Stop Censorship – I’m against SOPA/PIPA!

Watch. Read. Then occupy the internet.

Edited: I’ve blacked out all my other sites:

tongues of the ocean
Shakespeare in Paradise

I’ve not blacked out this site because I wanted to share this video. But don’t be fooled. I’m entirely on board.

John Lundberg: Poetry Of The Revolution

Poetry is a far more important part of Iran’s culture than our own. In the Arab world, political and social movements have long adopted the art as a means of galvanizing support and bringing unity and focus to a cause. Thus, it’s no surprise that when the head of Iran’s Security Council threatened opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi with death, his wife Zahra, who herself has become a powerful symbol for change in Iran, responded with a poem that she twittered out to millions:

Let the wolves know that in our tribe
If the father dies, his gun will remain
Even if all the men of the tribe are killed
A baby son will remain in the wooden cradle.

She wasn’t alone. Scores of Iranians have turned to poetry for expression and in an effort to make some sense of the revolution’s violence and chaos. Sholeh Wolpe, an Iranian-American poet, wrote “I am Neda,” one of many powerful poems inspired by the death of Neda, the now iconic figure shot during a protest by Basij:

Leave the Basiji bullet in my heart,
fall to prayer in my blood,
and hush, father–
I am not dead.

More light than mass,
I rise through you,
breathe with your eyes,
stand in your shoes, on the rooftops,
in the streets, march with you
in the cities and villages of our country
shouting through you, with you.
I am Neda–thunder on your tongue.

John Lundberg: Poetry Of The Revolution

Walcott: Forty Acres

The small plough continues on this lined page
beyond the moaning ground, the lynching tree, the tornado’s black vengeance,
and the young ploughman feels the change in his veins, heart, muscles, tendons,
till the land lies open like a flag as dawn’s sure
light streaks the field and furrows wait for the sower.

via Forty Acres: a poem for Barack Obama from Nobel winner Derek Walcott – Times Online

The Writing of … well, Anything

I’m reading (listening to) Ian McEwan’s Atonement, having watched the movie long after buying the book years ago, when I was recreating my home library after returning from eight years abroad.  There are always differences between books and films, clearly, and what’s missing (what has to be telegraphed) is always the inner life, the thought, the meditation.

But more on that later.

Now that I’m halfway through the Africa Reading Challenge, including the works of young female writers alongside the spaces filled in my mind by Ngugi and Achebe and Soyinka, something else is growing clearer as well.  It doesn’t seem to matter that the generations have changed and the gender is different.  The stories we’re writing and publishing continue to be coming-of-age stories, by and large.

Continue reading

From Florida

This is more like April weather than February.

Agreed. It’s hot and humid. It’s not the heat that is unusual, but the humidity. There are too many clouds in the sky for February. This is no longer my favourite month. At least, not this February.

But is this global warming as according to Al Gore, or is it part of a larger and longer cycle that leads to warmer and cooler stretches of weather?

Alan Sullivan argues, hard, that it’s the latter. I wish it were possible to hold a serious and balanced discussion of the two alternatives — and all others in between — so that we could come to a sensible conclusion.

But it’s not. Is it?

Why Southern writers have a tough row to hoe « Southern Athenaeum

Every now and then I come across something interesting in my WordPress Tag Surfer, something I want to bookmark, think about, and return to.  This week, I found the following:

Why Southern writers have a tough row to hoe on Southern Athenaeum, a blog I’ve never visited before.  The writer blogs another writer’s meditation on the place of southern writers in the American canon, which reveals an attitude towards “Southern” literature that is more than familiar to me.  Chinua Achebe wrote about it long ago, in Morning Yet on Creation Day, where he talked about the general critical reception of his novel Things Fall Apart, which was published originally in 1958.  Back then, he was awarded what was apparently believed to be the highest critical praise — the fact that the novel was “universal” in its theme.  His response to the praise was scorn — the praise itself revealed an attitude on the part of the critics that was imperialistic, superior, and (at bottom) racist.  You can’t get the essay online, but this article is the one that paraphrases it most completely.

The point is that literary production and critical reception are not removed from hierarchies of power.  As the so-called “Third World” is to the “First” (even the names put us in our places), so the southern USA is to the north.

So to quote from Southern Athenaeum, and then from its inspiration:

Author David Payne writes an engaging article about perceptions of the South from other parts of the country and why the stereotypical view of the South, perpetuated by Larry the Cable guy et al, contributes to keeping Southern writers out of the elite literary circles in New York and elsewhere.



The shadow, psychologists tell us, is the repository of what we hate and fear as well as of urges difficult to reconcile with self-regard. Thrusting these down into the unconscious, we then project them outward onto others. This psychological mechanism underlies America’s most odious and destructive stereotype—the “Nigger.” That white America—and, particularly, the white South—projected, and still projects, its shadow on African Americans is widely understood. But it took a Civil War, and another century and a half of struggle, to force white America—and particularly the South—to recognize the stereotype as a distortion—for white males, for example, to see the violence and hypersexuality that they attributed to black men as distorted versions of their own repressed, conflicted urges. The healthy end stage of the process involves the reintegration of the shadow; to reach it, the projector has to look at what he hates or fears and ask the question, How is this like me? (Quoth Prospero: “This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine.”)

What the “Nigger” represents to African Americans, the Redneck is to white Southerners—the distorted form the North’s projected shadow takes. The Redneck’s qualities are widely known: stupidity from inbreeding; ignorance (saw a book once but lit the stove with it to make his hoecake); lack of sophistication (been to the Opry, but not the opera); affinity for weaponry (packs Paw’s ol’ Army carbine on the pickup window rack); musicality (the banjo on his knee); and sentimentality (tears up when he thinks of Momma and the homeplace in the holler).

Brothers, welcome to the club.


Been reading a lot of atheist stuff lately. I think Harry inspired me initially, and then I found a number of sites which I follow, though my favourites are




On Sunday past, I found myself at a Christmas concert that ended with the Hallelujah Chorus (what else), which led me to think about the nature of art, of worship, and of transcendence. Great art engenders transcendence, or aims to. So what’s the purpose, I wondered, of music like The Messiah in a world without God? What motivates artists to create work of that magnitude? What might lie behind the creation of such work without a religious tradition to engender it?

Writing in the face, Part II

Yesterday we received news that another friend and colleague, a friend who lives, coincidentally?, not far from the other, was murdered in his home as well.

Shortly after that, I got a phone call from the one person here who has read the first novel in the series. She was freaked out by the location and manner of the murders.

So am I.

I’ve always known, and touted, the power of words. But when it hits this close to home, it becomes eerie, and makes one think again about what one’s doing. I don’t know what else to say.

Gonna write, though. As the people say:

keep writting …

Writing in the face


Before I go on, let me say that I haven’t mastered the art of it. Writing in the face, that is.

I’m working on a series of crime novels based in my home city, Nassau, New Providence, Bahamas. It’s a project that I take very seriously when I’m at it — when I’m writing as my screen personae of Scavella and Madison Hill — but that in my professional, “real” life, I keep very private indeed.

There are reasons for this privacy. I won’t go into them now. Just think of it this way: when you live in a country with a fledgling literary tradition, you consider very seriously the kind of oeuvre you want to add to the pot. Genre novels, even the best, list towards formula, work within parameters that are global in scope, and tend to be featureless — quite literally, they’re generic.

Today, though, art — or perhaps I ought to call it craft, because it’s more slog and smoothing than a whole lot else — met reality in ways that have unseated me, that have thrown me off-balance and interrupted the flow of words.

A colleague and friend was murdered today in the city of Nassau, and the themes that have appeared in the series over different books have become real.

The grief and misery that I feel right now are compounded by the fact that what has come from what I fondly believe to be my imagination is currently far too close for comfort. The location of his death, the manner of his death — these are elements that appear in different books in the series.And I haven’t yet mastered the art of writing in the face of the resulting confusion.

Got this from Harry

Pure Pedantry : Why Pairing Science and Atheism is High-Brow

… and thought it was worth sharing. It’s a long article, but interesting, using the arguments made by John Dewey in the 1920s against too strident an opposition to the attack on evolution that would lead to the Scopes trial. I tend to agree with the authors in a couple of places, largely because it gets rather tiresome to be assumed to intellectually wanting if one happens to believe in something beyond the material world. Here are some notable bits:

Here Dewey gets to the crux of his argument. The liberal movement could, for the fact that he represents a democratized and unenlightened religious impulse, dismiss Bryan and the people he represents. But this would be throwing out the baby with the bath water because this culture of democratic religiosity is so entangled in what is quintessentially American:

The forces which are embodied in the present crusade would not be so dangerous were they not bound up with so much that is necessary and good. (Emphasis mine.)

Likewise he says earlier:

The churches performed an inestimable social function in frontier expansion. They were the rallying points not only of respectability but of decency and order in the midst of a rough and turbulent population. They were the representatives of social neighborliness and all the higher interests of the communities. The tradition persisted after the incoming of better schools, libraries, clubs, musical organizations and the other agencies of “culture.”

Intellectuals need to acknowledge this important social role before we attempt to destroy it. Further, they have to acknowledge that in our attempts to convert people to liberal principles, they are showing a sense of superiority in our ideas that violates those same principles:

We have been so taught to respect the beliefs of our neighbors that few will respect the beliefs of a neighbor when they depart from farms which have become associated with aspiration for a decent neighborly life. This is the illiberalism which is deep-rooted in our liberalism. (Emphasis mine.)

And again:

Let me frame the debate this way. As I see it we have two realistic choices:

  • Choice #1: We link atheism and science. We frame atheism as scientific. We as far as we are able exclude the religious from the scientific enterprise.
    The result of choice one is that the majority of Americans are going to associate science with a secular elite — i.e. science is not for the consumption of the general public. Science in this world is for only special people to understand. Science will in effect become a marker of social status rather than a general approach to understanding the world.

    In fact, if we really wanted to run with Choice #1, we would make science more exclusive, not less. Why don’t we make say being liberal as a necessary criterion for being a scientist. Those conservatives aren’t rational anyway; they clearly don’t have what it takes. We could go so much further if we want to make science perceived as culturally associated with a Northeastern, secular, mostly liberal establishment. If you want to be high-brow, you might as well run with it.

    The logical consequence of making science exclusive is to make those in favor of science a minority. And if we make those in favor of science a minority than we are endangering things that we care about. We are, for instance, drawing continuing scientific funding into question. Why would the public continue to fund what it perceives as counter-cultural and profoundly elitist minority?

  • Choice #2: We dissociate atheism and science. We argue that atheism is a valid way to see the world, but that scientists can be religious as well. Further, we stop excommunicating people from the scientific enterprise for what are fundamentally small political differences. We emphasize the importance of science in terms of what it can provide for society, not in terms of metaphysical assertions about the world.
    The result of Choice #2 is that we can mobilize the general public behind the scientific enterprise. This is in my opinion the only manner that we can guarantee funding science over the long-term.

    Let me make clear that Choice #2 does not involve abandoning core scientific values such as verification, commitment to evidence, and argument on the basis of facts rather than interpersonal attacks. We still argue for evolution, for the reality of global warming, and for the utility of stem cell research. What we stop doing is stating that acceptance of science implies a set of political and philosophical values that are unequivocal and about which there can be no discussion.

LRB | Anne Enright : Diary

LRB | Anne Enright : Diary

I still believe in God, in some reluctant, furtive part of me. I’m not proud of it. I understand atheists, who are averse to religious people as they might be averse to fat people, as being actually quite dangerous in their weakness. So I am weak (and slightly fat, indeed) and a bit too ethnic, if it comes down to it. I just won’t shape up and become a proper person who believes in nothing at all.

Meanwhile, my daughter is in thrall to the sublime and my son ‘loves Jesus more than Santa Claus’. I have no interest in applying a bracing dose of reason to their credulity: I just don’t feel like pointing out the error of their ways. It is already clear that belief is something they claim as a personal possession, one that they will defend if I try to take it away. This is something akin to sexuality. It is, already, none of my business.

I spent two years in an English class with this woman.  We always knew she’d be great.

Thanks, Harry, for pointing me to this.

Thanks, Anne.  Salut.

More De-Conversion

Ever since my initial link to this site, I’ve been following it with interest. Why? I don’t know if I can put the reason into words sensible enough to be written in the middle of the night; but possibly because I’m a little surprised that there is a need for atheists/agnostics/people who are questioning their faith/people who are in the process of rejecting their faith to have the kind of group support that this blog provides. And because I find some of the discussions interesting.

Right up front, let me declare myself (for those who haven‘t watched me spar with Harry on this subject). I’m a believer of the Christian persuasion. My reasoning can be found here and here and even here, to some degree.

Continue reading

Big Theory

Come on, critics, gather round. Time for me to post some Big Theory on the state of poetry in our time. Feel free to argue with me — I am so likely to be off-base about this that I need a good humdinging bus-down row.

It occurs to me that our era, with the push-pull of denial of climate change and faith and disbelief and evolution and creation and war, isn’t all that different from the great eras which incubate great poetry. There’s something that’s happened in English poetry (poetry written in English, that is) that seems to be connected with the turns of our centuries for the last two and a half centuries or so, and it’s this: first, there’s a time of great revolution where big things — plays and novels, say — get produced, but when the poetry is not so great. And then, in the wake of that revolution, which may have begun with the industrial revolution (1750s), but might have begun even earlier, with the Tudor conquest of the Plantagenets (though I don’t know enough about Restoration literature to say), you get a major poetry period.  Of course, the Elizabethan/Jacobean period had theatre and poetry flourishing together, but after that, not so much:  there are the essays and poetry of the Dryden-Pope period, and then that’s followed by the genesis of novels, which is then followed by the Romantic era (all lyrical and poetical), which gives way to a golden century of long fiction and so-so poets, and then another revolution with poems and plays and novels all happening at once (the turn of the last century and the inter-war era).  Television and film dilute this somewhat, I suppose.  Poetry really hasn’t seen a great era much since the Modernists, the last of them dying just after the Second World War; what follows is far more cerebral and self-conscious and — frankly — either boring or mediocre or both, the best being either chatty or polemic, and short-lived.

But we’re living through an era of huge change.  This radical shift in the delivery of information, I suspect, is going to lead us into an era of great poetry.  Already the internet is creating constellations of poets who are doing stuff that’s stirring, not simply competent or correct.  In a couple of decades, who knows?

Why believe?

This follows up nicely on the God-discussion on PFFA.

Careful — it’s a long article.

Call it God; call it superstition; call it, as Atran does, “belief in hope beyond reason” — whatever you call it, there seems an inherent human drive to believe in something transcendent, unfathomable and otherworldly, something beyond the reach or understanding of science. “Why do we cross our fingers during turbulence, even the most atheistic among us?” asked Atran when we spoke at his Upper West Side pied-à-terre in January. Atran, who is 55, is an anthropologist at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, with joint appointments at the University of Michigan and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. His research interests include cognitive science and evolutionary biology, and sometimes he presents students with a wooden box that he pretends is an African relic. “If you have negative sentiments toward religion,” he tells them, “the box will destroy whatever you put inside it.” Many of his students say they doubt the existence of God, but in this demonstration they act as if they believe in something. Put your pencil into the magic box, he tells them, and the nonbelievers do so blithely. Put in your driver’s license, he says, and most do, but only after significant hesitation. And when he tells them to put in their hands, few will.

If they don’t believe in God, what exactly are they afraid of?

On James Cameron, Jesus and Bodies

I’ve already posted about this, but here’s a fuller consideration.

In 2001 Antonio Banderas starred in a film called “The Body”. He played a priest. As incredible as that sounds, it gets even better. This priest has been sent by the Vatican to Israel to investigate something. Apparently, in a suburban Israeli neighborhood, a tomb and stone casket containing bones has been found. The tomb is marked in such a way that it is believed to be the Tomb of Jesus. Everybody panics, romances ensue, suicides happen, terrorists arrive etc. etc. It was a well-told piece of Hollywood fiction. It never suggested it was anything but fiction. I quite liked it, but the film didn’t get a lot of popular attention.

However, one wonders if James Cameron has seen it. For truly, his latest exploit sounds like a cross between The DaVinci Codes and The Body. James Cameron, for those who have not yet managed to hear the news, has produced a documentary which will be shown Sunday on the Discovery channel. In this documentary he claims that the grave of Jesus, Mary Magdalen and their son has been found in a suburban Israeli neighborhood. (However they do not have the bones, as those had to be returned to earth according to Israel’s law.)

Mata H,

More on the existence — or not — of God

Reports on James Cameron’s documentary about the bodies in the tomb. Specifically this one, from the WordPress.Com blogsphere —

Big news was broken yesterday: Jesus and his family have been founded dead in their graves in Israel.

What does this discovery mean for the religious myths that bind us and for the sustenance of the Resurrection ideal to Christians across the world?

Without the Resurrection, doesn’t Christianity become an empty vessel?

What amazes me about this discussion is that it never makes reference to this film, which is one of my favourites, and which grappled with the questions currently being raised by Cameron’s documentary.

Seriously. If you never saw it, check it out now.

This is an interesting discussion

It started out as religious discussions often do at PFFA, but began to get interesting round about here.

It’s interesting because of the turn it’s taken, and the turn it’s taking. It’s also interesting because it hasn’t yet degenerated into flaming and name-calling. And it’s interesting because people are discussing and completely disagreeing but not denigrating.

Not like this thread. Not at all.

A little something for Ash Wednesday

Now I don’t usually pull out the old Eliot-is-my-favourite-poet card, but let’s be honest, he probably is. There’s very little that can compare the hair-standing moments I got when reading Prufrock and The Waste Land and beginning to get them for the first time. And yes, they’re overwrought, and yes, they’re bleak, and yes, he does harp rather a lot on the inability of modern man to communicate with modern woman, but hell, what he does with sound and rhythm and imagery still makes my hair stand up.

So. The year I figured out that Ash Wednesday was a meditation that could, and perhaps should, be read throughout Lent, the six movements mirroring the six weeks of the season, my hair stood up again.

Now, in hopes of sharing that standing-upness with others (and apologies to those of you who hate Eliot, or have had enough, or don’t share in his belief and hence find no meaning in the season), here’s Ash Wednesday, one movement at a time, one time a week.


Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the agèd eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

Because I do not hope to know
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is nothing again

Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessèd face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

–T. S. Eliot


I’ve had a mind to blog about this for a while now. Alan, you’re Alan, but I’m not sure whether you quite understand why this statement could give offence:

We love other cultures, cuisines, languages. This is what multi-culturism used to mean for me, before it was perverted into the anti-capitalist, morally-relativist, snootily-elitist creed it has become.

Here’s how I’m tempted to read this: the anti-capitalism, moral relativism and snooty elitism above refer to the voices and thoughts of those of us who created the other cultures, cuisines, and languages that are so beloved. In other words, our things are fine when they find their way into the dominant culture, but our ideas and opinions are not.

But difference isn’t just about artefacts and customs; it has to encompass difference of opinion, of reality, of ways of seeing that are shaped in profoundly different contexts from the dominant one.

It’s true that political correctness has become in many ways monolithic and absurd, often pathetic and sometimes screamingly funny (any more adjectives out there, anybody?). But when I find myself as being part of a world that’s categorized by culture, cooking and idiom, and not by thought, opinion or philosophy, I remember what the impulse to become “correct” once was.

Religion, progress, and other weighty matters

Inspired by this post and its comments on Harry’s blog.

My reaction takes two forms. One, I’m not at all convinced of religion’s being a symptom of “progress” or lack of it, simply because my social anthropological training has convinced me of what Rik and Eloise have theorized — that religious activity, as much as any other social manifestation, is fundamental to human life. Anthropologically speaking, “religion” refers to far more than any one system of belief; rather, it’s a set of behaviours that are a mixture of belief and action and every society and every group of people — even those who style themselves “unbelievers” — manifest them. Religion is as fundamental to society as family, as economic organization, as political activity. Its manifestation varies widely — from atheism (which is its own belief system) to fundamentalism. Our lives are composed of so many variables and chances, even with science at hand, that most people fill in the gaps with philosophies that govern their actions, whether that philosophy be more articulated or less. As Malinowski observed, science is simply a better form of magic; both they work in exactly the same way from the point of view of anthropology (trial and error, hypothesis and experimentation, the getting rid of theories and practices that don’t work/fit your theories and the holding on to theories and practices that do.)

What I think may be true is that there are different sorts of religious expression. One is more “C of E”, as you put it, more laissez-faire, more doubt-filled, more wishy-washy. This seems fine when people believe that the material world is meeting their needs, when certainty and comfort is around them. But the other, which we see expressed in fundamentalism, comes into play when life seems uncertain. Right now, for the first time in a long time, Britain and the USA are both caught up in a war that doesn’t seem to have an end, that doesn’t seem to have a controllable enemy, and that threatens the stability of life at home. This should not be new to the UK; after all, the war of Irish independence was similar in all but one respect. The current difference I read as one of race, not of religion, with one main difference. When the IRA was bombing London, terror was a fact of big-city British life. The big difference between that twentieth-century terror and this twenty-first century one was that the bombers of the past blew themselves up by accident; these blow themselves up on purpose. That fact is uncontrollable and frightening.

The reason young men do this is superficially a religious one. However, it’s not much different from the reason young men of colour kill one another in the USA and the Caribbean; it’s the continuation of the psychological destruction of a whole set of people that began in colonial domination and continues far more subtly today. Frantz Fanon‘s theories of the psychological damage done by the extended oppression of whole societies — that violence from the top breeds violence at the bottom — are more than relevant today, even with direct colonialism apparently gone. That Fanon did his work in North Africa — Algeria, to be exact — may not be incidental to their current aptness.

For me, politics far more than religion — the politics of governance and the politics of hegemonic ideologies — are at fault.

Seventies Films

For some reason — not nostalgia, but something else — Hubby and I have been watching Seventies action-thrillers this past week. He has quite a collection. It began on the weekend with Dog Day Afternoon. We followed that up with The Parallax View, and then moved on to 3 Days of the Condor. Two nights ago it was The Odessa File, which (of course) got me hankering to see Boys From Brazil and Marathon Man as well.

It’s probably no surprise that the themes of those movies (except maybe Dog Day Afternoon)revolve around faceless conspiracies, around the sense of evil-among-us and evil-next-door, given what America was going through between 1965 and 1975. All feature actors who are too damn goodlooking for their own good. All are about feckless young(ish) men who get caught up in Something Far Bigger Than They Are. And all (except for Dog Day Afternoon) are smart — way smarter, often, than many of the current offerings. They leave big gaps in the narrative that the audience has to bridge, to figure out. The Parallax View was slow in a way that I’ve learned to associate with European Film, not American Movies, and powerful because of it.

Then the aborted terror or yesterday happened, and things clicked into line. They left me thinking about Nazis and terror and how the only way to react to terror is to live and be brave.

And then I read this story about Guenter Grass.

Who knew?

More on parenting

Tangentially relevant to the earlier discussion.

Psychology Today: A Nation of Wimps

Behold the wholly sanitized childhood, without skinned knees or the occasional C in history. “Kids need to feel badly sometimes,” says child psychologist David Elkind, professor at Tufts University. “We learn through experience and we learn through bad experiences. Through failure we learn how to cope.”

Messing up, however, even in the playground, is wildly out of style. Although error and experimentation are the true mothers of success, parents are taking pains to remove failure from the equation.

“Life is planned out for us,” says Elise Kramer, a Cornell University junior. “But we don’t know what to want.” As Elkind puts it, “Parents and schools are no longer geared toward child development, they’re geared to academic achievement.”

No one doubts that there are significant economic forces pushing parents to invest so heavily in their children’s outcome from an early age. But taking all the discomfort, disappointment and even the play out of development, especially while increasing pressure for success, turns out to be misguided by just about 180 degrees. With few challenges all their own, kids are unable to forge their creative adaptations to the normal vicissitudes of life. That not only makes them risk-averse, it makes them psychologically fragile, riddled with anxiety. In the process they’re robbed of identity, meaning and a sense of accomplishment, to say nothing of a shot at real happiness. Forget, too, about perseverance, not simply a moral virtue but a necessary life skill. These turn out to be the spreading psychic fault lines of 21st-century youth. Whether we want to or not, we’re on our way to creating a nation of wimps.


There is in these studies a lesson for all parents. Those who allow their kids to find a way to deal with life’s day-to-day stresses by themselves are helping them develop resilience and coping strategies. “Children need to be gently encouraged to take risks and learn that nothing terrible happens,” says Michael Liebowitz, clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University and head of the Anxiety Disorders Clinic at New York State Psychiatric Institute. “They need gradual exposure to find that the world is not dangerous. Having overprotective parents is a risk factor for anxiety disorders because children do not have opportunities to master their innate shyness and become more comfortable in the world.” They never learn to dampen the pathways from perception to alarm reaction.

Hothouse parenting undermines children in other ways, too, says Anderegg. Being examined all the time makes children extremely self-conscious. As a result they get less communicative; scrutiny teaches them to bury their real feelings deeply. And most of all, self-consciousness removes the safety to be experimental and playful. “If every drawing is going to end up on your parents’ refrigerator, you’re not free to fool around, to goof up or make mistakes,” says Anderegg.

Parental hovering is why so many teenagers are so ironic, he notes. It’s a kind of detachment, “a way of hiding in plain sight. They just don’t want to be exposed to any more scrutiny.”

Read the whole thing. I dare ya.

Modern mothers

There was recently a thread on PFFA that degenerated into a bit of a slanging match between people who are parents (primarily mothers) and people who are not terribly enamoured of children and who said so.

Now, by an unfortunate combination of circumstance and life choices, I am not a mother. But I read the discussion on PFFA at one step removed. On the one hand, I like children, and would have dearly loved to have some of my own (I always thought a boy and a girl would be ideal, though someone once suggested that parents should plan to have three, “in case one of them dies”. More on that later — or not.). On the other, though, I am judgemental enough to think bad thoughts about parents who can’t/don’t/won’t present the best of their children to the public. I do know that it’s not as easy as it seems, and am sure that my brother and I embarrassed our mother on several occasions, but I also do know that my parents made it very clear that we were not to be taken anywhere public until we learned how to behave in such a way that we made them proud. My parents didn’t take us to restaurants — beyond the odd Chinese restaurant or two — until we were teenagers; Kentucky Fried Chicken fed us sometimes, by the bucket or the snack, and Burger King and Macdonald’s were for very special occasions indeed, like the end of the school term or somebody else’s birthday.

We didn’t travel on planes until we were old enough to talk and to obey very specific tones of voice, and we didn’t go to adult dinner parties — or adult anything — with them. There were many family gatherings where adults and children mingled, but we were raised to mind every adult who had occasion to speak to us, and my mother had no problem dropping us off to our friends’ birthday parties once we were able to go to the bathroom and speak for ourselves. The understanding was that the adult in charge was in charge of us as well. Heaven help us if we had to be disciplined by that adult; our little worlds would come to an end. As a result, we were pretty self-reliant and, I imagine, quite well-behaved; I don’t remember having to be disciplined by anybody who was not a family member or a teacher.

I say all of that to say this. I find it quite odd, having had that upbringing, when my friends and family bring their children along when we get together as adults. There are times, of course, where children are naturally included — birthday parties and holidays are those sorts of times — but I’m a little puzzled at the current trend of bringing the child(ren) to the dinner party or even (occasionally) the meeting. I suspect I would be a very odd mother by today’s standards; I’d leave my child(ren) elsewhere when I had things to attend to. My mother, who worked all our lives, did the same, and I treasure the breadth of experience that I got from my various minders — my grandmothers, aunts, uncles, and friends, all of whom taught me different ways of being in the world. I would want any child of mine to have the same kind of exposure, so that when he or she made up his or her mind what to be like as a person (because there is some choice in the matter, believe you me) there would be a range of possibilities from which to choose.

And so I found this article, led to me by my husband, to be very interesting indeed.

Sorry, but my children bore me to death!

I’m gonna post it on PFFA and watch the fur fly.

International somethings

In his comment to my previous post about being international (or not) Harry said,

But Scavella, aren’t we all international really?

Or something.

Of course Harry’s right. And that’s the right answer. But it doesn’t stop the phenomenon of what’s going on in Nalo’s post from having its own oddness.

For some reason that I’m too tired to dissect properly right now, it’s possible to live full-time in North America, to carry American/Canadian documentation, even to have been born there, and write your little ass off, and still be counted as a “Caribbean” writer. It doesn’t work so well for any other region to my knowledge, not even for Africa, and I’m not sure why that is.

But it is. And this makes it difficult for those of us who remain at home to join in these discussions, unless we want to travel long distances (as many of my friends do) to gathering of “Caribbean” writers, mostly at several hundreds of miles north of the Caribbean sea.

It’s an odd phenomenon, and probably worth discussing.

So yes, Harry, we are all international, or something. The odd thing about it though is that we get more international the longer we become someone else’s national. The rest of us who stay put — well, we’re simply invisible.

The Christmas Tide

I had a grandmother once. (I had two, as a matter of fact, and they — unlike my grandfathers, who were fragile men and died before their wives, one long his children were grown, the other when I was three — were instrumental in bringing me up. I had many mothers. But I digress.)

I had a grandmother once, who observed this: the end of a year is like a tide going out, and it takes many things with it when it goes. Now there is no logical reason why this should be so, but it seems to be.

Death is all around us.

Today I got the news that a contemporary, a distant friend but more than an acquaintance, a member of a family who have been friends of mine for longer than I’ve been alive, a man who was difficult but whom I admired and loved for his uncompromising honesty, was found dead yesterday.

On Wednesday I heard that an old, dear friend of my aunt’s, and a part of my childhood, died in hospital.

On Tuesday I got the news that another friend and colleague had had a passing stroke. He survived — there was no obvious damage — but his mortality was confirmed.

Last Saturday I sat through a funeral of an old, old acquaintance, a man I have known all my life.

We are all keeping a vigil on another colleague, a great man, who is suffering from terminal cancer. He may last the year, but we are prepared in any event.

The end of a year is like a tide going out. My grandmother, in characteristic form, didn’t wait for the tide, but left us in May, in spring. But it doesn’t mean she was wrong.

Merry Christmas all. Hug a friend. Turn anger into love, if only for a day. Don’t regret what you didn’t do. Life is more fragile than we think.