What we’re reading: The Handmaid’s Tale, Capitalism,Rachel Dolezal, & Women’s Health

MP accuses BAME book prize of discrimination by @sunnysingh_n6  via @WritersofColour

Equalities and Human Rights Commission demands justification from Jhalak Prize, following complaint from Philip Davies MP

March 17, 2017: The date that the very first Jhalak Prize for Book of the Year by a Writer of Colourwas awarded. It was an evening that all of us involved with the prize had been preparing for with much anticipation and joy. One of the judges had flown out from Berlin. Writers – and not just those shortlisted – had told us how excited they were. Publishers, agents, readers had reached out privately and on social media to share their enthusiasm.

On a personal note, it felt as if I had been waiting for the evening for nearly five years. Yes, that is how long the Jhalak Prize had been gestating since I had realised the structural barriers that writers of colour faced in the UK.  After 2015’s Writing the Future report, funded by the Arts Council, laid out the statistics in stark detail, the idea for the prize took wings.  It had to be set up. And it had to be set up now.

We launched the prize at the Bare Lit Festival in February 2016 and the relief, passion, even possibly belief that we could change things was palpable from the first moment. The Bookseller’s diversity in publishing report in November 2016 further confirmed the sorry state of equality in the publishing industry. The judges, our anonymous benefactor, the prize director, Nikesh Shukla, and I – and beyond us, the wider reading community – believed that we were doing the right thing. That we were going to improve the world – our world – just that little bit. And so no amount of hard work disheartened us. We stole time from work, family, writing commitments and poured ourselves into the inaugural round of the prize.

Margaret Atwood on What ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Means in the Age of Trump  via New York Times

In the spring of 1984 I began to write a novel that was not initially called “The Handmaid’s Tale.” I wrote in longhand, mostly on yellow legal notepads, then transcribed my almost illegible scrawlings using a huge German-keyboard manual typewriter I’d rented.

The keyboard was German because I was living in West Berlin, which was still encircled by the Berlin Wall: The Soviet empire was still strongly in place, and was not to crumble for another five years. Every Sunday the East German Air Force made sonic booms to remind us of how close they were. During my visits to several countries behind the Iron Curtain — Czechoslovakia, East Germany — I experienced the wariness, the feeling of being spied on, the silences, the changes of subject, the oblique ways in which people might convey information, and these had an influence on what I was writing. So did the repurposed buildings. “This used to belong to . . . but then they disappeared.” I heard such stories many times.

Having been born in 1939 and come to consciousness during World War II, I knew that established orders could vanish overnight. Change could also be as fast as lightning. “It can’t happen here” could not be depended on: Anything could happen anywhere, given the circumstances.

Why We Need to Take ‘High-Functioning’ Anxiety Seriously by Erica Chau  via @TheMightySite

When you imagine anxiety, what do you see? Shaking, crying, screaming? Panic attacks, hyperventilating, incoherent sentences? For some people, this is what it is like. But it’s not always the case.

What does “high-functioning” anxiety look like?

It looks like you have your life together. You smile, your clothes are freshly pressed, your hair is shiny, your arrive on time. You try your hardest, finish your work on time, help others and have hobbies. High-functioning anxiety makes it look like you’re busy living your life — and you are — to a certain extent.

For me, it’s keeping busy so I don’t lose my mind. The more I do, the more tasks I assign myself and the more things I can keep in control, the more I can control my anxiety.

Pregnant women are being legally pimped out for sex – this is the lowest form of capitalism by Julie Bindel

Whenever news of the Bunny Ranch brothel in Nevada pops up on my social media I can rarely resist a read. I spent time in 2012 in this brothel, accompanied by America’s biggest pimp, Dennis Hof. I met women in his brothels who were as sad as they were desperate, and so disappointed that legalisation had made it worse for them, rather than better. One woman, who was heavily pregnant, had asked the brothel manager if she could take off six months to have her baby and come back without having to reapply for her old job. The manager told her that she would be far better off working throughout her pregnancy, “because there are plenty of men who want to squeeze pregnant ladies boobies”.

When I read an article entitled “A Woman’s Right to Choose to be a Pregnant Sex Worker” on the Bunny Ranch Blog, written by a prostituted woman named Summer Sebastian, who is unfortunate enough to work there, I figured that Dennis Hof had simply cashed in on yet another way to make money from women’s bodies.

The last story you will ever need to read about Rachel Dolezal. by Ijeoma Oluo

I‘m sitting across from Rachel Dolezal, and she looks… white. Not a little white, not racially ambiguous. Dolezal looks really, really white. She looks like a white woman with a mild suntan, in box braids—like perhaps she’d just gotten back from a Caribbean vacation and decided to keep the hairstyle for a few days “for fun.”

She is also smaller than I expected, tiny even—even in her wedge heels and jeans. I’m six feet tall and fat. I wonder for a moment what this conversation might look like to bystanders if things were to get heated—a giant black woman interrogating a tiny white woman. Everything about Dolezal is smaller than expected—the tiny house she rents, the limited and very used furniture. Her 1-year-old son toddles in front of cartoons playing on a small television. The only thing of real size in the house seems to be a painting of her adopted brother, and now adopted son, Izaiah, from when he was a young child. The painting looms over Dolezal on the living-room wall as she begins to talk. I try to get my bearings and listen to what she’s trying to say, but for the first few moments, my mind keeps repeating: “How in the hell did I get here?”

EVAW launches Activist Guide for 4 May local elections

On 4 May 2017 there are elections in many parts of the UK. Six large regions in England will elect mayors for the first time, and other parts of England, Wales and Scotland have important local council elections.

Many of those who are elected will have a say in funding decisions and will be well placed to encourage local public services – like the police, health and transport – to prioritise tackling violence against women and girls.

You can find out if you have an election in your area here.

You can use our Activist Guide to help locate candidates and for advice on what to say; you can use our template letters to Local Council candidates and to the new Metro Mayor candidates; and there is a VAWG Factsheet if you want to get try and get hold of local VAWG data for your campaigning.

EVAW is available to help activists locate and write to candidates, and is asking anyone who receives replies to copy them to us for us to share on our website and social media.

The power of words in an age of anxiety by @AliyaMughal1

Cross-posted from: Aliya Mughal
Originally published: 19.02.16

“The magic of escapist fiction is that it can actually offer you a genuine escape from a bad place and, in the process of escaping, it can furnish you with armour, with knowledge, with weapons, with tools you can take back into your life to help make it better. It’s a real escape — and when you come back, you come back better armed than when you left.”

Neil Gaiman beautifully articulates the essence of why reading is such an indispensable pastime in those moments when reality lets us down.

Gaiman was referring to how his 97-year-old cousin, a Polish Holocaust survivor and teacher, had escaped into the world of books during the Nazi occupation. For her and the pupils she secretly read stories to, books, forbidden at the time, provided a soul-saving gateway into a place that for a few precious moments, freed their minds from the shackles of their daily existence.

Liberating the mind can be both a vital and yet seemingly impossible task in the worst moments of mental anguish. Depression, for instance, has the overwhelming capacity to trap people in a vicious cycle of interminable horror.

The question of whether books can provide relief in the context of mental health is one that’s usefully being explored in Future Learn’s latest course, Literature and Mental Health: Reading for Wellbeing, a surprisingly rare offering that combines a traditionally academic field with the psychological element of the health sciences.

One of the questions posed in the opening survey for learners is that of why and where they read, “to pass the time” being one of the multiple choice answers.

It’s interesting to explore what is meant by this. The act of reading as means of passing the time sounds at first like a passive one, pursued for the sake of just getting through the day.

But for many people who suffer under the “daily rain” of depression, simply getting through the day can be a major victory.

Pause for thought

The social and psychological value of books isn’t a new idea. It was raised in Aristotle’s Poetics, where the concept of catharsis was explored in terms of the impact of tragedy to purge us of emotions, specifically pity and fear. The definition of catharsis is still debated but the essential idea of using the words of others to reveal something of ourselves to ourselves is one that has prevailed through the ages.

Jack Lankester, an English teacher for whom the sonnets of Philip Sidney provided a sense of fellowship and solace when he experienced heartbreak, describes the restorative power of poetry in a way that reflects this idea of a cathartic experience:

“I believed in my naivety that no one had ever been as heartbroken as I was. No one understood… When I started reading him, the penny dropped in that instant, I felt wildly less alone. And the fact that he had been writing these poems 500 years ago, really did make me realise that being heartbroken or sad or lost is in many ways inevitable. And it’s a part of the human condition.”

Far from being a passive experience then, reading poetry is a means by which we can intimately and consciously engage with the essence of what it means to be human. It’s a precious counterpoint to the modern day fixation on lives that ought to be in continual motion, racing from one day, one achievement, one love, one, one feeling, one thing, one experience to the next.

One of the poems I find myself going back to again and again for this very reason, and for its own wonderfully lyrical sake, is Dew Light, by WS Merwin:

Now in the blessed days of more and less
when the news about time is that each day
there is less of it I know none of that
as I walk out through the early garden
only the day and I are here with no
before or after and the dew looks up
without a number or a present age

As Stephen Fry, who also features in the Future Learn course, says: “There is so much nutrition inside the best poems.”

 

Aliya Mughal : I’m a dedicated follower of wordsmithery and wisdom in its many guises. Reader, writer, storyteller – if there’s a thread to follow and people involved, I’m interested. I’ve built my life around words, digging out the stories that matter and need to be told – about science, feminism, art, philosophy, covering everything from human rights abuses in Sri Lanka, to famine and the aid game in Rwanda, to how the intersection of art and science has the power to connect the disparate forces of humanity with the nanoscopic forces of our sacred Earth. Find me @AliyaMughal1