A Bad Time

When we’re young, we’re thrown together with other children and told to go and play in an effort to gift our long-suffering parents with a blessed hour of peace and quiet. Before we begin to play, we have simple, rudimentary ways of assessing each other:

“What’s your favourite colour?”

“Blue.”

“Me too! Will you be my friend?”

Then we each grab a stick with twigs sticking out the bottom and start studiously brushing the dirt in an attempt to clean our “house,” which is really just the space under a bush where the frost killed off the lower branches, but thankfully we have the imagination required to bridge that minor gap in realities. It doesn’t present too much of a challenge to our world view.

That same imagination is, I think, what helps us form these fast friendships. We make huge leaps of logic from stepping stone to stepping stone of assumption. We decide that since we like blue and are okay, if they like blue they must also be okay. That’s enough. It’s enough to have a shared interest in the colour blue, or in ponies, or in holographic stickers, or pogs (are they still a thing?), or whatever we have our open little hearts set on at that particular moment.

As children, once we’ve established that one binding fact that cements our friendship, we don’t act passive-aggressively forever more if one person claims that Skipper is better than Barbie. We don’t thump each other until we need medical assistance over a difference of opinion on whether Micro Machines are better than Hot Wheels. We don’t refuse to speak to each other ever again because we don’t both want to watch Aladdin. We accept these things as valid and skip over these differences because the important things are still true; we both like the colour blue, and we like each other.

As time wears on, our lives grow more complicated. Our requirements for friendship grow more complex. We start to write people off for small, niggling reasons. That one person who breathes through their mouth. That other person who won’t watch movies with subtitles. Chasms open up where opinions on religion and politics diverge. Instead of the simple acceptance we had as children, we now debate and argue – viciously, ferociously – in an attempt to change other people’s points of view. Race, class, beliefs and values all get dragged into discussions.

Nobody cares about your favourite colour anymore.

It seems like the world is fracturing at the moment. Cracks have appeared as if from nowhere and I can’t tell how deep the damage goes. It seems like the planet is tearing itself apart at the seams, with untidy, fraying stitches just barely holding everything together. What used often to be educated discussion is now aggressive shouting. Disagreements are now total incompatabilities. Apparently there’s a worldwide chronic deficiency of imagination at the moment and people are either unable or unwilling to understand opposing points of view.

Facts have been sacrificed on the altar of audience engagement and squeaky wheels everywhere are getting the grease of media attention, no matter how insufferable the squeak.

The cracks might not worsen. They might stay as they are, never worsening but never healing completely. Or they might at any moment become a break. A split. An insurmountable challenge.

An impassable chasm.

The worst part is that I think a few more seams are going to rip open before this is over. I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better, and I don’t know what to do in the meantime. I definitely don’t have a manual for this. What I do have is a history book, and it’s not exactly reassuring me if I’m honest. If anything it’s making me think we’re about to be in for A Bad Time. A Bad Time with a lot of shouting.

And I hate shouting.

So if anybody wants to hide out and be friends, I’ll be hiding out in my blanket fort with a few micro machines and (since we’re grown ups) some bottles of vodka and gin.

Only people with the password* allowed!

*The password is your favourite colour.

Boiling Point

 

They say that if you drop a frog in boiling water it will jump right back out, whereas if you put it in cold water and turn the heat up slowly, the frog will boil to death without ever realising it’s in danger.

It’s complete rubbish, of course.

Let’s be honest, if you drop a frog in boiling water it will die. If you put it in cold water and turn the heat up slowly, the frog will escape the minute it starts to feel uncomfortable. Still, it’s a handy made-up metaphor for allowing creeping change to cheerfully lead you down a path you never meant to take. Before you know it you’re lost, your phone is out of battery, you have no light to guide the way, none of the trees look familiar, and… are those… eyes shining in the darkness?

I’m assuming that you did not spend your weekend in a remote cabin somewhere, studiously avoiding all media and interaction with the modern world. If this assumption is correct then you probably already know where I’m going with this.

America, when did you get so metaphorically amphibian?

Over the past few months I’ve spoken with some people who live in America, and they’ve nodded and agreed that what’s going on – be it the travel ban, or the rise of the alt-right, or Trump in general – is scary, but then, inevitably, they’ve followed it up with some sort of phrase to minimise the situation.

“…But I mean, it doesn’t make a difference really in the day-to-day…”

“…But of course it’s also sensationalised in the media…”

“…But it’s really just a few bad apples…”

Do you know what the rest of that phrase is?

“A few bad apples spoil the bunch.”

Here’s the thing, from the outside looking in America looks like it’s in a very bad place right now. The ruling party seem uninterested in excommunicating the most poisonous parts of their base, corruption seems to have infested the White House from top to bottom and the Help-me-Obi-Wan-Kenobi-you’re-our-only-hope of this Empire seems to be Mueller. For a country that used to be held up as an example of liberty and justice for all, a beacon of modern ideals, it now seems to be imploding. Internal conflict has it straining at the seams, and the rest of the world is giving it a wary side-eye.

The US is an enormous country. I understand that it can seem impossible to band together for a cause when there are 323 million people to consider and the longest drive end to end – if you didn’t stop to eat, drink or pee – takes over 50 hours. It’s difficult to gain any kind of traction or momentum as a nation when people are spread out over so wide a swathe of land. It’s hard to put pressure on the government when all they have to do is field your calls; they know they don’t have to worry about an unruly mob of tens of millions laying siege to the Capitol Building anytime soon.

But guys.

GUYS.

That philosophical water is getting hotter. Sure, it doesn’t seem to impact BBQ plans or trips to Target or stressful work weeks, and for the most part that’s true. Sure, it may seem like nothing more than a relentless pocket of ignorant assholes, and for the most part that, too, is true.

But if the events of Charlotteville teach us anything, it’s that the water is almost at boiling point, and it doesn’t show any signs of cooling.

What’s the solution? Is there one? Is it a case of needing to hit rock bottom? If things haven’t hit rock bottom yet, what might that look like? Is there another way of turning off the heat?

*Unlike the frog metaphor, this adage is actually true. Apples emit hormones as they ripen, and if one overripe apple finds its way into a barrel, the hormones it gives off will eventually cause all the other apples to rot. The more you know!

 

 

 

Ireland, I Love You But…

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It’s the 8th of March. This day is important. This month is also important; after all, March brings with it St. Patrick’s Day. Or Paddy’s Day, if you prefer. Not Patty. Never Patty. Patty is a girl’s name, or what you call burger meat, or, apparently, an item of food covered in dough or batter. I can’t explain the full-body cringe I experience when somebody calls it Patty’s Day.

March always sweeps in a deep love of everything Irish, all things green and shamrock-shaped. Anyone with even a drop of Irish blood to their name puffs out their chest with pride and loudly proclaims their heritage as if they had traveled back in time and handpicked their ancestors themselves. Landmarks across the world turn green in solidarity, and there are drunken parades in hundreds of cities. It’s really quite heartwarming to see how many people across the globe identify with the Irish.

And why wouldn’t they? There are so many great things about Ireland. So many. The landscape, the people, the batter burgers, the pubs, the music, the slice of Ray’s pizza after a night out in Dublin, the banter, the brunch options, the architecture, the history… I could go on and on. Today though, I’m not going to talk about any of that. Today I want to talk about something important that doesn’t cast Ireland in the best light, to say the least.

[Sidenote: They say you should never talk about politics, sex or religion. Since I’ve already discussed politics, and I’ve already talked (about not talking) about sex… consider this post hitting the trifecta. This post contains a smattering of all three.]

Ireland is sometimes called ‘the land of saints and scholars’ because of its long history of catholicism and lyrical storytelling. When most of the country gained its independence it was a poor fledgling state, and the Catholic Church stepped in to help in much the same way as that sketchy sober guy in the corner who’s been watching your friend get plastered appears at her elbow at the end of the night when she can barely stand and graciously offers to “bring her home.”

The Catholic Church went about inserting itself into every facet of society. Churches popped up everywhere, dividing the country into little parishes that formed communities. They poured money into the education system, starting many catholic-run schools. They helped a struggling country to get on its feet.

At the same time though, they imposed their values on the country. Through a brutally tight interlocking of church and state, we ended up with a country that punished women for their sexuality; unmarried women who got pregnant were sent to Magdalene Laundries run by orders of nuns, where they delivered their babies (who were taken away from them and sold) and entered into a form of indentured slavery. Some lived there until they died. The last Magdalene Laundry only closed in 1996.

This past week a report came out about the bodies of 796 babies, ranging in age from 35 weeks to 2 or 3 years old, that have been found in what used to be a septic tank in the grounds of one of these laundries in Tuam. It seems many, many babies sickened, died, and were then placed in this septic tank and erased from the narrative. As they were ‘children of sin,’ their lives were almost disposable. At the moment it is unclear if this horror is an anomaly, or a systematic practice that took place at other laundries.

Imagine the eye-watering hypocrisy of decrying contraception and abortion as the pinnacle of sin, while placing little to no value on the lives of unmarried women and their babies once they were born.

As recently as 1984 – two years before I was born – a 15 year old schoolgirl named Ann Lovett got pregnant and – with no options available to her – tried to deliver her baby by herself in the Virgin Mary’s Grotto behind the church in her village. She was in her school uniform. She carried a pair of scissors in her schoolbag to cut the umbilical cord. She bled out and her baby died of hypothermia there on the cold hard ground as the statue of Mary looked on in bland indifference.

Less than five years ago, a woman named Savita Halappanavar died an entirely preventable death when the doctors were unable to terminate the septic pregnancy that was killing her thanks to the 8th amendment of our constitution. The 8th amendment was brought in on the 17th February 1992, and states that the the unborn has just as much of a right to life as the mother. This has resulted in cases such as the X Case, where a 14 year old girl who had been raped was prevented from travelling to England for an abortion, despite being deemed a suicide risk. Abortion is completely illegal in Ireland.

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Every day, approximately ten Irish women travel to England for an abortion.

I know and understand the reasons that people are pro-life. I respect them. If you are pro-life, that is your prerogative.

What I cannot understand is that my life, with all of its intricacies – my memories, my hopes, my hobbies, my relationships, my experiences – is considered equal to that of an unborn baby. I cannot understand that my life, half-lived, is only considered as important as that of a fertilised egg, and that that is enshrined in the Irish constitution.

Typing all of this has been heartwrenching. Thinking about the way that my country, which I love, has treated women in the recent past hurts. It twists something inside me to think that if I had been born even fifty years earlier, I could have been a Magdalene. I could have been an Ann Lovett. I might have been young and in love and unlucky. Even now, I could be young and in love and unlucky. Even now, I could be Savita.

Today is the 8th of March.

Today we strike for repeal of the 8th amendment.

Open Letter To The World

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Dear World,

WHAT ARE YOU DOING?

Sorry, that was abrupt. I really jumped right in there; no pleasantries, no small talk. I just feel that we don’t really have time to catch up right now. Judging by the activities of the past week, you seem to just be barrelling through all the conventions and tacit agreements we’ve had for the past generation. I mean, things hadn’t been perfect up until now, but this is too much. This is not okay.

World, I’m worried about you. I’m worried about all of us.

I see we’ve committed to the whole rotten-orange-as-leader-of-the-free-world thing, even though he is thoroughly awful (I mean… just… gross).  I’ve covered this already. It’s likely that in time the people who made it possible will realise that maybe it was less of the shot-in-the-air they intended it to be, and more of a shot in the foot. Still, as always, I just want what’s best for you. Now that we all find ourselves in the same leaky boat, there’s really no point in going back over it.

Although I would just like to quickly point out that we already have at least one delusional narcissist in charge of a country (North Korea), and I can’t say I ever read a news article about him and thought, ‘We could do with another one of those… but BIGGER!‘ Bigger is not always better, World. I know America likes to supersize everything, but upgrading a run-of-the-mill self-obsessed moron to President of the United States of America was a really bad idea. Like, tremendously bad. In one week this oversized, oversensitive caricature of a man has managed to throw you into total dissarray.

There have always been assholes. There will always be assholes. Assholes are a constant. The danger now is that not only are some assholes in positions of great power, but the common, everyday assholes feel legitimised. They feel like it’s okay to go on national television and speak hateful words that hang in the air like a scummy fog. World, this is not acceptable. We need to do something about this.

I know. I know what you’re going to say. Already, there are great people doing great things. There is resistance. There are people fighting to keep things balanced, and keep human rights protected, and keep things from sliding into a heap of chaos. This is true, but we need more. We need more great people. We need more resistance.

We need more love.

That sounds so cheesy, but too much has gone horribly wrong in the recent past to ignore the fact that what we need is a lot more love. Too many families are waking up unsure of what is going to happen next. Too many families are waking up to deaths, or deportation, or denial of entry. Division and hatred seems to be sprouting everywhere like an unwelcome, tenacious weed. We need love, and a lot of it. We need the industrial-strength, Gorilla-glue kind of love that links us not only to our friends and families but also to our neighbours next door, our fellow citizens, and total strangers from foreign lands.

World, do you remember the game Red Rover? We played it as children. We’d link arms  in a long line and then a player would try to run at us and break through. If they were successful in splitting the wall, they won a couple more players for their side…

I feel like we’re playing an Alice-in-Wonderland adult version of Red Rover.

The good and decent people are linking arms and putting their game faces on, and a few rogue elements are coming at us with a great deal of force, trying to split us up, trying to win people over to their side (don’t listen to them – the whole thing about them having cookies is a lie).

They say those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. Frankly, not enough time has passed since World War Two that we can use ‘forgetting’ as an excuse.

World, link arms with me.

I’m ready for Red Rover; Global Edition.

Q.

If you’re feeling helpless and have any money to spare this month, please consider donating to ACLU or subscribing to The Washington Post or The New York Times, even if you’re not an American citizen.

The End Of The World As We Know It

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Yeah, you all know what this is going to be about.

I had something else in mind to write about today, but then I remembered that an egotistical bloated orange is being sworn in as president of the United States, and so this is possibly our last day of blessed normalcy for a while.

So here I am, writing about that instead.

I spent some time in San Diego just before the election. In the run-up to my trip I felt cocooned in my safe web of world media telling me that Clinton had it in the bag. Wonderful, I thought. Worst case scenario, America will have their first female president, and the human goldfish will go back to reality television where I can go back to ignoring his existence.

I won’t dive into what I feel to be the extremely problematic voting system in America except to point out that the United States has a population of almost 319 million people – 319. million. people. – and yet from a country that large, that diverse, with that many citizens, Hilary* and Donald were chosen as the two best candidates for the job.

Now, it’s not my country, and you could claim it’s none of my business, but I think I speak for the world at large when I say we would like to suggest that America see this as a sort of gentle nudge, if you will. Except, perhaps not so gentle. In fact, more of a forceful shove, because when your presidential election cycle whirls by like an East Asian typhoon causing nothing but chaos and disruption, it might be a good idea to call a Time Out and reassess your political process.

Just saying.

Anyway, so I’m in San Diego, and I’m feeling pretty good about life because let’s face it, San Diego is beautiful, and the streets are clean, and the weather is sunny, and the people are gorgeous, and the Nordstrom Racks are caves of treasure, and the roads are wide enough that a Boeing 747 could probably land without major concern, and there are dogs EVERYWHERE**… and then, suddenly, my little bubble of happiness is popped rather unexpectedly by a gathering of boisterous Trump supporters heaving giant placards onto a bridge crossing the freeway.

I begin to look around me and take note of the fact I haven’t seen a single Hilary bumper sticker.

Sidenote: If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Americans, it’s that they love their bumper stickers. I cannot pretend to understand this phenomenon. Every time I saw a bumper sticker I would crane my neck to get a good look at the driver, and then picture them monologuing to themselves:

“I have bought a car! It is a lovely car, and when I drive it, everyone will think, ‘that person is driving a lovely car!‘ But that’s not enough. I want them to know more about me. I cannot happily make the drive from my front door to the car park at Target without the people behind me at every single red light knowing that I love Jesus/my cats/surfing, or that I support the United States Marines/Donald Trump/the legalisation of marijuana, or that I hate Mitsubishi/idiots who can’t drive/Shania Twain. This is the one thing that truly defines me – that gets to the very essence of me – and I must print it on a sticker and slap it on my rear window for all the world to see. YOU WILL KNOW ME!”

And then I would sit back and wonder what my bumper sticker would say if I had one. Maybe ‘You do you!‘ or just a thumbs up emoji with ‘You’re doing great!‘ to try to spread a bit of positivity. I have the same feelings towards bumper stickers as I do towards tattoos; I don’t think there’s anything I really feel strongly enough about to have it as the one standout feature on my car/skin.

/Sidenote.

I had seen multiple cars purposely defaced with Trump slogans in crude white marker or neon pink paint. I had seen Bernie stickers by the dozen. I had even seen a ‘Giant Meteor 2016’ sticker.

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I hadn’t seen a single Hilary sticker.

I started to feel a chill up my spine. I turned to Scrubs, wide-eyed with apprehension.

“We haven’t seen a single Hilary sticker,” I said gravely.

“So?”

“So what if Trump wins this thing?”

“He won’t,” Scrubs reassured me, patting my hand.

“WHAT IF HE DOES? This is like when we were in London just before the Brexit vote, and we saw David Cameron derided on national television and realised it might actually happen! This is just like that! Trump might actually win! We won’t be able to move here and live our dream life of sunshine and dogs if he actually wins!”

Scrubs fanned my face. “There, there” he said. “Shhh. It’ll be okay.”

It was not okay.

It was a mess.

People bought into his rhetoric despite his proclamations having absolutely no basis in reality. They cheered his “plans” despite there being no plans, actually, if you paid attention. I transcribed a number of his speeches, and the thing that struck me most was the feverish enthusiasm of a crowd that was hearing the words coming out of his mouth, but not listening. They chanted fervently, drowning out the fact that his sentences barely made sense, and if they did make sense, they were impossible pipe-dreams.

He could have been saying anything at all, and their earnest loyalty would have carried them along on a wave of devotion, their blind hope making it possible to paper over his contradictory statements. It was impressive. It was inspiring, in some ways.

And it was frightening.

Today, Donald Trump, a man with no plan beyond inflating his own ego, takes office in one of the most powerful countries in the world. He has shown complete disregard for tradition. He has shown complete disregard for the White House press corps. He is unpredictable, he is hypersensitive, and he will now be president of the United States. He could have chosen to surround himself with more experienced, bipartisan people in an attempt to bring the country together, but instead he has chosen to surround himself with cronies and right-wing fanatics. He has the capacity to sever diplomatic ties with long-standing allies. He has the capacity to pull out of trade deals and international organisations. He has the capacity to sink the world economy into another recession.

Of course these are worst case scenarios. I hope that none of them come to pass. I hope he is reined in, and his twitter account is taken off him, and that the people in government remember they serve the people – all the people – and not just their own interests or beliefs. I hope that America can find a way to knit itself back together and be true to its self-styled identity as ‘home of the free, land of the brave’.

And not just because I would love to live in San Diego.

For now, I’m off to find some butter popcorn so I can watch the inauguration in style. Let’s all cross our fingers tightly and wait and see what tomorrow brings.

*Despite the fact that I believe almost anyone would be a better president than Trump, I really don’t believe any candidate should be the son/wife/cousin/grandchild of a previous president. Again, there are 319 million people out there! It’s just downright lazy. Pull your socks up, America.

**I have a theory that any place with a lot of dogs must have lovely citizens. Dogs make people happy, happy people are nicer people, therefore dog-friendly places have nicer people! Q.E.D.