Here, There and Everywhere

Archive for November, 2013

Drinking in Land of the Buddha

Drinking in Land of the Buddha
by Gabriel Constans

Gautama Buddha once said, “Desire is a trap, Desirelessness is liberation.” Obviously he had never tasted a smoothie, or he would have said, “Desire is freedom, and the best desire of all is for smoothies.” Over the last few years, many Buddhists have been known to be secretly converting to Smoothism. This is a simple, satisfying meal, which, like Buddhism, is nourishing and easy to digest.

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Yield: 5 cups

1/2 cup filtered water
1 cup coconut milk
1 banana
1/2 cup shelled, unsalted peanuts
1/2 cup cooked rice
1/2 pineapple, peeled and chopped

Place all the ingredients in a blender, and mix on low speed for 45 seconds.

Pour into small bowls, serve and discover true enlightenment.

Writing the Female Sex

Doris Lessing: Writing the Female Sex
by Victoria Brownworth
Lambda Literary
19 November 2013

The New York Times wrote a sharp, seething, unpleasant four-page screed of an obituary about her that was both shocking and Doris-Lessingunsurprising. The piece reminded me of how much Lessing was loathed by many because her ideas were so strong, her vision so demanding, the inability to pigeonhole her maddening and misogyny still so rampant. Those of us who loved her work were often taken to task for it–much as the Nobel Committee itself was for choosing her in 2007. (The gay literary critic, Harold Bloom, said of her winning, “Although Ms. Lessing at the beginning of her writing career had a few admirable qualities, I find her work for the past 15 years quite unreadable–fourth-rate science fiction.”)

The work of women, and how women live, is still diminished and demeaned, most especially if those women don’t play nice, which Lessing, famously curmudgeonly, did not.

Yet nearly three generations of women and women writers have been taught by Lessing and her brilliant, groundbreaking work since her first novel was published in 1950 and they–we–learned about ourselves and who we could be through her work. Because Lessing lived nearly a century, because her work seems always to have been with us–she’d been writing since before many of us were born or even before our parents were–because she went through a wide range of styles and published more than 50 books of note, it was easy to forget how defining and definitive her work was even now, memorializing her.

Lessing schooled most of the lesbian writers of my age as well as those of the generation before. Lessing taught us to love women’s sexuality in a way no one else has before or since, not even someone like Eve Ensler, who has put our vaginas so vividly on display. Lessing put women’s sexuality and female independence in the forefront of all her work. She wrote about women in ways no one had done prior to novels like her masterpiece, the 1962 novels-within-a- novel, The Golden Notebook.

Virginia Woolf had begun the task of flinging wide the door to a room of one’s own, but it was Lessing who walked through that door and dropped, cross-legged on the floor, pad and pen before her, and then wrote about things women were told never to even talk about, let alone write down. She was sexual, political, emotional, contemplative.

She was strikingly, amazingly new. She was the avante-garde of post-modernist feminism.

Where women writers of a previous era had kept female sexuality under their skirts and at bay, like Austen, the Brontes, the Georges Eliot and Sand, Lessing opened it up for us. She opened our legs and minds to self-examination and female agency

It’s difficult to imagine some writers existing without the path forged by Lessing. Did she not give birth to literary lesbian writers like Jeanette Winterson and Sarah Walters? Can intimations of her style not be read in the novels of Sarah Schulman or Elena Dykewomon? Years ago my late friend Tee Corinne, the writer, artist and photographer, and I talked about Lessing and her impact on Tee’s generation of lesbians. It was Tee’s contention that Lessing had bridged a chasm between the more outré lesbian writers of the Paris literary set in the 1920s and the later, fully fledged lesbian writers of second-wave feminism.

Second-wave feminism and the radical lesbian feminism that went hand-in-glove with it were in full foment when I was in college. So when my Women’s Studies classes presented me with Lessing (who was, I realize now, the same age as my grandmother), writing about sex in a way I had never even heard of, it was stunning.

Lessing, more than any writer I had read to that time, including those lesbian writers of that Paris set, taught me I could be not just a sexual creature, but that I could write about sex, too. Lessing clarified that I could write about femaleness and lesbian sexuality not as something to be hidden or suborned, but as something to revel in, explicate and illumine. Lessing’s Anna Wulf, the hera of The Golden Notebook, was an icon for women, a template for lesbians like myself trying to place our writing in the context of female-centered sexuality.

It seems like nothing now, but The Golden Notebook pre-dated second-wave feminism. As I think about her now, and all she wrote and told us about women and who they were and what they thought, I can’t help wondering: What made Lessing think she could write these things? What made her think she could write this:

“Her source of self respect was that she had not–as she put it–given up and crawled into safety somewhere. Into a safe marriage.”

Because marriage was what women were taught. No matter whatever else they did, marriage was the endgame, the stated goal for women. Which left lesbians out of every equation at that time. A woman who walked away from that–who was she? Were there more like her? Could we be among them?

This is the point then, about writers who break ground and do what hasn’t been done before. The Golden Notebook was written more than 50 years ago, but it’s still in print and has been all along. I took it down from the shelf to flip through it–it’s all marked up from my college years, notes in the margins, exclamation points after an outlined passage.

I want to know what I was thinking when I first read that book, when I first heard this exchange:

“Free women,” said Anna, wryly. She added, with an anger new to Molly, so that she earned another quick scrutinizing glance from her friend: “They still define us in terms of relationships with men, even the best of them.”

Even NYT obituary writers 50 years hence, apparently.

And there was this shocking passage:

“I stood looking down out of the window. The street seemed miles down. Suddenly I felt as if I’d flung myself out of the window. I could see myself lying on the pavement. Then I seemed to be standing by the body on the pavement. I was two people. Blood and brains were scattered everywhere. I knelt down and began licking up the blood and brains”

The NYT obit sniffs a little at Lessing’s writing and quotes NYT reviewers who hated her work. It also dwells on her failings–yet it’s difficult to imagine an obituary of a male writer snarking in similar ways. Where is the commentary about the breadth of her work?

Rather, the comments about Lessing go directly to her femaleness; a half century after The Golden Notebook she is still not free of the restrictions placed on women writers that do not pertain to men. “She left her children!” is the most damning statement about Lessing, as if she dropped them on a street corner in the dead of night in a blizzard and ran away, leaving them to freeze to death in Dickensian fashion, when what Lessing actually did was divorce her first husband and leave their children with him because she had felt her own mother was cold to her and her brother because she resented her children and Lessing didn’t want to do that to hers. She noted that people really should have understood that of course there is pain involved in leaving one’s children.

Nevertheless, while leaving one’s children with one’s spouse is something male writers do all the time, it was the great scandal of Lessing’s life and has been noted in every article ever written about her as somehow more defining than the volume of her work.

But Lessing was a writer of note as well as merit. She catalogued an era–the cusp between World War II and the dawn of second-wave feminism–and defined the place of women in that period of time. She later crafted her own world when she turned to science fiction, which was, when she began her Canopus in Argos novels, becoming a new ground for women writers, in particular feminists and lesbians. But repeatedly and compellingly she came back to women and their lives, women and sex, women and politics, women refusing to be obedient, women breaking silence–as she did.

Lessing won a slew of awards before she was awarded the Nobel and even after. She wrote everything there was to write–poems, essays, short stories, novels, memoirs, even a libretto. She was immensely gifted, notoriously independent and never shied away from the political.

Her first book, The Grass Is Singing, published when she was 32, was a treatise on racism and colonialism, taking place in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) where Lessing grew up.

In 1985, in The Good Terrorist, Lessing gives us Alice, who is in love with Jasper, who is gay. He leaves her periodically to have sex with men, then returns because he needs her, although he can’t stand to have her touch him. The two are Communists (as was Lessing for many years) and by the end of the novel, have become terrorists–Lessing addressing the issue of terrorism long before it was trendy and explicating why people kill for political ideology.

In one of her last novels, Love, Again, she returns to the subject of female passion (including lesbianism) as an older woman, 65-year-old Sarah Durham, tries to discern what place love, sex and passion have in her life and the lives of the women around her.

Lessing always broke with tradition. She left school at 14 and was self-taught. She left her family of origin as well as the husband she married at 19 and the two children she had with him. She rejected the tradition that said women belong to men and to children and to housekeeping. She lured other women with her declarative and ruminative prose that told women they could choose. Really, they could choose, as her protagonists Anna Wulf and Martha Quest do. Women could walk away from what was expected and do what was unexpected.

That’s what Lessing did. What was unexpected. She showed us how to be feminist even if she wasn’t sure she was feminist. She showed us how to be lesbian, even though she was heterosexual. She showed us how to be one’s self, regardless of what others think.

Read rest of article and others at Lambda Literary.

I Shouldn’t Speak

W1311EAWMN1“I Shouldn’t Speak”

Being raped, it makes you…a person without rights…every day someone reminds me that I’ve been raped and that I should put myself in a corner, that I shouldn’t speak, I should say nothing.”- Rose, raped at age 15, Haiti

Defend women like Rose.

The first time Rose was raped, her aunt arranged the attack as punishment for an argument. Rose was kidnapped by three men, assaulted, and then abandoned in a remote area. She was 15 years old.

The second time Rose was raped, a thief came into her house and assaulted her while her children were sleeping. She was 20 years old.

We cannot undo Rose’s pain, but Amnesty supporters like you CAN do something to put an end to the violence that robs women and girls like Rose of their rights.

Urge your Members of Congress to co-sponsor the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA).

IVAWA was just reintroduced in Congress. This bill seeks to end the global epidemic of violence against women and girls, making preventing and ending this human rights abuse a diplomatic and foreign assistance priority for the US government. IVAWA includes:

* Support for organizations working to change the attitude of men and boys about violence against women and girls.

* Specialized training for health care providers to recognize the signs of physical and sexual violence against women and girls
Protections to ensure that girls can go to school safely.

*Focused training for law enforcement and legal personnel to properly respond to incidents of violence.

The rapes to which Rose was subjected prevented her from going to school, which in turn affected her employment opportunities and her ability to live a healthy life – but IVAWA can help women like Rose access critical health care, law enforcement support and legal assistance, and ultimately change the social norms that say violence is acceptable.

Rose’s story bears a horrible truth – that one in three women globally has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime. IVAWA has the potential to make the one in three become none in three. But not without your help.

Countries, communities, and families cannot thrive without the contributions and talent of half their populations.

You can take action to end one of the world’s most pervasive human rights abuses today. Tell your Representatives in Congress to support IVAWA.

Let’s get this bill passed.

In solidarity,

Cristina Finch
Managing Director, Women’s Human Rights Program
Amnesty International USA

Call For Release

Syrian Religious Leaders Call For Release of Two Bishops
Religions for Peace
22 November 2013

At the 9th World Assembly of Religions for Peace, Muslim and Christian Leaders Call for Common Action Syrian religious leaders attending the 9th World Assembly of Religions for Peace called for the release of two abducted bishops in Syria. The Assembly, which serves as a venue for conflict transformation, brought more than 600 religious leaders representing all historic faith traditions and every region of the world to restore and build peace. Each Syrian religious leader sent a strong message of support to the abducted bishops, the demand for their release, and the hope for a peaceful resolution.

Bishops

The two Syrian bishops, Metropolitan Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim, the Syrian Orthodox Archbishop of Aleppo, and Bishop Boulous Yazigi, a Greek Orthodox Bishop in Damascus, were kidnapped in Aleppo on 22 April 2013.

“These two bishops always worked for peace and a good life for all people,” H.E. Sheikh Dr. Mohamed Sohaib al-Chami, an Islamic scholar and a member of the Religions for Peace Interreligious Council of Syria, reflected. “They kidnaped our bishops but they also took our soul, our love, and our hope. We remember their big role and work. And we hope that happiness will return to the people of Syria.”

Father Samuel Gümüs, Special Representative of HB Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, Supreme Head of the Universal Syrian Orthodox Church, called for the immediate release of the two bishops. Father Gümüs implored, “I appeal to conscience, principles, morals and ethics of all peace lovers to spare no effort to bring about a safe and dignified release of Yohanna Ibrahim and Boulous Yazigi.”

Mrs. Asmaa Kiftaro, President of the Syrian Muslim Women’s Forum, shared a message of peace. Ms. Kiftaro declared, “Syria will rise again. The sons of Syria will serve their country. Peace, happiness, and smiles will come back to the people of Syria.”

Throughout the 9th World Assembly of Religions for Peace, delegates from different faiths around the world have sent prayers to express concern for those who are suffering in Syria. Plenary III, beginning the Assembly yesterday, opened with a moment of silence for Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim and Bishop Yazigi. Dr. William Vendley, Secretary General for Religions for Peace, said, “We stand in solidarity, our hands are in your hands, and we continue to pray.”

The Round House

41HfjdXnn9L._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_The Round House by Louise Erdich
Review by Gabriel Constans

I usually only review books for The New York Journal of Books and tend to not make the effort to share what I am reading, at least not often. This is an exception.

There are many times when books that have won prestigious national or international awards tend to fall short (in my eyes) and don’t live up to the hype and praise. 2012 National Book Award winner (for fiction) The Round House by Louise Erdich is not not one of those books. This story soars and takes you with it.

The story focuses on the aftermath of a brutal attack upon Geraldine Coutts, on the reservation where she and her husband and her thirteen-year-old son Joe live in North Dakota. Everything is seen through Joe’s eyes as he and his father (who is also a judge) try to discover who attacked their loved one and why.

Every character in this book is as real as real can be. Joe’s family, extended family, friends and everyone else on and off the reservation come to life with nuance and depth. “My father bent his head down and rested his forehead on his fist. He closed his eyes. There was the ticking of the clock in that sunny kitchen. Around the face of the clock there was a kind of sunburst. But the rays were plastic squiggles and the thing looked more like a gilded octopus. Still, I kept looking at the clock because if I looked down I would have to see the top of my father’s head. To see the egg brown scalp and thin patch of gray hairs would put me over the edge. I’d snap, I thought, if I looked down.”

One could go on and on, with further explanations and examples, but it will suffice to simply say that this is a story most people will want to read. It includes humor, pathos, fear, suspense, drama, coming of age and romance, but most importantly, it includes some of the best writing to be published in years.

“I Demand My Rights.”

“I Demand My Rights.”

Kaia* was eleven years old when she was assaulted and raped on the way to school. A teacher took her to the hospital, but the police demanded bribes for even taking down a statement.

So Kaia did something incredibly brave. She sued the police for failing to protect her. What’s even more incredible is what happened next.

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In Kenya where Kaia lives, a woman or girl is raped every 30 minutes. Police there routinely turn a blind eye, further isolating terrified young survivors and reinforcing the notion that rape is ok.

Kaia and ten other young survivors challenged that. On the day of the case, ignoring threats to their safety and a blockade from court security, they marched from their shelter to the courthouse, chanting “Haki yangu” — Kiswahili for “I demand my rights.” And then the judge issued his ruling: The girls had won!

The amazing advocates and human rights lawyers that worked with Kaia are ready to bring similar lawsuits against police forces across Africa and beyond, but they need funding to do it. We won’t process pledges until we reach our goal, but if just 30,000 of us pledge a small amount now, we can repeat this game-changing victory in other countries, remind police that rape is a crime, and take a powerful step forward against the global war on women:

Click to pledge what you can — we’ll process your contribution only if we hit our goal of 30,000 donors.

When Kaia’s story began, she looked set to become just another of the countless victims of child rape ignored by the police. But Kenyan child rights advocate Mercy Chidi and Canadian human rights lawyer Fiona Sampson joined forces to challenge this injustice in the courts.

The plan was hatched in Kenya by a group of colleagues from Canada, Kenya, Malawi and Ghana — it seemed like a long shot to sue the police force for failing to act, but they stuck with it and took risks… and made legal history. The work has just begun: like any win, it takes time, effort and money to make sure the ruling sticks, and to use it as a springboard to wipe out violence against women.

If we raise enough, here’s how we could turn a huge victory for Kenya into a win for countries across Africa and even the rest of the world:

* help fund more cases like this, across Africa and around the world
* use hard-hitting campaign strategies to make sure these groundbreaking judgments are enforced
* push for massive, effective public education campaigns that strike at the root of sexual violence and help erase it for good
respond to more campaign opportunities like this case — with super smart strategies that turn the tide in the war on women.

Click to pledge what you can to start this important work right away — we won’t process any contributions unless we hit our goal of 30,000 donors.

As citizens, we often appeal to political leaders and other officials to get serious about protecting women’s rights. It’s important to keep doing that, but when they fail to hear their consciences, we need to appeal to their interests, and take them to court. That sends a powerful message: not only that there are new consequences for their crimes, but that the era of unchallenged misogyny in the culture of our societies is coming to end.

With hope,

Ricken, Maria Paz, Emma, Oli, Nick, Allison, Luca and the rest of the Avaaz team

* Kaia is a pseudonym, but her story is real. She is not pictured here.

Luscious Lassi

images-1Luscious Lassi
by Gabriel Constans

Lassi is an Indian drink most often made with dairy, honey, and fruit. In India, you’ll often see people greet one another by putting their palms together and saying, “Namaste” (“I honor the light within you”). The Luscious Lassi is a cool, refreshing smoothie which honors the light within each one of us. One sip and you’ll think you’re in Kashmir, Mumbai or Southern India.

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Yield: 4 1/2 cups

3 tablespoons plain yogurt (dairy, soy, rice or almond)
1 1/2 ripe mangoes, peeled, seeded, and sliced
3 cups milk (soy, rice or dairy)
3 tablespoons honey

Place all the ingredients in a blender, and blend on low speed for 1 minute.

Pour into glasses and serve. Namaste.

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