An argument against Nationalism. Goes down well with Eggs Benedict.

Again, not really. That was just an excuse to mention the name Benedict. And this time I’ll be talking about Anderson, not Cumberbatch. Still, I did get his name in the title.

Now then, about that pesky little thing called Nationalism .

I had a classmate in high school who had an insane thing for guys in the army, navy or air force. It didn’t matter which country they were from or if they could do up their shoelaces without a manual. She’d go for anyone in a uniform. Back then I thought it was weird, but now I can see where it comes from. I can see how it plays with people’s minds and push countries to do things that a lot of us don’t understand. It’s responsible for launching a thousand ships ( not because of anyone named Helen), deploying hundreds of men to barren wastelands on the other side of the world to engage in imaginary wars and accidentally shooting little kids dragging pails of water back to their families. it instills a sense of pride in people (which I and a lot of others consider false, but do what you like with it), and as a rather proud liberal leftie type, I want people to do exactly what they like if it makes them happy. Jump off of cupboards while playing Captain America, buy an Aston Martin before your fortieth birthday, believe that fairies live in trees and leave cookies for em at night, start your day by having a look at the astrology section of the newspaper, stand up anytime your national anthem is played, what have you. People should be allowed to do whatever they like.

As long as it doesn’t influence public legislation .

Religion is pretty high up on that list too, (in case you hadn’t noticed yet), but I’ll get to that one later. it’s standing in line alright, but I’ve got to deal with the thing that’s slammed up against the glass window at my counter.

Where does Nationalism come from?

I don’t know if this is coming from years of reading and dissecting books, essays, poems and basically anything that was written down (except menus perhaps) mostly by people who are no longer alive, but i’d like to think that nationalism evolved from a need to protect primordial human social groups. The gregarious nature of human beings evolved into nationalism on a larger level, but it obviously took centuries. Living in groups protected small social units from predators and the forces of nature, allowed them to reproduce enough to keep the species alive, and came with the bonus of evolving, mutating and weeding out genes and traits unfavourable to the progress of humanity.

Unfortunately, one of them was nationalism. Obviously, nationalism was born in the period before civilisation, but learned how to walk when countries were formed, borders drawn and empires and kingdoms were built. I suppose you could mark it down to the build up to the first World War, the opening act, with the actual band coming on stage during World War II. It makes you believe you have a connection with the people you happen to live around , by absolute events of chance, and it tells you that other such groups are not as well off as yours. It starts from villages and cities and then slowly builds its way up to the country and in some unfortunate cases, nations themselves.

At this point I’m going to add an asterisk and a footnote, just like you do when you’ve run out of room on exam papers. I see many hands in the air and I know what you’re going to ask me. It’s something that people struggle to understand and come to terms with even today, and it could be just about anyone from the milkman who comes in at five every morning and makes enough of a ruckus to wake you up, to your rather confused parents with knitted eyebrows staring at you across the table and wondering if that Masters in Literature was a mistake, or even your local MP who hands out free bottles of Glenfiddich to anyone who votes for him.

There is a difference between nation and country, but they’re both arbitrarily defined if you look at them individually. Countries only have borders because someone was asked to draw them. Australia chose to stick with geometry and share perfectly square or rectangular pieces of chocolate to all the kids playing on their street, India and Pakistan have a rather famous story about their borders being based on the imaginary (yes, I said imaginary) Radcliffe line, and Mexico and Texas fell out; tired of an on and off relationship and broke up for good. A country is a political entity, which can apparently be defined based on just about anything, but a nation is a cultural and socio-political concept.

Being part of a nation means getting everyone who speaks the same language, or subscribes to the same set of religious beliefs, who’ve got the same royal family (I’m looking at you, Commonwealth), to be on your team. Everyone else is just supposed to be pummelled to death on the field while you get a golden cup for sticking together. In essence, that’s why soccer matches draw hooligans with multicoloured hair who scream and yell and paint their bodies with their national flags, and this is why Joe Public wants to prove himself as a man and as a good _____ (insert nationality here) by pulling a trigger on a person he has been conditioned to hate. Basically, Uncle Sam is like Santa Claus for adults, except nobody believes that he isn’t real.

Let’s look at good old Benedict Anderson now, whose last name often becomes Arnold to Presidents, Eurovision, Korean pop stars and that little kid who wears a flag on his lapel and looks at you like you’ve just suggested that two and two equal a tomato.

Here’s a direct quote from the book, thank Google and proceed to read it very  carefully.

“It is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion. Renan referred to this imagining in his suavely back-handed way when he wrote that ‘Or l’essence d’une nation est que tons les individus aient beaucoup de choses en commun, et aussi que tous aient oublié bien des choses.” With a certain ferocity Gellner makes a comparable point when he rules that ‘Nationalism is not the awakening of nations to self-consciousness: it invents nations where they do not exist.’ The drawback to this formulation, however, is that Gellner is so anxious to show that nationalism masquerades under false pretences that he assimilates ‘invention’ to ‘fabrication’ and ‘falsity’, rather than to ‘imagining’ and ‘creation’. In this way he implies that ‘true’ communities exist which can be advantageously juxtaposed to nations. In fact, all communities larger than primordial villages of face-to-face contact (and perhaps even these) are imagined. Communities are to be distinguished, not by their falsity/genuineness, but by the style in which they are imagined. Javanese villagers have always known that they are connected to people they have never seen, but these ties were once imagined particularistically-as indefinitely stretchable nets of kinship and clientship. Until quite recently, the Javanese language had no word meaning the abstraction ‘society.’ We may today think of the French aristocracy of the ancien régime as a class; but surely it was imagined this way only very late. To the question ‘Who is the ‘Comte de X?’ the normal answer would have been, not ‘a member of the aristocracy,’ but ‘the lord of X, ‘the uncle of the Baronne de Y,’or ‘a client of the Duc de Z.’

I wanted to highlight that in red, but it would seem I haven’t quite figured it out, so we’ll leave that one for later. This is the equivalent of my mum learning how to use the internet. When she first got her hands on a computer and learned how to send (and I use the term loosely) emails, the first four would always be blank. And if she’d scrolled down the page, she’d panic because she thought the email she’d been writing for the last 30 minutes with a word count rivalling a novella had been lost.

Moving on.

Perhaps it is premature of me to say that nationalism is the only reason why wars are fought and why some people spend their twenty fifth birthday in a small urn on their mothers’ mantles rather than at the local pub doing Jaeger bombs with their friends. I’m not saying that’s the only alternative to enlisting in the armed forces, I’m just saying that nobody should be either compelled or brainwashed to fight a battle that isn’t even theirs in the first place. It’s between two world leaders and two imaginary, abstract concepts that have unfortunately manifested and spread through every country you can think of like MRSA.

In my opinion, it’s a combination of factors that lead to war and as much as I don’t like labels, I will count myself as a hippie when I say nationalism and war are the most uncivilised ideas that ever existed in the very short time that human beings have been on this pale blue dot. I don’t think civilians should be taught to hate other countries with or without reason, I don’t think men and women in the armed forces are to be admired- I feel sorry for them because they’ve been brainwashed and that there’s nothing me or anyone else can do to make them see that setting the table with your significant other is a better use of your time than lying flat in a foxhole with lice and bugs in your hair, fighting a war that isn’t really anyone’s.

Yes, I know what they say. No atheists in foxholes.

I’d like to hope there won’t be any foxholes in the decades to come, but I’ll be sitting on someone’s mantle and judging people who use those fake blue cigarettes and kid themselves that they’re going to live a little longer because their smoke lights up.

Nationalism equals anti immigration policies equals mad, angry crowds of civilians and armed forces killing just about anyone equals… a good number of things.

But come to think of it, as nationalism will play a rather large role in the extinction of the human race, I’m rooting for it.

The Earth would do marvellously well without us on it. Well, before we’ve learned everything there is about space, black holes, the space time fabric and the long standing petition I’ve been meaning to hand out that will posthomously knight Oscar Wilde.

That’s all going to be in the future. For now, I’m just going to put the quill down.

All images courtesy of Google.



Smart people get a lump of coal for Christmas

Well, not really. Not literally at least. Readin’ this thing on the BBC that said people with a higher IQ were prone to higher levels of anxiety, OCD and other mental illnesses which in turn affected their careers, personal relationships and overall well being.

High or above average IQ (especially verbal proficiency, which pushes you over the cliff faster than other kinds of IQ according to said report)- check.

Mental illness- check, for… let’s call her Jackie. You remember her, the type II Bipolar kid I know.

Messed up personal life- check. For me. (yes I’d like to think I have a fairly above average IQ) Well, not really messed up. It’s complicated, just like everyone else’s. But I do know I’m not one of those that can’t go a day without hanging off of the hand of some Old Spice Armani idiot to drive away their fear of being alone. I’m quite happy alone, just as I would be in a good (read: functional) relationship. Anyway, that’s saying too much. I attribute it to my highly developed verbal skills.

Career- meh, in and out right now. Had one, progressed, got another job, Jackie had to switch that around because of you know what, and now I’m going back to uni so I can teach teenagers about The Importance of Being Earnest. Fingers crossed I don’t have to erase this plan from the books and scribble another one in its place.

Am I happier than people who can’t string two words together to make a sentence? I don’t know. I’ve never asked them. They seemed happier wherever I went, but it was about trivial things like helium filled balloons that made you sound like whatshisname and the Chipmunks, or snowflakes; things like that. I’m not saying these things don’t make me happy, I love looking at the symmetry that snowflakes bring, I like the first day of autumn and looking up to see Betelgeuse and wondering if it’ll go off any second. Does that really mean I’m not as happy as people less intelligent than I am? This of course, I’d like to reiterate, based on the premise that I have an above average or near high intelligence.

So- because people like Jackie and I are smarter than a lot of other people, without that sounding very stuck up, does that mean we get a lump of coal in our metaphorical Christmas Stockings?

Do we not get promoted because we work hard the whole year instead of water cooler trousers who only work hard when it matters? Do we get not get jobs because we’re considered overqualified?

Do we suffer when it comes to personal relationships because we think things over too much, as compared to less intelligent people who make decisions based on their feelings?

Does intelligence lose to emotions in that little boxing ring we sometimes call life?

Are we supposed to ignore well thought out decisions and an endless number of pros and cons lists and fly three thousand miles to see someone, adrenaline rush in hand, without an inkling of whether or not they might reciprocate our feelings? Tell me if you got a pair of socks for Christmas.

I think I’m getting a lump of coal.

All images courtesy of Google.


Is there a new kind of Hippie in the 2000s and 2010s?

And yes, I’m gonna start exactly where you think I’m gonna start.
What is a hippie anyway? I don’t know if I consider myself one because there are certain lifestyle traits that come with the label that I refuse to make room for in my life, but who is a hippie anyway? And what better time to ask this question than the time that I feel is most like the period just before World War II. Multiple wars, economic crises, new superpowers and of course, an arms race. In movies, hippies are often referred to as “Bleeding pacifists.” (Is that a line from The Imitation Game?)
I think I would be alright with that label.
Moving on.
Webster, and Oxford, what d’you say?
Oxford’s gone with the more conventional route I’d say:

(Especially in the 1960s) a person of unconventional appearance, typically having long hair and wearing beads, associated with a subculture involving a rejection of conventional values and the taking of hallucinogenic drugs.

Webster, you’ve got your hand up. Yes?

: a usually young person who rejects established social customs (such as by dressing in an unusual way or living in a commune) and who opposes violence and war; especially : a young person of this kind in the 1960s and 1970s

And Webster has it. That’s what I think a hippie is. It’s not just about Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds or Puff the Magic Dragon (still great songs no matter what anyone says), it’s about opposing violence and war. When was Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities published? Let’s have a look and see when, but I know that’s when the pacifist in me woke up and danced on the beach like a person who has lost all sense of the word sanity.

About Benedict Anderson and Imagined Communities.

First published in 1983, additional chapters in a 1991 edition and a new revision in 2006.

So a little after the girls handing soldiers flowers period.

There has never been a period when the human race has seen a dearth of war. Maybe it’s just me but I can feel it in all the bones in my raggedy body….it feels like a world war is looming on the horizon. Before I predict the extinction of the human race, let’s look at the conditions before world wars, I or II, or both.

1.Economic depression, check. Let’s not talk about the obvious EU crisis. The US is hanging on, very determined. Asia’s booming, and why I said that will be very clear in the next sentence.
2.New superpower(s): In my opinion NASA should just send a satellite into orbit bearing the words “Earth: Made in China.”
3.Fall of the League of Nations: Sound familiar, UN? difficult decisions vetoed in the Security Council, overwhelming numbers of refugees ( incidentally the UNHCR has stated that refugee numbers are higher now than they ever were before or during World War II. ).
4.Rise of right wing fascism: I was watching an episode of Hard Talk on the BBC iPlayer.
Hardtalk is in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia Herzegovina, to mark the centenary of the start of World War One. Stephen Sackur talks to Karl von Habsburg – the grandson of the last Habsburg Emperor. It was the assassination of his great uncle Archduke Franz Ferdinand in June 1914 that set in motion the Great War. Are similar tensions once again on the rise in Europe?

I’m not the only one who thinks so… Right wing parties are winning votes from the left and the right (couldn’t resist that one, it was right there)

In the UK, no need for introductions Mr.Farage. Enter the National Front in France and the BJP in India. Also coming to play are the Sweden Democrats, the Danish People’s Party and possibly the Pegida party in Germany. They’re benched for now.

Ah yes, and the upcoming US elections that are almost certainly going to be painted red by the Republicans.

Did I forget to mention all these political outfits have a rather strong anti- immigrant policy, or was that clear when you were denied a work visa at the Borders?

There’s a really interesting post about the 2014 general elections in the UK. Well worth a read, have a look here:

Given all these rather interesting and fundamentally disturbing factors, what is the hippie of the 2000s and the 2010s to do? Their cultural predecessors didn’t have the exact same environment to work with obviously, but where does the answer lie?
To what? To war, to extreme right wing politics (and by that I mean patriotic war loving arms dealers who’d send their brainwashed men and women into battle in the blink of an eye).
First, we, and the contemporary cousins of the 60s and 70s hippies ought to start with the definition of a nation. (yes, there is a difference between country and nation as a kid that has just learned how to add two and two together will tell you).
How do I see the nation? And who’s with me?
To me, the nation is an idea. An imaginary concept that exists within certain boundaries only because someone says they do. It’s an idea based on the premise that people within geographical borders share cultural and social histories, and it’s this idea that unites people and keeps communities together. I don’t take it rather seriously and I think the world would be a much better place if people loosened up and didn’t take nations as seriously as they do.
Going by that logic, just as Anderson says, the world could consist of nations based on the football clubs that people support. Arsenal Nation, The United Kingdom of Manchester, The Real confederation of Real Madrid… I could go on.
So yes, I’m with Benedict Anderson. Hand up if you are too.
That is the whole problem isn’t it? The whole ISIS thing, people waltzing off to Syria after watching Youtube videos at 3 in the morning, that is what is causing this entire mess isn’t it? The idea of a nation?
So , my question remains. Is the new hippie the person asking all these questions and staying out of war and radicalisation, and not taking to the streets? Is this a generation of silent flower children? Are they actively staying out of political issues because they want to, or are they more pinterest photographers than political progressives?

You tell me.
Or don’t.
All images  (Ultra Hipster and otherwise) courtesy of Google.

8 Ill-advised Reasons for Getting Married, 1792

8 Ill-advised Reasons for Getting Married, 1792

Aha! I’m not the only one.

The History of Love

What would you say makes the most solid foundation for a marriage? Trust? Financial security? The sort of profound and death-defying passion that would make Jack & Rose weep with envy? [let’s face it, they are the modern-day Romeo & Juliet, and I’m only moderately ashamed to admit it.]

It was in the latter half of the eighteenth century that the concept of marrying for love began to gain currency in the English popular mindset, and the younger generation expected a bit more say in who their partner might be. Inevitably, centuries of parental tyranny in these matters meant that alliances negotiated in terms of acreage and titles continued to sweep many reluctant couples to the altar.

Here, however, we have a brilliant print suggesting that many people cannot be trusted with such a momentous decision, giving a range of slightly less conventional – but still remarkably unwise – reasons for marriage. Take…

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Our Generation Did Not Invent Political Correctness, But We Can Fight It

Something to really, really think about.

Claire Lehmann

Political correctness is not a new phenomenon. The fact is that many dangerous questions are currently walled off by the baby boomers who dominate our universities (and large sectors of the media). Today’s culture war likes to scapegoat young people for the rise of the illiberal Left, but the responsibility really lies with the generation who came before us.

Each one of us has the ability to generate a hypothesis. A hypothesis simply comes from asking a question about the world and then using our imaginations to answer it. Almost every advance in human history first came from a person willing to look at the world, or the status quo, from a different angle. But if questions and hypotheses are going to have any impact they must be articulated. Questions have to come out of our minds and into the world around us.

The problem with P.C. is that it…

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We Don’t Need No Thought Control

As a former teacher and a person soon to return to teaching, this post did scare me.

A Buick in the Land of Lexus


Our kids are in CRISIS.

I work with teenagers in an affluent suburban area.

They don’t comprehend what they read. They use calculators to multiply 10 x 10. The average high school junior has no clue what the word “diligent” means.

They write essays resembling those of a 5th grader. About how Albert Einstein discovered electricity.

In tests administered in reading, science and math to 15 year-olds globally, we are behind TWENTY NINE countries in math. And our kids’ performance in reading and science is  not much better. And yet, American investment in education is unrivaled, globally.

Are you scared yet?

We lead the world in the consumption of illegal recreational drugs. And one of the chief sales outlets?


Our teenage suicide rate is the highest in the world.

EVERY DAY there are over 5,400 suicide attempts by kids in grades 7 – 12.

NOW are you scared?

The two places teenagers…

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Why me? Ask me.

This post was written after I spoke to a friend who has Type II Bipolar Disorder. She’s had it for about two and a half years.
She didn’t want to write it herself, but she wanted to get her thoughts out there. This post is a mix of her thoughts on the illness and what I felt when I listened. She has also given me permission to use this post in any of my other pieces.

Here’s what she said, after days of talking and three thousand cups of Earl Grey.


I didn’t want to do it. I really didn’t. It’s got hormonal, teenage type whiny angst written all over it. I didn’t want to talk about it; even with P (her therapist) and certainly not with myself. Certainly not with the other two girls either.
But it all came rushing in to my head at the same time, like a sudden rush of blood as though I’d been hanging upside down on monkey bars or every time I remember the last words my grandfather ever spoke to me.
Why me?
Why do I have Bipolar Disorder?
Why do I need to throw back 9 pills every day and talk to someone about my feelings every Friday, when it rained just a little- not enough to give me an excuse to go home, but enough to drop in your little paper cup of cheap milky tea and annoy the hell out of you. Some people say it’s beautiful.
I don’t see it.
So yes, why me? Why do I have to be stuck with this?
Of course the answer is “nobody knows.” Cause they really don’t and neither do I. I can’t blame em. I understand it logically. But I can’t reconcile with it emotionally. Perhaps if they removed that part of my brain- the amygdala, probably- i’d be fine. No more breaking things when you get angry and no more shutting yourself in your room for 3 weeks and switching off your phone.
No having people look at you strangely when you sit in a long corridor waiting for the nice psychiatrist with the big bag of pills to call you in. No more waking up everyday and wondering if how I feel is going to change, and how much it’s going to change. No more taking extra meds to make it through class or work, no more falling asleep early because of the meds and not handing in papers. No more wondering if I’ll have to quit another job.
No more of ‘no warning signs.’ I don’t want a warning sign. I don’t want any sign at all.
I just want to be…normal? Is that what it is? Am I not normal because I’m Bipolar?
Me: This brings to mind a number of cultural and historical references of two opposites of the same coin, two polarities of the same person or the same entity. The Roman god Janus, Jekyll and Hyde even counts in my opinion and I’m sure you will agree once you look at it through the lens of bipolarity. Even in things like Harry Potter, although once you want to see something you see it whether or not it is there. I’m stepping on the toes of Oscar Wilde’s speech when he was convicted of indecency under the 1890 Labouchere amendment.
For some reason I need no excuse to bring up Oscar Wilde’s indictment. Or the Marquess of Queensbury’s infamous libellous note that he sent to Oscar Wilde, that had a very famous spelling error in it. Look it up.
“You just have a- a problem.” said Harry.
“I do not forget- professor Snape made me the wolfsbane potion every month. I could curl up in my office, harmless, while not in my human state. I was just a harmless werewolf.” said Lupin.
HIs other side, yes. HIs other side that often put himself and those around him in danger. Sounds a lot like the confidentiality clause in the agreement between mental health care providers and patients.
One of three circumstances in which psychiatrists can or are obligated to reveal the nature or existence of a mental illness is when the patient puts either his or her life in danger, or endangers someone around them. I’ve signed many of those babies. Can do it with my eyes closed.
On one hand I know I shouldn’t be complaining. I know I’m better off than a lot of people out there. People who share my condition but are in worse health, people who share my condition and cannot access healthcare, and people who don’t share my condition but aren’t as fortunate as I am. The law of large numbers or a chance occurrence with no meaning attached to it, those are the circumstances of my birth. That sounds like I’m an important person, you know, globally. ‘Course I’m not. I’m happy with that.
Anyway, I digress.
I hate saying these things. I’ll deal with it. Course I will. Then why am I so angry…sometimes?
Everyone is, right? Everyone should be I suppose. I don’t want to ask them…and I don’t want to tell.
Me: I don’t see this as a test obviously. Atheist. Don’t see this as an evolutionary landmark. Genetic predisposition to mental illness is definitely something that homo sapiens sapiens needs to weed out. It just doesn’t make sense, evolutionary.

So there’s going to be a point of time in human evolution where there won’t be people like me at all. That’s a good thing I guess.
Is that supposed to make me feel better? Is that supposed to make me feel special now?

I’ll tell you why I’m angry. And why my train of thought is so disconnected.
I’m angry because it’s the natural response to something like this.
That makes me normal in a way… doesn’t it?

Image credited to: iesnoth on Deviant Art

I don’t like babies. I don’t understand em. But I want to help kids. Teenagers, whatever you wanna call em.


It’s not very complicated, and at the same time, it is. It’s like a secondhand book. You’ve got that book you’ve always wanted, but someone else made a few notes or stuck a dried out flower between the pages. So you have the book, and at the same time it’s not really yours on some level.

Perhaps I’m pushing it too much. But here goes.

Yes, i’ve been weird about babies for as long as i can remember. I’ve always known that i don’t want em and there’s something about babies that i just don’t understand. That’s completely fine and that whole ‘maternal instinct’ is something i just don’t buy into. it’s alright if a few women don’t want kids.

Anyway, I digress. I’m studying to be a teacher, a proper one, not like the stuff I’m doing now- yeah i’m still teaching but it’s not really at a school and it’s not a proper green apple on the desk, meeting parents kind of teacher ; but that’s where i want to be. . At high schools where kids will hate me and pass notes to each other about how much they heart and LoL various things instead of paying attention to ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade.’ That’s the dream.

The paragraph i just wrote is possible because i have parents who sent me to the best schools, let me go to any universities i want and study anything from that third witch in Macbeth to why William Wordsworth wandered lonely as a cloud. I’m getting my third degree in a year , and I’m writing this sentence and every single one before it on a computer worth 50 school lunches in some part of the world. Probably one that can’t imagine a computer or a roof over their heads all being possible.

But I could. And i did.

Why is that important? Good question. And no it won’t begin or end with god.

I pride my intellectual ability. it’s one of the reasons i’ve enjoyed and will enjoy being a teacher. Call it conincidence (I wouldn’t), chance or the law of large numbers, but i was born in a family that let me explore my intellectual curiosity as far as my imagination could take me; the Oort cloud of intellectualism let’s say. If it weren’t for them i’d probably still be smart, but i’d be rummaging for books in skips, or dead, or staring enviously at a kid who has a first edition of The Picture of Dorian Gray as i mopped the floor of his room. I could be anywhere, doing anything else.

There are other me’s out there. Kids who want to learn, but can’t. Kids who have a million questions but don’t have anyone to answer them. Ninety nine percent of the people i meet are either idiots or egoists, but this one time i will make an exception. If there is one thing in the world sadder than burning books, it is the stamping out of curiosity, intellectualism being crushed, and all hope for just good old fashioned learning and books being torn to pieces. That’s why i want to be a teacher.

And some day, if i can, i’m going to find a kid or a teenager and give them the opportunities i had. If i have the money, I’ll let them choose things in life rather than life choosing things for them. i am weird around babies and i don’t want kids at all, but i wouldn’t say not to an afternoon discussing Chaucer or quasars with a kid who wants to go to college. And i want to see the look on his face when i tell him he can.

Allen Ginsberg: One of the greatest poets of all time, just not in classrooms.

It happened to me in my final year as an English undergrad, it probably happened a few more times after I graduated, not just at my uni, but at a range of other ones too. The man who gave us Howl ( I especially like the version that James Franco narrates) was unceremoniously thrown out of our classrooms, his poems on crumbled balls of paper and his name stricken from our textbooks.

Most recently, perhaps we can call it the long running Ginsgate or the anti-Ginsberg brigade or any other clever names someone out there can think of, raised its head at the South Windsor High School in Connecticut.The culprit:  Please Master . The unnamed teacher in question has been put on paid leave because the parents “were not amused” by their children being exposed to material that describes gay sex. My final year at undergrad went in a different direction: it was Howl that was given the sack. We were allowed to read Simone de Beauvoir and Julia Kristeva, but Allen Ginsberg always got the boot. Often, (more often than I know perhaps) Ginsberg is treated like the Collective Soul of grunge and alternative rock, or the Turkey of the EU. Perhaps Ginsberg is like the dandelion, some people love it and love instagram-ing photos of themselves blowing dandelions into the coincidentally perfect wind; other people hate ’em and whack ’em for the weeds they think they are.

Another kind of Undesirable #1 : not welcome in classrooms.

Whatever Ginsberg may be, he’s one of my personal heroes and that’s even before the movie came out. I ask myself why he’s constantly banned in schools and universities across the world. Sappho managed to find lesbians on the aptly named Greek island of Lesbos; I read Adrienne Rich as an undergrad and she was also included as material for tests; we read extracts from Gloria Anzaldua and even W.H. Auden, Francis Bacon- better known for his essays than his adventures on street corners lets say. I learned and loved poetry of all sorts and Ginsberg tops that list. I wish I could write half as he did. But that’s a different story tucked away for a different time.

So why can’t parents and schools come to terms with Ginsberg? Is it because he is so blatantly open about his lifestyle and the LGBT movements and the Beat Generation of the ’50s? Well that’s not all he wrote about is it; does the name Moloch ring a bell? Ginsberg was not just a gay poet or a Beatnik- his poems travelled through the streets of capitalism and communism. Who runs America?, he wrote. The terms in which I think of Reality, he wrote. We Rise on Sunbeams and Fall in the Night, he wrote.

In Howl, he wrote:

who burned cigarette holes in their arms protesting 
   the narcotic tobacco haze of Capitalism, 

In Who Runs America, he wrote:

Oil millions of cars speeding the cracked plains
Oil from Texas, Bahrein, Venezuela Mexico
Oil that turns General Motors
revs up Ford
lights up General Electric, oil that crackles
thru International Business Machine computers,
charges dynamos for ITT
sparks Western Electric
runs thru Amer Telephone & Telegraph wires
Oil that flows thru Exxon New Jersey hoses,
rings in Mobil gas tank cranks, rumbles
Chrysler engines
shoots thru Texaco pipelines

blackens ocean from broken Gulf tankers
spills onto Santa Barbara beaches from
Standard of California derricks offshore. 

Please Master is certainly more vivid, obvious and stark and in your face about Ginsberg’s lifestyle and/or affairs. Perhaps I’m going against myself but not quoting the poem here, and as cliched as this may sound, Ginsberg was more than just a gay poet. He played the role of the puppeteer and wove in and out of social movements and socio-political change; he gave those of us who were born much, much after the 50s a window into prejudices that have unfortunately crept into today’s political and social systems as well. Pigeonholing Ginsberg as a ‘gay poet’ is much like saying Brian Cox is a TV presenter. Or like saying that the assignation of archduke Franz Ferdinand was the sole cause of Word War I . Or like saying that Nigel Farage is just a former banker (and I’ve got another word to describe him that does rhyme with ‘banker’). You get the idea.

Second point- why do lesbian poets seem (for lack of a better word, and I’m definitely going to have a good think about this one) less threatening to academicians and classrooms alike? Is that like the same way that lesbians relationships are considered normal, even ‘attractive’ on a much higher level than gay relationships? A lesbian woman is (I hate using the word ‘hot’, so I won’t) attractive to both genders, but gay men aren’t on the same level. Something must be wrong with them, they’re not man enough, they’re not as good as straight men; those are the right answers aren’t they? Is that why lesbian poetry is alright, but gay poetry is unnatural and unintelligible. Madam Butterfly might also fall into this category perhaps. I know the next person I’m going to mention was not a poet and is another personal hero of mine, but Alan Turing was also a victim of this phenomenon that is narrower than the Pope’s views on birth control. Turing was subjected to chemical castration, and I agree with Harvey Weinstein and Benedict Cumberbatch that Turing should be honoured posthomously, not pardoned. That’s just one case; another personal hero of mine, Oscar Wilde, wasn’t spared either. He was just slightly better off than Ginsberg, but the picture of Dorian Gray remains a controversy to this day.

At the end of it all, this is just an angry rant by someone who hopes that teachers will be more liberal, governments and policies more inclusive, and people less judgmental. Yes, some might consider me a barefoot-running-in-the-grass and handing out dandelions to soldiers and holding candles for victims of patriots, but there is one question that remains standing at the end of the day.

Why is gay poetry not subjected to the same parameters as its lesbian counterpart? Why aren’t gay and lesbian poets and people not held to the same standards?

Why is Allen Ginsberg being thrown out of classrooms all over the world?

City Lights – where it all began. And where it all came undone.

All images courtesy of Google.

I’m out.


Using Desensitization to solve everyday or major problems. Or symptoms of anxiety and other unwanted emotions.

That’s a long title, but I had to fit everything in. Had no other choice.

Short of using Kolinahr to suppress feelings, desensitization or undoing of classical conditioning is the next best thing if you ask me.

I did actually google “how to suppress emotions” once, because I thought that’s what I was supposed to do in a particularly difficult situation. I thought it would make things better. I thought it was the right thing to do. Now I know that I wasn’t doing myself any favours by choosing to stay in that situation, and it doesn’t seem as severe in hindsight. Let’s not go there. Rant done.

So , here I (or we) am. Using classical conditioning and desensitization to suppress memories. To stop recollecting them often, and gradually not at all.

Apparently the first bit is creating a hierarchy of anxiety. Diving in, 1 being the mildest and 10 being code red.

1. Losing my friends. In all fairness this has happened before and I don’t particularly think of it as a disturbing situation to be in.

2. Being unemployed. Will need stronger anti anxiety meds for this one, stronger than the prescription ones I’ve got now.

3. Recollecting memories that I don’t want to anymore. This is a particularly difficult one for me, and I do try. Sometimes it catches me off guard and comes flooding in, that’s when I take a deep breath and swallow my tears back into my eyes. Don’t let a single one slide down my face. Not a single one.

4. Losing cognitive function, or even temporarily impaired cognitive function.

If it gets worse, this one’s a very real and very scary possibility. I can’t let that happen. And I hate that I can’t control it.

5. I’m completely peaceful right now, despite everything that’s going on. If you knew, perhaps you’d expect me to OD on my meds and find myself in the mad house against my will, which very nearly happened about two weeks ago, perhaps three, but I’m not. For the first time in a very, very long time, I’m really peaceful right now. I can breathe, and it feels good just to breathe. I don’t have to worry about text messages going out or coming in, I don’t have to worry about who’s calling whom and how long we haven’t spoken, who has to meet whom how often and where, who has to tell whose friends and family, who likes whom best and who expresses what to whom first or second, who has to sleep where and who does what. I don’t have to worry about any of these things and I don’t want this to go away. I want this intact, this little bubble, I don’t want it to be broken. So if anyone tries to force their way in, old or new, I’ll pack up and go some place else. My little peaceful bubble is the most important thing in my life right now.

Hierarchy of anxiety. Check.

The next step is apparently imagining each situation from the list, interspersed with a few minutes of closing your eyes and breathing. That last one is what most people would call meditation I suppose, but I don’t like that word for some reason.

Imagine the situation ’til it becomes tolerable. If it’s tolerable in your head, it’s tolerable when you open your eyes.


Closing my eyes.

Before I delve right in, all images are courtesy of Google.

Deep breaths now.