21 November 2017

Stuck in traffic on a dark wet evening. Before I succumb to the usual moaning I try what a friend has offered me this morning, take ten mindful breaths and see where it gets you. I struggle and cheat a bit (eight, ten, wait, concentrate, was that twelve?) and then I resign and fiddle with the radio stations.
A report about an art exhibition. In one of the big wonderful cities on our planet. All of the eight artists have been prisoners and most of them for the last 15 years without trial and from the little I know this will remain so for most of them. In recent years, they have been given the opportunity to attend art courses and this exhibition is a first show of their work.

I listen as the reporter tells me that these men paint the sea, again and again, that in fact, almost all the work on display concerns the sea. Yet, none of them can reach it, none have been able to see or hear or smell the sea in all their years of imprisonment.
I also hear that the work is considered controversial, that it was scrutinized at length for secret, harmful messages and that not all of the intended paintings were accepted by the authorities.

And I hear that none of the work can be purchased or will be given back to the artists or their families.
No, the government of the country where this exhibition is currently on show has decided to burn all art from this exhibition and all other work from these artists.

Burning art, paintings, sculptures, drawings. In the 21st century, in a democracy. Back home, I find the website and scroll through the artwork, looking for any dangerous secret messages. In vain. But what do I know.

Eighty-four years ago, In Mai 1933, the nazis staged the first of their massive book burnings. Five years later, in 1938, they banned all art they deemed degenerate. Not so long ago.

more here

19 November 2017

Awake in the dark I watch how my thoughts wander and get lost. I am thinking this and that and the darkness just sits there around me, unrelenting. I hear my father's voice from our last phone call, the way he mentioned that - by the way - his back pain is now under control. He describes briefly how he solved this particular problem, the way he solves all problems, by defining its cause. I listen to his short lecture on pelvic muscle exercises, delivered with all the confidence of someone who is in no doubt that I certainly wouldn't know the first thing about it. 
And on we go. Once you know the cause, the rest is easy etc.: Once you can confirm it's a virus, you wait for your immune system to get rid off it. Once you identify the error in a specific calculation, you go back to the step you need to correct. Once you realise you said something rude, you simply apologise for it and move the fuck on. How often have I listened to this. Did it ever make sense.
Did I know that my brother, his youngest child (he is 58), has been suffering from back ache for years (yes)? And what has he done about it? Obviously nothing. What is wrong with us. And so on.

In other people's families I have often observed the moment in time when the parent, the father, becomes the child, when his adult children start to explain things to him the way he once explained life to them (and not just about the internet). When the adult children wait - impatiently or patiently - for him getting on with old age. And depending on the secret coordinates of a lifetime, developing a new state of empathy, friendship, gratitude even.

We haven't reached that stage yet. I doubt we ever will. When I wait for him to get out of the car and slowly walk up the three steps to his front door, the same three steps that made him fall down twice in three years out of sheer spite or maybe due to an architectural error, I am just three steps behind the man who has commandeered us around and who has never shown patience or any sign of leniency. He has no time to discuss my sister whom he stopped talking to (or vice versa) months ago. He has identified the problem, female hormones, and come to think of it, the symptoms have been obvious for a long time. So no, nothing he can do.  A simple equation, identify the problem, define the solution. Move on. Leave her behind. 

I catch my breath but in a way so he cannot notice. Better stay neutral. What if I am next. Or maybe I have already been solved out of the equation. Your voice sounds perfectly healthy, you always had a vivid imagination, he tells me. Always had a hard time accepting the science behind a problem.

My daughter, however, his first and most distant grandchild, this enigmatic young woman who moves freely across the globe, working in far away places he never showed any interest in, switching between languages he cannot speak, she can twist him around her little finger, scold him like a naughty boy and he flirts, clumsily and hopelessly. They don't meet often but when they do, I watch with envy.

Today I am tired. In ten days, I will turn 60. Winter is here, dark and damp and cold. I should allow my memories to become gentler, softer. I know. But today, there is nothing I am looking forward to. 

compulsory Sunday walk in the rain

16 November 2017

There are so many things, too many things, that occupy my heart and mind with worry and sadness and yes, anger.

This morning in the waiting room of the ENT doctor (another attack of vertigo requires a medical certificate and once again I am reminded that I would not need to sit here, nauseous, the artwork on the walls and the fish tank in the corner reeling and turning, if I had the courage to apply for early retirement) I met a women from Sudan, a scientist attending the UN climate conference. All week she tried to ignore an ear infection. But after yesterday's lukewarm and non-committal speech by the German chancellor, she gave up. We don't matter, she hissed at me. You affluent countries will just look after yourselves and won't give an inch while we in the poor South are suffering the consequences of your careless lifestyle.  And then she apologized. And thanked me for my city's hospitality. Briefly, we whispered about alternatives and what about women rising but then she was called in and I quickly wished her well and a safe journey home.

We used to get a new edition of the local phone book every year. Before the internet and smart phones took over. There would be a card in the letter box which you handed in at the counter of your local post office to collect the new one. You'd quickly check whether your entry was spelled correctly and put it in that spot reserved for it somewhere by the phone.
We don't do this anymore. The books have become thinner and full of ads and are delivered once a year to the doorstep in the early hours. This morning, we got the 2018 edition. I leafed through it on my way to the paper bin.
The warning is still printed at the bottom on the first page where all the emergency numbers are listed. That it is advisable for women to not list their full first name but if they wish to do so, to not list their address. For safety reasons, it says. 
Later on, I read in a new essay by Rebecca Solnit
"What would women’s lives be like, what would our roles and accomplishments be, what would our world be, without this terrible punishment that looms over our daily lives? It would surely rearrange who holds power, and how we think of power, which is to say that everyone’s life might be different. We would be a different society."
In the afternoon, in a conversation with a friend. I mention the phone book warning and we laugh our sarcastic laughs and then she remembers her teenage years and the priest shaming her from the pulpit for dressing indecently and not braiding her long hair. And how her father slapped her on the way home. I tell her of the time when a potential future boss, then a celebrity in the Dublin alternative scene, forced me to sit on his lap and drink whiskey from the bottle he was pushing into my face (physically, chipping my front teeth) to prove I had what it takes and when I didn't seem to have it, asked me to crawl out the door (physically, on my knees) and when I didn't do this but burst into tears instead, throwing my bag out and down the stairs and how I ran before his foot could kick me.

And all during dinner, I argue with R and get more and more angry and he just looks at me trying to make sense. Where is all this anger coming from, he asks. I don't know what to tell him, where to start.

Caitlin Moran

13 November 2017

today at the UN climate conference

After this flashmob by members of the alternative US delegation (www.wearestillin.com), the room was fairly empty. Only a handful stayed on to hear the preposterously titled presentation of the official US delegation ("The Role of Cleaner and More Efficient Fossil Fuels and Nuclear Power in Climate Mitigation"). Outside, the crowd of protesters included representatives from all participating nations. In the footage I spotted Amy Goodman and Dallas Goldtooth.


08 November 2017

Many years ago - and this is important because even back then we thought things were bad but little did we know - a friend said to me, I give up. I don't believe we are able to handle climate change. We are too stupid, to selfish, too comfortable.
Some days I know that this must be true.  That we are programmed for destruction of our habitat. It fits my general mood. Like the next best climate change denier, I bury my head in the sand. But instead of rubbish arguments based on wishful thinking and outright lies I moan about our failures and impending losses. I have run out of ideas and for a moment while watching the young and healthy masses at last Saturday's climate march (25,000), all those eager people with their dreadlocks and vegan snacks, their inventive signs and colourful flags, the salsa drummers and the pretty young women shaking their long shiny curls, I had to swallow the derisive comments waiting to fly out of my cynical heart.  And then I felt ashamed.
Meanwhile, R feels far more confident. Humans adapt, he tells me, the always have. You are just scared of change. Humans will tolerate a lot and then reach a tipping point and start acting.
I am not so sure.

Anyway, our city is currently hosting COP23, the UN climate change conference and there is a low humming buzz. But people hold back, we are cool. Next week, Leonardo is due to come, we shall see how the masses react. For a few hours each day, we follow a session of two, online. Everybody is very polite.

I met her on Saturday, the Marshall Islands poet Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, she stood right in front of me and I could see how tired she was. I was just one of too many who shook her hand. I am glad we did not have a chance to speak. What should I say, sorry your islands are disappearing because we burn massive amounts of fossil fuel and love our cars and cheap flights? So sad your baby daughter won't have a homeland?

03 November 2017

"Maybe none of this is about control. Maybe it really isn’t about who can own whom, who can do what to whom and get away with it, even as far as death. Maybe it isn’t about who can sit and who has to kneel or stand or lie down, legs spread open. Maybe it’s about who can do what to whom and be forgiven for it. Never tell me it amounts to the same thing."

Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid's Tale)