No Woman

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the film ‘Yes Man’.  It’s a highly enjoyable story of a man who says no to life; who never goes anywhere or does anything and is stuck in the same old job as a loans officer for a bank.  Then one day he goes to an empowerment seminar where he is persuaded to enter a ‘contract’ agreeing to say yes to everything – literally everything – that comes along.  It’s very different from the book; but what struck me about both book and film was this: just how impossible would it be to do this as a woman?  Totally, right?  Can you imagine – a woman going round saying yes to everything?  So maybe the best option for women would be to practise saying no, since traditionally women are supposed to be amenable, open, charming and supportive.  So what would ‘No Woman’ look like? *

Of course you’d have to be discriminating otherwise you’d have to say no to a good job offer or a gift or a holiday or some other opportunity.  But suppose you started saying no to all the things you really want to say no to?

I did this the other week.  If I have a weakness it’s a tendency to take on jobs which need doing and which no-one else wants to do.  If there’s a need in an organisation, some part of me feels the urge to rush in and Save the Day.  I’ve got better at this as time goes by and I no longer volunteer for things that don’t play to my strengths – but if jobs seem to be the sort of thing I’d be good at, I generally persuade myself that this is The Thing To Do.

A case in point: recently at a meeting, a vacancy was announced.  Immediately my ‘save the day’ urge kicked in – but I’ve learned caution so instead of volunteering I raised my hand and asked what the job entailed.  I deliberately and quite specifically said as a prelude to the question, ‘I’m not volunteering to do this.’  And what happened?  One week later I heard that no fewer than three people had said, ‘isn’t it great that Liz is going to be _______?.’  This got my back up somewhat and I said a very firm No right there and then.  It particularly annoyed me that my words hadn’t been heard; all that had registered was that I’d shown an interest, and that people leapt from that to thinking I’d agreed to do it.

All this is in stark contrast to the Quakers.  When there is a job to be done the Nominations Committee (of which I am a member) sit and reflect on who might be asked to undertake that role.  This can be a process which may evolve over weeks or months; or a name might come up immediately.  That person is then asked; whereupon they go away and reflect on it, again over a period of weeks or months.  They then come back to the Noms Committee with a response.  At no time is any pressure put on anyone to say yes.  The Quaker attitude is that jobs exist for people, not people for jobs.

Hmm.  Now, what else can I say ‘no’ to today?

Kirk out

(Or not…)

*  No Bob Marley jokes please

Advertisements

Baa!

I’m feeling a little sheepish at the moment and I’ll tell you why in just a sec.  In the meantime I’m going to review last night’s one-off drama from the BBC, Care.  Alison Steadman is pure genius in this story of a bright, caring elderly woman who has a major stroke and loses everything.  She becomes aggressive and confused; she mistakes every man she sees for her dead husband and her response to being asked to make tea is to eat the teabag.  When she’s taken to a care home they lose her that first night because there are only three nurses to care for thirty-one patients.  She communicates in fractured phrases that convey nothing to the outside world: vague subtitles waft across to translate her thoughts.  After she absconds her daughter brings her home, and there begins a nightmare of trying to care for a demented elderly mother whilst bringing up two daughters alone.  The indictment of the care system is on a par with something by Ken Loach: after I’d seen it I couldn’t get to sleep as it stirred up so many emotions.

But none of this explains the sheepishness; nor is the sheepishness connected to sleeplessness.  Nay, I have ordered a book whose title has caused me some embarrassment, though I’m not sure why.  It’s nothing to do with sex; it’s on a subject which its author suggests is even more private and harder to talk about than sex.  It’s this.

And I have to say that so far, I’m finding it inspirational.  I’m not entirely sure whether I want to be you-know-what: in fact part of me things R*** is a four-letter word.  But McKenna deconstructs these ideas and suggests, firstly, that being rich is about a mental attitude and not governed by how much you have (I concur) and secondly, that wealth does not in itself corrupt, but ‘reveal’.  It accentuates what is already there.  I’m not sure I entirely go along with that but I know what he means.

Along with very helpful exercises there are some quotations designed to be inspirational; however many of these have a disturbing effect on me as they are from people like Richard Branson, Ayn Rand and (shudders) Donald Trump.  I should make clear that the book was published in 2007, way before DT got into politics.

But I am aware of two things; one, that I am hard-up, and two, that I want more income than I have at the moment.  I want a flow of income that allows me to buy some stuff I want and to give to others (no begging letters please; I’m talking about charities here) so that I can, in his words, ‘live my best life.’

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Kirk out

 

Zen + Zen = Zen

I’ve been reading a book of Japanese Death Poems lent to me by my son.  I was quite ignorant of the Japanese tradition of writing a poem at the point of death: it seems very strange to us that someone can not only know when they are about to die but stop to write a poem before they go; but I found these poems to be a great source of peace: all of us in the West need to learn to confront our own mortality instead of running away from it and trying to prolong our lives as much as possible.

https://bit.ly/2EcHWiG

I’ve also been watching a film about the Tamil mathematician Ramanujan.  Played by Dev Patel, Ramanujan is an untutored genius with a brilliant intuitive mind who regards mathematics as a sort of worship and does his calculations in the sand of the temple floor.  He has a mind as beautiful as Nash’s but without any opportunity to share his insights; however a friend takes his papers to show the local British bigwig and he gets an opportunity to go to Cambridge and study under Hardy:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G._H._Hardy

Jeremy Irons (how I love that man) is perfect as the atheist Hardy, a man fighting on more fronts than the War which forms the backdrop to this narrative.  Prejudice is ingrained and Trinity College refuses to acknowledge that ‘an Indian’ could be brainier than they are.  But Hardy is also fighting Ramanujan himself, who cannot understand his insistence on ‘proving’ the arguments which he intuitively ‘sees’.  Intuition, in the West, is not enough: there must be proof, especially if Ramanujan is to be elected as a Fellow.  An opportunity to explore these cultural differences is missed; in fact missed opportunities are a feature of this film.  Stephen Fry has a cameo as British bigwig Sir Francis Spring who abruptly changes his mind about supporting Ramanujan (another opportunity for drama missed) and other supporting roles are underexploited, such as Toby Jones as Hardy’s friend and co-conspirator and Jeremy Northam as Bertrand Russell; a man sympathetic to racial equality but realistic about Ramanujan’s chances of Fellow-ship.

A sad sub-plot involves Ramanujan’s young wife, separated from him by his relocation to England.  Their separation is cruelly compounded by his jealous mother who hides their letters, so that each thinks the other has forgotten them.  But once again the opportunity for drama is missed; the wife finds the letters and we fast-forward to a reconciliation, though sadly they have only two more years together before he dies of TB.

I’m very interested in the subject of multicultural maths.  Arabic cultures were fluent in maths and much of their art is based on patterns of numbers: I wonder if we are still as arrogant today as those Trinity scholars who thought the way of the West was the only way?

The film’s on Netflix now if you want to watch it:

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0787524/?ref_=nm_flmg_act_7

And I have a sneaking suspicion that in Zen mathematics 1+1=1…

Kirk out

Gigging for Momentum

Momentum in the area of gigs is something I’d really like to have; to swing from one (paid) gig to another, to travel the country bringing emergency poetry to areas of need, to hop on a train down to London one night and up to Nottingham the next, then over to Brum, maybe up to Edinburgh the next week; that’s the life for me.  Swinging from tree to tree…

I’m a poetess and I’m OK;

I gig all night and I write all day

(Before you write in, I dislike the word ‘poetess’ as much as anyone; I just used it for its syllables.)

But until that day comes I must content myself with a gig for Momentum.  This happened on Sunday at the Criterion in Leicester:

https://bit.ly/2Ri5MMO

a venerable pub with plenty of good beer (alas, I was driving so had none) and a separate music room.  It was a good afternoon with a mix of musicians and poets: I met some old friends and encountered a new poet, Will Horspool, whose poetry I enjoyed.  Myself, Bobba, Richard Byrt and Will were the poets and Steve Cartwright, Sheila Mosley and Paul (sorry Paul I forgot your last name) the musicians.  It was a game of two halves with each of us having a ten-minute set in each half.

I have now finished Stephen Fry’s ‘The Ode Less Travelled’ and begun my poetry journal.  This is proving very useful as I can record not only what I’ve done in terms of practising and writing, but the thoughts and ideas which occur while I’m practising and writing.  These are many and varied and writing them down is a good way to begin organising them.  To my intense relief Fry says ‘Please do not send me your poems.’  He is terribly polite about not having the time to read them, and it releases me from any compulsion I might otherwise have felt to send him a sonnet I’d written in response to one of his prompts.  However in case he should stop by this blog for a moment, I’ll reproduce it below.

The poems for Momentum were:

Spike (written for Sound Cafe)

A Hostile Environment (about the effects of austerity on the poor)

Spirit of ’44

More in Common (for Jo Cox)

Poet-Tree, a peace poem

and The Lady in the Van.

These were well-received.

The sonnet prompt in Fry’s book was to write about voting in elections from two opposing points of view.  This is the first sonnet, exhorting people to vote – the second is a work in progress, probably because my heart isn’t in it (if you’re interested, this one is based on Wordsworth’s poem about Milton:

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45528/london-1802

On Voter Apathy

Voter!  Thou should’st be living at this last

hour, for all the signs say life’s expired

x does not mark the spot: you can’t be arsed

for apathy is tiredness beyond tired.

Arise!  The ballot box hath need of thee

thy paper crossed and folded but complete

your vote could be the one to change the MP

take part instead of voting with your seat.

La politique s’occupe de vous, said Jean-Paul;

he’s right: not voting now is voting Tory

to sofa-sit effects no change at all

you have the power – now go get the glory.

They fought for this, the people of our nation

sometimes a right implies an obligation.

(c) Liz Gray, 2018

Kirk out

 

 

Room at the Top, Room at the Bottom

Last night I was at a loose end browsing my father-in-law’s bookshelves.  He no longer reads, which is sad, because over the decades he’s accumulated yards and yards of old Penguins and Pelicans (the blue, non-fiction ones).  I love Penguin books and as a child I was reared on Puffins, their junior choice (so to speak).  There was a lot of stuff I didn’t care to read but then I came upon John Braine’s ‘Room at the Top’:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Room_at_the_Top_(novel)

This handbook-of-the-working-class-lad-who-makes-good was published in the late fifties, though it savours much more of the sixties: but what struck me in the first chapter was the obsession with clothes, manners and food; these markers of class which he must learn to mimic if he is to ‘pass’ for middle-class.  (He hasn’t yet mentioned his accent though, which I’d have thought was the primary marker: as Professor Higgins says, he can tell as soon as someone opens their mouth, where they come from ‘within six miles’:

https://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2013/03/15/my-fair-lady/)

This preoccupation with clothes reminded me of George Orwell who, in ‘Down and Out in Paris and London,’ was making the opposite journey by being born into a relatively privileged family and wanting to experience the life of a down-and-out.  Downwards mobility is always easier than upwards; no-one questions him as a tramp but when he tries to get work as a waiter he has to use boot-black on his heels to cover up the holes in his socks.  Presumably he didn’t change his accent though, unlike lots of posh people today who use the fake glottal stop when they want to sound ‘down with the people’:

https://lizardyoga.wordpress.com/2013/11/01/stop-the-stop/

Orwell was writing in the ’30’s; the cities he describes seem very distant from us now, but you’d expect that.  What’s extraordinary is how social classes have broken down since ‘Room at the Top’ was written.  In theory we now have much more social mobility; but now what we’re seeing is the soaring rise of a super-privileged, super-rich class who are, ironically, the untouchables of our age.  The government doesn’t even try to curb top people’s pay and though Labour will give it their best shot when they get into government (yes, when) it remains to be seen how far those efforts will succeed.  After all, the first task of the rich is after all to hold on to their wealth: the second is to increase it.

The pay of people at the top is out of control; the pay of people at the bottom oozes and stagnates, which makes the death of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, Leicester City’s owner, all the more tragic.  There are no further updates as yet and no indication of foul play, unless you suspect a malevolent universe of keeping Phillip Green alive and murdering a generous and supportive man.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leicestershire-46013381

Kirk out

 

 

Exit, Pursued by a Gift

It doesn’t seem like three years since Banksy’s refreshing antidote to the creepy enforced have-a-nice-day-ness of Disney, called Dismaland Bemusement Park – but apparently it is.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dismaland

At the time I thought it was a brilliant idea and I still do; there’s nothing more depressing than enforced smiling, and no better antidote to such tyranny than a healthy dollop of hyper-realist misery.  Dismaland featured such British greats as constant rain, invasive baggage searches and broken rides.  You could purchase a black balloon that says ‘I am an Imbecile’, see mock-ups of motorway accidents and nuclear mushroom clouds, genetically modified mice and abandoned, graffiti-covered tube carriages.

But just as Mickey Mouse is the poster-boy for have-a-nice-day capitalism, so Dismaland is overtly political too.  They show you how to subvert adverts by reclaiming public space with art, as this video shows:

I wonder what Americans would have made of this?  It’s very typically British to queue up for a miserable experience rather than being happy-happy-happy.  The staff at Dismaland never smile and openly state that they don’t care about your problems, hence the Customer Service Desk is closed 24 hrs a day.  There’s a long queue for ‘pocket money loans’ – a reference to the way companies target children to get their customers while they’re young.  And of course you exit through the gift shop…

Kirk out