28 November 2016

this morning's cycle

There are a thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient.
Marilynne Robinson 

27 November 2016

In the mid 1980s I got lost in a dark space. I only realised this fully some time later when we moved to paradise and set up house as a family of three with a huge variety of insects (both a first for us). Back in Ireland we had been battling unemployment and the establishment with the radical agenda of the time, all the various campaigns ranging from the political to the philosophical to the environmental to the personal. It was a hectic, wild and full time. I have few regrets - but never again.
There was that one evening in our messy crumbling mansion, where we - about ten people at the time - had come together to watch tv. We were so full of ourselves that even watching tv had to be a commune activity and I remember that of course, we had discussed this beforehand. Eventually, we all sat in front of a small black and white portable tv and watched Threads, the BBC drama about the nuclear war.
It was screened in two parts with a panel discussion half way and at the end but I never made it beyond the first half hour. Instead, I can still see myself, I was rocking on top of our bed, a keening mess, begging R to get something, drugs whatever, to be prepared for when the time comes - or worse.
A year later, Chernobyl happened. But by that time, I had made room for my fear, incorporated it as yet another enemy into my radical  feminist agenda and I had developed some of that snide sarcasm we all seemed to polish up with every new doomsday scenario. Not enough at times, the Ethiopian famine and that whole Live Aid crap hit me big time shortly afterwards, but I got by. Mostly by reassuring myself that others could cope alongside me.
Now, thirty years later, I look at the innocent, dreamy woman I was then, getting so carried away. Was it motherhood, hormones? Probably.
I wish.

Last night we talked about fears again, we rarely do, but that morning I had opened up the news feed on my phone to this"Please don’t read this unless you are feeling strong. This is a list of 13 major crises that, I believe, confront us. There may be more. Please feel free to add to it or to knock it down. I’m sorry to say that it’s not happy reading."

We sat down to eat a delicious meal in a small Italian restaurant and cycled home through the cold night air, looking into the lit up windows of our comfortable neighbourhood. Back home, we watched a thriller with Mark Rylance, the only actor I have a crush on, we drank xmas tea (black tea with cardamom pods, anise, orange peel, cinnamon and safflower), we looked at the stars. We tried to change the subject a few times. We still try to. To be honest, I am not sure how to cope. One day at a time, I know. This fundamental fear has been the backdrop to my life for thirty years, there is no pretending that all has been well.

23 November 2016

This evening, I was once again the only person cycling through the dark forest. There was no moon and I had to be careful with the piles of slippery wet leaves and that sharp bend across the stream, but after all these years, I could probably cycle this stretch with my eyes closed anyway. All in all, I figured if there are monsters, I can handle them. Later, back in city traffic I cursed a lot at the top of my voice at the other monsters, the male drivers unable to use the indicator etc.
Possibly a hormone thing, testosterone-induced indicator blindness. Maybe they need a spell in my forest, in the dark silent forest. 
Anyway, I am home and didn't get wet, my fingers will eventually defrost and there is a nice man cooking dinner (he knows how to use indicators). We will pretend that all is well with the world. We are getting quite good at it.

22 November 2016

Life is not about knowing. Life is about feeling your way through the dark. If you say, ‘This should be lighter by now,’ you’re shutting yourself off from your own happiness. So let there be darkness. Get down on your knees, and crawl to the dark. Crawl and say to yourself, ‘Holy GOD, it’s dark, but just look at me crawl! I can crawl like a motherfucker.’

Heather Havrilesky

We needed to come down to earth, solid earth preferably, after the gloomy, wet and dark first half of November and watched the first episode of Planet Earth II. It delivered. David Attenborough is the best person ever, seriously. I would sell my bicycle to meet him. If you want to get a glimpse of hardship and endurance and love, watch the penguins. We humans are whining weaklings compared to penguins. And forget the Komodo dragons, all brute muscle and clout, strutting for show without compassion. The penguins break my heart every time.

20 November 2016

For a long time I stood at the kitchen window watching R digging and replanting, raking leaves with the last blustery winds from last night's storm around him. Last night, a long conversation with a friend who returned from the climate summit in Marrakesh about the unusual melting arctic sea ice and jet streams and possible outcomes.
Tomorrow is our daughter's birthday. The long hours of labour and her birth changed our lives dramatically, in ways we never thought possible, never expected in our hippie innocence and which we only realised and continue to realise in hindsight. The way we and everyone and everything is connected, the gift that will always return, the myriad faultlines that run deep below us all. There was a time when the memory of that day would fill me simply with happiness, incredible happiness that seemed to stretch forever into the future. Oh, it is still there, her voice, her face, her laughter and her tears, all of her will always reach into my deepest innermost heart. But there is also such fear now and a sadness I never expected. And worst of all, she knows. That her future will not be as easy and uncomplicated as the life we had as a family. That her generation and the generations to come will face challenges and disasters we never imagined.
This is a hasty translation of a comment in one of our national papers, by Kai Stritmatter, author and foreign correspondent currently living in China.

Shout! Do not stop being horrified. Do not hide behind jokes. Stop reassuring each other that it may not be so bad. Assume that it will get much worse. This is how it looks from China: the world is now ruled by Trump, Putin and Xi Jinping. And: America is fucked. Europe is tipping. The liberal West is a thing of the past. Democracy is seriously wounded. And now? What about our children?I posted these lines after the US election on Facebook. A friend replied: "Relax!"
I did that once. In Turkey. After the rushed election of Erdoğan. When he stood before the people and pretended to be meek. I did relax then, I told everybody: Give the man a chance. Well, I will not do that again. I've learned my lesson: We must take them at their word, these megalomaniacs, these narcissists devoured by their thirst for power and revenge. Believe them when they promise to sow hatred and practice retribution. I don't understand how we can pretend today that the world is turning as always. Something monstrous is happening. It happens now, at this second, it happens tonight while you sleep, and it will happen tomorrow when you wake up. Barack Obama just visited Athens. He spoke urgently about the flame of democracy. He also tried, so I read in the newspaper,  "to take away the fear of Trump". Of course, he wants to keep a bit of influence on Trump. I think that will be disastrous. If Obama were honest, he should say, "Be afraid!"

What is now referred to as "the post-factual age", I've been living in for almost 20 years as a foreign correspondent in Turkey and China. Living with lies, propaganda and resentment, I've learned that in China and in Turkey. Existing among autocrats and budding autocrats. In societies where one lives in a minefield full of uncertainty and arbitrariness. But throughout I always had two consolations. First, I can always go back home and rely on the values ​​I believe in. And second, the world is always striving to become a better place because people elsewhere also dream of freedom and human dignity. Well, the charisma of democracy has been disintegrating for years: America's wars in the Middle East, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. The revelations of Edward Snowden. What do you want, you hypocrites, people were asked in Cairo, Moscow, and Peking? The world has become a feast for cynics. For how much longer will my home country be a safe place I can feel proud of? Will Europe also fall?Do not let yourself be lulled. Not from the smell of your morning coffee, not from the subway that runs today as always  The world is no longer the same as  yesterday. Shout. Wake those who still believe in the comfort of hope, who lack the power of imagination. Wake them up. There's a monster. It stuck his gaze on us. Look him in the eye. Shout! And then go to work.

15 November 2016


The Arctic's temperature is way above normal for the time of year. The water is much warmer after the summer ice loss and there is a flood of warm air coming up from the South.

The unusually high temperatures reduce the temperature differential between the Arctic and lower latitudes and mean that the jet stream starts to slow down and meander bringing unusual weather to populated areas. ​​

This is probably the fastest way that climate change will affect people in the heavily populated regions. Waiting for crops to fail when the temperature rises 2 C will take another thirty years and waiting for the ice to melt and raise sea levels is a slow business but this is quick. Reduce Arctic ice cover, temperature rises and straight away the jet stream moves course.
It can bring excessive rain and floods or it can bring dry weather becoming drought, but in either case it is quick, it is regional and it is very unpleasant and expensive. 
 read more here

These are maybe the only things that governments understand about dealing with climate change if they are able to look beyond their little bitsy power deals and are willing to deal with it at all.

14 November 2016

Jack Frost has arrived with a cold wind. I wrapped myself up and walked down to the river where everything was bright and shiny, the river, the ferry, the hills, the joggers and cyclists and I got carried away for a bit. How beautiful it all is, how comfortable and happy our lives are here in this small city where so many nationalities live and work and study together, where the ultra right demonstrators were outnumber 500 to one last time, and then I met the elderly Korean tennis coach swinging his racket. Predictably, we chatted about the weather and the cold wind and our grown up children and earthquakes and universities and - this happens regularly - Ireland. His wife, he told me, is one quarter Irish, so his children's blood is one eighth Irish blood. At this stage I laughed and mumbled something about blood being the same for everyone but maybe the DNA and how that could be a surprise etc. And he nodded and laughed as well before he said, whatever the science, at least we are not black.
What? I said. Are you serious? And before I  would grab his tennis racket to hit him over the head, I walked on shaking, while he called after me, sorry, sorry, only joking. And of course all the right answers came to me much later.

13 November 2016

No rain today, cold yes, but clear mostly. Late breakfast, we make plans for the afternoon. I go upstairs to sort out my desk for the coming week and there is that ping on my phone.
The message reads don't worry we are fine and for the rest of the day I sit and watch a live stream camera of Wellington bay,  the waves of the Pacific ocean gently rolling in, rolling out, rolling in, no tsunami, no tsunami, no tsunami, at least 45 aftershocks. My child is safe.

11 November 2016

Our antidote to cultures of fear is knowledge, empathy, compassion. The open hand. The open imagination.

Paul Salopek
Thank you Leonard Cohen for teaching me that there needs to be that crack in everything - so that the light gets in.

09 November 2016

The trick is to keep exploring and not bail out, even when we find out that something is not what we thought. That’s what we’re going to discover again and again and again. Nothing is what we thought. I can say that with great confidence. Emptiness is not what we thought. Neither is mindfulness or fear. Compassion—not what we thought. Love. Buddha nature. Courage. These are code words for things we don’t know in our minds, but any of us could experience them. These are words that point to what life really is when we let things fall apart and let ourselves be nailed to the present moment.


06 November 2016

I wanted to do many things this weekend but my anger got in the way plus a couple of other things, like working on a translation about women and midwives in Upper Mustang (Nepal) which rapidly brought me back to my senses and reality. The picture above has been on the wall above my desk for the past five years. It shows Rensum, one of the older midwives. This is how she travels every day to the mountain villages at a high altitude to attend to her clients. (If you want to know more about her and the women in Upper Mustang, let me know.)
In between, I followed R around as he did our weekly shopping (bless him) and I felt like an alien in these endless miles of aisles. I eventually found two things to halfheartedly add to the trolley but generally, it was another lost day for capitalism. We won't starve as R shops with dedication and a list and he never ever gets tempted to buy crap except when there's wine to taste. Nobody said this would be easy, kicking and being furious in style and comfort. But I do have a talent for getting lost in my very own mess.

04 November 2016

Hello active world out there. I pushed this week in front of me like a sack of rotten potatoes. Last night I was so fucking tired I couldn't sleep, too exhausted to relax I just hung in there waiting for someone to come and knock me over the head or something. I know. drama queen. Anyway, nobody came. Just the usual banging noises from the fridge and R gently snoring.
Accordingly and following the developing pattern of slothfulness, I skipped this morning's Qi Gong with the Muslim women and instead nursed several cups of tea while gazing into the far distance for a few hours until my father phoned to list all his many many exciting plans for the weekend. I just let him talk on and on until the interference from his hearing aids became too loud. He only wears them for show, he has never been interested in listening.
Plus, it's almost freezing outside and while cycling to work is exhilarating what with all the colourful leaves and stuff, the thrill of cycling back home through the lonely dark forest is rapidly decreasing (do thrills decrease?). Also, once again I have come to realise that there is no such thing as windproof, chill-proof cycling gloves. They simply haven't been invented. Last night, I briefly considered immersing my hands into a dead horse in true Revenant style but this plan was abandoned due to lack of horse.
So there, life goes on. This is November, not July.
I shall finish this cup of coffee and go to work, I may even discover some purpose along the way.

02 November 2016

There are days when, well you know.
Days when I wonder what on earth etc.
One of them started with reading the wrong sections of the paper. I should stick with the glossy celebrity "news", I know.

Every seventh child on this planet - and remember it's all we've got - lives in an area of severe air pollution, the biggest environmental health risk. But of course, India and China are far away places.

We are now living in a 400ppm world with levels unlikely to drop below the symbolic milestone in our lifetimes.

And there is more. Shitloads.

Then I went shopping and I almost got into a fight with the young man who currently manages the local supermarket. It started very politely when I asked him why suddenly all the organic veg and fruit are now shrink-wrapped in plastic (actually, the bananas were unwrapped). We went back and forth for a while about regulations identifying organic produce, about stopping people buying organic stuff and pretending it was conventional, about making it easier for staff to clean and discard, about environmental pollution and how to recycle plastics (tell me another one) and I admit I was leading him on because I had just spent some time with someone on the phone who happens to research that kind of shit. And I walked away like the old biddy I have become feeling stupid and oh so well aware that this is not the way to go about it. But still. There are days, etc.

One of my friends-with-positive-mindset regularly reassures me with sentences like 'We have a planet full of resources, a body of knowledge and seven billion pairs of hands. The impediments to our finding an answer are not technical. They are organisational. How do we organise human affairs to prevent this?'

Currently we are still stuck in " How do we organise human affairs within the current rules, systems, mores, cultures and values to prevent this?"

And quite probably we will stay stuck there until it is actually too late.

Increasingly, there are days when I am relieved that I am almost old, that I probably have another 10, 15 years (max) and what the heck. But I am kidding myself. We all are.