Activism

This is blog 1 in my A-Z Blogseries:
Activism


In recent years I have walked and chanted in several marches; the largest ones being the Women’s March in 2017 and more recently, the March for the climate.

Both times I couldn’t believe that the topics at hand were even things we could disagree on in the society I live in.

Facts and common sense issues have become opinions and (how I despise the term and the one that mad it fashionable;) fake news.

Until recently, I would say my political views and voting behavior would be considered pretty middle of the road, maybe slightly left of center.

These days though, some would call my views extreme and “far left”.

Am I an activist?

I’m not sure.

I do want us to be better. I do want us to stop being so afraid of each other. I do want us to make decisions more (earth)consciously. I am willing to start with the person in the mirror and work from there.

Doesn’t sound very radical to me…

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Ode to Louise

Day 1 of my (own twist to the) Three Day Lyric Challenge.

A song my father introduced me to is a song by Leo Kottke about a lady called Louise. Small town gossip said that “she’d act the little girl” but that in reality she was “a deceiver” and that we shouldn’t believe her, because “that’s her trade”.

The song describes how Louise received gifts from men, whose “intentions were easily traced”, insinuating that she was either stunningly beautiful and would lead men on with her appearance, or that perhaps she was even a prostitute who inadvertently had some male “fans”.

Halfway through the song Kottke describes how people thought it “kind of sad” when Louise was found dead in her room. The song paints a picture of a lonely and misunderstood woman who ended up taking her own life.

Kottke bids her farewell at the end of the song with the words “the wind is blowing cold tonight. So goodnight, Louise, goodnight”.

Leo Kottke’s guitar intermezzo is mesmerizing on its own, but with the lyrics he really tells a tragic micro-history. I am not sure when I really started to see the whole image but when I did, I really felt for Louise.

A second song has recently entered my life that has a similar effect on me. After having given it some thought I realized that it is actually the same story, but this time from Louise’ point of view.

The first time I heard the song it stopped me dead in my tracks and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. This had to do with the singers vocal range and the pain he put into the song. It was only later that I learned that it is actually a cover of a Nina Simone song, called “When I was a young girl”.

The song, in the version of Marlon Williams, is over six minutes long and can be summed up by the last 4 lines (which he manages to spread out over two heart-wrenching minutes)

When I was a young girl I used to seek pleasure
When I was a young girl I used to drink ale
Out of the ale house and into the jail house
Right out of the bar room down to my doom

Be sure to listen to Nina Simone’s version too, which is beautiful as well (but less haunting).

Whoever this young girl is, all I can say is: I am sorry the world wasn’t kinder to you. Good night, sweet girl, good night.

 

 

 

 

Love through wonder

I know I’m late to the party, but I am finally learning to appreciate podcasts.

I think I’ve always liked the idea of listening to podcasts, but I never really found the right moment for them.

I usually put my headphones on when I need something to either pick me up or chill me out. I use music as a backdrop for an activity and always avoided audio that would occupy more than 5% of my brain capacity.

A couple of weeks ago the stars aligned perfectly and I found myself in “right place, right time, right amount of attention span bandwidth”-situation, as I stumbled upon a Ted Talk about revolutionary love by Valarie Kaur.

valarie kaur

Valarie’s choice to start her talk by describing the experience of giving birth to her son as an analogy for the deepest, most intense and unconditional type of love, is one I can follow rationally. I understand that women that go through labor, experience indescribable pain while simultaneously being flushed with hormones, enabling them to love and care and protect the new little creature more than they’ve ever loved anything else, including themselves.

I love the idea of feeling so connected to this little helpless being, and realizing it is an extension of yourself and your legacy for the future. I can see how this deepens the connection you feel to you mother, and her mother, and her mother and how this makes you realize you are part of something bigger than you. I can imagine this is both humbling and empowering at the same time.

As much as I appreciated the anecdote, it did not motivate me to explore my own ability to love. I see the beauty of it on a poetic level, but it does nothing for me on an emotional level. Some people say I need to have kids of my own to understand this. Others say it’s a clear sign I’m not meant to have them. Who knows.

RevLoveBut Valarie continued explaining how she learnt the lessons of revolutionary love and started reeling me in as she went…

The desperation in her voice when she reminded me that hate crimes are the highest they have been since 9-11 drove a cold chill over my spine and an ache into my heart.

The realization that, despite her efforts to bring people closer together for the last 15 years, so many of her compatriots chose to vote this hateful figure into the white house, is heart breaking.

The tears that filled her eyes as she acknowledged that her son is likely to be labeled “terrorist” at least once in his life, is just infuriatingly sad.

She shared her realization that answering an act of hate with more hate would be understandable but pointless and counter productive. She explained:

We love our opponents when we tend the wound in them. Tending to the wound is not healing them — only they can do that. Just tending to it allows us to see our opponents: the terrorist, the fanatic, the demagogue. They’ve been radicalized by cultures and policies that we together can change.

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She then admitted that removing hate from her own heart required a conscious effort, or as Valarie puts it: “It becomes an act of will to wonder.”

And all though the point of her childbirth reference was lost on me at the very start, she drove it home when she presented me with her final lesson in revolutionary love:

 

This is a feminist intervention. Because for too long have women and women of color been told to suppress their rage, suppress their grief in the name of love and forgiveness. But when we suppress our rage, that’s when it hardens into hate directed outward, but usually directed inward. But mothering has taught me that all of our emotions are necessary. Joy is the gift of love. Grief is the price of love. Anger is the force that protects it.

Now that is some superhero stuff right there.

She concluded her TED talk by revealing the three directions in which revolutionary love must be practiced: towards your direct surroundings, towards yourself and towards your opponents. The method: wonder.

Yepp, that’s it. She’s wonder woman.

But as it turns out, so am I!

wonder woman

And now I’m wondering about you… Are you OK, sister? How was your day, brother? What did you learn to day, uncle?

Let’s connect.

 

You say “lack of ambition” like it’s a bad thing…

Last week my aunt Nikki came to visit. She’s the type of family member that asks how you’re doing and really wants to know the answer, whatever it is. Also, with a background as a councilor at a local university’s student services division, she always knows which questions to ask to get you thinking.

ambition-quotes-L-tmJybs

When I told her how I was doing at work, I had to admit I had just gone through a challenging period, coming to grips with the fact that bars and expectations were being raised, as more experienced colleagues moved on to new jobs and I was now often the most experienced person in the room.

Of course Nikki knows of my “lack of ambition” and / or “fear of responsibility” and presented me with the following riddle:

When you say you see the absence of ambition as a strength and a tool to protect and guarantee your own happiness, it sounds like it all stems from a fear of failure; either in the eyes of others [aka my parents] or your own. To what extent is this a twisted attempt to regulate the expectations of your parents?

Now… obviously… you know… it’s clear that… stuff is just not… sometimes, you see… yeah. no.

whut potc

Let’s just say there’s a reason why it took me over a week to put this thought process into words.

Growing up as a third culture kid, I always had ideas about having a job later on that would take me around the world. I remember loving the idea of being a stewardess, and at some point dreamt of being a “Flying Doctor”, a development worker or a diplomat.

This last idea was mostly my mother’s. It was something that she started saying jokingly, especially when I tried to negotiate myself out of a sticky situation. Up to this day it’s something she says to me every now and then, as an afterthought; “you really would’ve made a good diplomat, you know…”.

It wasn’t until I started studying at Leiden University, – which is close to the Netherlands’ diplomatic center: the Hague – that I really realized how wrong she really was.

women-competing

I so clearly lack the cut throat mentality it takes to even get into “het klasje” (meaning “the small classroom”, the term used in the Netherlands to refer to the diplomatic training institute), let alone to ever hold a position as diplomat. Also, the fact I suck at small talk and always forget to ask crucial questions such as “what does your father do” and “which university (and fraternity) did you attend”, doesn’t help.

I admit that when I go to work in the morning (in the Hague) and I hear the tip-tapping of hurried high heels walking behind (and all around) me, I get really annoyed. In my mind, that quick paced person is “one of them”; an ambitious self-proclaimed Barbie feminist. She’s probably overworked and on the verge of a burn-out, but is comforted by the idea that she’s “made it”. She looks herself in the mirror each morning and reminds herself this government job is exactly where she has always wanted to be. She just finished reading Ivanka Trump’s book.

WOW! This was a really round about way to arrive at the point… I apologize… Are you still with me?

I think the point is: I really don’t like those people and don’t want to be like them.

I’m actually really pleased I came up with Ivanka Trump as a reference. I don’t know how I would’ve explained this, without her and the video above. (honestly though… Is she for real??)

So yah… In my mind being ambitious has become synonymous to become an Ivanka Trump category person.

What I still have to figure out now, is if I can really answer my aunt Nikki’s question with “no, this has nothing to do with my parents”, which I would very much like to do.

I admit that my logic is still a bit fucked up and perhaps something I should work on. I would really like to be able to say that all though my lack of ambition may be based on silly reasoning, it’s definitely more than just a lingering rebellious spasm of puberty.

It’s driven by more than just my inner-child saying “I just don’t feel like doing what you want, mom”.

whut loki

Right?

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Help me understand Björk

My boyfriend and I often play songs for each other in the early morning. It has become an occasional part of our morning ritual, especially on those mornings when waking up is just that tad more difficult or when getting up just isn’t necessary just yet.

This morning, he grabbed my phone (he is one of those rare ones without a smartphone) and I watched as he typed “Venus as a boy” and I couldn’t help but blurt out “Oh god…”, which in turn made him raise his eyebrows at me.

I let the song play (almost) until the end, which I thought was quite an achievement… I just can’t handle Björk very well… 

I tried to explain why and I noticed how I started to raise my voice and was completely failing at giving him a good explanation. I think I just used a lot of words, starting with “What does Venus as a boy even mean?!” and ending with my piece de resistance: “she just weirds me out”.

So then he said: “you know what? maybe you should write a blog about it…”

Man, he knows me so well, doesn’t he?

So yah, I’m struggling here… Why does Björk annoy me so much and why is it so hard to put it into words?

What I’ve come up with so far:

  • her music is uncomfortable to listen to
  • it’s pretentious and unnecessarily complicated
  • I feel like it’s a “Emperor’s new clothes” situation, where nobody dares say they don’t like it, out of fear of being labeled musically dumb.
  • It just sounds like someone was doodling around with different electronic melodies and riffs and then accidentally added the audio of someone singing in the shower.
  • She always looks like she’s on the verge of a psychotic breakdown.

Luckily, there are more people around that “just don’t get it” and have turned to online discussion forums and blogs to vent and inquire. Some of the explanations people have given for appreciating Björk are:

  • Her (seemingly) very organic, unrestrained approach to singing, combined with the fact that her grasp on the English language is shaky at best, give her vocals a rough spontaneity that is refreshing in an art-pop artist.
  • You don’t have to be crazy to like Bjork but it helps. So do mind altering chemicals.
  • I loved the drama, the glitchiness, Bjork’s amazing vocal range. I find the combination of strings and the urgent, insistent song structure of Joga absolutely mesmerizing.
  • In a nutshell, “understanding” Björk is beyond my ability to explain. I’d just say that it starts with her voice. That’s the gorgeous lighthouse that you follow through the wonderful storm of her ever-evolving music.
  • [In a review on 2015 album Vulnicura] I’ll be the first to admit that, as a huge Björk fan since the late 1990s, I’ve often been at a loss with her music: I adore her experimental, deeply passionate approach to music, but my own appreciation of her music has become increasingly challenged.
  • [In a review on her 2017 video of the Gate] You know when you’ve been out all night, and you’re really fucked, and you finally decide you should try and sleep, so you curl up in bed, dry mouthed, and close your eyes for a second? And then suddenly all this weird shit starts spinning around your brain? Like geometric shapes and faces you don’t recognise and other, intangible stuff you couldn’t even explain to someone with words? Well, Björk’s new video for “The Gate” is kind of like that, but better, because it stars Björk.
  • Her eeeeks, and shrieks turn this little freak into a feisty contender for one of the most unbelievable performers of my generation. Bjork started off as somewhat of a meme in apartment 320, but I submit to you that I have rethought her status as just a meme. In fact she is, nay she will forever be one of the most interesting artists in this game of life we all play.

Hmm… none of this is really helping. Or maybe it is? It’s making me feel that I will never get it and that I just don’t belong in Björk club. But do try to convince me otherwise!

Margaret

The Canadian prime minister may look like a fairy tale prince, but it turns out he has a mother, just like the rest of us. And reading about her life and feelings in the interview she recently gave on a local US radio channel, made me respect him (but mostly her) even more.

The fact that he is one of the youngest prime ministers Canada ever had and simultaneously one of the most balanced and mature politicians at present, makes total sense. He has been a grown-up since he was a child. He had to be.

In the interview, his mother Margaret speaks openly about her life as both the wife and the mother of a prime minister. Her life in the lime light was especially challenging for her, as she suffered from mental illness, fueled by the frustrations that must come with such a position. She explains:

I was becoming a very angry woman. I felt used and not useful. As a wife of the prime minister — as opposed to your first ladies in America — there is no position, there is no office, no assistant. I’m just supposed to be, as I said, a rose in my husband’s lapel. But I really was fighting since I was a little girl for the right to be equal. My mother raised her five daughters that way. And then I found myself in this very old-fashioned marriage, with the press using me as political fodder, and I was angry.

I think she is very eloquently putting a feeling into words that many women have felt at some point in their lives, especially in that era. These are things that are starting to change only now and we are just learning how to discuss it fairly and openly. I can imagine there must have been people that thought she had it all made and thought her ungrateful for wanting even more.

One of the biggest fears in my life is probably to be reduced to something as insignificant as “the wife of”. I crave for acknowledgment as much as I do for social invisibility. It’s a miracle I haven’t gone mad, all though I guess it may be up for discussion…

All though I joke  about “going mad” in the previous paragraph, I do not suffer from mental illness in any (diagnosed) shape or form, all though some of my most beloved people have in the past or still do in the present.

And that is exactly why I applaud Margaret Trudeau for stepping up to the plate and broaching the subject of mental illness. Most of all, because of the encouraging words she spoke at the end of the interview:

So if you can stop both the denial and the blame, there’s only one person who can help you. And that is yourself. You have to find the courage to say, ‘I want to have a better life,’ and then you reach out for help. You don’t know how many people are out there just longing to help you.

margaret-trudeau01-1000x666

Such a beautiful woman. He has her eyes.

No Golden Cage for Aicha

A fun fact that I learnt recently is that Raï means “opinion”.

cheb khaledOne of the legends of the genre is Cheb Khaled, now considered to be the king of Raï music.

Cheb Khaled’s song Aicha rose in the global charts when I was about 12 and it was absolutely love at first listen. I loved this song so much that I even added it to the soundtracks of my life-post I wrote many years ago.

I love the song for its catchy melody and general atmosphere but I think its meaning was kind of lost to me. I may have understood that it was about a lady named Aicha and maybe even that the singer though she was beautiful and desirable. The gifts and praise he was raining down on Aicha, just to earn himself a glance, may have started to make sense as I learned French at school.

But it wasn’t until I really looked into the lyrics, many years later, that I saw that, in the bridge of the song, Aicha herself speaks up and says she will have none of it.

Aicha lyrics 2

Khaled’s powerful voice never fails to sends chills down my spine when he wails out her only true desire:

Equal rights, respect every day and love!

You tell them, Aicha!

Each time I hear it, I realize how powerful this interlude in the song still is. Love it to bits. I’d name my daughter Aicha, just for those three lines.