My scientist father wasn’t terrifically fond of Christmas and when he was alive, would regularly say around this time of year: “I’d like to go to sleep and wake up when it’s all over.”
As my father’s daughter, I know exactly how he felt. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, exasperated and stressed at this time of year. Not only by the expectations we impose on ourselves but also by the pressures advertisers impose on us. The barrage of advertising urging us to not only consume, but to increase our consumption, is one I find particularly offensive. Yes, I know sales drive the wheels of our market economy, but I can’t help thinking we’re getting this all wrong.
And what is it about Christmas dinners? Depicted in all those ads for puddings and turkeys as a joyful gathering, the reality is often the opposite. Thanks to all that emotionally manipulative merchandising, so great is our expectation for happiness that we can’t help but be disappointed.
In Robert McKee’s fabulous writing bible – ‘Story’ –this is called ‘the gap between expectation and result.’
This gap – created when internal desire encounters the antagonist of external reality – is often a turning point – a character-defining moment, a chance for transformation, a recipe for disaster or all of the above. It’s a place where a story teller finds the ripe (and sometimes festering) fruits of inspiration. In this gap – which is often a metaphorical canyon – things get interesting.
So, in the spirit of giving, realism and that gap between expectation and result, I offer you this alternate Christmas menu:
Yes, indeed. That archaic word, which simply means someone who doesn’t’ follow the dominant religion, is loaded with dysfunctional, medieval baggage. It also means free thinker, non-conformist and dissenter. Sounds like a description of most authors and artists!
Christmas also means books, travel and time to read. Weightless eBooks are perfect for travelers, so here’s a chance to grab a discounted/free copy of the acclaimed The Infidel’s Garden and load it on to your device.
After all, what better time to read a page-turning story about the need for peace between the world’s different faiths and explore the gentler, more sensuous side of Islam?
Indie publishers rely heavily on reviews for sales, so if you do download The Infidel’s Garden, this author would greatly appreciate a review on Amazon or Goodreads or whatever platform you choose. The result of this will be even more Christmas good will, karma, positive vibes and oxytocin surges. And of course, the force will also be with you.
Click on the link to travel to Amazon and get The Infidel’s Garden.
Why indeed? It’s something to dwell on as we move into The Season of Massive Consumption.
Along with eating meat when we know we can get protein from more environmentally sustainable sources, here’s a smattering of other things we do out of habit and/or tradition.
Yes, yes, I know – some of these issues are fraught with convoluted legal, ethical, economic and cobwebby religious constraints – but from this subversive pragmatist’s point of view, they make no sense.
Euthanasia. While we put our pets down when they are old and/or suffering, the legal systems and moral codes in most countries prevent us from doing the same to people who are terminally ill and have expressed a wish to die. Why, when it comes to terminal illness, do we treat our pets better than we treat our fellow humans?
Blood Sport. What is it about killing beautiful, noble and free animals that gives some people such a thrill?
As Socrates said: ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’.
Writers and artists – individuals whose professions revolve around this very examination of the human condition – through choice or temperament, often prefer to hover on the outskirts of society and watch the world from a distance. Grist for the creative mill comes from observations that much human behaviour is ruled by vanity, social conditioning, fear of rejection and a desire to conform, imitate and impress peers.
Governments and legal bodies often reflect our breeches of common sense on a grander scale. So continuing on with my list:
Fossil Fuel Dependence. Why in sunny Australia is the government not offering more business subsidies and solar incentives to support clean energy?
Drugs and Drink. Why is alcohol – the cause of countless deaths – legal, while marijuana is still in many countries criminalised?
Smoking. Given the obvious link between health problems and smoking why on earth do tobacco companies still exist?
I welcome your additions to my list.
Meanwhile, SETI continues its search for signs of other civilisations in the universe. To date this quest has revealed nothing but utter silence (except that single ‘Wow’ signal). This raises the question: Is there intelligent life out there? Or have we got this the wrong way round?
Perhaps there’s no technologically advanced civilisation out there dumber than us. Perhaps, just like the Vulcans in Star Trek, before they make contact, advanced alien species are waiting for humanity to pull itself together and discover the warp-drive of common sense.
They may also be waiting for us to cotton on and eat more insects.
After all, those delicious crustaceans (lobsters, scallops, prawns) we eat are really just bugs from the sea.
Back to those cute animals and the questions posed at the beginning of this post. Aside from the initial yuk factor of insect consumption (and BTW, what is more yukky than eating the red bleeding flesh of a dead animal?), if you have a rational answer that doesn’t involve tradition, laziness, habit or the fact that bacon tastes good, then I’d love to hear it.
My guess is I will hear nothing but utter silence.
Press on the link demon above for more discussions on the future of food:
As we enter another brutal flea season here in sunny, humid Sydney, I’d like to share a piece of parasite-inspired enlightenment.
If you are – like me – allergic to and revolted by those bloodsucking little bastards, I hope you find this post of some help.
A few summers ago, before the family departed on holiday, anticipating unwelcome housemates of the blood-sucking kind, I set off flea-bombs. When we returned, we were greeted by an army of hungry, pesticide-resistant fleas. A combination of daily vacuuming, constant laundry, diligent cat flea treatments and more bombings failed to bring the plague under control.
Violence had led to resistance. This frustrating failure of military might culminated in an epiphany. I needed a more subtle strategy to defeat the enemy. Fleas, I noticed during this plague, are drawn to light and bright surfaces like white socks and paper. In that moment, I understood I needed to exploit their weakness.
My plan involved a lure comprising cheap solar path lights, shallow white soup bowls filled with water and a squeeze of detergent (no bubbles – the little sods can use them as life-rafts). Each night I perched a light over the strategically placed bowls so the water glowed with an ethereal blue light. Come morning at the height of the flea season, I would find, in each bowl, up to thirty fleas suspended in their watery graves.
No manufacturer of pesticides will ever offer such handy hints, so let me repeat these ingredients:
Shallow soup bowls filled with water and a squirt of detergent
Bright night lights (solar powered lights are perfect)
I have come to regard this victory as one of great philosophical significance. It demonstrates that enticement is a far more potent method of conquest than military force. For aren’t we human beings just like those fleas? Driven by desire? Seduced by illusions and buoyed by hope for some kind of material, physical or spiritual fulfilment?
History shows that conquest through gradual seduction and assimilation is far more potent and lasting than military might. Today, after many wars between neighbours and distant lands we have sushi, futons, bratwurst, kebabs, lasagna and baguettes. Andalusian architecture combines the very best of Islamic and Christian concepts of symmetry and harmony. And that’s just the food and architecture. These are all cultural conquests that, hundreds of years ago would have been inconceivable. This is evolution. Of not only genes, but memes.
Isn’t peaceful assimilation wonderful?
Clearly we’re not going to assimilate, Borg-like, with fleas any time soon. Although let it be noted, that insects don’t catch viruses. No flea ever had to take a sick day because of a cold.
Parasite-inspired enlightenment requires great leaps of faith and another ideological flea-jump leads this blogger to contemplate the end of life as we know it. What happens in that moment when we learn that, just like those fleas drowning in their watery graves, it was all just a trick?
Sufis believe that at the moment of death the true purpose of our existence will be revealed. Some theoretical physicists suggest our reality is in fact a five-dimensional hologram emanating from the event horizon surrounding a black hole. Who knows? No one has come back with video footage or written a non-fiction account of their experiences.
In the absence of concrete answers to these existential questions, I’ll live with the illusion that it’s the journey, not the destination, that’s important. So hop to your graves in happiness, you doomed little fleas.
A million thanks to The Historical Novel Society’s A.K. Bell for this wonderful review of The Infidel’s Garden.
I am not a fan of first person narratives in present tense. In my experience, few authors can deliver the richness of character required to lift such narratives, so it was with some hesitation I approached Ms Banwell’s novel. It took two pages – at most – for me to realise that here was a character so complex, so enigmatic, I did not care about narrative person – or tense.
…here was a character so complex, so enigmatic, I did not care about narrative person – or tense.
The Infidel’s Gardenis the story of Soheila, born in Andalucía in the late 15th century. Soheila is a bastard, born of a Moorish mother and an itinerant Christian father. Soheila is raised as a Muslim, but when she is ten, calamity strikes. Everything she took for granted in her life is trampled to dust, and instead she ends up in a Dutch convent, there to be raised as a good Christian, and baptised Marjit. But in her heart, Soheila remains always a Muslim. Always.
The convent, the little Dutch town Hertogenbosch, the interiors of the houses – Ms Banwell presents us with a vivid depiction that teems with as much life as a Brueghels painting. Things smell, there is noise and texture, elaborate meals and a certain Archdeacon Solin, expounding repeatedly on the evil of infidels such as Marjit, now serving as a maid in a wealthy household.
Marjit walks on eggshells, navigating a society replete with bigoted Catholics, the somewhat disturbed Hieronymus Bosch, jealous women – and Pieter. For the first time in her life, Marjit lusts for a man – unfortunately, Pieter is not only the master of the household, he is also a devout Christian.
Things are further complicated when young women turn up murdered. Marjit has reasons to suspect the Archdeacon, but such accusations are dangerous to make – especially if you’re a potential infidel. Marjit’s life takes a turn for the worse – one harrowing experience after the other follows, and as things unravel I am left holding my breath, captivated by Ms Banwell’s complex plotting as much as by her writing.
…I am left holding my breath, captivated by Ms Banwell’s complex plotting as much as by her writing.
A very enjoyable read, from the very first to the last page!
As we watch the Syrian refugee crisis unfold from the safety of our Antipodean couches, it’s easy to point an accusing finger at the perceived cause of this humanitarian tragedy. I mean of course, religion. It’s also tempting to agree with Stephen Fry who, on one of his popular QI episodes, eloquently commented: “Religion. Sh*t on it.”
Extremism, evangelism, child abuse, sky fairies and repressive laws that date back to the dark ages – seriously, who needs all this toxic mind-garbage? Is it any wonder we’ve had enough of the whole damned business? Religion, it seems, has given the world a massive hangover.
Yet ironically, we need more religious thinking, not less. At least, we need more of the positive values that all religions, in their original teachings, foster. Hard as it is to believe in these conflicted times, religions originally developed to civilise humanity. Religion, in its purest, truest form, nurtures virtues such as tolerance, compassion, kindness and cooperation.
We are, after all, connected to one another by something mysterious, wondrous and vastly greater than us. Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking calls this elusive something the Theory of Everything. Others call this God. Or nature. And, just like nature, religions evolve. Just as we have biological diversity, new religions appear to adapt to changing environments. Just like nature, sometimes these mutations are productive. Sometimes they are fatal. The problems begin when some theologians (mostly men) attach archaic social laws to their holy writings and wield these artefacts over the heads of the faithful like giant demolition balls. They use strategic interpretations of some of the more ambiguous scriptural passages to justify discrimination, sectarian divisions and, of course, war. This desire to protect, to seek vengeance and fight over an ideology is also a distinctly masculine take on religion.
So, in the spirit of Stephen Fry, I’d like to refine his faecal target. Sh*t on dogma. Sh*t on all those theologians dragging their violent, discriminatory and irrelevant social laws into the twenty-first century and sh*t on all politicians and religious sects that think differences can be solved by guns and dropping bombs.
Karl Marx once said religion is the opium of the people. I would argue that it should be the oxytocin of the people. Yes, folks. That’s the love and trust hormone. The girl hormone.
As a woman and, according to some religious doctrines, a second-rate citizen, I’d like audaciously to suggest an alternative to solving disagreements with violence. How about developing an oxytocin bomb to deploy over conflict zones? Having researched this idea, I gather, however, such a weapon is a long way off. Oxytocin is ‘context-specific’, which means different people react to it in varying ways. There are also ethical issues – one of major concern being that people might start trusting one another. Now, there’s a worry. So, until this minefield is thoroughly researched, (Google X – please put it on your list) we’re stuck with the male solution to conflict – the war machine.
There is, however, an antidote. I’ll call it, in science speak – the oxytocin meme. Or to put it in a language our Australian drinking culture understands – the spiritual hair of the religious dog.
True religion is an oxytocin meme. There are examples of this everywhere – our own divine Graham Long of the Sydney Wayside Chapel, for example – deploying love bombs where they are needed most. The current Pope, who, despite being head of a patriarchal institution that still thinks it owns women’s bodies, is doing a stellar job of fostering unity and brotherhood among the followers of all the world’s religions. And, of course, there’s the Dalai Lama spreading his memes worldwide.
On the other hand, we see a lack of the oxytocin meme not only in the Syrian conflict, but also in Hungary’s deplorable, inhuman treatment of refugees.
We can all do our little bit to help spread this meme. Twice a week, I teach Baha’i scripture classes at two primary schools on the Lower North Shore. Here, I do my bit to dispel misconceptions (no, you don’t go to church to visit Rapunzel and a mosque is not an insect with wings that buzzes around your ears at night). I teach children about the world’s major religions and focus on the similarities rather than the differences.
Memes may spread more slowly than chemical weapons of mass affection, but seeing the enthusiasm with which children embrace these concepts of love and unity has made me hopeful. So, I’ll continue to administer the spiritual hair of the religious dog and deploy love bombs to my beautiful students – the world’s future peacemakers. In the spirit of unity and inclusiveness, I hope you too, in your own unique way, will share and spread the meme.
As I woke up this morning in my warm comfortable bed, I thought of all those people on the other side of the world displaced by war. Like many, I’m haunted by that image of the dead Syrian toddler on the Turkish beach.
When victorious images of gun-toting soldiers and fighter jets blowing up enemy targets are replaced by pictures of dead babies and devastated families hurling themselves onto train tracks, we’re finally seeing the truth of war.
Here in the Antipodes – so far away from the conflict – it’s easy to feel helpless. There’s a half world between us. What can we do over here to make a difference?
Violence is clearly not the solution to this extraordinarily complex problem. So I’ve compiled a list of ways we can help – some take only the click of a mouse; others require a little more commitment.
Lobby your governments to up their refugee quotas. Refugees enrich communities and countries. When was a country ever less by embracing multiple cultures and faiths? Many of the world’s prosperous nations were settled by refugees, pioneers (and in Australia’s case) – convicts. My mum was a WW2 refugee and I like to think she made NZ a better more beautiful country for having settled there. So. Have more say in the taxes we pay: more resources for refugees, women and children, less resources for soldiers and bombs.
When refugees arrive in a foreign country, one of the first challenges they face is the language barrier. So, if you’re pondering career options or looking for a change in profession, how about training as a TESOL teacher in your home country? Note to governments – in the light of current events, these courses should be FREE or heavily subsidised.
Welcome and support refugees in your community. Amnesty International has set up this wonderful programme:Welcome Dinner Project.
Use social media. We have tools at our disposal to reach a global audience. So Post. Spread the call to action. Here are a few good hashtags for tweeters. #refugeeswelcome, #refugees,#refugeecrisis. Tweet and retweet.
Let’s turn this tragedy into an opportunity to make the soul of the world grow.
The death of Aylan Kurdi – that little boy who looked as though he was sleeping, but was alone and drowned on a foreign beach because of a man-made war – should not go wasted. Enough of the bombs and the violence. Instead of hatred for death cults and dysfunctional regimes, instead of thoughts of war, please turn your hearts towards love for those who are suffering and your minds towards peace.
Look at the list above. Do something. Make compassion more powerful than war.
Every few days on the blackboard outside my neighborhood café, Sandy, the owner, posts a new gem of wisdom.
Yesterday as I rushed past with my takeaway chai latte, I glimpsed these words: ‘The body is the servant of the mind.’ Which got me thinking: what if the mind is, in turn, the servant of the soul? Now before you think I’m about to get all mystical on you, I’m going to refer to a study on consciousness conducted by the psychologist Benjamin Libet in the 1980s. His experiment revealed that seconds before his subjects had a conscious intention to move a finger, there was a signal in the brain. His results, which have been hotly debated ever since, imply there is a driver behind our conscious thoughts – be it our subconscious or some external force.
Thirty-five years later, when it comes to our own brains, we’re still fumbling about in the dark.
Most of us believe we are masters of our own destiny. So does a belief in our own agency make us behave more morally? If at some point in the future, science proves that we don’t have free will, how might this change the way we treat others?
What an exquisite paradox! The deeper we go down this rabbit hole the more complex it becomes. What do we really mean by free will anyway? Are we just fiddling with semantics? After all, like all life on this planet, we are constrained by our own biology and, in the case of humans, by our cultural indoctrination.
If we do eventually learn we don’t have free will, we may also discover the source of that force that drives us – be it some transcendent self, a collective unconscious or something we don’t even have a name for yet. And when we unravel this mystery, it will turn many religions on their heads and be as life-changing as discovering earth is not the centre of the universe, or communicating with sentient life on other planets.
However, if history is anything to go by, the person or people who discover the true source or impetus behind consciousness may well be ridiculed or professionally/physically assassinated for spreading unrest and corruption. My guess is it’ll take a few hundred years for their ideas to be absorbed into the human mindset.
I doubt however, these epiphanies will come in my lifetime. In the meantime, harbouring the illusion that I do have free will, I’ll continue to post these blogs and buy the best chai lattes in Sydney from Sandy’s café. All while enjoying her complimentary morsels of wisdom.
Anyone who has set up a web site will know about those persistent creepy-crawlies that breed in the warm, inviting spaces of the internet. So it’s time for some digital house-keeping and a dose of cyber-insecticide.
Out in the physical world, most people respect those ‘no advertising circulars’ signs many of us have on our doors or letterboxes. Sadly, the same doesn’t apply to the world of digital real estate.
Despite having a polite sign on my contact page saying: No advertisers. Please. I’ve had emails from entities with convincingly human-sounding names like Brad and Susan offering weight-loss products, ab-builders and services that will increase my hits/improve my site. Sometimes they even arrive with an invitation to unsubscribe when I never subscribed in the first place.
May I just say here, that the last entity I’m going to want to do business with is someone (or something) who disregards or can’t read a simple request sitting right in front of them.
Although I’ll continue to rave about things that fire me up on this site, The Infidels’ Garden now has its very own blog. And to celebrate its launch as well as several five star reviews, the book is FREE for the month of July.
Click on this image to take a trip to its new blog: