'OH CRAP, here I go again, they're going to think I'm completely devoid of humour, needy, too intense, clingy, OMG!!!!' So I pull back, but then, b/c they're close friends, need to talk to them again. Gah.

These quotes, from those who don't live in my crazy head, give me hope. Hope that they see me more clearly and that they are right. The fact that there are numerous versions of that quote over the years makes me hope that maybe they're onto something.

3. I want you/you're beautiful/If I were...

I'm used to being needed. Used to being liked for my humour. The fact that I'm capable. That I can listen. That I'll know what you need before you do. Those sorts of things.

But being desired, having someone think, 'God, you're gorgeous,' just WANTING me without wanting something FROM me...that's amazing. And far too rare. Thank you. You folks know who you are.

4. I love you to bits. I don't want you to change at all/Lose the edge, but not the passion?/Or not even lose the edge. --A close male friend, 20/2/10

I nearly cried.

The background: I had been a bitch. Not to him directly, but it mattered, and that's all you need to know. We'd touched on it a bit in writing, but it was this evening that the real work was done: this evening that we had the heart-to-heart where we spared each other nothing, where we were heart-achingly honest, this evening in our friendship where we knew we could be real with the other and we were absolutely safe.

I had been talking about how I felt hemmed in by all these people who seem to want all these bits of me that they really like, because they're useful to them, but they want X to change so they're more comfortable with who I am; something that makes me less wild.

And he just burst out with that.

I froze and stared at him, trying to read him, looking for the lie, for the reason to doubt him.

There was none.

The continuation of the exchange confirmed that, as has his behaviour - before and since. There is almost no one else with whom I feel so free to be myself, to just let go and be difficult, uncertain, dark me as well as competent, caring, funny, witty me. I do worry that I lean on him too much, because I know I can bring anything to him and I'm safe, but I also trust that he will TELL ME if I am leaning too hard. (Hint hint - you will be reading this, b/c I'm telling you about it :-).)

There aren't words to thank him for what he said that night and the support he's been through our friendship - laughter, listening, joint human observation ('Bossy girlfriend'/'OMG, that's a GUY? I thought it was a girl!'), just talking about anything and everything. AND he gets my idiolect.

I know how blessed I am to count him amongst my circle of friends.

Oh, he cheeks me and is as stubborn as I am - so voices will rise and gestures will fly - but I would trust him with my life. More importantly, I would trust him with the life of a child.

And yes, you, this was a chance to let you know how much this spontaneous comment of yours meant and to say 'thank you for being you' as much as anything else. Because even though I AM going to have to whack you with my cane more than once, our friendship is - to quote a Mastercard advert - priceless.


1. It's not important; it doesn't matter. --My father

This is what my father said when I told him his brother had sexually abused me.

2. Talk to me, I'm your mother. I won't tell Daddy [sic].

The evening chats when she wanted me to sit at the foot of her bed and have a cosy 'mother-daughter' chat where we shared our confidences. She told me how awful my father was, which made me open up and share how I was feeling. I should have known better: she never offered comfort, only asked more questions. I knew her well enough, that should have told me she was digging for information - but every time, I was stupid enough to assume she cared. That she was interested in my life.

Stupid me.

And yes, she always told 'Daddy', and it always came back to bite me on the ass.

And I was always stupid enough to trust her again.

3. You're flat. --Mr Wilson, 7th grade music teacher and choir director

That was in choir, and he wasn't one for teaching technique. He'd put me with the sops. *Waits for her friends to quit laughing*

From that day to this, I won't sing so I can be heard, even though, far more recently, I was told by another music teacher that I had a gorgeous speaking voice and she suspects that I CAN sing.

4. ""

All those things that I needed to hear, that people assumed I knew about how they felt about me, and were never said.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

8 Days. Day 6.

Day Six: Four things you are grateful for, and four things you want to change about your life.

1. My friends. They are my family: brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers and have given me heart-children. They have been my strength and that which has pulled me out during the darkest of times.

2. The way I think. I love being an NF, big picture, pattern person with a huge imagination. LOVE IT.

3. My passion. It may hurt like hell sometimes, but I'd rather that than flatline. It gives the world such shades of colour, Crayola and Technicolour couldn't touch it.

4. Being able to see beauty in the universe and the part of me that senses and reaches out for something larger than we are. The stars, galaxies, God, the underlying pattern to it all. I suspect it's that which drives my sense of service, which would have been #5.


1. I want to be more in touch with my sensuality. Via clothing, what I surround myself with, feeling more comfortable in me. I've become very head/emotional/spiritual.

2. How I feel about my body. I've hated it my whole life for various reasons, or seen it as a vehicle for my brain. I need to learn to love it and revel in the physical.

3. I want to be able to let go and let God - to do what I can and trust that I'll step off a cliff and be able to fly.

4. I want to be able to sing. I've loved and dreamt music since I was young, and whilst not many instruments appealed, singing always has. I want to find my voice.

8 Days. Day 5.

Day Five: Four songs from you to yourself, and four songs from you to others

4 Songs from me to myself

1. Evanescence - Bring me to Life - THE song I listen to in my deepest depression. It captures the sense of being frozen, of being lost, of yearning, reaching towards life. The anger, the passion, the searching, the sense of hopelessness, yet deliberation when she lets go...that's me in a dark period.

2. Sarah Brightman - Journey Home - It's a promise from that part of me that knows that there IS a home, a place of sanctuary and rest that I have yet to know, where I am loved and that 'sometimes standing still can be the best move you ever make.'

3. Bette Midler - The Rose - Ever since this came out when I was young, it has been a promise to myself from myself that love will come, and that the times that seem barren hold more promise than they seem...and that I must never be the soul afraid of dying that never learns to live.

4. Peter Gabriel & Kate Bush - Don't give up - This song always makes me cry. I feel like Peter Gabriel far too often. The deeper part of me is Kate Bush - who somehow always brings the friends in the outside world I need.


1. Kelly Clarkson - Because of you - To my parents. The lyrics are self-explanatory. Yes, I've come a long way, baby. But there's a long way to go that shouldn't have been necessary. We're not speaking, I hear you say? Because of you.

2. Clarence Clemons/Jackson Brown - You're a friend of mine - To Midnight Sidhe. Because I am the one who always makes you laugh until you cry. And you can depend on me till the day you die.

3. Moody Blues - I know you're out there somewhere - An unwavering statement of faith from me to the man I'm meant to be with, wherever you are.

4. John Farnham - You're the voice - From me to the world:

This time
We know we all stand together
With the power to be powerful
Believing, we can make it better

We're all someone's daughter
We're all someone's son
How long can we look at each other
Down the barrel of a gun?

You're the voice, try and understand it
Make a noise and make it clear
Oh-o-o-o, whoa-o-o-o!
We're not gonna sit in silence
We're not gonna live with fear

So let's be the voice.

8 Days. Day 4.

Day Four: Four talents/superpowers you have, and four talents/superpowers you want

1. Counselling/psychotherapy work: People tell me I'm good at this; I'll take them at their word, because I just assume everyone can do what I do. I've done it since I was young - seeing patterns, asking questions, listening. People's stories fascinate me, so I guess that's why I love it so much. Tired as I am before my placement, I always come out energised. What I need to work on is staying behind the client: I have a tendency to jump ahead.

2. Big picture/patterns. I love looking for them and teasing them out. Understanding systems of people - communities, hierarchies, dynamics - is a real strength of mine. Unfortunately, my detail work is less impressive. I'm a big one for principles and proactive problem-solving - give me the nuts and bolts and I'm going to pass out.

3. Losing myself in other worlds/imagination. Have always been able to do this. It makes reading and amusing myself far easier. Possibly writing as well.

4. Associative/Lateral thinking. I LOVED teaching for this reason. If a kid didn't understand? No problem - finding another metaphor or allegory was a challenge. It makes communicating ideas so much fun and a real pleasure - rather than a trial - to discover other ways of doing it.


4 talents/superpowers I wish I had.

1. Teleportation. There are so many places and friends I want to visit - and I could be there immediately and spend as long as humanly possible with them before coming back.

2. Healing. As per Deryni/Valdemar worlds - able to heal by laying on of hands and infusing energy; both body and mind.

3. Telepathy. To have the intimacy of speaking mind to mind, layering it with emotion and images, to have the deepest of conversations, to bond that way...yes.

4. Manipulation at the subatomic level. With this, you can change the universe.

8 Days. Day 3.

Day Three: The four gods/superheroes you most identify with, and the four you least identify with.

I'm 4 days behind my friend on this, so let's see if I can catch up.

1. Demeter. My maternal instincts can be so powerful, they're archetypal, and Demeter helps me understand them. Also, ashamed as I am to admit it, I withdraw nurturing as a last resort when no one is listening. She needs more balance in my personality.

2. Oya/Persephone. Yoruban goddess of the underworld, wind, fire, lightning and fertility and Queen of Hades, respectively - but ultimately *change* and *transition*, both of which swirl around me so much, I've been jokingly called ta'veren by the odd friend who loves Robert Jordan. Interestingly, *my* life doesn't seem to change much, but those around me do. And the underworld, the psyche, the subconscious and death? MINE. I also love that Persephone can accompany the dead in some versions of the myth - which is what a therapist does with their clients.

3. Angel of Death. I dream about him unsettlingly often; one of the things I'm drawn to in therapy is counselling those who are dying or grieving.

4. Hephaestus. Wounded and imperfect, tossed out of Olympus by his mother in a rage, he became the most incredible craftsman - bad start, abandoned, and out of it he creates unimaginable beauty. True alchemy, and what I would want my life to become.


4 Gods I least identify with.

1. Zeus. Whiny, immature, unfaithful, unable to lead. A complete dick.

2. Robin. Grow up and get out of Batman's shadow.

3. Hera. Jealous, whimsical and unable to direct her anger where it belongs - at her asshole of a husband. See #1.

4. Mammon. What the Western world, despite its crowing that it follows Judeo-Christian values, serves and values so deeply it has become a slave to it. It's PRINTED PAPER, PEOPLE. It's meant to serve you. FFS. It's just a medium of exchange - use it THAT way or go back to bartering and learn what really matters - love and relationship.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

8 Days. Day 2.

The four places you most want to go to, and four things you need in a home.

1. Sub-Saharan Africa. Ever since I was young, I'd always had flashes of myself working there with young children, working at the edge. There's always been a magnetic pull; something to do with vocation. The greatest draw is probably South Africa, the fascination beginning with my elementary school songbook which had 'We're all marching to Pretoria' in it. But the idea of crossing the equator totally freaked me out.

2. From Lahore to Jalandar. The reverse of the trip my parents made during Partition. Just as that border of violence, blood and pain was crossed when their lives of fear, pain and anger began, it needs to be crossed the other way for healing to begin. I want to see where they grew up, where I might have gone as a child had the subcontinent remained undivided. And yes, I want to see India.

3. To an alternate universe where WWI never happened. What we lost in that war was incalculable and arguably, the set up for the 20th century bloodbath that followed. I want to see what happened in the world where the boys who came up to university in 1913 had the same idyllic 3 years that their 1910 predecessors did. What happened to the map? The Bolshevik revolution? What did we create? Who led us?

Did we find our way better than we're finding it now?

4. Space. I've been in love with the stars as long as I can remember. One of the possibilities for my tombstone will be an epitaph on that of two amateur astronomers: '[I] have loved the stars too fondly to be afraid of the night.'

I want to be on the Enterprise - under Picard, not Kirk, please!


4 things I need in a home

1. Sanctuary. That means unconditional love and acceptance, with the honesty that goes with that. I grew up in a house with way too much subtext, a place I hated to live. I have worked hard to create a home that is an emotional sanctuary, where I'm free to be me. That's not something I'm ever, ever giving up.

2. Open space. I don't have that so much now, but when I CAN, I do want an open plan downstairs as much as possible, high ceilings. I think the need for physical space is a reflection of the need for psychic and emotional space, having been hemmed in by others for so long.

3. Cosiness. They seem diametrically opposed, don't they? I don't think they are - by this I mean stuffed chairs, fluffy throws, things that are comforting and comfortable. Things one revels in running one's fingers through and touching. Luxurious fabrics, plush throws one can wriggle one's toes in, sofas one can sink into, furniture one can cuddle on. I don't do minimalist furniture; I do warm - colours, furnishings, all of it.

This, I think is about the need for intimacy, and 2/3 are a balance for me.

4. LIGHT. Sounds funny from a girl who loves her long evenings and soft indoor lighting, but during the day, I want to capture as much light as possible in the house. Yes, summer evenings ARE too long, but I prefer to move and work by daylight, not artificial light, for as long as possible.

And all this with as many windows as possible overlooking the sea.

Right, off to design it then...right after I win the lottery...