My brain has been through the wringer over the last couple of months. A brand new job and an epicly difficult house move (although what moves aren't...) happened at around the same time. Then, a couple of weeks later, the father I hated and ignored for years had a heart attack in the flat where we used to live, the very night I decided I should call him the following morning. We went through a day of hell to get an emergency visa from the heartless wankers that work at the Indian embassy, and then flew to India for two weeks to lay him to rest in keeping with the proper Bengali rituals.
That time in India. I've never experienced anything like it. Intense sorrow, and some joy. I hadn't seen most of my Mum's family in five years, and I love them more than anything in this life. And my father's family really stepped up the sheer, cruel dickbaggery they've always practised. And my dad. My dead father. There was fire, and oil, and rice, and river-water, and Sanskrit mantras more ancient than I can even imagine. As the oldest child I had to do most of the major rituals. And it was hard, and there were times when I couldn't imagine crying for that father of mine, and times when I could barely see as I was dabbing his mouth with fire (the most important ritual) because I was weeping so hard. And I felt connected. To these enormous and complex rituals, the so very *old* culture that developed them, to the way that people have been observing these practices for living and dying and death and birth long after the original meanings have become obscured or been forgotten. An atheist through and through, I still wanted so much for all those things to *mean* something. For that fire to reach my father's wretched, lonely soul and send him on his way to the peace he can't ever have had in the life he lived, and let him know that, inexplicably, I cared. Souls aren't real and fire and water can't create an after-life for ashes and regrets, but wanting that made me feel better. I almost believed, which has never happened to me before.
That was the first time I've ever not wanted to come back from India. I felt so connected to... something. And all the grief and confusion and guilt felt simpler and easier and calmer in that something. My aunt's dining table. My little nephews. The unconditional love of my cousins. The wind coming through the taxi window on the Second Bridge from Shibpur to Kolkata. The priest who patiently explained to me that I must not look back while taking the hardened mud bowl full of my father's ashes along the path from the crematorium down to the Ganges, where I tossed it on its way to... something. Something old and huge and beautiful and terrible and wrong, and right in a way nothing else has ever felt in my fucked up insides.
I need to write about this properly. I will.
And I need to write about my experience at the NineWorlds convention too (which happened a couple of weeks after India). Because that was a whole other thing. Less painful, less momentous, but beautiful and important and something I've wanted for a long time.
Brain + wringer. There's been a lot of it and now my brain is tired.
Goddamn I love British weather. It is the most befuddling, infuriating and hilarious thing <3. Spend all morning running around town in the irritatingly summerlike heat, finally get inside and all of a sudden the sky cracks open, and a fist of rain pours out, bashing on your windows with abandon and glee. I love this country more than cake (not in a yay-for-Cameron's-government-or-the-empi
Keeping (and torturing) people detained in a prison for years on end without ever charging them with anything is obscene and immoral to begin with, but the 86 Guantanamo detainees who have already been cleared for release, some of them years ago? What the fuck are they still doing there? Shaker Aamer has been cleared twice - by the Bush administration in 2007 and the Obama administration in 2009, and yet he is still confined at Guantanamo Bay, and has been for eleven years - despite the British government supposedly "raising the matter" with the Americans. Like many of the other inmates he has made allegations of torture and severe mistreatment over the years, and like many of the other inmates, he is currently engaging in a hunger strike as a last-resort protest. He has never seen his youngest son. His lawyer is afraid that he might die. I can't stop thinking about him. Or about the others who have died in that place.
In January the Obama administration closed the office it had set up to oversee the closure of Guantanamo; the below-linked article points to things being made harder by Congress (and the Obama administration caving). Guantanamo remains open. Its prisoners continue to refuse food, and be violently force-fed by the guards in contravention of international human rights law.
This shit is obscene.
The drone strikes are obscene.
America's human rights record is so fucking obscene it is beyond words, made all the worse by the way it parades itself on the world stage as the arbiter of moral standards, obscuring all the nasty, inhumane shit it has been doing since the very founding of the thirteen colonies.
Sometimes I wish I hadn't read Anthony Kiedis's autobiography. But that aside, his voice has an indescribably wonderful way of twisting up my insides. John Frusciante's guitar and Anthony Kiedis's voice were enormous in my life for such a long time.
I have so much goddamn writing work to finish.
And fuck, their b-sides are so ridiculously good.
I spent a rather lovely Wednesday evening with amagiclantern under the trees outside the Ritzy cinema in Brixton, talking about space and sex and stories. Something she said really struck me, and I'm feeling the urge to write about it.
It was this: seeing some ancient artefacts at a museum exhibition really brought home to her what an old species we are.
This is something that doesn't occur to me much. I tend to to think of our species from a palaeoanthropological perspective, seeing us and our development in the context of geological timescales - we're a young species that only emerged recently, a mere 200,000 years ago. In geological time that's the blink of an eye, but in people-time it's immense, uncountable, unfathomable. I forget that.
By the standards of the universe, the planet and many of the planet's non-human inhabitants, we are a young species, but really we're an old one too. Thousands of generations have gotten us to this point, thousands of generations comprising *billions* of unique human consciousnesses, personalities, people, living and dying and dreaming and struggling and doing awful things and wanting the impossible and creating and destroying and charting their individual lives and wondering about the universe and not knowing where it was all going to end up. Billions of good and bad and complex and flawed and unique people lived out their lives before ours started, making and re-making the world, passing down stories and prejudices and the sparks of ideas as they did. And though I'm not meaning to frame it as though they merely existed in order to get to today, though they weren't cogs for the telos-machine of our presumed inevitability (lolz), without them we wouldn't have got here, to this day, to this point. And there have been so many of them. People. Developing language and discovering fire and inventing the wheel, cooked food and writing, stationary homes, farming, governments, art, medicine (and also hierarchies, bigotry and homicide ¬_¬). Domesticating animals and finding gods in thunder and death. Making their lives at the edge of the technological horizon of their time and place, with no more than guesses about how much further that horizon might go. All of those things that those countless, unique human lives did, made, discovered, invented, realised, created; each innovation, each advance made, some noble and against the odds, some merely by chance, other twisted and unjust and built on the backs of exploited people - yeah, let's point out the backwards steps too ('cause let's be honest, we might be collectively much further along if some of us weren't obssessed with judging, oppressing and killing each other) - they are what made today happen in the particular way that it did, on the shoulders of a fucking long time and billions of lives, and that makes us an old species.
We are an old species with up to 200,000 years of history and folklore, up to 200,000 years of crimes and love and last stands and genius and horror and beauty and people living. We are an old species with old memories. We are an old species because the number of people that have lived on the planet before those of us here today is immense. And because the number of atrocities we have seen and ignored and perpetuated in that time is immense. And because the big and small sacrifices, and acts of kindness, and expressions of love carried out in that time are immense.
We are an old species because it has taken millions of innovations, small, medium-sized and huge, and an immense number of unique lives, to take us from the boundaries of the continent we evolved on, to all the corners of the earth, to the skies beneath our atmosphere, and then through it into space. All those people and their brains and their mistakes and the lives they lived mean we are at the point where we lift ourselves off the face of the planet whose oceans we started in, and put ourselves on the moon. (And our machines on Mars. Though apologies to Curiosity for calling it a mere machine - its tweets show it's so much more than that ^_^). The point where the people of the latter half of the 20th and the early 21st centuries can be the first in the history of our species to realistically imagine that they, their children, and certainly their grandchildren might one day see up close, inhabit, or even end their lives on a different body of land in the universe to the one on which they began. And just like all of those people before us, we have no idea where our lives, our innovations, our ideas and our crimes are leading - what people in 10,000 years will be dreaming about because we invented the internet and didn't halt global warming, and pioneered the very first, nervous days of humans travelling into space.
We are an old species. But we're a young one too, because we are hungry and clever and have the immensity of space to learn, and because we might still have the foresight and compassion to save ourselves, and in the process take ourselves forward into that vast universe.
(in a non-rampaging-and-killing way).
*steps over gently rolling tumbleweed*
I really want to start blogging again. I swear I say that about twice a year, but this time I mean to mean it. With a couple of notable exceptions, over the past however-long I only seem to work up the mental energy to blog when I'm sad about something - so now I find it hard to look back over my entries, because it's mostly a catalogue of recent miserable times - and why does that matter? Because I have so much more to say than that. And when I can force myself to engage with stuff and write, I feel better, in my life, in general. So I should do that.
I'm on the internet every day, and I read a lot, but I barely ever comment. I have a horrible lurky habit of thinking I don't have the energy to get involved, so I just absorb and read people's thoughts, and never write anything myself, and feel weird and disconnected. The internet is this epic tool of communication and most of my time on it makes me feel disconnected, 'cause I hide from people. I really don't know why. Sometimes it's depression. But actually, the last few days have been one of those times when I think I don't have the mental energy to comment and engage and talk to people... and then I read something so disgusting and offensive and gross that I spend half the night commenting and engaging and talking about it. Clearly, I have the mental energy when something strikes me. If I have that reaction to a hideous piece of crap then I should summon that to comment on people whose writing and thoughts I actually like, too.
I like you, your writing, your thoughts. I should tell you that once in a while.
And Christ, I need to write in this thing.
I had a rather epic time at London Comic-Con, getting to listen to Ben Browder talk about his love of Doctor Who, and see Anthony Head be funny and take jokes about coffee adverts in stride. And made a good friend in the process. I NEED TO TALK ABOUT HOW EPIC IT WAS (and how my need to actually watch Farscape has quintupled since. I liked BB in Stargate, but I need him on my television for more than two seasons).
I want to write something about racism and The Daily Mail. Yeah, yeah. It's racist. We all know that. But we should bloody well keep talking about it.
Have not been blogging of late, a combined spoon-and-inspiration-dearth. But I wanted to squee about how proud I am to be part of The Moment of Change, an awesome anthology of feminist speculative poetry edited by Rose Lemberg, published by Aqueduct Press, launching at Wiscon, and available to purchase from here yaaaay http://www.aqueductpress.com/books/TheMomentofChange.html . There are so many awesome poets in this thing, Ursula Le Guin, Catherynne Valente, Meena Kandasamy, and so, so many others, with gorgeous words and important things to say. Plus a thing I wrote (eep!). There's going to be a reading this Friday at Wiscon (http://roselemberg.net/?p=300) and my GOD I wish I was going. Anyway. It's a thing of beauty! Check it out!
There are particular places and times, though, that my brain keeps coming back to, feverishly, at inconvenient moments, and I spend a rash of money on books and neglect to sleep, and then it subsides again and I fall back in love with something else.
One of these is pre-Islamic Arabia. Oh my god, I am so desperately and utterly thrilled by societies, cultures, religion, kingdoms, life, in the pre-Islamic Arabian peninsula. I always have been, but it was particularly stoked by a visiting exhibition I saw at the Louvre in 2010. It was a truly stunning exhibition called Roads of Arabia: Archaeology and History of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, full of artefacts that for the most part had never left Saudi Arabia before, and about two-thirds of which were from the pre-Islamic period. Christ, the paragraphs and paragraphs I could write about that exhibition. But I'll keep it succinct, so I can move on to the point of this entry.
Here is the impression I got from that exhibition and its accompanying literature (an entirely amateur impression, and I would love to hear from anyone who knows more than I do): the pre-Islamic Arabian peninsula was, for thousands of years, the setting for the flourishing and decline of a dizzying range of kingdoms, cultures, societies, and languages, about most of which very little is known. There are glimpses: enormous sandstone statues of kings, five-thousand-year-old figurines, tablets carved with inscriptions in Old North Arabian (a group of closely related languages which are either related to or evolved to become, the Classical Arabic of the Qur'an - not sure which), fragments that historians have studied and used to posit histories for rising and falling kingdoms over thousands of years. That said, I have never formally studied this enormous period of history, and there's a lot I don't know and many sources I'm not familiar with, including extant medieval copies of non-surviving ancient documents, recordings of pre-Islamic poetry by Islamic scholars, and Greek and Roman sources. Plus, there are brilliant historians from the region whose work I need to read, such as the truly awesome Dr Hatoon al-Fassi, a historian based at King Saud University, who has argued that women in Nabatea (a pre-Islamic Arabian kingdom) had, in many ways, more rights than in today's Saudi Arabia, and who is a generally badass activist for women's rights today. (Check out this article which has more on her scholarship: Saudi scholar finds ancient women's rights.)
Ok, here at last is the reason for this entry.
God how I ramble. ¬_¬ . Sorry.
Ok, I'm not.
So as I was saying before, I was reading that in pre-Islamic Arabia, Old North Arabian languages co-existed with the language which became Classical Arabic (or themselves evolved into Classical Arabic, my shoddy internet reading is not clear on this point! - which probably means scholars don't agree...? or that I should spend money on some books :/). However I also read that there was a distinct group of languages called Old South Arabian, which were descended from a different branch of Semitic to Old North Arabian / Arabic, and were spoken in the south of the peninsula. The general consensus seems to say that they died out, especially after Arabic became the dominant language across the peninsula (though I wouldn't be surprised if there are scholars who challenge this). I had read this before today, but guess what I read today that I had never read before?! :D.
There is a language family still in existence today which is descended from the same branch of Semtic as Old South Arabian, i.e. distinct from Arabic, i.e. a survivor of the language group that existed in the southern Arabian peninsula before Arabic became dominant!
According to that same, current, general consensus, this language family, named Modern South Arabian, is not directly descended from Old South Arabian, but it's definitely considered to be a cousin, i.e. from the same branch of Semitic as it, a relation of the languages spoken in the southern societies of the pre-Islamic peninsula! According to Ethnologue, Modern South Arabian languages are all minority languages, and many are seriously endangered. Mehri, spoken in Yemen, Kuwait and Oman is estimated to have135,800 speakers. Soqotri, spoken on islands off the coast of Yemen, 64,000 speakers. However Hobyót, spoken in Oman and Yemen, only has 100 speakers D: D: . (All stats from Ethnologue). There are others, at varying levels of endangerment, more endangered by the fact that many of them are only spoken languages, their speakers writing and reading only in Arabic.
I would love love love to learn more about these languages, about the cultures and lives and societies of the people who speak them.
Does anyone come from a relevant cultural/linguistic background they wouldn't mind talking with me about? Has anyone studied these languages/histories/cultures or travelled in these regions / does anyone have any books recs? Anyone else interested in these subjects?
God, I love this world, and the sheer breadth and variety of every last tale and tongue of every culture the migrations of our species have ever produced.