TiaTalk











{Mon 3 October 2011}   Art Accelerating Art
Art Accelerating Art

Hello, hello, my long-languishing blog (and my very occasional readers)! I love you, I really do, and think of you constantly…. well, a bit inconstantly, it’s true, but I do hold you in my heart. It’s just been an incredibly busy year, with three main themes occupying my energies:

  1. Writing content and building an exciting commercial website for RealCorp Luxembourg; as well as ongoing training, consultancy, blogging and other writing for them and for other clients.
  2. Volunteering for Poet in the City as Social Media Manager: creating a WordPress blog and an internal Social Media Wiki on PBWorks, teaching social media workshops, encouraging a mixed bag of users to contribute on the blog, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, assisting with a bid for Nesta’s Digital R&D Fund, and writing a spec to revamp the main Poet in the City website (project on hold for now). I also managed the Poetry and the State event at Amnesty International and assisted with several other events.
  3. Buying a house in France…. more on that later, when I can get my head around the fact that it’s actually happening!

All this has meant that I haven’t had much time for personal creative projects, so I was surprised and thrilled to be approached by the sylph-like Elinros Henriksdotter, after my reading of Shakespeare at the Poet in the City “Dog Days” Drop-In, to particpate in a wonderful four-day initiative (13-16 Oct) to use poetry and music to enhance the experience of sculpture: “Art Accelerating Art”.

(Update 05/10/11: I’ve moved the chunk on Art Accelerating Art to a separate post).



{Tue 20 July 2010}   On banning face veils
Thoughts on banning face veils

After reading about the French ban, I was interested to see in Ha’aretz yesterday that Syria has banned face veils at universities in order to protect the secular nature of the state. The article also reports that hundreds of niqab-wearing primary school teachers were transferred to administrative jobs.

I agree with the banning of face veils, for practical reasons related to identification and communication, yes, but also because I believe that face veils are shaming of women and womanhood in general.

In the UK we tend to believe that tolerance involves tolerating everything, especially the behaviour of the weak and disadvantaged, so as not to add to their burdens by shaming them. But, paradoxically, this attitude can entrench that weakness, allowing an extreme intolerance to grow amongst us that threatens the very society that tolerates it. Damian Green says that Britain is unlikely to follow France’s example because banning the burka would be “unBritish”. I agree with him, but not because I believe that being “British” in this particular respect is a Good Thing: The French approach is an attempt to engage with the problem. In Britain, “tolerance” is often shorthand for ignoring both issues and people and disengaging from them.

I believe that a woman who wears a face veil is participating in a declaration that womanhood should be effaced from public life… its message to me is that women are dangerous, require restraint and should not be allowed to participate equally in the world with men. It is an intolerant, insulting and disrespectful message which challenges all the gains women have made in the slow and still-incomplete battle for freedom that has cost many their lives over centuries. It is also aggressive, or, at the very least, insensitive, as it creates fear and discomfort in non-wearers who feel threatened and weakened by what it represents—women at the mercy of men.

The veil also insults and weakens men. It assumes that men cannot control their sexual urges in the presence of a woman. It reduces men to the level of instinctive beasts and removes from them any responsibility for learning to respond appropriately.

In Western societies, even the wearing of just a headscarf (rather than a niqab or a burka), when it is clear that the purpose is total covering of the body and hair, conveys similar messages.

While I say this, I am aware that millions of women have no choice but to wear the veil—they face ostracism or death if they do not. These women are damned (by the West) if they do and damned (by their cultures) if they do not. Their plight is terrible and I have deep compassion for them. They are being used as human shields to draw the fire of negative responses to extremism in the same way that some terrorists use their own civilians as human shields. While extreme displays reveal extreme distress, the causes of which should be investigated, understood and addressed, this does not mean that terrorism should be tolerated.

I actually think the terms of the French ban recognise the problem very well – the fine is only €150 for the woman wearing the veil but €30,000 or a year in jail for the man who forces her to do so. This recognises that the woman does not deserve further shaming and attempts to go to the source.

Of course, the man too may suffer shaming and ostracism by his culture (although likely not death) if “his” woman is not covered, so truly “going to the source” requires a much deeper and wider educative approach where men and women are encouraged to find ways of affirming their identity and their honour without shaming or degrading each other.

P.S. After writing the above post, I found this wonderful article by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown which eloquently and fervently expresses some of the same thoughts and many more… I so admire her stance as a Muslim woman and I urge anyone who is interested in the implications of the veil to read her too: “Stand up against the burka” (The Guardian, 17 May 2010).

P.P.S. 04 April 2011. The wonderful Yasmin Alibhai-Brown has again written a great piece on the dangers of the veil. She says that banning is too extreme a response, but urges society to consider sixteen reasons why Muslims themselves should oppose it: Sixteen Reasons why I object to this dangerous cover-up.



{Thu 9 July 2009}   Smooth Red Woman
Smooth Red Woman

Piled under an Italian sky, red marble gleams at me:
“Rosso Ammonico di Verona”, “Rosso Levanto”,
“Rosso Francia”, “Rosso Laguna”, “Rosso Lepanto” …
Seduced, I let the rosy names roll richly off my tongue.
My husband moves on with the guide, but I am enthralled by a red marble woman:

Shining in the sensuous sun, her whole body is deep tongue-texture,
Poised for creamy pleasures.
I cannot pass without caressing her; without sending forth probes
To scan the galaxy of textures just below my reach.
I must stroke her; explore her cool warmth with my fingertips,
Marvel at the harsh practice that produces smooth perfection.
Her delicacy suggests a gentle touch,
But soon I want to lick her, kiss her deeply.
Did she respond to the artisan’s hand as he chipped and chiselled and polished?
Did blood roil in her seething veins?
Did she strive with him to produce this beauty?

My medium’s not marble or any other deserving stone
That earns its right to care by its beautiful existence.
No, my chisel hits flesh, and draws blood, each time.
Its lumpen labour breaks surfaces; bruises.
It’s always amateur art, always a work-in-progress.
I search to expose the beautiful woman,
But each blow chips so little away.

What do I earn by being? By being what I am,
What my mounds, my cracks, my crevasses dictate I must be?
The right to be tossed aside, dismissed, like inferior stone,
Or to be reshaped (misshaped) into something unrecognisable.
My capillaries and crannies are not lovingly polished to reveal their textures.
No, smooth is different for warm-fleshed bodies.
In the world below the marble mountain, there is no real red.
I have spent much life on the effort to be equal:
I could not fashion a man’s sword for myself,
But, with assiduous application of all man’s expertise,
I do not age, have no cramps, show no blood.
My tampon fits discreetly in the palm of my hand.
I am a smoothed-out person, with a smoothed-out life.
No wo(e)-, just -man.

But, inside me, blood breathes and surges.
When the moon is full, it calls and urges.

Why do I fear that place where the Goddess waits?
“I am a woman,” I cry, “See my wedding ring, the pink coat,
The love of roses, the plucking of eyebrows, the Brazilian!”
I don’t want to go to No Man’s Land, where the Goddess waits;
That place where, she says, my name is Woman.

But I hear her calling, “Come, give me your hand.
Let’s wander down the river of blood.”



{Wed 19 March 2008}   Sex as it is and as it could be
This article in The Guardian, I was seen as an object, not a person, by a former lap-dancer about the reality of her experience in that industry provides a counter voice to the one mentioned in my previous post which suggests that there is (or could be) a normality to the sex industry if the parties involved are all consenting. The writer quotes various statistics suggesting that the presence of lapdancing clubs leads to an increase in sexual violence in the areas concerned.

I’ve never had any similar experience, but I can well imagine myself feeling exactly as she says she did, given the context that she describes. I am conscious as I read it, though, that we are still talking of a country where the official line is that paying for sex is bad and that lap-dancing is only allowed because it’s “not really sex”, which doesn’t fool anyone. This attitude inevitably means that the people currently engaging in the activity (clients as well providers) are those who tend to trangress socially acceptable norms of behaviour more easily (although it appears that there are so many of these that it is a norm in itself, a factor which must be considered). They are therefore likely to be more cavalier about abuse and violence too.

Making the entire industry illegal means that the society does not provide any rules or sanctions for conduct within the industry and also does not allow the development of non-official social guidelines of the non-snigger variety that could guide people and provide social pressure for appropriate behaviour. Every accepted non-sexual industry has evidenced exploitation. Governments have instituted rules and policing to curb unacceptable behaviour within these “respectable” industries, rather than shutting them down altogether because of abuses. If abuse and exploitation, rather than the industry as a whole, were strictly and severely policed, couldn’t sex become normal too? Is it possible that people who can’t contemplate this are the ones who believe that sex itself is evil, dangerous and dirty (although they use words like “private” and “sacrosanct” as euphemisms for these terms) and who would actually prefer that everyone has as little of it as possible, even within the “legal” area of marriage?

What if paying for sex were more mainstream, and sexual facilities were available for both sexes, and industry standards were high and policed? Could this mean that everyone could take care of their sexual health as they do of their physical fitness (going to the gym, doing sport, etc.)? Is it possible that then people would not have to feel anxious, guilty, dirty, threatened or unsafe for their interest and engagement in sex? Is it possible that people could have more fulfilling marriages and lives where they can focus on intellectual and emotional companionship and interesting, productive work, without having to deal with the constant distraction of sexual incompatibilities and dissatisfactions? Is it possible that then people could get on with the businesses of educating, creating, working, governing, resolving conflicts, home-making, etc. without paying too much attention to what people wear or who they’ve slept with? Could sexual activity just become acknowledged as something that everyone does in some form or another and that there’s nothing too remarkable about it? Could this defuse the high sexual tension that arises from the constant frustration experienced by most people and which leads to our media being clogged with material about perceived sexual misconduct and our governments grinding to a halt every time a leader is found to be doing what a very high percentage of people do or want to do anyway? In this regard, the recent NYT article In Most Species, Faithfulness is a Fantasy, is relevant.

The sci-fi show Firefly has a powerful, attractive, courtesan character, a “Companion” who is highly respected in a highly regulated industry and is an accomplished and intelligent woman. Of course, this is far away in the galaxy and in time, but could it be a healthy ideal?



Global warming? Terrorism? Fundamentalisms? Racism? Sexism? International crime? Water? GM crops? Sometimes (most times, maybe) most of us just want to switch to the entertainment channel and forget all about it. It might be because we don’t care, but quite often it’s because we just can’t see what “little ol’ me” could do about it.

The article Global Population: From explosion to implosion? by Koïchiro Matsuura, Director General of Unesco, in yesterday’s Mail&Guardian, addresses the population explosion and asks whether it might turn into an “implosion” due to the demographics of age and childbearing and their different impacts in the Northern and the Southern Hemispheres. It’s important to read, and not too long or too hard (because statistics always have a slightly numbing and distancing effect, I think, as opposed to personal stories that engage one’s empathy but are therefore sometimes very draining).

The best part about it, for me, is the conclusion, which clearly shows a way forward by focusing on priorities for action. Essentially, it’s one priority — education to develop “knowledge societies” that have the expertise and knowhow to solve their problems, but within that, the first priority is basic education for women and the second the development of a culture of life-long learning for all:

Basic education is first and foremost — especially the education of girls, the best contraceptive of all. According to one study, there are regions where girls are excluded from secondary schooling and the women have an average of seven children each. Where girls’ school enrolment is just 40%, this mean figure falls to three.

Life-long education for all ought to be recognised as an essential priority as well, for this is the answer to ageing populations and rising life expectancy. As knowledge and skills become outdated more rapidly, and people face the need to keep up by retraining or changing occupation, the demand for education is increasingly going to become a life-long matter. At bottom, this is good news: the world population will become older, admittedly, but individual humans will spend more of their lives in what counts as “youth” — for they will never stop learning.

What’s great about this for me is that it’s reinforced my thoughts about where best to spend money that I’ve earmarked for charity (and probably also some that I hadn’t, as I reflect on just how important this is). Education, education, education. Particularly for women. Particularly for those women where knowledge and competence will make the greatest difference in their and their families’ lives. Educating the most disadvantaged girls and women could have a profound effect on the population balance and also enable increasingly more people to look after themselves. It’s in everyone’s interest, even that of those who still don’t care.



et cetera