Vainglory

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I like this word.

Several of my friendships have been unbalanced because of the vainglory that mushrooms inside humanity. It is as nauseating as it is pitiable to witness the romance of one, narcissistic person with their narcissistc selves. A fascinating insight into the massage of ones ego is this hilarious piece written by Jill O’Rourke:

If you’ve ever watched America’s Next Top Model, you know that it’s a passionate love story between Tyra Banks and Tyra Banks, set against the backdrop of a modeling competition. So imagine what a love affair Tyra can have with herself on social media, a technology that was invented for people to talk about themselves.

Read more: http://www.crushable.com/2013/08/02/entertainment/tyra-banks-twitter-best-funniest-tweets/#ixzz3plto4Xbt

Ah, the love story that permeates most of ones life. The glossy-magazine sheen of facebook selfies and makeup-pouts allow the crying child inside feel as if one is the cover star of Hello magazine, finally.

I love what comment-leaver Darcie says on an article for the Telegraph magazine:

I’ve begun evaluating my motivations when it comes to taking photos with friends and then whether or not to post those photos. Am I trying to capture memories of a special moment so I can revisit them and remember? Or am I thinking about what would look cool on Instagram and prove to others that I’m loved? http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/21/t-magazine/female-bffs-power-couples.html?_r=0

Don’t misunderstand me, there a many forms to manifest ones vainglorious avatar, to spill out as deeply self-involved and annoy others with constant updates of ones self-labelled achievements like an irritating pop-up message onscreen that won’t let you get on with your own work.

Yet the particular brand of self-involvement required to actively create a personality online, an alternate, magazine self, with other virtual, magazine friends, means that less thought, attention and investment is made in the world one lives in.

I’ve found that a major impetus of the vainglory is to simply feel wanted and appreciated:

The desire for fame has its roots in the experience of neglect, in injury. No one would want to be famous who hadn’t also, somewhere in the past, been made to feel extremely insignificant. http://www.thebookoflife.org/your-desire-to-be-famous-and-the-problems-it-will-bring-you/

And so this moving, very honest and pathetic confession by Rachel Vorona Cote below, brings together all the elements of vanity that cause our imbalanced moments. The insignificance and neglect once experienced haven’t been fully examined, understood and accepted, so the only solution is to blame oneself:

“I can’t recall the details of the fight that prompted me to self-harm. I only know that I had angered one of my girlfriends and wanted to punish myself. This wasn’t unusual for me. I have never fought gracefully with women. From the earliest, I felt any misstep on my part carried an elephantine weight. Both shame and pride would burn in my stomach. I was a wretched friend, I would think to myself. No, I was obviously misunderstood. Regardless, I was going to lose her.

I was going to lose her—that was always my fear. My trespass didn’t matter. It was less what I’d done wrong than my paranoia and neediness that would inevitably weary my friend. I would take her departure as a bitter loss, but also as a personal failure. In my adolescence, when my heart thumped to the rhythms of social acceptance, foundering in friendship seemed like the biggest of all recipes for disaster.

…I know that I tend to need my friends in a more urgent way than they typically need me, and this friendship was no different. Her conversation and emails helped make my world more coherent. I had hoped that my company was similarly meaningful to her, and that she missed me too.

…My apologies were like clumsy origami. I hid the shame of my self-punishment inside expansive apologies. I was always apologizing not only for what I had done to injure my friend, but also for my own narcissistic masochism.

As I became more self-aware, I grew a little out of this intensity and myopic narcissism, but not all of it. At 30, I still worry that I’ve wronged or even mildly aggravated someone I love. My sometimes-disproportionate reaction to minor gaffes betrays my fragile sense of self, which I have based too much on the opinions of others.”

I have seen the deer-in-the-headlights expression of women that are as self-involved as this, especially since I lost you and my friendship lists underwent a mass-culling. I have realised the imbalance in my relationships, and confronted those that were far too needy around me. They were just my virtual friends, my facebook-magazine friends. Vainglory threatens to remove us from our human connection to each other and live in a superficial, airbrushed, CV-orientated, botoxed shell of a world.

What it means, I have realised, is that behind the photo-ready fun of a group of girls having coffee, a far more nuanced set of emotions threaten to spill out. Women don’t talk about the pressures of being around each other since individualism became central to our collective philosophy.

Durkheim’s critique on the number of decisions we are weighted with helps us understand how difficult this pressure, this ‘status anxiety’ (as Alain de Botton terms it) can get amongst people with whom you seem, on the surface, to have a great deal in common.

All the time spent around their friends, or posing for pictures together, what is happening is a lot of sizing up, mental arithmetic on numbers (age, weight, height), storing up details, carrying resentments and, eventually, before the friendships die a sudden death, sitting around a table pretending to still like each other.

Words are the Religion

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Your Daddy is dyslexic. His mother and father had both left school by the age of 11, so when he was 14, he had decided that he hated English class. The teacher made him read aloud.

In their home there were tabloid newspapers, and picture books when they had been young. Now, there is an old radio and three televisions. These are the windows into the outside world. They didn’t go to church, and until today never had central heating.

When I met him, in a mosque after walking the Marylebone High Street, the childhood he described was an age away from where we were.

He was only 16 when he began to attend the Sufi circle at his local mosque. This place had provided a balm, a healing for the life he had come from. They chanted ancient words in Arabic, as foreign to him as eating with chopsticks.

I was born, just as he was, a child in a big family calling a council estate my home. The social housing in East London brought together many kinds of people. My English neighbours were alcoholics that had never gotten married, whose children were mistakes. There were petty criminals and scary dog breeders. We, like the other immigrant families, lived among the neglected indigenous population of England.

I was instilled with a deep sense of moral obligation towards God and my family. Our Muslim identity was something we breathed at home, praying together and learning together. Achieving academically was very important.

When we were moved to a better neighborhood, and I attended school in Hertfordshire, that is when I learned what it meant to be different. There was a girl in my class whose father was a Tory MP, another girl whose sister was at Cambridge. Their houses were enormous, with thick carpet and big gardens and lovely bathrooms. I would go home where the 6 of us lived on the first-floor and devour my library books.

On Cultivating Beauty

We’ve bee through such a tragedy, losing you. I cannot moralise it, it is the saddest thing that happened to me.

I am extremely gratified to have the life I do, and for your father, but your stillbirth was a tragedy unlike any other.

We were floating along, helping whoever asked, (you become popular, opening your door to strangers) riding our bicycles because we couldn’t afford a car (telling ourselves we were saving the environment) not establishing roots anywhere, (enjoying our youthful freedom) no structured boundaries and no organisation. And then you began to grow inside me, so I went into over-gear with trying to sort our family out, all the while lingering in my mind was the knowledge that it was probably too late, because a baby was coming and we were behind with planning a more comfortable, stable future. I went to the Job Centre because I was fed up of hearing that unemployment rates have dropped under the coalition government whilst I couldn’t find full time employment for a year after graduating. When I was in the last trimester of pregnancy, I still went to job interviews. I worked another internship and saved the £50 a week for you, to buy you a nice baby blanket and a baby bath. In that time, our floor began to show signs of leaky plumbing and the old, single-glazed windows rattled. Our flimsily-gathered ‘friends’ rang our doorbell at night and I cried. We struggled on, privately renting a first floor flat that wasn’t fit to raise a baby in, and saving nothing every month.

According to John Mirowsky, a sociologist at the University of Texas at Austin, biologically, having a baby is best early on, but the sociological impact is far from ideal.

‘At age 20 or younger, Mirowsky wrote, pregnancy is “more likely to happen out of wedlock, more likely to interfere with educational attainment, and more likely to crystallize a disadvantaged status.” https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/cusp/201211/whats-the-best-age-have-baby

Your presence woke me up to the stark reality of how an impoverished background can crystallise a deprived future, what Russell Brand terms a ‘down-payment on a slow suicide’  http://www.russellbrand.com/death-takes-small-bites/

You woke me up to the life I wanted for my children, free from dependency on the council-housing waiting list I had been on my whole life. During labour, I thought about all this, I thought about struggling and never sending you forward to the education you should be able to access, to the beautiful life I would like to cultivate for you.

It turns out, you were not destined to inhale any beautiful air, because you came into this world born still, but you cultivated beauty in my life, rather than I cultivating it in yours.

I changed rapidly from the grief, I was no longer acquiescent to an unfulfilled existence. My father said the grief would be empowering, and it has been. In ways I will describe here in the future.

Compelling the Tears of Mothers

Whilst laying awake in the small hours of this morning, it occurred to me that, whilst I can narrate this story of our family for you, my little one, I cannot begin to narrate its future.

Compelling me to tears, as a mother, is the fear and grief of my limitations. I have tried to understand and explore our unidentifiable identity, that which is uncategorised and unfamiliar.

Neither side of your family is what you could describe as ‘elite’. Not in India, nor in England. Rather, we are a people that blend and un-blend simultaneously with other classes.

To illustrate, you have, by your father’s side, an ancestor’s name ‘Arthur King’ carved on a War memorial that stands in the town centre. I was thinking about you while I sat looking at it through a window of a coffee shop. He was a man that was of an ordinary class, English and Anglican.

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The memorial says:

‘Remember with thanksgiving the true and faithful men and women of this town and countryside who in these years of War went forth for God and the Right.’

An interesting phrase ‘God and the Right’. The God it mentions, is that the same God your father believed in when he became a Muslim? Is God simply an extension of the ego that is always right?

The way we wage war, and the way we mourn those that fell in battle is telling through every representation, including the war memorials. It is something that I find tries to compel us to cry the tears of mothers, it tries to exploit that sense of responsibility and make us mourn. It is what Susan Sontag wrote about in Regarding the Pain of Others:

The 2003 paperback edition of the brilliant book by Sontag
The 2003 paperback edition of the brilliant book by Sontag

‘To those who are sure that right is on one side, oppression and injustice on the other, and that fighting must go on, what matters is precisely who is killed and by whom…During the fighting between Serbs and Croats at the beginning of the recent Balkan wars, the same photographs of children killed were passed around at both Serb and Croat propaganda briefings. Alter the caption, and the children’s deaths could be used and reused.’ p. 9

Watching other people in pain can profoundly impact our own choices, and that is exploited heavily in every conflict by those that represent it, to draw from us love for the Nation/the Queen/democracy or our own freedoms, and attempt to win others to it.

There have been Hindus, Christians, Muslims and Atheists in our family. We have also had refugees and gypsie blood blended together, through times of peace and conflict. Some, very few, have known money and privilege, others, were homeless or, like Arthur King, died in battle and were not so fortunate.

Bitterfly

Robert Montgomery
Robert Montgomery

Whilst typing, I misspelled a word, I had written ‘bitterfly’. I found it a curiously fitting way to describe falling upwards, because there is a granular bitterness in being disappointed with one’s life, and at the same time, blended with this disappointment is the knowledge that waking up everyday is not an option, life continues and grows.

The study of butterflies is called:

“Lepidopterology

(lep-i-dop-tuh-ROL-uh-jee)

MEANING:

noun: The study of butterflies and moths.

ETYMOLOGY:

From Greek lepido- (scale) + pteron (wing, feather), ultimately from the Indo-European root pet- (to rush or fly) that also gave us feather, petition, compete, and perpetual.” http://wordsmith.org/words/lepidopterology.html

Gardeners will tell you that the names of things are highly important. Latin names of butterflies and plants indicate their characteristics, just like the word ‘bitterfly’ describes me.

A fragrant, perfumed plant has ‘odorata‘ in the name, where ‘palmatum‘ describes hand-shaped foliage. I like the word ‘latifolium‘, which means it has wide leaves. I think I, along with everyone in our family, am latifolium, because our tree branches seem to stretch so far across the world.

The Violent Breakup of the Former Yugoslavia

My sister met her husband whilst they were both students in Wales. He was born in Bosnia and Herzegovina,  a south-eastern country of Europe, where his entire family still resides. You have four cousins who we said goodbye to this weekend, because they are going to live in Bosnia.

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This country didn’t exist when I was born, because it formed part of Yugoslavia. The war of 1992 until 1995 created the largest displacement Europe has ever seen:

A 2012 film on the Humanitarian Relief effort by the UNHCR

As well as this, the conflict changed something internationally. Sexual violence had never been considered an international crime, rather it was treated with impunity:

“Recognizing sexual violence as an international crime

For centuries, sexual violence in conflict was tacitly accepted as unavoidable. A 1998 UN report on sexual violence and armed conflict notes that historically, armies considered rape one of the legitimate spoils of war. During World War II, all sides of the conflict were accused of mass rapes, yet neither of the two courts set up by the victorious allied countries to prosecute suspected war crimes — in Tokyo and Nuremberg — recognized the crime of sexual violence.

It was not until 1992, in the face of widespread rapes of women in the former Yugoslavia, that the issue came to the attention of the UN Security Council. On 18 December 1992, the Council declared the “massive, organized and systematic detention and rape of women, in particular Muslim women, in Bosnia and Herzegovina” an international crime that must be addressed.

Subsequently, the Statute of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY, 1993)included rape as a crime against humanity, alongside other crimes such as torture and extermination, when committed in armed conflict and directed against a civilian population. In 2001, the ICTY became the first international court to find an accused person guilty of rape as a crime against humanity. Furthermore, the Court expanded the definition of slavery as a crime against humanity to include sexual slavery. Previously, forced labor was the only type of slavery to be viewed as a crime against humanity.” http://www.un.org/en/preventgenocide/rwanda/about/bgsexualviolence.shtml

The country of Bosnia changed history through the conflict, not only through the world but also in our family. Your uncle, my brother-in-law, who originates from that country, gave a speech on our wedding day in the Shah Jahan Mosque of Woking. Your cousin was my flower girl, and she taught me little phrases in Serbo-Croatian, written in the Cyrillic alphabet.

The days after I gave birth, I wore thick hand-knitted socks that my sister’s parents-in-law send every year. Let us hope we will visit them soon.

جنة

I was playing a word association game with your name ‘Jannah’ جنة in the original Arabic). It is the name for the garden of Paradise.

The word-association went like this:

Jannah – garden – trees – belonging – roots – branches – cousins

You have a lovely mix of cousins from the branches of our family tree. Blended into your paternal Anglo-Saxon blood is your half-Arab (Palestinian) cousin, and your half-African (Ghanaian) cousin.

From my Indian side, you have cousins who are half-Slavic (Bosnian).

All of us are a mixture of what we term ‘races’. When W. E. B Dubois wrote ‘The Souls of Black Folk’ and said:

“… the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line”  http://routledgesoc.com/profile/critical-race-and-postcolonial-theory

I am quite certain he anticipated the ‘problem’ families such as ours have been creating over the centuries. I like what he says by highlighting how difficult an experience it is:

“To the real question, How does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word.”  http://routledgesoc.com/node/352/take

However, the fact that a child can have a very different skin tone to her mother is not a problem for critical race theorists, because the idea of race is less to do with skin colour and biology and more to do with creating lines, walls and distinctions:

 “For critical race scholars, racial categories like Black, White, Latino, Asian, Mulatto, Quadroon, etc., are social constructions, produced not by biology but by social relationships, cultural meanings, and institutions like law, politics, religion, and the state. Moreover, critical race theorists also argue that the construct of “race” has been a central aspect of modern social organization and modern forms of knowledge like human biology, medicine, and law.” http://routledgesoc.com/profile/critical-race-and-postcolonial-theory

Additionally, historical accounts have a lot to do with what we term ‘race’, because racism is ingrained in it. According to the online dictionary, racism is:

“1.1 The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races” http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/racism

And so this belief is what we find in the narrative of imperialism that became established as the ‘official account’ of human history, according to Edward Said.

Now, our conversations about ‘race’ have to be as self-aware as Abdul R. JanMohamed wants them to be from his observation that the imperialist desire to dominate makes him see ‘confrontation’ between differences of skin colour, language, social customs etc. For a really comprehensive discussion, we have to leave behind our desire to dominate and ‘severely bracket’ our assumptions and ideologies, thereby leaving behind the security that it all provides.  http://philpapers.org/rec/JANTEO-4

Ah but security is all we ever want, and even I keep digging for roots.