Categories
Poetry

The Eternals 

By Ryan Quinn Flanagan

Art by Mrinal Kanty Das. Courtesy: Creative Commons
THE ETERNALS

Discomfort is no friend to be called upon fruitless night,  
nor enemy pushed over slanderous blade, 
no cavernous mythical beast you may find on a mahjong table; 
even prison escapes prisoner sometimes. 
 	
Rafters high as angelic asbestos,  
persistent cowlick wetted down by tongue and finger 
so often never yours, my failures collected like stamps, 
mailed off to distant corners. 
 
Odourless resilience, pristine fascinations – 
stiffened embankments of the eternals, the devil-less breath, 
cackled skullduggery in open doorways; 
what I have seen is not enough and what I have lived, too long – 
our final dark friend extolled like sweet shop candies to all. 
 	
And this simple snap of graphite, more plumbago than diamond, 
sheen-less dullard of whoosh whoosh long coats... 
grant this pencil recycled hours; 
if not for mine, then perhaps that deep swelling culvert  
of your many obstructions was never for tears.

Ryan Quinn Flanagan is a Canadian-born author residing in Elliot Lake, Ontario, Canada with his wife and many bears that rifle through his garbage.  His work can be found both in print and online in such places as: Evergreen Review, The New York Quarterly, Borderless Journal, GloMag, Red Fez, and The Oklahoma Review

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Poetry

Poetry by Candice Louisa Daquin

Courtesy: Creative Commons
POTENTIAL PEACE BENEATH THE WAR

Does humanity, as a concept
exist in a vacuum?
Where humble sentience is 
dislocated in the parched throat of self-interest? 
Where does the common man find solace?
Lost moniker describing individuals seeking equity 
in twitching furnace of somnambulist society,
their labour rebuked for birth right or whimsy,
inequality sewn into flimsy lapel, the holes of their shoes
before any nation’s birth is death; for what nationality
does anyone possess? Or own? What land is
ours or yours? What power? What skin? 
What impotent sieve tries to retain enough water before the monsoon shifts? 
Drunk, before any of us knew we could protest
what was never going to be given freely --
that division of us all, made clay, made stalagmite
what are anyone’s true wishes? Who hears? 
When war makers fabricate the mould and send 
into battle, scolded and uncooked, their children?
What does the crowing babe think; when war flies
its planes and machines overhead? Raining red loss 
upon the downtrodden, seeking only, meagre sense of existing --
hardly able to drag their weary bodies to vote
nor contemplate chess pieces above artificial stations.
Perhaps Marx had a point, the silver infusion
of distraction, an ultimate opiate, or
is it just our water-borne natures? If there is such
collective nature? To fight in dust -- swirl until we’re tired
then lay our guns down and pick on each other
with weary, blooded fists. Is anything appeased in our
vain battles or are mere silly devils playing ruined
games on a board where nobody watches?
Save the ember curl of time, reminding all;
Those who do not remember history
are bound, to repeat its grievous wounds. 
Then: Break free mockingbird 
find your own voice, not choked by common
dust, for we are all, for we all can find 
potential peace beneath the war. 

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Candice Louisa Daquin is a Psychotherapist and Editor, having worked in Europe, Canada and the USA. Daquins own work is also published widely, she has written five books of poetry, the last published by Finishing Line Press called Pinch the Lock. Her website is www thefeatheredsleep.com

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL.

Categories
The Observant Immigrant

Can We Create a Better World by Just Wishing for it?

By Candice Louisa Daquin

The wish to laugh and shrug off differences that create unhappiness and wars is a universal one. The majority of us want to avoid unhappiness at any cost. There is however, a downside to trying to avoid unhappiness by being too open about unhappiness. When we begin to pathologize everything as a disorder, we may inadvertently neglect our ability to generate better mental health.

Before mental illness was discussed en mass, it was private and considered shameful. This had obvious detrimental effects on those suffering, but one could also argue there was a benefit to not making everything so extremely public. Like with any argument, there are pros and cons to how far we publicize mental health. The extreme of ignoring it, didn’t work. But does the extreme of talking about it to death, really help people as much as we think?

In the second half of the 20th century, owing in part to a neglect of, and a need for; improved mental health care, societies began to shift from encouraging suppression of emotion to a recognition of psychological distress and its impact. Institutes and then the de-institutionalisation movement, became ways of coping with people who struggled to function in society. But these people didn’t choose to be unhappy. Whilst it’s obvious this shift to publishing mental health instead of hiding it, has been highly beneficial in some regards; we should also consider its far reaching ramifications.

“(Historically) Many cultures have viewed mental illness as a form of religious punishment or demonic possession. In ancient Egyptian, Indian, Greek, and Roman writings, mental illness was categorised as a religious or personal problem. In the 5th century B.C., Hippocrates was a pioneer in treating mentally ill people with techniques not rooted in religion or superstition; instead, he focused on changing a mentally ill patient’s environment or occupation or administering certain substances as medications. During the Middle Ages, the mentally ill were believed to be possessed or in need of religion. Negative attitudes towards mental illness persisted into the 18th century in the United States, leading to stigmatisation of mental illness, and unhygienic (and often degrading) confinement of mentally ill individuals,” states an article on this issue.

By publicising everything, in reaction to the days when mental health was viewed with more stigma, we have not improved suicide statistics or mental illness numbers like we’d logically assume. When something is freed of stigma and shame, more people admit to suffering from mental illness than ever before, which will make it seem like more people have mental illness, when it could simply be that they are more willing to admit to having it. On the other hand, there is an observed phenomena of things becoming socially contagious.

How can we be sure we’re not increasing mental health numbers by making it so acceptable to be mentally ill? By over-emphasising it on social media? Publicising the struggle to avoid stigma, is positive, but the degree to which we discuss mental illness may be so open, as to increase numbers or over-diagnose people. For example, everyone gets sad sometimes, that doesn’t mean everyone suffers from clinical depression. Everyone gets anxious sometimes but that doesn’t mean everyone suffers from anxiety. The distinction is: Is it a disorder or a feeling? Do clinicians spend enough time considering this when they give patients a life-long diagnosis? And what is the effect of such a diagnosis?

When psychiatrists diagnose mass numbers of people, especially easily influenced teenagers, with serious life-changing mental illnesses, that immediately means the reported numbers swell. Who is to say they would be that large if diagnosis weren’t so open ended? Nebulous? Open to outside influence? Or even, the pressure of pharmaceutical companies and desperate doctors wanting quick fixes? What of parents who don’t know how to handle their rebellious teen? Is that mental illness or just life? If they demand treatment and the teen is labeled mentally ill, do they fulfil that prophecy? And if they hadn’t been diagnosed, would their reaction and outcome be different?

Our innate ability to laugh and shrug things off, comes from the challenges in life that were so terrible we had no choice if we wanted to go forward. If we remove those challenges, are we teaching our kids how to cope with hard things or wrapping them in cotton wool and medicating them? When a family of ten children ended up with eight routinely dying, how else could families cope with such tragedy but to have that coping mechanism of laughter and the ability to shrug off despair and horror? It did not mean anyone was less caring, or feeling, but that sensitivity had to be weighed against our ability to endure. We could argue we endure less pain now than ever before, as we are less likely to lose a great number of people we know, die due to disease and famine and other historical reasons for early death. Many will never even see the body of a dead relative, so how can they process that loss?

The modern world brings with it, its own attendant risks and stressors. People growing up in 1850 may not have had to worry in the same way, about looking young to keep a job, or trying to ‘do it all.’ On the other hand, they might have had to worry about not having a society that helped them if they lost a job, or how to stop their families from starving or their village from being raided. They had fewer social cushions in that sense and more of a risky day-to-day. This was starkly true when we compare the recent pandemic outbreak with say the plagues of earlier centuries. People died in the street and were left to rot, whereas now, even as we struggled and many died, we had a modicum of order. For all our terrors with Covid 19, it could have been far, far worse and has been. I say this from a position of privilege where I lived in a society that had access to medical care, and I’m fully aware many still do not, but nevertheless if we directly compare the experience of the Black Death with Covid-19, we can see tangible improvement in what those suffering, could access.

This means whether we believe it or not, appreciate it or not, we have over-all an improved quality of life than even 50 years ago. At the same time, we may have swapped some deficits for others. It may seem a minor consolation for the myriad of modern-day woes, but we are better off than our grandparents who were called ‘The Silent Generation’. They grew up learning to not speak of their struggles but cope with them silently. These days we have outlets. And in other ways, we are more alone, it is a strange mixture of progress and back-tracking. Some would argue our grandparents had a simpler, healthier life. But if average life expectancy is anything to go by, we are growing older because for the majority, our access to medical care and over-all nutrition, are improved. On the other hand, more grow old but sick-old, which is not perhaps, something to aspire to.

When we consider how badly many eat, and in truth, we do ourselves no favour when so many of us are obese and suffering from diseases of modern living such as lack of exercise, heavy drinking, lack of sleep and eating fast-food. It might be most accurate to say we have swapped some deficits such as dying due to curable diseases, and dying from malnutrition or lack of access to care and antibiotics, with modern deficits like increasing cancer rates and increasing auto immune disorders, all of which are increasing with the swell of the modern world and its life-style.

What it comes down to is this; through the wars of the past, people stood next to each other in trenches whilst their friends were blown to pieces or died in agony. They had PTSD[1] then, they suffered from depression and anxiety, but they also had no choice but to carry on. For some, the only way out was suicide or AWOL[2], while for many, they stuffed their feelings down and didn’t speak of it. Clinicians thought this way of coping caused illness and it led along with other reasons, to an improved mental health system.

But, now, in 2022, you might be forgiven for thinking EVERYTHING was a disease, and EVERYONE suffered from something, and you might find yourself wondering if some of this perceived increase was the direct result of going from one extreme to the other. Initially, nobody was mentally ill. Nowadays, who isn’t? Is this a better model?

Having worked with mentally ill people for years as a psychotherapist, I can attest that mental illness is a reality for many. I knew it was before I ever worked in the field, and it was one reason I chose that field. I wanted to help others because I saw viscerally what happened to those who did not receive help. Despite this I came to see the value of sometimes putting aside all the labels and diagnosis and medications and treatments and trying to just get on with the process of living. If we tell someone they are mentally ill and medicate them and coddle them and tell them they don’t need to try because they are so sick, then it doesn’t give them much motivation to see what else they can do.

True, for many, they are too sick to do anything but survive and that in of itself is a big achievement. So, when we talk about the need to motivate ourselves beyond labels, we’re talking about those who we’d call high functioning. People who may suffer from depression, or anxiety, but are very able to do a lot of things despite that. Does medication and therapy and labeling them, really help them make the most of their lives? Is putting them on disability for years without reviewing if things could or have changed, help? Can they learn something from our ancestors who had to just laugh and get on with it, no matter how tough things got?

It may seem a very old-fashioned approach to consider ‘toughing it out’ and having come to America and seen how much onus they put on toughing it out, I have mixed feelings about the value of doing so. The idea of being tough enough means there is always the reverse (not being tough enough) and that feels judgmental. Being judgmental, I think, has no place in recovery.

What does have a place in recovery, is doing the best you can and not letting labels define or defeat you. In this sense, I see a lot of commonalities with those struggling today and those who struggled 150 years ago. Maybe we can all learn from them and combine that with some modern prescriptivism that give us more chance to laugh and thrive, rather than fall under the yoke of a diagnosis and its self-fulfilling prophecy?

I have had many clients who felt their diagnosis disincentivized them from any other course of action than being a patient. The medication route alone is fraught with ignorance. For so long SSRIs[3] and other anti-depressants were heralded as lifesavers for depressed people, but what proof existed for this aside the hope a cure had been found? Years later studies showed only 30% of people seemed to respond to anti-depressants versus placebo.

Then second and third generation drugs were created, all the while charging exorbitant prices, and patients routinely took 2/3/4 medications for one ‘illness.’ Aside the expense and physical toll taking that much medication can do, there was a mental cost. Patients felt over-medicated, but not happier, not ‘better.’ By tputing their faith in drugs, they lost their faith in other ways of getting ‘better’ and some spiraled downward. The reality is we are all different and we process life differently. Some of us are more forward-focused, others, through imitation, genes or experience, may not be. It isn’t a deficit or illness, it’s a personality, that can change somewhat but should also be understood as the diversity of how humans cope.

Treatment Resistant Depression became the new diagnosis when modern medication failed, and new drugs were considered in tangent with current drugs, but this led to people taking more drugs, for longer periods of time, often with little improvement. How much of this is due to a negligent approach to treatment that only saw drugs as the answer? Meanwhile therapy was cut-back or became prohibitively expensive, cutting off other options for treatment. It’s logical that therapy can help avoid feeling isolated, but when the system prefers to medicate than provide therapy, there are so many taking medicines for years, that were only meant as stopgaps.

Should the media or your general physician, be the one telling you what drugs you should be taking, if at all? Preying on the desperation families  by the introduction of for-profit medication, muddies the waters further.  The disparity of information means no one source can be trusted, especially as information is ever-changing. More recently a study showed that anti-depressants may not work at all it was commonly held clinical depression was caused by a chemical imbalance and studies show correcting that imbalance does not improve depression as was once thought.

This shows us that psychiatry still has a long way to go, and when they claim things as facts, they rarely are. It contends we should not blindly trust what has become a profit led industry, where many of its practitioners see patients for a short time but somehow still diagnose them with serious mental disorders. Surely, we should consider equally, the importance of conservative diagnoses and recognise that normal variants are not necessarily disorders. In many cases, it may be that under diagnosing rather than over-diagnosing could work better.

For example, I know of many (too many) patients who told me they were diagnosed with bipolar disorder, before the age of 21 by a regular non-mental health doctor, or by a psychiatrist. Their subsequent mistrust of the system is understandable with that experience. How can someone tell you that you have bipolar disorder at 17 years of age, from a 20-minute conversation?

Even the diagnostic criteria for bipolar 1 or 2 in the DSM (Psychiatric Diagnostic and Statistical Manual), is flawed, because it’s too generalised and only highly trained professionals would be able to understand the nuance. Most are not that trained and therefore take at face value, when a diagnostic tool says someone has bipolar if they experience an episode of mania. But firstly, are they defining mania correctly? Is the patient describing mania correctly or being led? Were there mitigating factors?

If you diagnose a child with a serious mental disorder and medicate them, how can you be sure their brains aren’t affected by taking that strong medication before they have reached full development? How can you be sure they are not becoming what they are told they are? Too often, people spend years under the cloud of medication, only to emerge and realize that what was a discrete episode of depression, was medicated for decades, robbing them of the ability to recover? Doesn’t a label make it likely that some will feel helpless?

Moreover, how much power does a label have on our sub-conscious? If we are told, we are (will not be able to do something, why would we even try? If we believe we are depressed, are we less or more likely to fight against it? Isn’t some fighting a good thing? Likewise, diagnosing older people with a disease like Bipolar (a disease that occurs after puberty), shows the mistakes of the psychiatric world. How can a 70-year-old man ‘suddenly’ be Bipolar unless he has a brain-tumour or otherwise? Dementia is often misdiagnosed as Bipolar because badly trained doctors seek answers for aberrant behavior, without considering the whole story, such as how can someone of 70 develop a disease that affects those around the age of 18? Sure, some can slip through the gaps, but often, it’s the frustration of the family or doctor colouring the diagnosis. Such life-long labels should not be given lightly.

What if we treat mental illness depending upon its severity, in a different way? Consider the value of improving real-world ways of copying despite it, instead of relying on medications that were only ever meant as a stop gap and not developed to be taken for years on end? Nor over-medicating without due cause. Nor medicating young people based on very loose diagnostic expectations. Or assuming everyone who says they feel depressed or anxious, is clinically depressed or anxious, or that medication is their only solution?

Organisations that take vulnerable teens who often have co-morbid diagnosis of drug-or-alcohol abuse alongside mental illness, into the wilds, seem to be a real-world way of encouraging those young people to find coping mechanisms outside of addiction and reliance upon medication. Equally, when a young person (or anyone really) is productively employed in something they feel has meaning, this is one way anxiety and depression can improve.

We’ve seen this with Covid-19 and the necessary isolation of so many school children. Whilst it was unavoidable, the rates of depression spiked, in part because studies show people need interaction with each other. This is why online learning has a poorer outcome than classroom learning, this is why older people are less at risk of dementia if they socialise. We are social animals, we feed off each other and we empower each other. Finding your place in the world is always in relation to others to some extent.

We may never avoid war completely or our human tendency for strife, but we also have a powerful other side that urges people to do good, to help each other, to laugh and shrug off the differences that divide us. What good does’ division ever do? Unhappiness is unavoidable at times, but sometimes it’s a choice. We can choose to recognise something is hard and actively pursue ways of improving it. We can struggle through and feel good about the struggle and the effort we put in. if we take that all away and don’t encourage people to try, we give them no way out. Sometimes there is no way out of suffering or mental illness, but often we cannot know that unless we have tried.

Many years ago, people valued older people because they were considered wise and able to impart valuable life lessons to impetuous youth. Nowadays, the elderly are not respected and are often siphoned off into homes before their time, because people find them an inconvenience. There is a theory that humans became grandparents because grandparents were an intrinsic part of the family make-up. This explained why humans were among the only mammals to live long after menopause. Most animals die shortly after menopause, nature believing once your reproductive years are behind you, you have no value. But humans were distinct because they live long after menopause. The grandparent theory supports this by demonstrating the value of grandparents, and we can learn a lot from what nature already knows. It is never too late to have value, it is never too late to learn and grow, and it is never too late to laugh and come together, setting differences aside.

Those who achieve that, may well be happier and live healthier lives, as laughter is shown to be a great anti-ager as well as an improvement on our overall mental and physical health. Of course, what we can learn from the extremism found in the cult of positivity, illustrates there must be balance and we cannot expect to be happy all the time or unaffected by tragedy when it occurs. But staying there, and not attempting to move beyond it, to reclaim ourselves and our futures, seems to be a way to avoid going down that dark tunnel of no return.

Experience shows, we are what we think. We don’t have to be positive 24/7. To some extent any extreme sets us up for burnout and puts too much pressure on us to be ‘up’ all the time, when it’s natural to have down times. But striving for happiness, or contentment, or just finding ways to shrug off the smaller things and come together, those are things most of us wish for. So, it does no harm to direct our energies accordingly and prioritise our ability to cope. Perhaps our differences are less important sometimes, than what we have in common, and what we can do to make this world a more livable place.


[1] Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

[2] Absent without Official Leave

[3] Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors

Candice Louisa Daquin is a Psychotherapist and Editor, having worked in Europe, Canada and the USA. Daquins own work is also published widely, she has written five books of poetry, the last published by Finishing Line Press called Pinch the Lock. Her website is www thefeatheredsleep.com

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL.

Categories
Poetry

The Sentimentalist

By Ramesh Dohan

THE SENTIMENTALIST

Dawn was his greeting time.
Welcome back, he said quietly.
He couldn't believe
what day it was.
He ate lunch in a
glass box, a kind of
winter cafe.
Someone before him
had left a little
Saucer of salt, with a wooden spoon
Like a tiny oar in white sand.

Ramesh Dohan lives in Toronto, Canada with his partner and an exceptionally perfect dog. When he is not writing in his favourite café, he is seen reading, hiking, and travelling the world. 

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Categories
Poetry

Seven Blocks

By Ryan Quinn Flanagan

The bust of an aging man by Rembrandt(1606-1669)
7 BLOCKS 

7 blocks from an untenable position,
the boys in the service fill sandbags,
pack them high as the walls of the 
county courthouse.

6 blocks of freshly paved roads,
the fowler’s avian arms outstretched
like the masts of barnacled boats
in the shallow harbour.

5 blocks is a fair distance for laboured breathers,
a peace offering in a brown paper bag,
the smell of the tobacconist’s all through
my clothes and peerless smoke signal mind.

4 blocks where the cramps set in,
I was once a young man:
sinewy, bothered, flooded as basement 
apartments during the rainy season.

3 blocks of office tower stairwells,
long lines for all the food trucks,
enough polished shoes to never bang
on greasy thrift shop windows again.

2 blocks from a joint decision,
all that sobbing and tears over the phone,
switching ears with an impatient receiver.

1 block of small boutiques,
the chocolatier with crushed nuts over everything,   
not a mother in sight nor strollered 
push cart child.

Ryan Quinn Flanagan is a Canadian-born author residing in Elliot Lake, Ontario, Canada with his wife and many bears that rifle through his garbage.  His work can be found both in print and online in such places as: Evergreen Review, The New York Quarterly, Borderless Journal, GloMag, Red Fez, and The Oklahoma Review

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Poetry

The Franks Were French Long Before They Ever Became Hotdogs

By Ryan Quinn Flanagan

THE FRANKS WERE FRENCH LONG BEFORE THEY EVER BECAME HOTDOGS


Tiara Morgan barbecues in the crew cut grass line burbs.  A semi-circle of rosy-cheeked beer garden parents and a tiny splash pool for the shrieking ecstatic kiddies.  Attention seeking progeny and some matted little rescue dog living out its days of swaddled butt-sniffing glory.  As the buns come out, the smoke from grandpas fiery holy grill.  The Franks were French long before they ever became hotdogs, did you know that?  Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité!  The hamburger crowd could care less and all those tiny Orange Crush faces hugging droopy sunflowers in buzzing yellow-belted back gardens.  The roof retiled and the floors just redone.  There is a tour for the wives lost to marriage.  And animated refills bringing out the paper plates.  A condiment-rich table for the snotty rug rats.  On these long summer days that smell thrice as good as they ever look.  Not a cloud in the passing service station sky.  Everyone laughing and young as they will ever be again.

Ryan Quinn Flanagan is a Canadian-born author residing in Elliot Lake, Ontario, Canada with his wife and many bears that rifle through his garbage.  His work can be found both in print and online in such places as: Evergreen Review, The New York Quarterly, Borderless Journal, GloMag, Red Fez, and The Oklahoma Review

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Musings

Can Peace come Dropping by…

Candice Louisa Daquin explores war and peace pausing over the attack on Ukraine

Courtesy: Creative Commons

War is among the main stays in human history. Is anything more instinctive than to go to war? I’ve never been able to relate to this but perhaps that’s because I have the advantage of living in a society where we’re protected from the literalisms of war. Or perhaps it’s because I’m female, although I don’t think it is as simple as being a male prerogative (though we can never be sure until a history of women making decisions proves this). To the outsider, war always seems futile. But what we must always do in order to fully understand something is to understand the other side. Not our own opinions but those we do not comprehend. As French philosopher Albert Camus said: “We used to wonder where war lived, what it was that made it so vile. And now we realise that we know where it lives…inside ourselves.”

Why would anyone ever want to go to war?

Imagine the first reason war was enacted. Was it as simple as Cain and Abel? Or one village attacking another village? One child attacking another child?

War tends to be on a larger scale, but perhaps it begins on a smaller scale.

It is said murderers have ‘symptoms’ of evolving as killers as do rapists and predators. If this is true, then watching children and seeing them skinning a cat as a predictor to future violence, could also be applied to war-mongering behaviour. Or conversely, could we establish what experiences that child has that engenders him/her to favour war?

If children who become violent often witness violence, then it stands to reason children who support wars or encourage wars, may witness something that in their minds is pro-war. What could it be? If you grow up in a war-torn country, surely you are more likely to seek peace and an end to violence, than to crave it? The fifth century famed military strategist Sun Tzu is quoted as saying: “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.” Is war about the appearance of bravery or perceptions of strength? Ironically, Sun Tzu also said: “The wise warrior avoids the battle.” But do we follow this wisdom?

Studies show wars are committed by groups who are cohesive and decide (on invasion) and groups who defend. In essence, there is an aggressor and a protector. Sometimes wars start with two aggressors, but rarely with two protectors (this would cancel the desire for war out). Therefore, the thing everyone has in common who enters a war, is they are either seeking to invade or protect.

If people did not seek to protect, the invader would arrive and receive no resistance, and thus there would be no war. Sadly, it wouldn’t stop the invaders from say, raping and pillaging, so laying down arms and hoping for fairness, may lead to slaughter and oppression.

If people did not seek to invade, there would be no need to go to war.

What are the main reasons historically people have warred? Over land. Religion is a close second. The historic wars were over disputes of land or religion or other reasons related to both of these. The seizure of assets is related to greed/wealth/power, same as seeking to enslave people or promote an agenda (social control – another form of power). Essentially then all invasions can be reduced to one sentence: Seeking power.

One group believes they should have (more) power over another group. They invade. The other group defends or capitulates. This is the essence of war.

If we assume then most wars are enacted over a need to gain power of one sort or another, the next question becomes; Are all humans as likely to war? Or do certain societies promote war more than others? Throughout history there have been wars, many times one group did not want to go to war but were forced to in order to defend themselves. It implies there are those who are (warmongers) and there are those who are not (peacemakers or pacifists) and possibly while the latter may not seek war, they get involved if there is no alternative.

War then is to some extent – a luxury. Odd that if this is so, it’s often during the hardest times in human experience that a war begins. Wouldn’t you think if war is a luxury (by being a choice, as no war is enacted because the invaders have no choice), they’d choose not to go to war during hard times? Yet, the reverse is true.

We’re still in the struggling with the pandemic, but instead of seeking reconciliation and safety, Vladimir Putin has started the invasion into Ukraine. On the face of things this makes no sense because Russia must be hurting economically post the pandemic. To go to war when you are struggling seems madness.

Yet if this is often the case, maybe it’s like when everything is hard, people are less balanced and considerate than when things are easier? People are more charitable when they feel they can be, versus when it’s an emergency. That’s when they start looting and trampling over others. There is an inherent selfishness to humanity where they feel. “If I am alright I might be charitable but if I’m not alright you’re on your own’. It takes a really truly charitable person to stay behind and help others. Most people flee.

If we use this ‘typical’ personality trait and then apply it to a megalomaniac leader, it becomes less surprising they would choose an inopportune moment to strike. Perhaps it’s as inconvenient for everyone else as it is for Putin, therefore they have the element of surprise and inconvenience. They strike when the iron is hot, so to speak. The other impact of war is misdirection. If everyone believes something won’t happen (the invasion of Poland by Germany 1939 in WW2) when it does happen, everyone’s so surprised that they have a delayed reaction (which adds to the invader’s strengthen).

War strategy aside, do some people actually relish war ‘games’ and enjoy the enactment and planning of war? Boys are taught culturally to play with guns, war-gaming, mock-battles etc. If they were not, I suspect they would be no more inclined to go to war than a woman. Then again since we cannot prove or disprove this, we can only guess what is nature and what is nurture. Without doubt, the machinations of the war ‘machine’ promote an ideology of war – not unlike the machinations of a religion to promote an ideology. It’s a form of brain washing. Perhaps, one can agree that “In war, truth is the first casualty.”

When countries encourage a percentage of their population to join the military and have a robust army, they tend to be primarily pro-war – in that – they may not wish to die fighting nor encourage a war, but if one happens, they’re ready and, perhaps, they want it to happen because that’s what they have trained for. If you spend billions on war machines, would you wish them never to be used? Or would you see them as more than deterrents? Would you want to manufacture all this impressive battalion equipment only to see it do nothing? The problem with the creation of tools of war is then someone wants to use them. It is much like the debate raging in America over whether the ownership of guns perpetuates violence. On the one hand some believe if we didn’t have (access to) guns we’d have less violence or gun-deaths. They point to countries with lower rates of gun-ownership to ratify their beliefs. On the other hand, people say it’s not the gun but the person who wields the gun; if they don’t use a gun, they will use something else. They point to the rates of stabbing deaths and other forms of violence endemic in countries with low gun-ownership and to countries with high gun ownership (Switzerland/Canada) who have low gun crime.

There is no easy answer here. Guns have caused countless futile deaths, and gun ownership is a hot topic not likely to be resolved. But if we had less machines of war, would we be less inclined to go to war? Critics point to this as a reason to scale back the US military, whilst others say without such deterrents there would be more attacks on America (or any country without a robust military) because peace is actually wrought by both sides having enough machines of war (and nuclear weapons) that neither side feels they can strike without the other side striking back – and this is what enables us to avoid war. It’s a pretty twisted scenario that makes sense until someone in power decides – I’m not going to play by those rules. In non-interventionist theory, there was a drive to establish international courts to adjudicate disputes between nations and an emphasis on war contributing to moral decline and brutalisation of society in general. Whether true or not, it hasn’t stopped millions signing up for war.

In considering whether being anti-war is realistic, we must analyse the history of war, why humans go to war, what war means to us and what provokes it, as well as whether we can realistically avoid it? It’s one thing to wish for no war, I think a great many of us would share that perspective. But there is an old joke about this: A woman meets a genii and she gets one wish, she wishes for world peace. The world grinds to a halt. Why would the world grind to a halt? Do we depend on war so much? Personally, I don’t think war keeps us ticking over but if we consider our history, much of what we have done revolved around war of some kind (or the prevention of) and thus, we’d have a very different planet earth today if we had world peace. Classics like  All Quiet on the Western Front (1929) by German writer Erich Maria Remarque, have become part of a canon of anti-war media, that enduringly influences the pacifist movement. Perhaps without knowing war, we cannot know why war is such a terrible price to pay.

I am utopian in that I would like to see world peace. Imagine a world where people received funding for healthcare and food rather than bullets and violence? But is that like wishing human nature should have been different? Can we ever hope to become enlightened enough to actually stop wars from occurring? In 2022 as with history thus far, humanity as a whole has not been enlightened sufficiently to stop war from occurring. America, as a developed nation, is the only country to have used nuclear bombs on another country in our entire history. A less developed country that has historically been a trigger for war, may have more growing pains and therefore more wars. But let us not believe in ‘developed’ versus ‘developing’ to judge the pacifist intent of one country over another. Historically, we’re all guilty.

“Just war theory has been converted into a form of apologetics for whatever atrocities your favoured state is carrying out,” says Noam Chomsky in his book What We Say Goes: Conversations on U.S. Power in a Changing World. It’s not ethnicity, income or development that causes war. It’s human beings. Within us is a penchant for going to war, that cannot easily be explained but clearly has existed since the beginning of (human) time. Until we can come up with alternatives to war, this destructive cycle shows no hope of ending. We can reason ourselves to death, but it only takes one unpredictable leader, the right speech, and we’re at war again. What we know if nothing else is, humans go to war. What we don’t yet know, is how to remove that impulse.

Is it an impulse like sexual attraction or hunger? Something as intrinsic and hard-wired or more of a defense mechanism for men? Again, I think without proof of this, it makes more sense to assume this is a human predilection and not a gender-driven one. Would women go to war as gladly as men? We may not have enough historical precedence to substantiate this issue. It could be argued they were working with a masculine model, but we have no proof either way. Rather than entering the ‘blame game’ what would be a way to avoid war altogether?

Negotiations only go so far. What one country may wish another country to do, doesn’t mean they will. If that country feels that is a deal breaker, then war is on. How can you ever alter that outcome when it’s as common place as two people disagreeing? This will always occur and if those two people are world leaders, then war may be the result. Is it unavoidable even if so many of us wish for peace? What are the ‘necessities’ of peace? German philosopher, Immanuel Kant was one of the earliest exponents of the idea that “perpetual peace could be secured through universal democracy and international cooperation.” Democracy isn’t a save-all and has severe down-sides, making ideas in reality, less like their philosophical ideal. Novelist Victor Hugo contended, “Peace is the virtue of civilisation. War is its crime.”

I feel fortunate I did not grow up in war-torn countries, but even in my lifetime, I have heard of so many wars. All wars are a huge waste of money. Even the World Wars, where nearly every country entered in order to fight off the invading fascists. Whether anti-imperialism, an end to totalitarianism or nuclear disarmament, are the answers for enduring peace, they’re complicated and don’t explain the enduring penchant for violence and war within humanity.

One thing I noticed when I immigrated to America was how many people believed being pro military meant being pro war. People would say things like; ‘they are defending our freedom’ and I would ask; ‘how are they defending our freedom if our freedom was never in jeopardy?’ I felt most of the wars in America since WW2 were completely unnecessary. Not a single one of them was really justified (in terms of it being necessary to defend America against a true threat). Most were born out of paranoia and a need for control (anti-communism) or greed and a need for control (Afghanistan and beyond). They were not ‘as advertised’ meaning the average American thought America invaded countries for one reason but it was often a completely different reason.

When 9/11 happened, the entire world was shocked. America did not have a history of being attacked on their soil since the Civil War (and that, by their own populous). The outrage with a staggering death toll of about 3000 was so stunning that a need for vengeance or rectitude was experienced. The result was the longest drawn war in American history which led to billions being spent and weapons getting into the hands of ‘the enemy’ which so often has been the case. How can this be a good thing? Anymore than creating a generation of young men who seek vengeance for what was done to their countries in the name of ‘freedom.’

The polarisation of religion, culture, politics and ethos seems more acute than ever before. There is no universal agreement and those who sue for peace, must realise that just wishing for it, isn’t going to resolve those long-standing fractions. Maybe it’s simply not in our nature to want to all get along, to avoid war and seek peace. Maybe humans are warmongers and we’ve replaced the hunt of big game with fighting each other. Maybe the veneer of our so-called civilisation is very thin and waiting for any excuse to implode. That said, I’m an optimist. As such I believe there are ways to gain peace and avoid war. I don’t think it’s as simple as putting our weapons down, because someone will always cheat. Trust must be earned and even then. But if we seek the same goal, that’s a start. It may not happen in my lifetime, but it is my hope with every generation we come closer to a rejection of war. There are quite simply, too many other needs and just imagine — if we poured our collective funds into helping those in need, we could live in a paradise instead of buying bullets that erase life. Ultimately every single one of us is responsible for what happens going forward, collectively.

Quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nobody can bring you peace but yourself.”

Candice Louisa Daquin is a Psychotherapist and Editor, having worked in Europe, Canada and the USA. Daquins own work is also published widely. She has written five books of poetry, the last published by Finishing Line Press is called Pinch the Lock. Her website is www thefeatheredsleep.com

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are solely that of the author and not of Borderless Journal.

Categories
Poetry

Do You Dream of People in Masks Now?

Ryan Quinn Flanagan

Courtesy: Creative Commons
DO YOU DREAM OF PEOPLE IN MASKS NOW?

We were almost two years into some blurry day drinking 
pandemic that had failed everyone
when she asked me that question.
	
Do you dream of people in masks now?
she asked.
	
I had never thought of it,
but told her I dreamt of them the old way.

I could see the surprise on her face.
I could tell that she did not.
Not anymore.

It was probably another six month before 
I had my first masked dream.

Then I started to see them everywhere.
Jumping out of the popcorn ceiling overhead.

When I told her I finally saw them,
she seemed to feel a little better.

Not that I was seeing what see was seeing,
but that she was not alone.

All that wine.
The way you start to clank 
when you walk.

Ryan Quinn Flanagan is a Canadian-born author residing in Elliot Lake, Ontario, Canada with his wife and many bears that rifle through his garbage.  His work can be found both in print and online in such places as: Evergreen Review, The New York Quarterly, Borderless Journal, GloMag, Red Fez, and The Oklahoma Review

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Categories
The Observant Immigrant

The Changing Face of Family

By Candice Louisa Daquin



A Maori family in European dress (nineteenth century). Courtesy: Creative Commons

The indigenous Maori people of New Zealand, like many other first nation people including the Aboriginal tribes of Australia and Native Americans of North America, have a differing view of family to dominant mainstream Western culture. Maori culture prizes the family over the individual, a person gains the most respect through their commitment to their community, not through their individual accomplishments.

The Maori word: “Kaumatuatanga,” is concerned with keeping families and the Maori community together, and “Whakawhanaungatanga” relates to the Maori belief that family bonds should always precede other matters in life, and benefit the whole, again rather than the individual. A good friend, adopted by Anglo-New Zealanders but biologically Maori, and taught in the Maori ways, explained that; “Maori’s respect the White man’s ways, but have their own, especially where family is concerned. To Maori, family is history and future, the individual must work to strengthen their future collectively and respect their history, or their individuality has no value. In other words, family guides the individual and each individual Maori is made aware, irrespective of adoption or other circumstance of his/her history.”

My Maori friend, Esther explained that while she was adopted, given up by her birth mother who at sixteen did not feel she could care for her child, she was embraced by the Maori when she sought them out years later, and was taught of her ancestors, whose record of arriving in New Zealand, in minute detail, was recorded in the Maori tradition and passed on from generation to generation. Esther was able to find out the name of her specific tribe, the head of that tribe and the name of the boat her tribe took when they embarked for New Zealand from Polynesia, years prior to any Anglo settlers. Esther explained that; “Having such a rich history, knowing not only where I came from as an individual but as a people, gives me more security than any Anglo child I know, irrespective of my adoption. Even if my birth mother had not embraced me, my people, my extended family, did, and I have always felt accepted and welcomed by my culture. This leaves me feeling less dislocated and unaware of my history than most people and I find it impossible to be insecure with such a rich extended family.”

Contrast this with the story of Susanna from Toronto, a Canadian 33-year-old single-mother. Susanna’s family is of English/French descent. Her mother lives in Vancouver, she has never met her father who left her mother soon after Susanna was born. At 25, Susanna, in a relatively stable relationship at the time, became pregnant and had Emily. Soon after Emily was born, Susanna’s partner got a job offer in the US and chose to leave with another woman whom he had been seeing. Devastated by the loss of her partner both financially and emotionally, Susanna was unable to support herself and sank into depression. She continued to struggle financially and received little assistance from her mother who has remarried and her half-sister from that marriage.

“At times, it feels as if I have no family,” Susanna says, smiling at her daughter who she reports, has lots of friends at school and is doing well. “I fear for Emily’s future because she has no support network, she doesn’t see any of her grandparents, she has no brothers and sisters and if something were to happen to me, I really don’t know who would take care of Emily. I didn’t think in 2007 anyone would be as isolated as I feel, but then I talk to other single moms, and they tell me they’re struggling too. Sometimes I don’t think anyone really considers us, or the impact of our isolation and what effect that has on our kids. I know Emily is getting old enough to notice when I get depressed and be adversely affected by the state our finances. I want to give her so much more, but I never feel I have anyone to turn to for help. My social life died as soon as I had Emily because I couldn’t afford a babysitter. I’m only 33 but I don’t remember the last time I had a night out, sometimes my frustration gets really bad, and I lose my patience with Emily. It’s not her fault but it’s not mine either, I didn’t know I was going to be dumped, I didn’t think my lack of own family would impact me as negatively as it has, I used to have a lot of friends and now I only know other single parents who like me, struggle to make ends meet, we’re a lonely bunch.”

Susanna is only one of the roughly 1 million (Statistics Canada, 2001) single-mothers in Canada today, juggling a full-time job and full-time childcare with radically different support networks. No longer able to rely upon an extended family for baby-sitting; Susanna has had to adapt to the changing face of Canada’s traditional ‘family’.

It may be ironic that developed countries have significantly higher rates of single-parent family households, with the US leading the way at 34%[1] and Canada close behind at 22%. Historical reasons for single-parent families have been replaced with modern-world explanations linked to the evolving social and cultural demographic changes especially in the last 30 years. Despite cultural shifts, many negative connotations remain associated with single-parent families, and “non-traditional” families, despite this “non-traditional” model eclipsing the old normative two-parent, two-gender nuclear family. Today it seems, anyone can be a family, and the word “family” is associated more with an experience of (family) than a tightly fitting model. The question then becomes multifaceted; Have we identified what needs these new family structures have? Are those needs of the individual being met by the new family dynamic? And are the needs of these differing faces of family being met by social institutions?

Single Mothers by Choice (SMC) founded in the US is the largest advocate and networker for single mothers in North America. Statistics compiled by SMC show that many single-mothers are electively having babies by themselves, for a variety of reasons including a wish to have children outside of a marriage, by oneself, or in a same-sex coupling. Motherhood is, likewise, no longer restricted to marriage, nor do women have to abide to the old-fashioned concept of having their children in their twenties ‘just to be safe’. Career women in particular, are finding, motherhood later in life, fulfills their maternal instinct and equips them with greater financial resources to meet the needs of single motherhood. Many women are eclipsing their male partner’s earnings and as such, some men are opting to share if not take over the rearing of children, whilst other women find job-sharing roles with their counterparts a more practical way of meeting motherhood responsibilities while remaining in the work force. The 1980 comedy film, Nine-To-Five, exemplified the struggle that began in the 80’s with women entering the work place in increasing numbers due to emancipation, a wish for a career and financial necessity often the result of divorce. In the film, a character is fired because she misses work due to her child’s illness. Later on, she is reinstated by a female boss, and permitted to job-share so that she might work and have time for her children. This trend extended to childcare facilities being available onsite and special incentives for mothers.

Despite progress, women continue to earn less than men, typically being responsible for the children and often receiving little or sporadic financial support. While the French Government, concerned with falling birth rates, recently instituted a programme to incentivise women to have more children, paying them more per child and “rewarding” them for having children, as well as making it easier for them to work, this program and others like it do not cover the issue of a spartan or non-existent family network. Can we really hope to replace the extended family with social institutions?

Out-dated theories of the ‘ideal family’ continue to be quashed by the ever-evolving modern reality of today’s family structures. Kids born in the 1960’s and 70’s may have directly experienced divorce and thus, have different perspectives of what a family structure entails, and how best to form it. Laws in Canada allow same-sex couples to adopt, and prior to that, same-sex couples who had children from previous unions, did so anyway. The law cannot dictate a family, it can only work to support those families that emerge from its society and hope to be effective in meeting those changing needs. Stacy, growing up in the 70’s was reared by her father, at the time a very unusual move. Her mother, a die-hard careerist, had little interest in children and left Stacy in the care of her father. At the age of six, Stacy was questioned by school social workers who were concerned that Stacy might become the victim of sexual abuse, simply on the basis of her living with her father.

Stacy’s father never abused Stacy and she grew up to campaign for the rights of single fathers, who Stacy says, often receive unequal treatment at the hands of biased social institutions who favor a mother’s rights over her children. Adults like Stacy are the parents of 2007, bringing with them a different perspective of what is permissible and acceptable child-rearing. “I never felt like a boy just because I didn’t’ grow up with my mother. My father can still sew better than I can, and he wanted to parent me, my mother wasn’t interested. To me, an interested parent is far more valuable than a disinterested one, irrespective of gender,” says Stacy, now actively involved in the Canadian Equal Parenting Group, with her own family, Stacy decided not to marry because she prefers the; “Goldie and Kurt” model.

When Susanna found herself abandoned by her partner, pregnant and unable to hold down a well-paying job, she turned to online message boards and found that she was not alone. “I felt like such a failure but began to see that we condemn ourselves the worst and if we can believe we’re capable of doing a good job, maybe society will catch up and not condemn us. I wasn’t a 16-year-old ‘welfare mom’ as many young moms are called, but even if I had been, I’d like to think I’d have been given a chance, people are quick to judge but who is judging the fathers who leave? Or the social institutions that fail to provide?” In online communities, Susanna found groups of single mothers who networked to provide childcare and support, as well as a healthy dose of information about how to get through the sometimes-confusing system of healthcare and welfare available for single parents.

Recently Susanna has connected with single-parent camp organisers for Emily. Although most are private and can be expensive, there are reductions based on income and plenty of notice available for planning and saving. Likewise, the organisation Canadian Parents Without Partners (CPWP)[2] offers friendship and support for those parents like Susanna and also those parents who actively chose to become single parents. This said, in an article entitled: Navigating Family Transitions: Evidence from the General Social Survey (Beaupré, Pascale, Cloutier, Elisabeth)[3] points at both positive and negative consequences for changing families in Canada, including resources available to young families with less familial support than ever before and the economic consequences of divorce. In The Divorce Revolution: The Unexpected Social and Economic Consequences for Women and Children in America (1985) by Lenore J. Weitzman[4], studies confirmed societies worst fears, despite the liberising effect of divorce, women were suffering, with 14% of female divorcees seeking Welfare during the first year of divorce and divorced men seeing a 42% increase in their standard of living versus a 73% drop in living standards for the average divorced woman. Over ten years later, the same author wrote in the American Sociological Review an article named ‘The Economic Consequences of Divorce Are Still Unequal’ (1996)[5] and today they remain gender biased. What can Canada’s services do to support those families still falling through the cracks?

In the article, ‘Social Support and Education Groups for Single Mothers’[6], authors Lipman and Boyle report that one in eight Canadian children live in a family headed by a single mother, “vastly overrepresented by families living below the poverty line.” The studies exiting research showed an increased need for societal support and social assistance to improve the educational and mental-health outcomes of single-parent households. Further, it pointed to the vast improvement in status for those individuals who did receive adequate social support and education. This link between education, social support and family success for those headed by single women, only reiterates a pressing need for more resources and greater attention given to the needs of these family units. Human Resources and Social Development Canada (HRSDC) claims responsibility for Canadian citizens from the cradle to the grave and aims to improve the quality of life and skill set of every Canadian. This aim must continue to adapt with the changing face of family today, to ensure no Canadian is left behind, neglected by the slow turning wheels of a bureaucracy.

Few Canadian women today will believe their future will be that of housewife, not in the work force, unskilled for that work force, with children, while her husband supports them through a job. Many families today require a dual income, women want to work, husband’s might not, husband’s may not exist, couples may not marry, marriage does not guarantee safety! These and other considerations have factored into the evolution of the face of Canadian families today, we may have temporarily lost ourselves in this metamorphosis, as often happens when change is not matched with response to change, but as with any evolution, we will recreate the face of family in Canada and find new and continually evolving ways to meet the needs those new families present through programmes like JumpStart, a Canadian community-based charitable programme that helps kids in financial need participate in organized sport and recreation. The Government and its social bodies must be swift to anticipate the trends and directions Canadian families take, and in lea of such agency support, women make their own connections, online, in groups and through networks of like-minded women, doing what they do best, surviving and building.

Look around you. Women are doing it for themselves. Fathers are rearing children and joining together to have an informed parental voice, same-sex and transgender couples flourish as the rainbow families of diversity, mixed-race families continue to educate their children about discrimination and the pride of being multicultural. Studies indicate no harm to children brought up with the absence of one gender, or in mixed-race households. Much of what has historically held us back and limited acceptance is our own unwillingness to embrace change or try to understand it. Scores of children have lost parents for a variety of reasons, and will continue to, with the ravages of war, divorce, abandonment. Change is ever-increasing. We can never impede change. It is part of our biological destiny.

Children will continue to bear witness to ever-new forming families, with step-siblings, step-parents, different cultures, traditions and genders, complex extended families that cannot be measured in neat categories but are perhaps the building blocks of any social structure, the purpose being, for people to come together and support one another. The key is to find extension if not in our immediate family but those we make, and to avoid isolation, the real cause of depression and loss. Children can grow as long as they are loved and cared for. If we find ourselves lost it is our role to build a ship and invite others aboard. As Esther, my Maori friend, said: “My family is all around me, and my adopted family remains in my heart also. I can share my family with everyone because they share my pride in my heritage and where I came from. Everyone should have some pride about where they came from so that they may dream and have somewhere to place that dream so that it continues safe.”


[1] Reported in 1998, source: http://family.jrank.org/pages/1574/Single-Parent-Families-Demographic-Trends.html

[2] Parents Without Partners www.pwpcanada.com

[3]Evidence from the General Social Survey, Beaupré, Pascale, Cloutier, Elisabeth, http://cansim2.statcan.ca/cgi-win/cnsmcgi.pgm?Lang=E&SP_Action=Result&SP_ID=40004&SP_TYP=62&SP_Sort=-0

[4] Free Press (1985) New York.

[5] The Economic Consequences of Divorce Are Still Unequal, Lenore J. Weitzman, American Sociological Review, Vol. 61, No. 3 (Jun., 1996), pp. 537-538

[6] A Randomized and Controlled Trial of a Community-Based Program, Ellen L. Lipman, Michael H. Boyle, published at www.cmaj.ca November 17, 2005

Candice Louisa Daquin is a Psychotherapist and Editor, having worked in Europe, Canada and the USA. Daquins own work is also published widely, she has written five books of poetry, the last published by Finishing Line Press called Pinch the Lock. Her website is www thefeatheredsleep.com

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL.

Categories
Musings

The Great Freeze

P. Ravi Shankar shuttles through winters from Everest to New York to Kerala to Aruba in the Caribbean

My friend and colleague was turning blue. The cold wind hit me with the force of a sledgehammer. We both had on all the warm clothes we could bring. I had on me a woollen blazer, a full sleeve sweater, my shirt, a half sleeve sweater, and underneath it a thermal. The freezing wind cut through these layers like the proverbial knife through butter. I was beginning to lose sensation on my nose and extremities. We were in freezing weather for less than a minute crossing the road to where the car was parked. We were inadequately dressed for a February morning in New York city. A nor’easter had hit a day before and the temperature was below minus 24 degrees Celsius. The news channels mentioned it was the coldest day in over two decades. Luckily for us, the car was heated, and the seats could also be warmed. We slowly thawed after the flash freeze.  

We had flown from sunny Aruba (Dutch Caribbean) the previous day. Miami had perfect weather, but New York was freezing. Manhattan is full of skyscrapers. There is no direct rail line from the airport to Manhattan. New York has a decent public transport infrastructure but no airport metro. The city’s infrastructure does need some serious investment on upgrade and maintenance. The hotel room was warm and toasty. Outside, it was snowing. I saw the homeless on the freezing sidewalks trying to shelter from the bitter cold. Poverty amid opulent wealth.

I have mostly lived in warm places where your major concern is staying cool in the humid heat. In Kerala, in the south of India, a mundu or a lungi wrapped around the waist was the common male attire. The mercury in most areas never goes below 20 degrees Celsius. In New York during winter, the major concern was staying warm. Suddenly, common English expressions began to make sense. Warm welcome, warm greetings make sense when you are coming in from a freezing weather. When you are all hot and sweaty, the warmth seems unwelcome. Also, the European style of dressing was designed to minimise heat loss. Socks, hats, gloves, coats, tie, scarf. The buildings all had double doors to keep out the cold and keep in the warmth. Central heating kept the inside warm.

Keeping warm is expensive. I did some rough calculation and worked out that I would have to spend USD 1500 on winter clothing and over USD 250 monthly on heating bills. The tempo and rhythm of life changes in the northern latitudes with the change of seasons. Winters mean short days and time spent mostly indoors. The wily COVID virus is capitalising fully on this human behaviour. Summers translate to warm temperatures and long days. With global climate change, the highs in summer and the lows in winter are becoming extreme.  

On another occasion I was strolling by the shores of Lake Michigan in Chicago enjoying the early morning view. There were gardens and walking paths by the shoreline. Suddenly a cold wind blew across the lake from Canada. Despite all the winter clothing I donned, I was frozen. In cold weather, it is important to have a waterproof and wind proof outer shell. These are expensive however, and as occasional visitors to cold climates, we were unwilling to invest in such clothing. Upstate New York is even colder than New York city, and Rochester is said to be among the snowiest cities in America.

New York city is relatively well-prepared for snowy weather with double doors, central heating, winter clothing and snow ploughs. So is Chicago. Some of the southern cities in the US also experience snowy weather due to climate change and are not prepared for occasional winter storms. The plains of northern India experience cold weather from December to March. A thick layer of smog blankets the plains. Trains and planes are delayed, and driving could become hazardous. Air pollution rises and the air becomes dangerous to breathe. The sun succeeds in clearing the fog only after ten in the morning. Kathmandu in Nepal also experience fog and increased pollution during winter. Pokhara is a Nepalese city without fog in winters. I have often wondered why. With beautiful views of the Annapurna range, winter mornings in Pokhara are occasions to be savoured. In these places there is no central heating. Quilts are widely used. I enjoy the quilt which slowly warms you up using your own body heat.

In the mountains of Nepal, external heating devices are common. In the Everest region, there is the yak dung burning cast iron stove in dining rooms. In the Annapurna region north of Pokhara, wood burning stoves are common. In Thak Khola, charcoal burning stoves under the table are used. The bedrooms, however, are unheated and freezing. I had stayed in Lobuche in the Everest region, at around 4900 m for over a month for a research project and the nights were freezing. The water bottle used to freeze. If you wanted something to not freeze, you kept it beside you on the bed inside the quilt.

Watching snow fall is relaxing. The snowflakes glide down and blanket the trees and the ground in white. The cold reduces a bit. Rain is more noisy and violent and often accompanied by thunder and lightning. Walking on snow is difficult. Soon the snow melts during the day and refreezes again at night and turns into ice. Ice is extremely slippery and dangerous to walk on. Snow is a rare treat for persons from tropical climates. However, living in snow covered regions is challenging.

Near the equator the climate is constant throughout the year. The rains cool down the atmosphere, but the hours of sunlight do not vary much. Life is not influenced by the seasons. The further north or south you go from the equator, seasons begin to colour your life. Summer brings long days, sometimes extreme heat and more time spent outdoors. Winter brings longer nights, snow, and more time indoors. In both New York and Chicago, in winter, the trees were totally bare, bereft of leaves. I could not believe they were still alive. With the coming of spring the green twigs would sprout again and the cycle of life resumes. The writing of poets and authors from temperate countries about the dreariness of winter and the warmth of spring and summer began to make sense to me — a person from and living in the tropics.      

      

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Dr. P Ravi Shankar is a faculty member at the IMU Centre for Education (ICE), International Medical University, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He enjoys traveling and is a creative writer and photographer.

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