Proven Survival tools in Chicago

IMG_4861America is odd, an intensive MA is… intense, winter has been arctic vortex insane, and I’ve been neglecting you all rather than bombarding you with exhausted monologues of frustration and tears. But spring has sprung, the grass is ris’, the end is approaching (of my MA and possibly civilisation as we know it, but let’s not despair). We are lovers and fighters and we don’t give up for anyone. I thought tonight I’d share some of the soul-food that has sustained me over the seven and a half months that I’ve been here. It’s free advertising for the capitalists who benefit from your purchases, fetishes and consumptionisms, but see how you go enjoying my suggestions…

The Marvellous Mrs Maisel… it’s hilarious, she’s brilliant. It’s empowering in a quiet yeah don’t give up kinda way. It’s discretely feminist in a who needs men other than for sex occasionally kinda way, there’s no violence. Did I mention that it’s hilarious? Wish there was more tv like this – it’s from the writers of the Gilmore Girls so I wonder if any of you watched that? Maybe I wish she drank less because really women, we don’t have to drink like fish to be successful, just like we don’t always need men and fish don’t need bicycles. Scenes in the second season in Paris… love, love, love. Oh Paris… so sad on so many levels for so many reasons. Oh Paris…

Of course if you binge watch it right before giving a class presentation you might find yourself giving high speed asides on family dysfunction that are related although tangential to your topic and seemed funny to you but may have gone over the heads of your class since it is morning in America and you are not Mrs Maisel.

Reading about women getting on with living and inspiring us all to believe that we can… Ariel Gore’s We Were Witches – I would never read a novel about a just-gone-teenage American woman living in poverty, going to college with a baby, coming out… it is brilliant. I read it in a day, another beloved friend stayed up most of last night reading it. Just so wonderful on more levels than I know how to say.

IMG_5331Reading fiction about women doing fabulous things after not being given an easy start in life, without spending agonising pages on self reflection and guilt trips… Theodore Goss The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, and the follow up which was equally as luscious, European Travels for the Monstrous Gentlewoman. All those awful male Gothic scientists like Moreau and Rappaccini and Jeckel and Hyde, well Goss has blessed them with intelligent, wilful, hilarious and damaged daughters who seriously kick their fathers in the reproductive-selfishness organs… and Gothic scientific society where it hurts. I laughed out loud, they’re brilliant. Oh and when I’m trying not to think before sleeping but can’t afford the time of a novel or the risk of binge watching a series of tv, I’m reading Ursula le Guin short stories and talks in bed, with a warm turmeric and cocoa drink.

Ooops missed another series that’s beyond delectable – an ageing Sherlock meets and marries a far too young Mary Russell (“My wife reads theology at Oxford.” “Of course she does”). Ah Laurie King – love them, they’re delicious… at times ethnocentric and a touch creepy given the age differences, but luscious and a good giggle in a feminist, even a fish likes to cycle occasionally kind of way.

IMG_E5400

Reading really important Australian Indigenous serious truths about knowing about what was happening in our beloved land before invasion… Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu should be obligatory, mandatory, do not pass Go, reading for every Australian. READ IT. Then do yourself a favour and read Griffiths Deep Time Dreaming: Uncovering Ancient Australia. It is frankly terrifying how new white-scientific knowledge about Indigenous people, culture and history is, how ignorant white-Australia remains, we need to get educated Australia. READ IT. Think deeply. You might even find your change your mind on some important things.

Now I should be studying, but Pooper the wonder dog upstairs has been barking for hours which is also stopping me going to bed… so it’s time for a sing-a-long. Or listening to Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto LOUD. True, not at all a feminist piece unless you’ve watched episode 10 of season one of Sense8, in which case you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about in terms of a feminist imagining of listening to The Emperor. Luxuriate in it. Remember the potential for awesomeness that was born when you emerged and took your first breath. OMG pop culture leap, the Emperor, is Rey going to have to do an Arya and stick it to the evil dead? Where would the universes be without women getting on and doing the work that just needs doing? You have watched Sense8 haven’t you?

IMG_E5395

Another miracle is the new Deborah Conway and Willy Zygier album, The Words of Men. When we saw them trial the album, Deb wanted to call the band “Deborah Conway’s Toxic Masculinity.” We laughed. It wasn’t just the wine. I think they’ve mis-named my favourite track: they called it Don’t You Forget Me. It really should be called Let’s Drink to Getting Old – it would be played at every Gen X significant birthday party for the next fifty years. Do yourself a favour – it’s on youtube, you don’t even have to pay – give it a listen, sing-a-long. Sing-a-long LOUD with ear-phones in while walking in the rain at a top-10 university in North America. Toast total strangers with your umbrella… only realise later that it’s beyond fortunate that nobody called the authorities to report you as having a mental crisis and being in need of shooting. But hey, do yourself a favour, listen, sing-a-long discretely. Somewhere safe. It will do you good deep in your soul. It’s good to be having the chance to be getting old(er)… we love too many who didn’t get that opportunity. Cease the Day.

Life is miraculous, we have to be here for each other somehow. I understand why people love spring when they’ve had real winter – why Easter is celebrated in spring. I worked out why I’ve been photographing so many flowers – that little bulbs could survive out there under the earth, under the snow, and then with just the provocation and encouragement of a little warmth they rise and produce such wondrous hope. It’s enough to make even the most lonely, damaged soul feel like there can be new life.

Oh, the below images are from the best gallery I’ve ever visited – big call. It’s in Baltimore and it’s called the Walters Art Museum. I did try to label the images so you could see the names and artists. The Japanese sculpture was exquisite. Very very good for the feminist soul when dead rich white men leave us wonders to enjoy!

Friday night is West Side Story (Lyric Opera), Saturday’s a cohort Chicago’s Architecture booze cruise, and Sunday (afternoon thankfully) it’s Greek Independence Day parade – research for my study of ethnic identity in America. What a pity they’ve forgotten how to make Greek Coffee. Sigh… see you there!

Binti, a woman of earth and stars

Binti and Binti: Home, by  Nnedi Okorafor
The above incredible image was sourced from DestinAsian 

I really want to write you a review of the novellas Binti, and Binti: Home, it’s a long time since I read such real science fiction. But I find I’m not sure where to begin. Instead of finding words or images to share with you, a story line to attract you, instead my brain is still and I can feel earth, coarse damp earth, rough wet clay on my skin. I want to smear it, rub it onto myself. This is unusual for me, I am a woman of water. But the scent of living soil is in my nostrils, minerals seeping into my blood. Enervating. I feel grounded. Real. Growing, alive, but still and stopped. I want to go outside and bury my hands in the soil, feel its pulsing life. To stand on rock and earth. I don’t want to appropriate her culture, to claim for myself otjize, the culture of the Himba women of Namibia. I just want to inhale that grounded life. Maybe I want to reach out and touch that warm supple skin. To taste transcendence in immanent earth. That is the gift of Binti.

Binti is a young woman of colour, the first of her people to be accepted into university on a far planet. She leaves alone in the early morning. By leaving she is exiled. She is the sole survivor of a massacre. She is a harmoniser, a woman who weaves mathematical patterns of meaning and peace. She is powerful. Transcendent and deliberately immanent. Woman.

I don’t think Binti asked me any profound questions, other than why she should be the first woman of colour to have a science fiction series of her own. I love that this is a book written by a woman, about a woman. A book about a woman who dared to defy social strictures that would have held her at home, told her who to be, how to be a good woman. Instead she journeyed away, redefined the meaning of being a good woman. Took the earth from which she came and healed others. Created earth with the power of womanhood and healing and home, although the distances of space ached between. Returned to find change for all life is change. To find something new of herself and her people and her universe. To find echoes of time.

Not since my earliest readings of Ursula Le Guin’s Rocannon’s World some thirty years ago have I felt so connected to a science fiction culture, a science fiction character. And I love science fiction. So that is the highest praise I can offer. Neither Binti or Binti: Home are long, they leave you aching for more. And to be honest, I don’t think I liked the end of Binti: Home. But I desire, long for the next instalment Binti: The Night Masquerade. I’m holding a deep hope that Okorafor doesn’t fly Binti away into unreality, when she has been so grounded, so real to date. And so sniffing earth, tasting ground, smelling stardust with our toes, we wait.

 

 

Shiva – Lord of the Dance – Nataraj

Close your eyes and imagine you’re having a dream… you can see a fire in front of you, a big vertical circle of fire that’s pulsing with energy so it’s as though it’s alive.  It’s burning in the air like a slow turning annulus.  And in the middle of that circle of flame you can see the silhouette of a figure dancing.

You move closer and realise the dancer is the most beautiful man you have ever seen.  Muscles so defined they’re almost sculpted, wild dreadlocks flying, dark skin glowing, sweat droplets flying and glistening like prisms of molten gold in the flickering firelight.  Dancing, a balance of perfection in motion, and always, permeating your very being, there is a thrusting pulse and drumbeat.

The energy of the fire, the energy of the dance and the pulsing drumbeat draw you closer.

You approach and see that this magnificent man is dancing one leg raised in the air, foot pointing toward release and salvation, inviting you to take the first step to walk the dance of your salvation.  Somehow in the frenzy of constant movement, his other leg is fixed on the ground.  Except it’s not on the ground, as you get closer you see he is standing on the back of a dwarf.  The dwarf is ego; he has risen above everything the dwarf represents and selfless he’s dancing in the centre of the energy of the universe.

You move closer again, drawn by this thrumming beat that seems to be coming from inside you, deeper inside you than your own heartbeat, from the very pulsing life of your cells.  You see that the drum is in his hand.  He has four hands swirling round his body in this magnificent untameable dance.

One hand beats the drum, the pulse of life.

One hand is the pedestal for the dance of a cobra, swaying languidly, thrusting provocatively, head raised, hood flared, tongue darting, eyes like diamonds this symbol of renewal, fertility and the sexuality of sustaining life.

One hand is empty, pointing at his raised foot.  The empty space between hand and foot forces you to acknowledge the agony of the apparent absence of god, times of absence of meaning, to confront the empty vacant voids in your soul, times when you’ve had no choice but to gaze into yourself and weep tears into the darkest abyss.

His fourth hand holds fire.  Fire that is the end of all things, fire that is destruction, because in this dancing beautiful man you encounter all the elements of life; creation, salvation, renewal and destruction.

His third eye pierces your very soul.  You gasp at that naked knowing.

Flying around his head are matted wild dreadlocks, cascading and crashing together like rapids and logs on a ragging roaring river.  In his dreads, like jewels in the celestial sky, are both the sun and the moon, for this is the bringer of light to the world.  Drawing closer still you see in the dreadlocks a small boat.  The dreads flow like water, like the mother river Ganga the source of all life and fertility flowing out from this man’s head.  And in the boat you see a skull, for death holds no fear in the realm of such magnificence.

Water coming from the river Ganga, his mistress, his lover, flows into you through the pores of your skin, all life comes from Mother Ganga.

And still this man dances, this god, this human perfection, this primal beauty…  sculpted muscles, genitals raised, dreads flying, arms twirling wildly, drum pulsing, pulsing inside your body as the flames burn.  Look into the beauty of the divine and meet the eye of the god.

You feel utter peace at the centre of all things.  The fires burn, burn with the energy of life and the universe…  everything is complete in the dance, nothing can be added by strivings or destroyed in tragedies.  The rapture and freedom are intoxicating, it moves you to another place.  A place where you are above ego, and where your true self is safe to let go and your soul can dance with the god…

Dance

Namaste – the god in me acknowledges the god in you, and in all things

I Can’t Keep Quiet

Soundtrack: MILCK Quiet

Had a crisis of confidence this morning. Is the India of my hopes and expectations a place only of my imagining? It looks so different out the hotel window. Am I indulging in some white colonial fantasy even thinking of coming to live here? What right do I have to speak? Should I shut up, go home, stay in my place. Could I do that?

But no one knows me no one ever will
if I don’t say something, if I just lie still

Since the global Women’s marches last week I’ve been listening to MILCK Quiet. A song written about finding the confidence to talk about mental illness. A song performed in Washington proclaiming that Women cannot keep quiet when politics abuses. It’s an anthem for anyone who has ever  doubted their right to exist, their right to use the planet’s oxygen to speak, to breathe.

Can I keep quiet about what I’ve learned, seen? Should I? Could I?

Maybe it’s time I left my 4.5 star luxury and went out to find the India I love, to find my smile. To find my muse, Karthik’s daughter, and Kali with her sisters.

Febuary 2014
There is a Castle on a Cloud

There is a bookmark on my pillow this evening… “All that we are is a result of what we have thought.”

Today we reached Chennai, last stop on this three week temple tour. I’m in 6 star luxury high up in the sky feeling like the Queen of Sheba (no glass floor or hairy cloven foot, thank you Miss B) and I’m a little sanguine.

I get very close to India each trip, and the occasional luxuries I allow myself become more incongruous each time. We’ve talked about change and India in the IT age is different but it’s not the India I love and seek. The ordinary people I come here to encounter, Malar and Yoda, the people in the villages and temples and markets, they would never see inside a place like this. And from here I cannot hear their voices. After 3 weeks in their world the pretension here chafes.

Today as I ate a 2500 rupee ($45) lunch in splendid isolation, Karthik waited in the car outside the hotel. On the road he lives on a 500 rupee per day allowance. I used the words of Monty Python on Facebook: “Luxury! We had box in middle of road!” He has a car by the side of the road, and even that is not his.

At 3pm Karthik collected me for our afternoon walk (I took him the fruit bowl from my hotel room to ease my conscience) and we went to the beach.  Just walking and watching for a couple of hours outside my golden handcuffs… come, walk with us:

There are breakers crashing on a long white beach, the air pregnant with salt and spray. The sun lowering in the sky creates long shadows, we slide away from profane time through the shimmering mists to another between world.

Let the salty mist cloud your harsh vision and tint your dark glasses. Stop looking at the rubbish and poverty. See the human not the beggar. Slide out of knowing on a beach on the edge of time. Feel with your soul.

Not in my castle on a cloud

Through the mists the hotels to the south flatten into a single silhouette turreted by a/c towers and elevator blocks. The radar post looms a high watchtower over the mists. Sand castles guarding, watching the sea.

day-19-img_0914-castles

What horrors they watched on 26 December 2004 as tsunami ripped this beach clean… on the feast of Stephen, when the sand lay round about, deep and crisp and even, uncountable beggars and slums washed away.

For millennia we have been drawn to the edges, to the deep, above the waves, beyond these shores. Into the unknown. Here we pause out of time. In the interstices, the beginnings of life.

I feel safer out here with Karthik than in the locked hotel with its security gates and guns.

Stay out of time with us: boys ride bareback on horses along the beach, gallant knights their sand castles fallen into the sea. Off to find a princess or a kingdom to save. The shell seller blows his conch, troubadour echoing a haunting call across ages, percussion by the thump of the waves. There is a castle on a cloud.

The fairy floss seller a splash of color. Madam madam, Karthik gives a few rupees to a small girl begging with a monkey. Is he thinking of his own little daughter?

Rubbish and crows. Wind all wind. Coconut shells tangled in red cloth, “From cremation” Karthik says. People put the ashes in a mud pot, inside a coconut shell. Wrap it in red cloth and cast it into the sea. Fly, be free… I like that.

Walkers make their way around colored fishing boats pulled high onto the sand. Nets formed in tidy piles like a thousand tumbleweeds frozen in the moment. Men sit and talk, repairing nets by hand. Stand on the sand cliff between the boats and lean into the wind. Embrace the spray. Timeless, safe, at home on the shore, the space between. On one side a road of cars and motorbikes and took tooks race, humanity seethes. On the other the sea roads take massive container ships stately plying the eastern ocean, waves crash and propellers drive. Both made Other in the spray filled mists. Stand safe in the space between, be the liminal. Lift your arms into the wind, for 20 rupees hold a balloon above your head and fly.

Drink the spray. Inhale the timelessness.  Stalls and chairs available for the serious moneyed consumer. But drink time not cola. Breathe.

We perch on the side of a small fishing boat. No more than 5 logs lashed together. Laughing as our weight tips it over and us off onto the sand. We sit. Silent. Different worlds, separate, souls touching. Alive.

day-19-img_0915

The sun breaks through a hole in the sky, spotlights girls dancing along the edge of the waves, sari ends like froth on the waves.

Breathe. A chai wallah walks past. Then ice cream wallah. Coconuts and driftwood litter the beach. Even the rubbish glistens in piles on the sand.

Walk, walk with wind in your face, sun on your back. Walk north. Walk.

The inland flattened hotel castle-scrapers are replaced, now behind the cars and busses and haste are crazy, voluptuous, ice-cream shaped exotica of silhouetted Victorian British architecture, the railway station and university. More continuous motion frozen out of our still silent space. Their world of knowledge, progress and speed.  Here all is timeless and without form, slipping in and out pulsing with the waves, adrift on the spray.

A group of fully clad swimmers laughing and giggling full of joy and salt. Splashing at play. Beach cricket on the edge of the world. “Water is very wet” says Karthik.

Wind blows away words. Wind and tide and time. Shadows lengthen. Long shadows. Walk, walk. Time to turn madam. Which way? Follow the tractor tracks back to the real world. What is real? What is dream? What is in between? He is my guide, and nothing will ever be the same.

 I know a place where no one’s lost,
 I know a place where no one cries,
 Crying at all is not allowed.
 Not in my castle on a cloud.

Though I feel inadequate,
my heart not big enough for the love, the pain,
the hope…

I can’t keep quiet, for anyone, not anymore