Sitting on the bed in the B&B in my Superman panties & merino top. Wrapped in the throw blanket & drinking a ghetto mocha engineered from the room’s coffee tray. (Instant coffee, instant cocoa, a couple packets of milk.) Weighing a nap versus walking down the street to a pub with the latop, having a pint of something, and writing something. Oxford can’t decide between blue skies & sun and heavy clouds & chill. Can’t neither of us make up our minds.

Sat at my desk, fresh coffee, ready to work at 9 am. I know millions of people manage to do this every morning without fail, but it feels like an achievement for me.

Storm tonight. In bed, naked, under a pile of white blankets like clouds. Reading Moby Dick and listening to the wind rattle through the world.

I’m walking to the store. It’s earlier than it is now, before darkness fell, before the snow began. I can’t think of anything I need, other than the walk itself. It’s the second day in a row I’ve been out in the fresh air, walking, trying to shed the psychic torpor that set in after Christmas.

On reflection, while I walk, I think there isn’t a true self. There’s only the self. A best self, maybe, a worst self, certainly. A happy self, an unhappy self, a complacent self, a satisfied self, a frustrated self, so many possible selves, as many selves as there are moments of choice. But not a true one. Not one you, or I, are meant to be.

And those holes, they aren’t damage in the perfect self; they’re the negative space. They give shape to the self.

The temperature on the thermometer isn’t so cold today, up to 0, but the damp Baltic air cuts right through me. I’ve been ill for some weeks–I think you knew that–not seriously, but still exhausting, and long enough I’ve sunk into sticky inertia. If I can’t think of something I need by the time I get to the shop, I’ll buy the ice cream I wished I’d gotten last night. The only thing I really need is the walk, but I needed the destination, the reason, to make the walk happen.

I am an existentialist, you know. Dyed in the wool. My own moral authority. What color would you paint an existentialist? The lunacy of Goya black, maybe. I still think we’re all of us existentialists, just some of us don’t realize it.

In our desire to set ourselves apart from (above) the rest of creation, we divorce our idea of ‘self’ from our physical being. I wonder how much our cultural indoctrination with the notion of some kind of an ‘immortal soul’ plays into this, even when we consciously reject the idea. We so often fail to differentiate the idea of soul from psyche. And we consider them both independent of the body, in the same way water is independent of the vessel that contains it, a substance to be poured, at will, from one chalice to another. As though a brain in a vat would contain the same self as a brain in a body. As though a brain in a healthy body could contain the same self as a brain in a sick or broken body.

I know the changes in my self that come with the changes in my body. Energy surging and ebbing with the rhythm of the biochemical sea. Moods rising and falling in gravitational thrall to peptides. I feel the weeks of lethargy and inactivity; I’m tired less in my body than in my mind. Tomorrow the forecast says sleet. I have a parcel to pick up from the post.

You call me strident like it’s a bad thing

My turquoise voice explodes
over you like the heartbreak cannonade
of centennial fireworks.

My chromed up hot-rod voice screams
down midnight highways howling
at the moon.

My darkling crow voice rises like a murder
at the gutshot crack of dawn.

My bourbon voice belts out the rusted
anthems of long lost revolutions.

My carnival voice barks its shins
on the sharp edges of the cast-off huckster
dreams littering my American psyche.

My sandpaper oracle voice tells me
that choice is a silent future where madness
and truth are both policed by sharks.

Up too late. Up too early. Early enough to stand on the balcony in the sunlight. I can’t remember how many days since I stood in the sun. Need to turn off the internet and think about something else. One cup of coffee isn’t be enough.


Yesterday left me tired of the world in a way I haven’t been tired in a long time. I didn’t think I would say any more about it because what’s one more voice in a sea of voices. There are always more voices. But then sometimes there aren’t. And isn’t that what this is about, too. Silencing voices; forcing voices. Co-opting voices.

I have a fondness for provocateurs. People should be provoked. They should have their hypocrisies and prejudices and sacred cows spread out in the light. We all have them, and it does us good to see them as others see them. To be consciously and deliberately controversial–provocative–is to make us think.

There are legitimate criticisms of material Charlie Hebdo publishes; Charlie Hebdo knows this as well as anyone, and the same principles that protect the right of Charlie Hebdo to publish controversial, offensive, provocative material allow for the criticism of that material. Some of their cartoons are ugly. So is the world.

Some are true.

The 9 February 2006 cover of Charlie Hebdo depicting the prophet Muhammad weeping. The headline reads: ‘Mahomet débordé par les intégristes’ — in English: ‘Muhammad overwhelmed by fundamentalists’

Their images make us flinch, they make us angry, they make us deeply uncomfortable. They make us laugh. And sometimes, sometimes they make us look more deeply, more clearly, at ourselves. This is the value of Charlie Hebdo.[1]11 January 2015 ETA:Olivier Tonneau explains the left-wing ethos of Charlie Hebdo and its context in French society: ‘On Charlie Hebdo: A letter to my British friends‘. And if you will not listen, will not engage, will not be provoked, you turn the page. You change the channel. You walk away.

There exists another kind of provocation, though. A self-serving, manipulative kind designed not to elicit examination, comment, and criticism, but hate and fear. The attack on Charlie Hebdo‘s offices, the murderer of cartoonists and journalists and policemen, was this kind of provocation. A calculated incitement to violence. Not against the people responsible, but violence against our own people: our friends and neighbors and coworkers, against immigrants and refugees who sought a home in our communities. This act is intended to drive a wedge between us, to divide us.

This is the difference: Charlie Hebdo speaks to provoke more speech. Extremists commit acts of hate and violence to provoke more hate and violence. The attack on Charlie Hebdo was not a response to provocation. The attack on Charlie Hebdo is intended to provoke us into becoming them.[2]9 January 2015 ETA: The New Statesman has a thoughtful article on the attack on Charlie Hebdo as a deliberate act of polarization, a recruitment strategy for militant extremists. I strongly recommend reading ‘Is the Charlie Hebdo attack really a struggle over European values?


Additonal reading   [ + ]

1. 11 January 2015 ETA:Olivier Tonneau explains the left-wing ethos of Charlie Hebdo and its context in French society: ‘On Charlie Hebdo: A letter to my British friends‘.
2. 9 January 2015 ETA: The New Statesman has a thoughtful article on the attack on Charlie Hebdo as a deliberate act of polarization, a recruitment strategy for militant extremists. I strongly recommend reading ‘Is the Charlie Hebdo attack really a struggle over European values?

Every time I see your new name in my email, it reminds me of this Canadian television show my dad used to watch, The Red Green Show. I rolled my eyes at it when I was twelve. Boooooorrring. Now it’s pretty funny. Or maybe it’s still eye-rolling, but I enjoy it because it reminds me of my dad.

I’m doing laundry, drinking coffee, writing about love.

Coffee brewed in the vacuum pot. Yesterday I saw a fair trade cardamom coffee in the shop; I nearly bought it. A man I met when I was studying Swedish, another student, he and his brother both refugees from Iraq, once told me I ought to try adding cardamom seeds to the grounds when I make coffee. I remembered this morning.

Curled up on the sofa with books and the laptop and hot coffee. Feeling better; throat is only a little tender. The holidays make me ill. Out in the shops, on the bus, among so many people. Every year I struggle under the obligation to perform in the holiday play. The weight of seasonal expectation. The guilt when the mask slips.

White ground, black & white striped birches, white roofs, serrated tops of black pines jagged against grey sky. No sun today; even the light is filtered of color. Coffee. Another party. Glögg & pastry. I need to shower and start dinner soon. After, we’ll walk in the monochrome world.

Breakfast: julvort french toast with raspberry kvarg and jam. Black coffee. Skiing after, making the most of the light; sun and blue sky tinted pink by permanent sunset. The day vanishes in chores: shopping, cooking, cleaning. Nothing written. Today was the solstice. The shortest day of the year.

19 Dec 2014

Walking home from the party. The pedestrian roads, some of them, are still unplowed. Branches sag under the weight of the snowfall. Later we will see trees bent double, and walk beneath them, snow laden arches over the footway. Here the the wind is hindered by the forest. In the open places it drives thick white flakes in our faces and we lower our heads, hunch our shoulders against it. The pines create a saw-toothed outline against the uniform grey of the sky. The dark belly of the storm reflects back the light of the city.


Dec 20, 2014 @ 02:27

Woke up late. Snow shrouded world, air thick with dense white flakes. Coffee in the press. Revising last night’s post. Forgot there’s a party tonight. Showered and dressed. Not enough time to write. ‘Tis the season. I don’t like to write late at night; my thoughts feel like snow.

I was reading last night, the Qur’an. I like the part about Abraham, where he goes to find what God is.

6:75 So also did we show Abraham the power and the laws of the heavens and the earth, that he might (with understanding) have certitude.

6:76 When the night covered him over, he saw a star. He said, ‘This is my Lord.’ But when it set, he said, ‘I love not those that set.’

6:77 When he saw the moon rising in splendour, he said: ‘This is my Lord.’ But when the moon set, he said: ‘Unless my Lord guide me, I shall surely be among those who go astray.’

6:78 When he saw the sun rising in splendour, he said: ‘This is my Lord; this is the greatest (of all).’ But when the sun set, he said: ‘Oh my people! I am indeed free from your (guilt) of giving partners to Allah.

6:79 ‘For me, I have set my face, firmly and truly, toward Him who created the the heavens and earth, and never shall I give partners to Allah.’

Have you ever stood in the desert and looked at the stars? Felt your own smallness, a tiny heartbeat creature on an insignificant planet hurtling through space and time. Have you ever looked toward infinity?

Abraham does. He goes out and he looks, really looks.

He finds his God.

The stars, the moon, the sun, they’re not gods. They’re celestial objects, but they’re still objects, subject to ‘the power and the laws of the heavens and the earth’.

This book, it talks a lot about the wrongness of ‘joining partners with Allah’. In the Abrahamic religions, I’ve always thought that prohibition was because theirs was a jealous god, an entity that didn’t want to share its worship, its believers. Now I think maybe I’ve misunderstood. What Allah is, you can’t join other things with it; that would require it to be discrete, but it’s not. Allah is all-encompassing, indivisible. It suffuses the fabric of reality. To join something with it, to say these things are like, equals, partners, is to not understand the nature of Allah.

When Abraham goes out into the desert, he comes back with a new god. Not like the gods of his people, the sun, the moon, the stars. This is something else. Abraham’s God is not made in the image of man, with mankind’s appetites and rivalries. And when he returns to his people, he understands. He sees the gods they worship, that he worshiped, for what they are: dumb things, idols created in the imaginations and psyches of men.

The Allah of the Qur’an is a different cat altogether.

If you try to think about it literally, as a being that makes men from clay and creates the sun in a day, you end up somewhere ridiculous. You end up on a road trip with a petulant god-toddler who has the power to create a universe and destroy planets, a fickle thing that can raze cities and part seas and be lied to and bartered with and coaxed via sacrifices and prayers to find lost car keys or yield up a winning scratch-off, that creates mankind as a toy. You end up with gris-gris and sin-eating and snake handling and blood sacrifice. You end up with a God built of pedestrian superstition.

It’s only in allegory the idea of Abraham’s God begins to make sense.

It is Allah who causeth the seed-grain and the date-stone to split and sprout. He causeth the living to issue from the dead and He is the one to cause the dead to issue from the living. That is Allah. (6:95)

He it is that cleaveth the day-break (from the dark): He makes the night for rest and tranquility, and the sun and moon for the reckoning of time. (6:96)

It is He who sendeth down rain from the skies: with it we produce vegetation of all kinds. (6:99)

To Him is due the primal origin of the heavens and the earth. (6:101)

This is nature, not the physical hand of a supernatural entity manually cracking seeds and pouring rain. Abraham comes home and he rejects the superstitions of his people, but how do you describe the idea that there is a law, something invisible, indivisible, inexorable, that governs us all, from the movement of planets and galaxies to the passage of time to the creation and cessation of life?

I think maybe these things, they aren’t supposed to be read as the actions of God. That it’s not attributive, but descriptive. That maybe these things are, in part, the definition of God.