Just now. Nothing else.

carriage ride copy.jpgThis morning as I struggled to get back to sleep – I have insomnia – my 5th grader joined me for a cuddle before changing for school. When you let her be, she is full of joy, full of dance, full of imagination, full of affection. When you block her, tie her down with busy work, she is irritable and sad.

“I wish you didn’t have so much homework,” I told her. She giggled and said, “But then I might have no idea what to do with money, and I’d say, ‘Throw all the money down the gutter!'”

When I bask in her energies, I realize that the workplace worries, the personal grief, the existential angst can melt away, and I can focus on today. I can just be. I can enjoy this moment. This moment is a challenge I’ve been trying to meet for ages. I’m anxious about tomorrow, about this afternoon, about tonight, about teaching tomorrow, meetings tomorrow, communication with other anxious people tomorrow. About my body, which – since cancer – is still not willing to come back to normal. About how to meet people in their expectations for normal physical energies. Their emotional energies. About how to protect my own fragility from their tumult. About how to keep up with my daughter’s physical energies too.

But in this moment, I can smile. In this moment, I know I am everything to her. If I can talk to her about kleptocats and how cute they are, everything is okay. And it doesn’t have to be more.

The Sea of Trolls trilogy

the-sea-of-trolls-9781481443081_hr.jpgLast time my family undertook a road trip to visit family, we got entirely addicted to Peter & the Starcatchers by Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson, via audiobook. In my case, I got addicted again, because I’d already listened to the entire trilogy while commuting to and from work. But listening to the story again was still completely fresh, delightful, funny, and profound. The books are for children, but if you’re an adult with an imagination, they will speak to you too.

This weekend, we undertook a 2-day trip to Columbus. Never again. Eight to nine hours on Saturday and Sunday each, with a few hours to see extended family in the evening and the morning. This is what happens when one lives in the heart of capitalism, and taking a single day off for a sick relative endangers job security. But moving along.
I hurried in to the local Chicago Public Library to grab a stack of books for our voracious child, and thought, oh my, hours and hours of whining, Are We There Yet?, How long is it going to be? So I went to the audiobook shelf, and found the second book in Nancy Farmer’s Sea of Trolls trilogyThe Land of the Silver Apples. Another brief digression: the most valuable thing I have found in this country is its public library systems. This has been one of the most important things to me in parenting a child and living a well-informed, enjoyable yet frugal life.

Svend was ready for the long drive with his current-affairs podcasts. But as soon as the story began, he resentfully pulled his bluetooth earbuds out, and proceeded to get completely immersed in the story, the descriptions, the historical detail, and the fantasy of Farmer’s story.

apples.jpgShe is a wonderful, magical storyteller. The story is based in the year 793, and centers around Jack, a Saxon boy of 11 living with his lame father and his wise-woman mother on the northeast coast of Britain. We hear of Vikings wreaking destruction on the Holy Isles, and we meet a survivor of that ordeal (Brother Aidan). But Jack finds a mentor in the Bard (who is sometimes described as a Pagan!) who teaches him about the life force and how to channel it. I won’t give away anymore, but if you love history, anthropology, fantasy, and religion, you will love this story.

We listened to the story almost without stopping (taking short breaks to explain to our child what a bard was, the history of the Romans, the Vikings, Britain, etc; why Jack’s father tells everyone else This is my house (patriarchy, etc.); and so on. The episode with the Bugaboos was a snooze, and excessively irritating, especially since it coincided with evening driving after a meal, when we were all tired and sleepy, and the Groundhog Day quality of the Bugaboo lives became a little too real for us. But everything else is magical.

After listening to Jim Dale’s narration of the Harry Potter series and the Peter series, I thought I would never love again. But Gerard Doyle is wonderful.

When we parked the car in front of our house, Svend hesitated before switching off the engine and asked, “Oh no. Now what?!” Now we’ll have to hang out in the evening and listen to the CDs at home until we are done!🙂


Subversive, goofy hashtags v. sneering silence

In the wake of both Clinton and Trump demanding that Muslims report on hate and extremism in their communities – as if our main function in the US is to serve as perpetual watchdogs in a perpetually suspect group – Twitter lit up with #MuslimsReportStuff.

Hashtags like #MuslimsReportStuff and #CanYouHearMeNow are funny and subversive. They help blow off steam.

But – and many of you will disagree with me – they are sad.

The forced levity reveals the high-pressure stress below the surface. The jokes about Muslims being human, eating junk food, being the wrong kind of sports fans, etc. betray desperate need to be seen for what we are – human, (many of us) American, consumers of Western culture, and therefore unthreatening. In my book, I speak of how, often, religious and hijab-wearing Muslim women feel the need to perform “religiosity lite” in order to humanize themselves in the face of perpetual dehumanization.

I do it too. And it’s sad when I do it too.

It’s okay if you disagree. I get it.

We’ve got to do SOMEthing, blow off steam SOMEhow, make faces, be silly. I get it. But sometimes, I really just want to practice a sneering, superior silence in the face of the torrent of bigotry. 


You see? I did it again.

Veiled politics in Women’s Chess

Women, clothes, and politics. Here we are again.

You can trust the news cycle to keep recycling women’s bodies in new garb every other day.

The Fédération Internationale des Échecs awarded Iran the opportunity to host the Women’s World Chess Championship in 2017. Women in Iran are legally required to wear hijab. Uh-oh.

Nazi Paikidze-Barnes, the 2016 US Women’s Chess champion, refuses to compete in the Women’s World Championship in Iran. She states: “I think it’s unacceptable to host _91524161_nazi.jpga women’s World Championship in a place [Iran] where women do not have basic fundamental rights and are treated as second-class citizens.”

Among other things, Iran’s recent 112-day imprisonment of Canadian anthropologist Prof. Homa Hoodfar certainly lends strength to the argument against its record of gender rights.

Here’s an irrelevant question though: If a dark-skinned non-blonde chess champion from a non-US country were to refuse to wear hijab and play in Iran, would the media cover it so assiduously, and with so many shots of the photogenic 22-year old?

humpy05.jpgHumpy Koneru, an Indian chess grandmaster, disagrees with such boycotts. She says of playing chess in Iran, “For a few days it was a bit awkward to play with the headscarf, but slowly I got used to it. I feel we need to respect their culture and customs.”

Koneru points to something that is universal. Not headscarves, but clothing norms: we’ve all got them, and most of us feel pretty strongly about them. Most of us also really hate other people’s norms.

I don’t approve of enforcing hijab on women.

I also know, as an anthropologist, that culture, everywhere – Iran, the US, Pakistan, France – isn’t all about freedom and agency. We are socialized into cultural norms, including ideas of what is the appropriate, good, attractive way to dress, and at times, we are disciplined for transgressions against dominant norms.

By the way, I also seem to recall the 2011 FIFA ban on the athletic attire of the Iranian women’s soccer team, which made it impossible for these women to play. So that wasn’t exactly all about freedom either, but no one seemed to care much about that career-killing move.

The fact that Olympic women athletes are often obligated to dress like showgirls isn’t all about freedom and agency either. A box is created for them, culturally, and if they want to compete in synchronized swimming or other “Pretty Sports,” they buckle up, and do it (Monica Hesse, 8/10/2016).

Yep. That’s not fair either.

But is it more unfair to be required to wear a headscarf to compete in chess in Iran than it is to be refused the right to wear a headscarf to compete in sports? I guess your response depends on how you feel about the hijab.

Nazi Paikidze-Barnes and others read women’s oppression in the hijab. Insofar as it is enforced, it is indeed oppressive. But the chess champion interprets the status of Iranian women as wrapped, so to speak, in the hijab; if the Iranian government did not require participants to wear hijab to the tournament, would the second-class status of Iranian women no longer distress Paikidze-Barnes? Or is it the act of donning a head-cover that Paikidze-Barnes sees as an acceptance of inferiority?

Questions, questions.
1200.jpgMitra Hejazipour, an Iranian woman grandmaster is not happy with this refusal. “This is going to be the biggest sporting event women in Iran have ever seen; we haven’t been able to host any world championship in other sporting fields for women in the past. It’s not right to call for a boycott. These games are important for women in Iran; it’s an opportunity for us to show our strength.”

Drawing attention toward her own body and her refusal to wear hijab, Paikidze-Barnes perhaps unwittingly eclipses by her own agenda the hard-earned opportunities and possibilities of her Iranian sisters.

Azadeh Moaveni writes in the New York Times today that women’s ongoing struggles for opportunities and freedom in Iran are at risk “if outsiders with their own agendas inflame the issue.” If you recall, the letter-writing campaign against the stoning of Amina Lawal in Nigeria suffered from the same problematic assumption: that we Westerners must sally forth to rescue oppressed women from their awful lives and funny-looking outfits. The brilliant 2003 Counterpunch piece “How Not to Help Amina Lawal” should be required reading for all those outraged by the cultural excesses of Muslim peoples. Ayesha Iman and Sindi Medar-Gould draw attention to the harmful impact of reactionary external movements that do not take into account how their very inflammatory reaction may worsen the situation on the ground for women’s workers on the ground. By focusing attention on hijab, such movements risk further empowering xenophobic and reactionary elements in Iran (probably those responsible for Homa Hoodfar’s imprisonment), and drowning out the voices of women like Mitra Hejazipour whose career is an ongoing, long-standing struggle for women’s empowerment. The article also highlights the importance of respecting the expertise and knowledge of local activists, instead of foisting one’s own preoccupations upon them.

Moaveni says: “Iranian women’s rights activists worry that anti-hijab protests, which flared up in Europe recently over the French burkini ban, are now being aimed at Iran. The West’s preoccupation with the veil and the growing popularity of simply being “anti-hijab” as an existential and political position muddles too many things.”

The headscarf and burqa symbolize patriarchy to many observers. The uncomfortable G-string does not. The burkini is bad. The bikini is good. Long skirts are bad. Stilettos are good. Miss Universe is good. Iranian chess tournaments are bad.

Binaries, binaries.

Here’s a weird idea though. Maybe the governments and sporting authorities in Iran, France, the US, everybody can back off of women’s bodies and women’s various forms of clothing. Maybe demonizing hijab isn’t exactly sisterly. Maybe infantilizing women and reading hijab as a pure imposition is – well, infantilizing. Maybe, until we’ve properly dismantled the patriarchy, we can start seeing it wheresoever we turn, rather than in Them alone.

‘Goblin Market’

goblin.jpgYesterday, on our way to the suburbs (where we attended a nice mawlid at the Turkish American Center), we stopped to address a tire pressure problem at a gas station. Right there, in a busy, ugly intersection, we saw a cozy little house, nicely decorated, standing cheerily amidst the urban congestion. Somehow the phrase Like a lily in the flood occurred to me.
I gave my 10 year old a taster of the story of the Victorian poem “Goblin Market” (1859) and asked her tantalizingly, “Do you want to listen to the poem?” Well, of course she did.
I proceeded to pull up the poem on my phone, and recited the ENTIRE 567 lines, only occasionally stopping to ask, “What do you think she did?” And she liked it VERY much and didn’t once say, stop, I’m bored. 
So, poem of the day is one illustrated by Arthur Rackham, a poem that Christina Rossetti did NOT think was for children because of the sexual imagery. The many possible layers in this poem – female heroism, feminism and escapism, female sexuality, carnal lust make it a perfect literary masterpiece for persons of all ages to ponder.
Morning and evening
Maids heard the goblins cry:
“Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy:
Apples and quinces,
Lemons and oranges,
Plump unpeck’d cherries,
Melons and raspberries,
Bloom-down-cheek’d peaches,
Swart-headed mulberries,
Wild free-born cranberries,
Crab-apples, dewberries,
Pine-apples, blackberries,
Apricots, strawberries;—
All ripe together
In summer weather,—
Morns that pass by,
Fair eves that fly;
Come buy, come buy:
Our grapes fresh from the vine,
Pomegranates full and fine,
Dates and sharp bullaces,
Rare pears and greengages,
Damsons and bilberries,
Taste them and try:
Currants and gooseberries,
Bright-fire-like barberries,
Figs to fill your mouth,
Citrons from the South,
Sweet to tongue and sound to eye;
Come buy, come buy.”
Evening by evening
Among the brookside rushes,
Laura bow’d her head to hear,
Lizzie veil’d her blushes:
Crouching close together
In the cooling weather,
With clasping arms and cautioning lips,
With tingling cheeks and finger tips.
“Lie close,” Laura said,
Pricking up her golden head:
“We must not look at goblin men,
We must not buy their fruits:
Who knows upon what soil they fed
Their hungry thirsty roots?”
“Come buy,” call the goblins
Hobbling down the glen.
“Oh,” cried Lizzie, “Laura, Laura,
You should not peep at goblin men.”

Let us, at least, love

Shanah Tovah to my cousins!
Blessed Michaelmas to my cousins on the other side!
Happy Navaratri to my Hindu friends!
Belated Eid Mubarak to my family.160919-tulsa-police-shooting-mbe-428p_fd438b9ca583c9222a71a509b19684a4.nbcnews-ux-2880-1000.jpg
Peace to neighbors across the border in India!
Peace to my family in Pakistan!
Peace and plenty to my beloveds in Kashmir, Syria, Palestine, Yemen, Nigeria, Somalia, Myanmar, Chad, CAR, all the spaces and the spaces in between that no one even cares about, or knows how to pronounce._85346532_85346529.jpg
Freedom from fear to my beloveds in war-zones, abroad and at home, and in supposed peace-zones where the voices of the bullet-ridden, blinded, abused, raped, trapped, mutilated, starved, thirsty, sick, are drowned in the sounds of music and celebration.
Peace, plenty, justice, equality, love, dialogue, productive conversations when we all listen, this year and for all in the future.
Five-year-old-Omran-Daqneesh-REUTERS-Mahmoud-Rslan-3.jpgFor the sake of our children.
For the sake of our own souls and hearts.
For the sake of those we have lost.
For the sake of those we are still losing, everyday, every moment, in the rubble, in the bombs, in the ocean, in the camps, in the streets, in the schools, in the hospitals, in famine.
In Aleppo, Chicago, Srinagar … we cannot give up on each other.
We cannot let our ghosts and ghouls feast upon our babies.
Our hearts ache, break, and spill open all over our prayer-rugs, rosaries, garlands, pews, in our temples, mosques,
churches, monasteries, homes, schools, at our doorsteps, by our windows, by the bundles of belongings that we snatched and fled from fear, right into the rotting arms of terror.
We are alone. We are alone. We are alone. We are full of grief.


In this grief, if it must continue, let us at least hold each other and sob until our hearts break, and break

again, and again, but together.

After all this loss, all this grief, all this horror.
Let us at least love, if we are denied peace.
In these streets, where we reach out to embrace, and ghosts of the past cast a chill over us, holding us apart, and we weep to the desolate walls, alone.
Let us love and weep and reach out and hold each other to comfort broken hearts and sit together to mourn ravaged hearths and tiny graves.
At least love.
At least, let us love.