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Hot milk goodness #3

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One of the things Hot Milk by Deborah Levy is concerned with is what it means to be a woman, or a man for that matter. As many individuals and schools of thought have realised, the more one looks into the question the more one sees there is nothing there. There is no inherent meaning in the concept “woman” just as there is no inherent meaning in any other concept or thing, and Levy puts the case with great lightness and wit in the scene in which Sofia is speculating on what she might buy from the market if she were an adult woman with all the accoutrements …

“I picked up an aerosol of air freshener that had been designed in the shape of a curvaceous woman. She was wearing a polka-dot apron that did not disguise her massive belly and heavy breasts. Her eyelashes were long and curled, her lips tiny and puckered. The instructions for how to use her were translated into Italian, Greek, German, Danish and a language I did not recognise, but she was ‘Extremely Flammable’ in every language.

There were instructions in English, too. Shake her well. Point her towards the centre of the room and spray. The scale of her belly and breasts were not unlike early fertility goddesses found in Greece around 6000BC, except they did not wear polka-dot aprons. Did they suffer from hypochondria? Hysteria? Were they bold? Lame? Too full of the milk of human kindness?

I bought the air freshener for four euro because it was a kind of artefact translated into many languages, and also because it was clearly an interpretation of a woman (breasts belly apron eyelashes) and I had become confused by the sign for servicios in public places. I could not figure out why one sign was male and the other female. The most common stick-figure sign was not particularly male or female. Did I need this aerosol to make things clearer to me? What kind of clarity was I after?

I had conquered Juan who was Zeus the thunderer as far as I was concerned, but the signs were all mixed up because his job in the injury hut was to tend the wounded with his tube of ointment. He was maternal, brotherly, he was like a sister, perhaps paternal, he had become my lover. Are we all lurking in each other’s sign? Do I and the woman on the air freshener belong to the same sign? …

It wasn’t clarity I was after. I wanted things to be less clear …”

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Image: Man taking pic of the installation Narcissism: Dazzle Room by Shigeki Matsuyama

Hot milk goodness #2

deborah-levy

Today’s instalment from Hot Milk by Deborah Levy concerns Sofia and her mother, Rose, driving to a local market. They have come to the baked out, rocky coast of Spain to consult the famous doctor/quack, Dr Gómez, about Rose’s paralysis of the feet. In characteristically perverse style, Rose is suddenly able to drive a car, whereas 25-year-old Sofia is revealed to have failed her driving test four times.

Feet and hands are especially important in the symbolic history of women, and books like Women Who Run With the Wolves contain many of the stories such as “The Red Shoes” and “The Handless Maiden”, each of them spelling out the ubiquity and consequences of women’s learned helplessness.

In my own life, I think of the thing I was forbidden to do as a child and teenager, and that was to express anger. My mother would shut it down before the words “How dare you?” were out of her mouth. Looking back now I can see she was terrified of her own rage being awakened. Instead it expressed itself in migraine headaches and the nightly near-severing of her fingers on the newly sharpened knife over the detested task of the evening meal.

“I looked down at my mother’s foot on the brake. Her toes moved off and then landed on it with delicacy and confidence. ‘I can imagine you walking the entire length of the beach,’ I said.

In reply she started to sing the words to a hymn: ‘And did those feet in ancient time/ Walk upon England’s mountains green.’

If only. My mother’s feet are mostly on strike, but I’m not sure what she is negotiating for or what the deal breaker would be. Her feet are an English size nine. Her jaw is large. Our ancestors developed a protruding jaw because they were constantly fighting. Grievance is very strenuous. My mother needs her jaw to see off anyone who will separate her from her stash of resentment.”

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Image: Deborah Levy

Hot milk goodness #1

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Hot Milk by Deborah Levy continues to be exhilarating. I’m going to share some over the next day or two. Here’s a section from the scene called “Boldness” in which Sofia finally takes action after Dr Gómez observes she lacks strength as a young woman. She needs “more purpose, less apathy” and he prescribes stealing a fish from the market to make her bolder, “It need not be the biggest fish, but it must not be the smallest either.”

Often, I think I need to steal a fish too …

“The first fish to snare my attention from the point of view of a thief was a monkfish with a monster face, mouth gaping open to reveal its two rows of sharp little teeth. I lightly poked my finger into its mouth and discovered a world that was totally unknown to me, like Columbus discovering the Bahamas. The cashier, a fierce woman in a yellow rubber apron, shouted in Spanish not to touch the fish. Already I had made myself visible, when the point of a thief is to slip unseen into the night and not into the mouth of a fish … I considered the whiskery langoustines … they were the professors of the ocean but they did not make me feel bolder. A huge tuna lay on a bed of ice … It was the most precious jewel in the market, the emerald of the sea. My hand reached towards it, but I couldn’t follow it through. A tuna was too ambitious, not so much bold as reckless.

… I looked away and that’s when I saw my fish. It was looking straight at me and its eyes were furious. It was a plump dorado in a rage. I knew it was destined to be mine.

… To steal the dorado, I had to conquer my fear of being found out and shamed … Very slowly, I moved closer to the dorado, and with my left hand I touched the price tag on the langoustines to distract the cashier from my right hand, which was sliding the grumpy dorado into my basket.

As far as I could make out, this was the model that most politicians had adopted to run their democracies and dictatorships. If the reality of the right hand is being messed up with the left hand, it would be true to say that reality is not a stable commodity …”

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Image: Man with sailfish

A Litany of Prayer for Aleppo

Interrupting the Silence

How long, O Lord, how long?

There is no peace in Aleppo. There is no peace in Syria. Every night the people flood their beds with tears and drench their couches with weeping. Their eyes waste away with grief. Their spirits shake with terror. You are the one who took them out of the womb. They have been entrusted to you ever since they were born.

How long, O Lord, how long?

We turn to you, O Lord. To whom else can we go? Lord, hear our prayer for the people of Aleppo and let our cry come to you.

"Omran, Angels Are Here!" Copyright 2016 by Judith Mehr, used by permission. “Omran, Angels Are Here!” Copyright 2016 by Judith Mehr, used by permission.

O God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth,
Have mercy upon Aleppo.
O God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
Have mercy upon Aleppo.
O God the Holy Spirit, Sanctifier of the faithful,
Have mercy upon…

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My tiny house of language

 

 

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Sometimes I feel like I’m going to die of boredom in conversations and one of my dearest wishes is to wake up one day free to open my mouth and let any old thing fall out. Of course, I am free, though I appear not to know it, or as my Landmark buddies understand, knowing makes no difference anyway. To anything. Least of all to knowing oneself as free to say … what? What is it I haven’t yet said or haven’t been courageous enough to say?

There are many times I want to tell someone they’re a fool. Lately, it’s been parents. As a non-parent, listening to what parents say about their children is often alarming and I want to tell them do you realise the misery you’re storing up for yourself and your child.

But it’s not really about being free to tell someone they’re a fool. It’s about being free not to go through the old conversational motions, free to say something stupid, eccentric or seemingly off topic, like answering a question that will arise next week or last week, and in turn, to be said to.

Like my trainer giving me instructions last week. “Do one more here,” he said, “and then I’ll meet you in the bushes over there”, gesturing to a quieter corner of the gym. I was enchanted. If I didn’t already love him, his remark would have done it.

And like Dr Gómez in a new novel I’m reading called Hot Milk by Deborah Levy which is full of the kind of conversations I dream of. Dr Gómez is the specialist Sofia and her intermittently paralysed mother consult in a town on the Spanish coast. Here’s a taste.

I regarded Gómez as my research assistant. I have been on the case all my life and he is just starting. There are no clear boundaries between victory and defeat when it comes to my mother’s symptoms. As soon as he makes a diagnosis, she will grow another one to confound him. He seems to know this. Yesterday he told her to recite her latest ailment to the body of a dead insect, perhaps to a fly, because they are easy to swat. He suggested she surrender to this strange action and listen carefully to the monotony of the way it buzzes before it dies. It is likely, he said, that she will discover that the buzzing sound, often so irritating to the human ear, resembles the timbre and pitch of Russian folk music.

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More than three wise men

big-issue

The Big Issue is a weekly magazine sold by people who are homeless or at risk of being homeless. Part of the cover price goes to the vendor so they can take steps to getting a home and making a fresh start in life. It’s sold in capital cities in Australia and also in other countries like the UK.

Each year they have a special edition featuring Christmas wishes from vendors across Australia. Here are some from this year’s edition.

I am hoping to meet our Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and ask him what he plans to do about the homeless and mentally ill in 2017. Both these areas are underfunded. This year I got to see Prince in concert before he died, in Sydney. Merry Christmas to everyone, even my exes. From your loving vendor.

Daniel K, CBD & North Adelaide

I want to say thanks to my customers for supporting me. I am pursuing visits with my daughter. She is almost nine. She is very good at running. I want to find a two-bedroom house so that my daughter can come and visit, because at the moment I am in a rooming house so she is not allowed to come there. There is nothing available at the moment.

Craig, Carlton

I’d like to say a huge thank you to the nice people of Melbourne for buying the magazine. People have been very helpful and I love to have a laugh with them on their way home. I am going to be saying goodbye to my customers next year as I may be starting a new job or moving to Queensland.

Darryl, Geelong

I wish all my customers all the best for the New Year. I am hoping to be able to sell at a new location. My cat is called Prince and he’s 16 years old. I’ll be getting him a special Christmas dinner for Christmas. The best thing that has happened this year was the Western Bulldogs winning the flag! Go the Bulldogs.

Jeff S, Melbourne

I love my customers and I wish them a happy festive season. Thanks for all the chats and smiles. Thanks for supporting our magazine!

Willy, St Kilda

I would like to thank all my customers for their support over the year. It has been hard, but you all make me very happy just seeing all my customers have a good Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Gordon, Moonee Ponds

I would like to save up to buy my daughter a car, because she had a car accident and has a two-year-old girl and she needs one. I’d like to spend more time with my family next year. Thanks to all my customers.

Ross, Melbourne

As I study for my music certificate, I pause and wish everyone a safe and happy Christmas!

Devo, Myer Bridge

One of my biggest achievements of 2016 was getting my P-plates, which has made getting around easier. I also got a dog, his name is Doug. He is good company and well trained. By the end of the year I will have a full licence. The Occupational Therapy Services helped me get my licence, and they put a story about me on their Facebook page. I’m the first bilateral person to drive without any attachment. Merry Christmas to all!

Rob N, Elizabeth Quay & Cloisters

After years of unpaid work experience, I decided that it was time to show the world that my ability to participate in my community has value – so I started selling The Big Issue. Now people can see my abilities and my disabilities are like everyone else’s. I’m a valuable part of the community and for the first time I earn my own money. In 2017 I hope to save enough money to see WWE when they come to WA. The biggest issue I faced this year was depression, but working at The Big Issue is helping to change that because I am learning to overcome my feelings of isolation.

Dylan G, Falcon shops, Mandurah

What a year it has been; up and down, but I keep trying because I love my job! My customers have been awesome, and when Eliza [my partner] works with me they always make her feel welcome and that puts a smile on her face. To all my customers and friends that have made me happy, thank you. Merry Christmas and a safe New Year.

Glenn F, Elizabeth & Foveaux Sts

Sometimes I have great days on the pitch selling The Big Issue. Mags fly out and there’s the smile of another nice customer. Sometimes there are bad days. I’ve sold zero mags, even though all these people are passing by. But like the song, “Some days are diamonds, some days are stone”. One day while I was selling a woman came up to me and handed me $50. She said, “I found this on the footpath where I live and I wanted someone else to have it.” I thanked her and she walked off. Unbelievable. If the woman who gave me the $50 note reads this, thank you, that was beautiful. Isn’t the world so much better when we care for each other?

Darrell, Ashfield

I would like to sell more magazines next year. The best thing that happened this year was getting my sleep apnoea machine.

Craig J, Darlinghurst

The best thing that happened this year was walking the City2Surf, and the biggest challenge was saving up to buy a car. I remember the day I found out that Santa wasn’t real. That was a big surprise!

Charles, Pitt St

Thanks so much to all the people who bought the magazine from me, especially my regulars – some have stuck with me for years. Of course the money is important, but a chat, a laugh and a connection with another human being on a regular basis is really therapeutic. Thanks.

Drew, Central Station & Summer Hill

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Acceptance

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The more I enquire, the more I understand acceptance is all that’s required.

Speaking from the point of view of relative truth, acceptance is acceptance of what is not me: other people, circumstances, phenomena, and so on. Speaking from the point of view of absolute truth, acceptance is acceptance of me, because there is no not-me.

I think acceptance is difficult for people in our society to hear. What we hear is some version of defeat or resignation. We cannot hear it as a possibility, which is to say we cannot hear it at all.

To hear acceptance is a task worthy of one’s life.

A few weeks ago, a work colleague was telling me of the time immediately after she migrated from India to Australia. She had a husband and young child, and she knew only her husband’s school friends who lived here. She said she prayed every day she would find a friend of her own. I don’t remember her exact phrase; it was something like, “Every day, I touched the feet of [her Hindu gods].”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I surrendered,” she said.

Following is a passage from Thich Nhat Hanh on surrender, or acceptance. The Paul Tillich he refers to is the Christian theologian.

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“The true nature of things is called, in Buddhism, cessation (nirodha) or extinction (nirvana). Cessation is first of all the cessation of all notions and illusions, and extinction is the extinction of notions and wrong perceptions. The extinction of delusion brings about the cessation of craving, anger, and fear, and the manifestation of peace, solidity, and freedom. All notions applied to the phenomenal world – such as creation, destruction, being, non-being, one, many, coming, and going – are transcended. The greatest relief we can obtain is available when we touch the ultimate, Tillich’s ‘ground of being’. We no longer identify our body’s duration as our lifetime. We no longer think that life begins when we are born or stops when we die, because the notions of birth and death have been transcended. Life is no longer confined to time and space. This is the practice of releasing the notion ‘lifetime’.

Touching nirvana, touching the ultimate dimension, is a total and unconditional surrender to God. If the wave knows its ground of being is water, it overcomes all fear and sorrow. The moment [one] surrenders one’s entire being to God as the ground of being, all of his fears vanish.”

~ Thich Nhat Hanh, Living Buddha, Living Christ

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Image: Pastoral (Rhythms), 1927, Paul Klee

Pretending to die

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“One day as I was about to step on a dry leaf, I saw the leaf in the ultimate dimension. I saw that it was not really dead, but that it was merging with the moist soil in order to appear on the tree the following spring in another form. I smiled at the leaf and said, ‘You are pretending.’ Everything is pretending to be born and pretending to die, including that leaf.”

~ Thich Nhat Hanh, Living Buddha, Living Christ

Image: Pink Spring in Deep Winter, Paul Klee

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Happiness at work

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For the last four months, I’ve been part of a project team building a computer system for doctors. It’s been a revelation being part of this project and has shown me what’s possible in working. What fun, what commitment, what team spirit! People have been willing to be available at all times of the night and the weekend to make it work. There have been Indian feasts cooked by members of the team, and most days we laugh until we cry over some funny, absurd thing that has happened.

The person who’s created it is the project manager. I’ve never before come across such a gifted leader. She has many extraordinary qualities and I want to tell you about two of these qualities.

Firstly, she cannot be stopped. Every day of the project, she’s been faced with numerous breakdowns: developers who haven’t delivered when they promised, or have delivered something full of mistakes, people letting her down generally. She will get annoyed for a few minutes – a few minutes! – and then she’ll set herself to work on finding a way around it. Within half an hour, she will have let go of any reaction and developed a solution that is often better than the original.

Each time there’s a stuff-up, somehow she plucks victory out of the air. As was said of the famous Antarctic explorer, Ernest Shackleton, hailed as one of the greatest leaders to have lived, she is constantly “shaping herself to the next mark”.

Secondly, she is completely available to each and every member of the team. She doesn’t sit in an office, but next to us and purposely so. No matter what she’s doing, we know we can ask her anything and she’ll drop what she’s doing and give us her full attention. She can turn on a sixpence, and without missing a beat, give herself wholly and without reservation to the matter at hand. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s phenomenal.

The project is coming to an end because the system has been successfully implemented, and we’ll be sad to be disbanded. I know I won’t be alone in treasuring the experience for a long time to come.

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Image: courtesy of The Guardian: Thiruttani, India: Rupa, 28, has her hair shaved so she can donate it to the gods at the Thiruthani Murugan temple. Rupa donated her hair with the wish that her daughter’s illness be cured. The process of shaving one’s hair and donating it to the gods is known as tonsuring. The “temple hair” is then auctioned off to a processing plant and sold for wigs and weaves in the US, Europe and Africa; Photograph: Allison Joyce/Getty Images

“A load of hot, unschooled certainty”

Very funny article in today’s Guardian by Victoria Coren Mitchell about the palmy days of 2013 and mansplaining, the way men talk generally, what really matters and kindness. Also contains the line that should be tacked above the entrance to Twitter, in fact, any conversation anywhere – “It isn’t about the person they’re talking to – it’s about themselves.

“It made me feel sentimental to see ‘mansplaining’ in the news again. Did you read the story? Actually, there have been two: the first was that Unionen, Sweden’s largest trade union, has launched a mansplaining hotline for women to phone if they’ve been a victim of male condescension.

Oh, with what shivers of nostalgia this took me back. Back, back, back to the salad days of, ooh, 2013 it must have been, when I first heard the term.

It was pretty obvious what it meant, though somebody (probably a man) told me anyway: mansplaining is when a male explains something to a female in unnecessary detail, often a female who understands it better than he does. I was familiar with the phenomenon, of course. Every woman has had simple things explained to her at interminable length by a man. That’s just basic social interaction.

Of course it’s annoying; nobody likes to be treated like a fool. Of course it’s boring; nobody likes to be lectured. But still, how wistfully I remember the luxury of being troubled by that sort of thing, in the long-lost idyll of 2013.

Do you remember what troubled you back then? On the world stage, I mean. You may have struggled – may still struggle – with all sorts of private worries: a medical trauma, a row at work, a harrowing debt. The way your wife runs out of the room giggling when her phone bleeps late at night. That weird recurrent dream you have about a marrow festival.

But the things we worried about generally, in 2013 … my word, I spent serious time worrying about whether the 500-year-old remains of Richard III should be buried in York or Leicester! Those were the bloody days.

Have we really got time and space, now, to kvetch about whether men talk to women in a patronising way? With all the other wars that threaten to wage?

The truth is, I don’t think mansplaining is even sexist. I don’t think men reserve a patronising tone for women alone. It’s just how they talk.

In the original essay Men Explain Things To Me (which, although not actually coining the zeitgeisty word, is credited with being the core identifier of the tendency), author Rebecca Solnit writes about a man who lectured her on the subject of one of her own published books.

Because he employed the sort of painstaking, long-winded detail that Solnit herself would only use if giving instructions to an idiot, she assumed the man thought she was an idiot. But the point that I think has been missed by Solnit – and by all the women who have written and talked about mansplaining ever since – is: men also talk this way to each other. It’s not that they don’t defer to women. It’s that they don’t defer to anyone.

Men simply love explaining things. That is what men want to do in conversation: make jokes and explain things. Your average man would be happy to tell Gareth Southgate how to manage the England football team, or the head of MI6 how to deal with Isis, or Stephen Hawking what he reckons about black holes.

It isn’t about the person they’re talking to – it’s about themselves. If anything, the inclination could be seen as a compliment. They offer their nuggets of wisdom as gifts, like a cat offers a half-eaten bird.

That doesn’t mean there is no danger in the mansplaining tendency. Many of the world’s problems can probably be traced to the way men take this approach into government, filling the atmosphere with a load of hot, unschooled certainty. I suspect we’d be better off if we all reached consensus by respecting others’ opinions and experience.

But socially no harm is meant by it. Men would be terribly sad if they were told they must never explain anything again. They get so much pleasure from being expansive, from chewing over their thoughts, sharing a bit of half-remembered fact or quote, airing a little aperçu that occurred to them when driving along the M6. And sometimes it is properly informative or enjoyable.

That is Christmas, for most men: sipping a tasty drink, reaching for the nutcrackers and settling in for a good long disquisition on why it rains or what’s wrong with modern television or whither North Korea.

And, if you ask me, the biggest problem facing our western world at the moment is the decline of kindness. As huge differences of opinion batter against each other, we forget to be gentle and careful with each other’s dreams, respectful of each other’s self-worth.

It means a lot to your poor old dad, uncle, colleague, husband or friend to offer his advice and insights. Sitting there, mug or glass clutched eagerly in hand, looking forward to holding forth … how much do you really want to see him quiet and disappointed, confronting his own limitations? How much do you want to shout: “Nobody gives a shit, Granddad! You pompous old bore! Let’s talk about me!”? How much are you actually reduced if you let him feel listened to?

At the start of this column, I said there had been two recent stories about mansplaining. The first was that the 600,000-strong Unionen has launched a mansplaining hotline.

And the second, which followed soon after, is that the majority of calls to the hotline have been from men: anxious, self-doubting men, asking exactly what mansplaining is and how to avoid doing it.

Beware of throwing your ire at the wrong target. It’s so easy to get angry about things. Too easy. We get distracted from what’s actually important, dissipating our energy with the wrong fights.

Women don’t want to be silenced by men. But I don’t think the answer is for us to silence them in return.”

~ By Victoria Coren Mitchell, The Guardian, 27 November 2016

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On madness: The US election

“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, arguing starving hysterical on Facebook over whether a vote for Jill Stein was defensible, and whether Hillary could possibly be as bad as our old high-school classmate seemed to think,

who cracked their knuckles and made public their electoral opinions, clicking or tapping the “post” button dizzy and feverish and high,

who hours later sat up in their kitchens hollow-eyed trying to figure out how to respond to being called a cuck, which is short for cuckold, which apparently is a political thing now,

who dealt with the ascension of a fascist to the highest office in the land by typing eighty words per minute and shuttling them out into the gray hallucinogen void of the Internet, and many of those words were “fascist” because that’s what this man seems to be and, fuck, that’s really something,

who no longer speak to their cousin, yes, that one, because she said the wrong thing about Bernie Sanders that one time,

who were ecstatic screaming in 2008 and very pleased also in

2012 but who aren’t happy at all now and who had sort of forgotten what that felt like,

who now sit scrolling with bloodshot eyes naked and all-seeing down the screen past other people’s posts that say things like we’re all Americans and other generally annoying shit like that,

who now cross lances in the sweaty heaving fray of comment threads and subthreads and whose attendance at Thanksgiving is now being called into serious question by that thing Uncle Jim just shared,

a lost battalion of liberals and Marxists and socialists and people whose food allergies would go unrecognized in much of the country, whose mute righteous anger finds new life with every “like” acquired, and bonus points if it’s one of those smiley-face reactions that Facebook now has,

who still can’t fathom their nation having clanked its way to this precipice—

rocky, barren, staring down the maw of catastrophe unreckonable yet with frightening historical precedent, and plus now we all have to watch this orange man on our TVs and phones for the next long while, Jesus, fuck,

who wonder whether it’s too soon to start just donating money to Elizabeth Warren right now and the hell with it,

who could not and cannot abide the dim flameout of the American experiment and who’ve decided to combat this insidious flameout with ten tweets a day, and, hey, why not, it seems to have worked for Trump,

good God, President Trump is a thing we have to get used to saying,

O.K., back to the poem,

a party of souls adrift, wandering, travelling the broken gray landscape and confined to the trundling Internet boxcars they’ve hopped aboard, sharing online petitions and think pieces as though they were cigarettes and whiskey and asking what news from home but there is no news save the thing Uncle Jim posted, you wouldn’t believe it,

Thanksgiving is out of the question, we’ve said it before but we mean it this time,

a people who once believed that a formal endorsement from the Ku Klux Klan would be enough to sink an American Presidential candidacy, lol,

who now walk unblinking and mad with heads cast downward and muttering powerless at their phones as they cross the crosswalk because a mildly famous person just tweeted something about how they’re proud to have not voted at all, you have got to be goddam kidding me,

who now need to take a deep breath and count to ten per their therapist’s orders, O.K., breathe, O.K.

who have come home and are breathing deeply, breathing breathing in through the nose, slowly, lying supine naked in bed and with eyes closed unfeeling and with headphones, having YouTubed the words “relaxing meditation” and who’ve gripped onto the topmost result like a life preserver and the water rising Biblical and absurd and totalitarianism never comes all at once but gradually step by step and when did our first step take place and could we but retrace our blind steps we could surely carve out a new destiny and arrive at someplace other, right?

Hey, I should post that.”

~ by River Clegg, The New Yorker, 18 November 2016

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Not enough community, not enough belonging: Shadi Hamid on politics and technocracy

shadi

Here is a commentator with something valuable and insightful to say about Trump’s win, politics in general, being human, and the fall and fall of technocracy: Shadi Hamid, senior fellow of the Brookings Institute and author of Islamic exceptionalism: How the struggle over Islam is reshaping the world and, a rhetorical title this one, Is a better world possible without US military force?

” … this gets at a bigger problem which is that classical liberalism, the liberal tradition, and the left in America … what it’s sort of morphed into is a kind of placid, centre-left managerial technocracy. It’s about nudging, it’s about tinkering around the margins, it’s very fact-based, it’s very policy-oriented, and that doesn’t speak to something which again – I don’t want to get into human nature or moral philosophy too much here – but what a lot of us are actually looking for at the end of the day is a politics of substantive meaning, and technocracy does not offer that, and it’s not just in America, it’s in Britain, it’s in Continental Europe, it’s throughout the world, the Philippines, the Middle East …

Some people find this meaning in religion, as in Muslim-majority countries oftentimes; in places like France and Poland, they find it in illiberal ethno-nationalism. What connects these different strands is a kind of disaffection with this liberalism which says, “Hey, anyone can find the good life in their own way through the individual search for meaning”, but a lot of people find that it’s chaotic, it’s empty, there’s not enough structure, there’s not enough guidance, there’s not enough community, belonging and family, and that’s who we are. We are beings who need that …

And I hope that one thing we can all learn from this is that the liberal left needs to rethink its basic assumptions about human beings. We don’t act according to rational economic incentives a lot of the time. That’s not who we are. And when people say, “Oh, Trump supporters are voting against their economic interests because there’s going to be massive tax cuts that benefit the rich – hey, that’s probably true – but people aren’t being rational in this very narrow economic sense. They’re valuing things which mean more to them, which they associate with culture, identity and community …

Liberalism needs a fighting fate. We need to know what we stand for, we need to articulate a vision that inspires people instead of telling them that we’re going to give you slightly better universal healthcare …”

~ Shadi Hamid, speaking on The Minefield, ABC radio, “What is the meaning of Trump?”, 10 November 2016; @shadihamid on Twitter

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The passion and courage of women

If Michelle Obama’s mighty speech on the dignity of women wasn’t enough to cleanse the palate of recent events, here’s a tribute to a man who reveres women, the Spanish filmmaker, Pedro Almodovar.

I just saw his latest movie, Julieta, about women, their mothers and daughters, and how grief and guilt, amongst other wounds, is passed down through the generations by the mechanism of well-intentioned silence. It’s as good as Volver, starring the magnificent Penelope Cruz, which he made in 2006.

Pics from Volver and Julieta, starring Emma Suárez and Adriana Ugarte (click on an image to enlarge it).

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