Wednesday, 12 October 2016

On Care-taking

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So, I've had a baby. A handful of days ago.

Those sentences are gradually becoming less surreal. Birth is brutal and labour is kind to no-one. Or if it is, I wasn't the exception. Small babies really do just sleep and eat, cry and excrete - all the time, even the calm-natured ones. Everything changes. Nothing changes. All of that is by-the-by. The thing that has really thrown me about this new phase is that I don't know how to pray.

I'm realising that, for pretty much my entire life, so much of my spiritual nourishment has relied on having uninterrupted time to reflect.  Making a herbal tea, sitting down to the listen-talk-listen of out-loud prayer. Reading through bible passages, scrawling in notebooks, ruminating. Prayer functions on lots of levels, but primarily - for me - it's about relationship. It's the place where I get to know God and consequently understand myself more clearly. I've thrived on being able to rummage around in my interior at a leisurely pace, learning and rediscovering and being put right.

I don't know how to do that when my mind is too pre-occupied with someone else to listen to the God who whispers. I don't know how to pray when my thoughts continually wander back to the baby I've tentatively set down to sleep. When I'm listening closely to each squeal, just in case it's the one that signals hunger or tells me the hiatus is up and it's feeding time again.

But I've realised that maybe this experience can be a different route to knowing something of God. The One described as Heavenly Father and more faithful than a nursing mother. The One whose ears are attentive to our cries and who says "before you call, I will answer".

I will find way to pray in this stage of my life. It's completely unsustainable for me not to. But in the meantime, I'm grateful that I'm still cared for by my Creator in a relationship that transcends words.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

"Porter Asks - Are Heels a Feminist Issue?"

(An Essay Response)

No, is the resounding answer to that question given by Vassi Chamberlain in Issue 16 of Porter Magazine. Chamberlain argues that categorising the question of heel-wearing as a feminist concern exaggerates its importance and conflates the driving forces behind the shoe-wearing habits of women.

I agree - I don't think it's a feminist issue. But, in the context that this particular spat arose, I do think it's an issue. I think it's a diversity issue: a blinkered statement that there is only one way to embody a particular status or aspiration.

I'm not in favour of the total abolition of enforced dress codes. Rules and codes; norms and social definitions - they all have their place in creating coherence and a sense of belonging; it was one of things that fascinated me the most during my jurisprudence studies at Oxford. And by profession, I'm a lawyer (albeit not in practice anymore) - so disdain for the regulation of behaviour is not in my DNA. But sometimes these things overstep the mark. Or more accurately, they define the mark so narrowly that they leave people on the outside looking in and questioning their place, when it should be obvious to the world that something so trivial or irrelevant should not be grounds for exclusion.

Mostly, these exclusions are not deliberate. Mostly, it's just a default assumption in subtle operation. Sometimes, it's framed within a policy. Sometimes, it's just "the way things are".

Like when I write an article and can barely find any stock photos that don't have white people's arms, hands or feet doing whatever activity it is that I want to illustrate. Or when I said to a particular school teacher that I want to go to a particular college and was told not to bother because "it's full of Etonians" i.e. I wouldn't fit in. Or if I am implicitly told by a dress code that professionalism requires heels, even though my height makes them redundant and wearing them would actually undermine my ability to present myself confidently to others.

Let's face it: we all know that whether heels constitute an instrument of oppression is not the most important issue in the world. I am currently in the drawn out yet still relatively painful stages of early labour as I write this, which lends a heightened sense of perspective (read: indifference) to my attitude to all this. I thought the furore around the PwC dress code debacle was over; I didn't think we were still talking about it. Maybe the fact that I am is just evidence of how badly I want any kind of distraction right now.

But maybe distraction is part of the problem with this whole discussion - the fact that it's so easy to preoccupy ourselves with dissecting the narrowest interpretations of complicated issues, rather than face up to the wider whole: the broader inequalities that have real and lasting impact, but no easy answers. Things likes ingrained and unhelpful stereotypes, unconscious bias and institutionalised race/sex/age-isms; escalating on through to denials of a voice and social representation, of legal rights and even acts of intimidation and violence.

I love the concluding lines at the end of Chamberlain's article: "... let's stop pretending this is a feminist issue, let's stop being so judgmental and get on with the business of enjoying ourselves, and feeling comfortable..." But to that I would add "and let's make it possible for others to do the same".

I'm addressing those of us who hold some sway over the definition of what's acceptable in our spheres of influence - whether that's drafting the dress code of a corporation, influencing the aspirations of school children; or curating the range of photos available for adverts and editorials. Whether that's just choosing the words we use to talk about what is or isn't a normal and valued way of being in the world. So I guess I'm addressing all of us - including and especially myself.

Let's all leave a little more room for the people who don't fit within our assumptions, but still deserve a place in the conversation.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

This is 4:00 AM

This is what 4:00 AM can look like.

When you can't sleep and it's impossible to be comfortable and the walls are closing in and it's not socially appropriate to call anyone or wake anyone - there is no emergency here. You may be restless, but nothing is wrong. So stop fretting and self-pitying and raging against the peaceful sleeper next to you. Just stop. Do something else with that energy. It might be 4:00 AM, but so what?

Rediscover how therapeutic it is to sit down and play the piano (with headphones!) - to let a random bunch of notes fall under your fingers and sound so pretty that you contemplate writing them down (but you don't because, let's face it, it's 4:00 AM and you haven't composed anything since you were seventeen).

Rediscover that you can shape your experiences, and just because everyone else says / does / expects / thinks doesn't mean you can't have it be another way. Just because everyone else says 4:00 AM is for sleeping, and you can't, doesn't make this bad. 4:00 AM is for living. So choose life.

"Rejoice in the Lord always. 
I will say it again: rejoice. 
Let your gentleness be evident to all. 
The Lord is near.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation [pray]...

Whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - 
if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - 
think about such things...
And the God of peace will be with you."

Philippians 4v4-8

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