Whole30 Day3…today I think I’ll stay in bed

Good morning. It is a good morning because I am on holiday from work so I can stay in bed. And I really feel rather under the weather. I don’t think this has anything to do with whole30, more to do with the hacking cough that makes me sound like a combination of the hound of the baskervilles choking to death and someone stuffed a weasel down my throat. And the weasel is desperate to escape. Also, my chest hurts, which is probably related to the coughing thing. The cough started on Saturday which is before whole30 started therefore no causal relationship can possibly be established. It is however, definitely a causal factor in my lack of sleep. The cough, not whole30. For someone who blogs, I really should think about expressing myself more clearly, but you are getting stream of consciousness, so…and this is probably more for me to write than others to read. As an aside, should you edit stream of consciousness, or leave it in its subjective glory?

One thing I have noticed is that I have started to be much more ‘in the moment’ as well as much more ‘in bed’. For quite a long time now, I have found it quite difficult to focus on one thing, for example, to watch a film without also reading a book and checking my phone every 20 seconds, wandering around every few minutes like a restless flea on amphetamine. But it occurred to me yesterday, as I turned off my kindle to watch the first episode of Z (Zelda Fitzgerald played by Christina Ricci! Pefect!) that I was actually going to sit and focus. Ok, there could be several reasons for this.

  1. I have loved Christina Ricci since I wanted to be Wednesday in the Addams Family, and Zelda Fitzgerald is fascinating, tragic and a potent symbol of woman as Mad, Bad and Sad (see Lisa Appignanesi’s brilliant book).
  2. I was physically tired from the gym and stuffed full of food- neither of which make jumping around as though all the ants are in your pants appealing.
  3. I promised myself I was only going to watch one episode. This is my new thing. I have binged on lots of series, as is de rigueur these days, but I have never ever finished one. I accept that this might be because I am up to series 3 and everybody else is on series 11.

But I also find I watch so much that I get bored of the concept and the characters. I need to go old school. I need to go back to anticipating what is going to happen, to delayed gratification. I want to be excited about what is going to come next, and not watch until my eyes are closed and my thought process is, oh for fuck’s sake get on with it. This last comment particularly applies to How I Met Your Mother. Seriously, how long can they long out this premise. Who cares about who Ted meets anymore? It’s not going to be the mother. Anyway, I digress. Being in the moment. I did check my phone a few times, but I also focused. I watched and I enjoyed. If I can do that with tv maybe I can do it in real life too. Deep stuff just from giving up gluten. I suspect it’s more to do with giving up alcohol though.

So I started by telling you I was staying in bed. I am. But I weaselled in on ‘being in the moment’. A small part of me thinks I might be being a wanker for writing about it- next I’ll be telling you how mindfulness is key to success and cutting gluten from my diet literally saved my life, but that is another post.

Asking For It: what did she expect? Louise O’Neill

IMG_0127I have never read anything by Louise O’Neill before, although this is her second novel. Perhaps because it is in the young adult section. Fortunately, I am a teacher and so I have access to young adult fiction without really having to look for it- I just walk into the school library. I have to admit though, whenever I am in a bookshop, in real life or online, I do tend to check out this section. I do it for several reasons- what is being marketed at the young adults I teach, what are they actually reading, and finally (most importantly) there are some brilliantly written and fantastic pieces of literary fiction that goes ignored by adults because it has been mislabelled- young adults are still adults, and all adults should engage with it. That is not a blanket endorsement, clearly young adult fiction suffers from the same problems as fiction marketed at older people- some of it is awful, but that doesn’t mean it should be dismissed en masse.

Back to the book. This caught my eye because its title is something I have been thinking about a lot. One of my students recently pointed out that she had been reading some startling statistics about young people’s understanding of what is meant by consent.

  • 31% of young men said they would try to have to sex with someone who didn’t want to;
  • 20% of young men would try to have sex with someone who was asleep;
  • 33% of young men thought that having sex with someone who said no, was not rape;
  • 1 in 16 girls aged 13-17 said they had been raped.

Statistics can always be contested. These come from a Guardian article published in 2012, and there are certainly more up to date surveys (I will not digress into a criticism of self-report here but maybe at a later date). We also know that the public understanding of consent is blurred. We know this anecdotally, but it is pervasive in the media, and in court cases. What was she wearing? How much had she had to drink? How many people has she slept with? Has she slept with him before? Did she fight him? These and a million other questions imply, or worse, actually accuse the victim of being responsible. We do have a responsibility to keep ourselves safe, but we also have a responsibility to keep others safe. That means looking after each other. Very few rapes are committed by strangers. Surely it is not unreasonable to expect our friends to look after us, whatever we are wearing etc. etc.

This book considers all of these issues (and more) from the point of view of an 18 year old girl. A girl who has been sexually objectified by everybody she knows since before she knew what sex meant. Her idealisation based on her looks mean this is the only way she can ascribe any value to herself is based on how boys respond to her; her only value is her looks. It also means it is the only way she knows how to judge other people. “She’s hot, but she’s boring.” Being boring isn’t a problem, although there is something in her that feels the sting. Her community is resolutely moral, traditionally so i.e. Men go to work, sow their wild oats; women cook, clean, look sexy but never put out (who buys the cow if the milk is free). The scene is set. I don’t want to spoil this book anymore. It deserves to be read by children and adults alike. The disclaimer on the back of my copy says it is not suitable for younger readers, but it is certainly suitable for anybody in secondary school, including the teachers- and parents should read it too. It is horrific what happens, but it is not unlikely, in fact it is completely credible. It follows logically from the way we sexualise the young, that sexuality comes to be something they expect, need and judge each other (and themselves upon). Our constant and insidious denigration of young women (and all women) means that young men, and society as a whole feels no need to respect what a woman says, especially when she says no.

This book disturbed me, and I think it should have done. I have been thinking about it for the past few days, and I am still not sure what I think, but the double standards are made very clear by the tagline on the back: They’re good boys really. This all just got out of hand.

How often do we excuse some sections of society, while blaming others?

 

 

The Heart Goes Last. Margaret Atwood

IMG_0104I am going to say straight out that Margaret Atwood is one of my all time favourite authors. That’s the bias out of the way. If I was important enough to go on Desert Island discs then I think that her novels would come with me. I read her work multiple times, and each time I find something different. Partially this reflects who I am at the time, and my concerns, worries and cares, as well as my experiences. I think my favourite novels are the ones that imagine and realise a dystopian future- the return to fundamentalism in The Handmaid’s Tale, the ecological disaster fuelled by free market capitalism in the Maddadam trilogy and so I was incredibly pleased to see her new novel in pride place in my school library (I am a teacher) especially when I read the back. A dystopian future created by the free market (economic disaster this time) focusing on a couple who have lost their jobs, their house, and currently live in their car, which also acts as an escape vehicle from those with even less. Offered the chance of escape, they jump at the chance- a promise of a clean house, jobs and protection. All they have to do is promise to spend every other month in prison. And it’s not even a real prison. You know something bad is happening, warnings are flagged up all over the place, but quite what the bad thing is, or bad things are is not always easy to identify. Whom can you trust? Despite continuous surveillance (everyone is spying on everybody else) you can never be quite sure who to trust? When characters are lying to each other, they are just as capable as lying to the reader, and they do, as often as they lie to each other. Everything is a commodity. Belongings are cherished as babies, and if everything has an economic value, what isn’t for sale? With her customary wit, insight and imagination, Atwood creates an all too believable hell in which any of us could find ourselves (except possibly the super-rich), and as inequality grows and haves get more and the have-nots lose out more often and more frequently, Atwood feeds on fears that have a credible basis in reality. We are doing this to ourselves.

If you have never read any of Margaret Atwood’s previous novels then this would be as good a place to start as any. Personally I prefer her futuristic novels rather than those based on the past. While I admire the research and craft of her novels such as Alias Grace, I don’t enjoy them as much, although they still chime with my beliefs and ideas as much as any other. While crafting incredible stories, Atwood makes wider points about society, her novels always reflect the inequalities in society, most frequently the position of women. Whether her characters are harking back to an imaginary golden age, or desperate to move forward into the future, the struggle against inequality and societies expectations of the male and female are made clear, and the impact of these notions on individuals are vividly illustrated. Capitalism as a political system and ideology also comes in for its deserved share of criticism- that earning money should be the driving force of all people and all societies results in horror, and she demonstrates with clarity the tiny steps we take towards a previously unacceptably terrifying reality. It feels like a journey we are already on.

In short, read this book, and read all her other novels. She is genius.