A Universal Haiku

Be still; half-close your                                                                        

eyes, and listen to the sound  

of the universe.                                                              

Women Must Work!

Mary Wollstonecraft wrote “A Vindication of the Rights of Women” setting out a practical basis for extending human and political rights to women.

Sojourner Truth – an African American woman born into slavery, made a famous speech in 1851 – “Ain’t I a woman?” A white man said to her that women were inferior because Christ was a man! Such idiocy. You’d think those days were long gone, wouldn’t you? But they’re not.

Elizabeth Blackwell 1821 – 1910 was the first American woman to become a doctor, and we all know of Marie Curie and Helen Keller. But wonderful as these women were, they were only a few.

Someone de Beauvoir wrote the wonderful and fascinating book, “The Second Sex”. All girls and women should read this book. It certainly opened my eyes.  

How much has the world lost because women learned to sew and sing? To bring forth children; to care and love and bow their heads; to cook and clean and iron? How many frustrated brains wearied of the struggle to be heard? Their opinions scorned; indeed forbidden, their menfolk outraged if opposed.

Women who could have been great healers, artists, musicians, scientists, were all lost to the world and posterity. So, women must work, develop their talents, contribute to the world, live their lives.

But . . .  children, and this is a big but! What about the babies, the small ones who cling to mother? All children go through separation anxiety at some stage during their early months. I live beside a creche – I’m sure it’s a good creche, but every morning around 8.00 the children start to arrive. Some of them don’t want to go in. I hear their cries, on and on and on . . .

“I don’t want to. I don’t want to.”

“Daddy, Daddy.”

It seems a lot of fathers have the job of leaving them at the creche. You wouldn’t know who to feel sorrier for; it must take a heavy toll on them. Later in the morning there are only happy sounds. There are swings and slides and bikes and scooters, and several minders. The 3 and 4 year olds are perfectly happy to be there. But there are babies inside, who never get out for air, aged from 6 to 18 months. They are rarely seen, too small to be risked in the play area. Very occasionally the babies are wheeled out and around for a short while.

From 5.30 parents begin to arrive to collect them. Some of them are still there at 6.30.

Women must work, so is there an answer? For society this is the conundrum. Women will always be on the back foot until the structure of society changes completely. It needs to be deconstructed completely. All workplaces should have creches; all workplaces should have facilities for breast-feeding women, or women going through the menopause who need a break, or women with severe period pains. The workplace should encompass and accommodate all, women and children as well as men. Otherwise we will continue with guilty, overworked mothers, children with attachment issues, and men who don’t know how to solve the problem.

Any solutions? Anyone?

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson: the reason why . . .

This is one of my favourite books; I’ve read it twice and am about to begin again. I was looking through the introduction and it was so interesting to read about what started him thinking . . .

” . . . I grew up convinced that science was supremely dull, but suspecting that it needn’t be, and not really thinking about it at all if I could help it. This, too, became my position for a long time.

Then, much later – about four or five years ago, I suppose – I was on a long flight across the Pacific, staring idly out the window at a moonlit ocean, when it occurred to me with a certain uncomfortable forcefulness that I didn’t know the first thing about the only planet I was ever going to live on. I had no idea, for example, why the oceans were salty but the Great Lakes weren’t. Didn’t have the faintest idea. I didn’t know if the oceans were growing more salty with time or less, And whether the oceans salinity level was something I should be concerned about or not. (I am very pleased to tell you that until the late 1970s scientists didn’t know the answers to these questions either. They just didn’t talk about it very audibly.)

And ocean salinity, of course, represented only the merest sliver of my ignorance. I didn’t know what a proton was, or a protein, didn’t know a quark from a quasar, didn’t understand how geologists could look at a layer of rock on a canyon wall and tell you how old it was – didn’t know anything, really. I became gripped by a quiet, unwonted but insistent urge to know a little about these matters and to understand above all how people figured them out. That to me remained the greatest of all amazements – how scientists work things out. How does anybody know how much the Earth weighs or how old its rocks are or what really is way down there in the centre? How can they know how and when the universe started and what it was like when it did? How do they know what goes on inside an atom? And how, come to that – or perhaps above all, on reflection – can scientists so often seem to know nearly everything but then still not be able to predict an earthquake or even tell us whether we should take an umbrella with us to the races next Wednesday?

So I decided that I would devote a portion of my life – three years as it now turns out – to reading books and journals and finding saintly, patient experts prepared to answer a lot of outstandingly dumb questions. The idea was to see if it isn’t possible to understand and appreciate – marvel at, enjoy even – the wonder and accomplishments of science at a level that isn’t too technical or demanding, but isn’t entirely superficial either.

That was my idea and my hope, and that is what the book that follows is intended to do.”

The scientific mind fascinates me; what could it be like to have a mind like that? I watch every show about the universe that comes on the television, every show about the earth and its inhabitants. You know when the programme shows a blackboard covered with numbers and symbols and it makes perfect sense to the scientist? I smile ruefully. I understand very little but am always drawn to them anyway. I shall begin the book – again – straight away.

Random thoughts . . .

Consider the English language – a mixture of Teutonic, Latin and Greek. Recently I read “Mythos” by Stephen Fry; it’s a reader-friendly retelling of the Greek myths and I was astonished to see how many English words are Greek in origin. Any word beginning with ph, like phrase, photo, physical, and other words – grammar, geography, antiques, and millions more.

English is spoken all over the world now, second only to Spanish, and maybe Chinese? I’m not sure. But there is a lot of difference between English as spoken in Ireland, in Britain and in the United States. I sometimes think that if there was no communication at all between these countries for – say – a couple of centuries – each country would end up with a completely separate language. Because the words we use express how we think and what we believe, and we are all surely different.

Language grows and changes all the time anyway. The first poem (anonymous) in a poetry book I had at school goes as follows:

“Sumer is icumen in,

     Lhude sing cuccu!

Groweth sed, and bloweth med,

     And springeth the wude nu –

                                Sing cuccu!”

I have never forgotten it; I hear it in my head from time to time.

What about grammar? There are new verbs around – I seen for I saw; I done for I did; I should have went for I should have gone. And I hear eXpresso when the word is eSpresso, and eC cetera in place of eT cetera. I find these things terribly irritating but I know I am pedantic. And maybe I’m wrong; the point of language is to communicate so perhaps grammar and spelling and pronunciation aren’t that important.

On a lighter note, there are phrases I can’t get my head around. “She’s no better than she should be.” I know what it means – but I don’t get how those words in that order mean what they do. I take the sentence apart but it still escapes me. Another is “Put up or shut up.” I think about that one a lot. I wonder if other languages are like this. I speak Irish but not to the degree that I can examine it in detail.

And then there are double words, like – upset – how does the combination of up and set mean to be distressed? For-give; under-stand; for-get; and I’m sure there are many more like that.

These things puzzle me and I ponder them from time to time. That reminds me of the line from Alice in Wonderland – I’m not sure which character, the Mad Hatter maybe.

“I shall sit here off and on for days and days” – so deliciously ambivalent.

A SOAP-BOX and A POEM

God. It’s all so one-sided. Generally, we are careful not to offend those who believe in a religion, but shouldn’t that work both ways? I get very annoyed when someone asks me if I believe in god – as if god was a given, and you either believed in “him” or not. For me, there is no god or goddess or godhead to be believed in or otherwise and when I give this answer I get two different reactions:

Some people become defensive and really angry and begin to harangue you with arguments to prove the fact of a god; they tell you that one day you will know the truth and that they feel sorry for you. They tell you to look around you, at the wonders of nature, the intricacies of the human body etc.  

Or, they pretend to be amused; they wag a finger at you and laugh and say that god has not forgotten you; worst of all – they promise to pray for you. Their arrogance and complaisance and condescension, their bigotry and utter stupidity is incredible. and it never occurs to them that they might give offence. As my father used to say about these people – they’re as well raving there as in bed.

All the same, when I was a child I did have faith and here is my nostalgic poem:

THERE WAS A TIME 

In the dim, silent church

A glow of votive lamps

Fluttering blue and gold and red

Whispered prayers in corner shrines

Beneath the outstretched hands

Of painted saints

Beads clicking, slowly told

Sundays burst in glory

Sweet choir lifting voice

The Truth sang in my mouth

I filled my eyes with bright

And lustrous threads

The golden flame of candles

Veiling mysteries at the altar

The heavy scent of flowers

Inhaled security

And a weightless peace

In certain knowledge of hereafter

Our hearts were warm, absolved

Beloved of our maker

And safe in the house of God.

Bookish thoughts . . .

The classics: In my opinion many of them should finish half way through. I’m thinking about David Copperfield – shouldn’t it end when Dora dies? I can barely remember the rest of it except that David marries Agnes and lives happily ever after. And what about Wuthering Heights? Does anyone remember what happens after the first Cathy dies? I don’t; of course that could be the influence of old movies which finish at that point. And poor wee Jane Eyre – I have a fondness for books that begin with the main character as a child – but after the wedding fiasco and the fire and the death of Rochester’s first wife, the book seems to lose colour and interest. And then there’s Eugénie Grandet; for me that book ends when her cousin disappears from the story.

I’m sure there are many more like this but that’s all I can think of for the moment. I need to do a trawl around my books!

Endings . . .

Many books have very disappointing endings, especially thrillers. The last few chapters are boring dreary things with the detective/policeman/woman explaining in tedious detail how she/he unraveled the plot. With other genres it’s as if the writer flounders a bit and doesn’t know quite where to finish the tale. But then there are wonderful books with wonderful endings and here are a couple of them:

The Shipping News by Annie Proulx

Quoyle experienced moments in all colors, uttered brilliancies, paid attention to the rich sound of waves counting stones, he laughed and wept, noticed sunsets, heard music in rain, said I do. A row of shining hubcaps on sticks appeared in the front yard of the Burke’s house. A wedding present from the bride’s father . . . Water may be older than light, diamonds crack in hot goat’s blood, mountaintops give off cold fires, forests appear in mid-ocean, it may happen that a crab is caught with the shadow of a hand on its back, that the wind be imprisoned in a bit of knotted string. And it may be that love sometimes occurs without pain or misery.”

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

“And I add my own love to the history of people who have loved beautiful things, and looked out for them, and pulled them from the fire, and sought them when they were lost, and tried to preserve them and save them while passing them along literally from hand to hand, singing out brilliantly from the wreck of time to the next generation of lovers, and the next.”

Ablutions by Patrick de Witt

“I will try to be happy, you think, and your heart and chest feel a plummeting, as in the case of the hurtling rollercoaster, and your heart wants to cry and sob, but you, not wanting to cry, hit yourself hard in the center of your chest and it hurts so much but you drive on, your face dry and remaining dry, though it had been a close call, after all. Time passes and you shake your head. Work will drive you crazy if you let it, you say. You do not speak for a long time after this.”

I can read these books any number of times. Every word is in the right place, the last sentence as important as the first.