Categories
The Observant Immigrant

The Immigrant’s Dilemma

By Candice L. Daquin

Courtesy: Creative Commons

I have been an immigrant to a new country three times: from France to England, England to Canada and then, Canada to America. Being an immigrant is often a highly positive experience. We may have greater opportunities, we seek our dreams, we grow them. On the other hand, immigration for those of us who have gone through the process, is not easy. It is expensive, time-consuming, nail-biting and often lonely. It is said that those who immigrate ‘successfully’ do so because of familial support and/or because their children reap the benefits of their sacrifice.

Whilst there are too many stories to condense any one feature of immigration, we can only talk of our own experiences and somehow in understanding that, perhaps stay open enough to understand others. We can come together through that collective understanding.

As a psychotherapist, I work with many immigrants. I see clients daily who were born elsewhere and sometimes struggle to acculturate in their new-found country. Where I live, near the border between Mexico and America, we have a multitude of immigrants from Mexico, central and south America as well as from around the world, coming through the borders, seeing asylum and a better life.

Consequently, there can be a high degree of racism in rebuke for the startling numbers of immigrants passing through our city. I can drive down a road and see people lined on the street much as you would see in other countries, begging and homeless. Our resources are stretched and one option chosen by the Governor of Texas was to bus immigrants and asylum seekers to other states in the US. Initially this was considered a racist, insensitive act that treated people like cattle. When you look at it closer, you can see it was perhaps these things but also a desperate plea for other states to understand the overwhelming nature of immigration for border states and share in the expense.

It is easy for a non-border state to believe the border should be effectively kept open and all immigrants allowed in. but when it’s on your door step it can be challenging. Most people in Texas care about immigrants but also experience some of the downsides of too many immigrants at once. In El Paso, people froze to death sleeping on the streets, houses were broken into, the situation was dire and extreme and locals didn’t have enough resources to manage. Shipping immigrants who wish to go to other states, to those states, might appear cruel, but also makes sense, if it’s consensual. Whilst many of the Texan Governors decisions have been quite possibly racist and prejudicial, this choice was in part to show other states how dire the situation is.

Why are there so many asylum seekers right now? As President Biden announced the lifting of closed borders to asylum seekers, the numbers attempting to come into America increased exponentially. Under the Trump administration, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) called the “Remain in Mexico” policy (officially, the Migrant Protection Protocols) caused immigration to be somewhat halted. The original reason countries like America accepted asylum seekers goes back to WW II where the Jews who survived ethnic cleansing had nowhere to live and were essentially stateless. The right to seek asylum was incorporated into international law following the atrocities of World War II. Congress adopted key provisions of the Geneva Refugee Convention (including the international definition of a refugee) into U.S. immigration law when it passed the Refugee Act of 1980.

The laws that exist now were enacted to protect them and ensure stateless people were never again turned away in droves. The creation of Israel was in part the consequence of WW2 and the abuse against the Jews. It could be argued any issues with Israel are directly linked to the ethnic cleansing the Jews experienced and their subsequent statelessness. Laws endeavoring to protect future people from such experiences are what we now use in our handling of asylum seekers. “When Congress finally eliminated the racial provisions in U.S. immigration and nationality law in the 1940s and 1950s, generations of federal practice and procedure did not instantly disappear without a trace. Over the years, other government agencies had developed their own racial classification systems, often partially borrowed from INS experience, and such systems could take on lives of their own.”

The downside to this is, the world has dramatically changed since the 1940s (2,307M versus over 7 million today). the population is growing at a heady rate and thus, even if a small percent of people seek asylum from any one country, it is huge in comparison to previous numbers. Department of Homeland Security  statistics show that from Biden’s Inauguration Day through May 2022—just 16 months and change—about 1.05 million migrants were apprehended on the southwestern border and then released into the US. With every year, the worlds population swells and with it, a strain on resources. ‘Affluent’ countries such as America, may literally speaking have the resources to help asylum seekers but the reality for many asylum seekers is quite different once they are in-country. According to Census Bureau statistics, immigrants’ share of the U.S. population rose more from 1990 to 2010 than during any other 20-year period since these figures were first recorded in 1850—from 7.9 percent to 12.9 percent

What constituted poverty in their country of origin may be considerably lower than what money they can earn in America, if indeed such earnings can be made at all. The social welfare system protects asylum seekers by giving them somewhere to live and a stipend until they are able to find work but what of those who do not possess the necessary skills? Not to mention the dearth of certain jobs. Immigrants wishing to live in the cities, may find work is only available in the agricultural parts of America and not earn enough to live on without language and education in a city. Likewise, they must contend with crime, safety issues and making the meager money they receive, stretch to pay for themselves and their families. What might seem initially like a lot of money, in comparison to their home-countries, is quickly devoured by the more expensive living expenses of America.

Immigrants who move to America or other developed countries, on a visa rather than asylum, may fare better. But note how many PhD’s are driving cabs or serving in restaurants. Underemployment is a phenomenon whereby those who are educated, are working at a lower level than that education would typically warrant. For their children there may be greater opportunities but for many first-generation immigrants, the adjustment and opportunities are restricted. Doctors in their own countries, they find American prohibitions on accepting foreign transcripts and learning, despite the low quality of American education in comparison to many other countries. It’s almost if you were being subjective about it, like having to pay the price for immigration.

When I immigrated to Canada, I found many who possessed PhDs and advanced education were unable to find work. There was some push back from locals who resented skilled workers and felt all immigrants should ‘know their place’ and take the dregs work. This is something you really don’t believe will happen to you when you are very educated, and get a skilled worker visa, but it’s a reality, perhaps less spoken about because it makes the host country look unkind. But go beyond the shiny posters about immigration and speak to the people and you will find it’s not uncommon.

Immigration is necessary for many reasons, not least the Western world ageing and requiring new blood because of declining birth rates. But the Western world wants immigrants to do the work they don’t want to do just as much as they may appear to want immigrants to ‘succeed’ and for every Doctor and PhD who was an immigrant, there are plenty who find themselves no better off through immigration. That’s a sacrifice worth making when you have no other choices or you hope your children will inherit the American Dream but if you have no children and you’re sold a false dream, then it can be disheartening if not crushing. There are 11 million recent immigrants in transition, best estimates predict, who labour in American fields, construction and kitchens, as well as American classrooms, detention centers and immigration courts.

What we hear less about, is how many immigrants leave. And how many suffer silently, having fallen between the gaps, into anything but the American Dream. What can be done about this? Should we impose immigration restrictions not out of cruelty but an understanding that a host country is ill equipped to deal with mass influxes and that the original reasons for the laws have evolved/changed as our population has grown? Should we insist other states take some responsibility for asylum seekers? As well as demand other countries pitch in more? And understand that what may look racist, is in fact a more realistic approach than flinging open the border and allowing everyone to come in at once?

It is an interesting dilemma and one that won’t be decided any time soon. The racists and extreme economic conservatives will battle against the diametric opposite liberals who believe all should inherit the opportunity a country like America holds. Both sides are too extreme in that they don’t consider the reality. The reality is racism should not and cannot endure in a country like America where soon ‘brown skin’ will be the majority and old racist ways are being challenged. But equally, being so ‘woke’ that you don’t see the fall out of idealistic policies, isn’t the answer either. In tandem with an identity politics that emphasises the subnational, a too progressive project may place global concerns above national interests. Hence, the oft repeated slogan “global problems require global solutions.”

Speak to the people. Many times, people criticise me for living in Texas. They assume I’m one of the ‘bad guys’ without understanding Texas is made up of a huge diverse population. Within that diversity are many Latinos who don’t want mass unchecked immigration any more than the racists, but for radically different reasons. Things aren’t as simple as they seem in a Twitter comment. There are many complex considerations that must be taken into account to ensure the best outcome not only for asylum seekers but those who already live in-country. There are answers, but they won’t come from knee jerk reactions or entrenched thinking on either side.

What we do know today, is people are literally dying to come into America and with them, perhaps some unchecked terrorists sneak in, just as they did before 9/11. In order to protect everyone and ensure things are done legally and safely, immigration must have some controls and should be funded accordingly, without any one state taking the majority of the strain. Many Texans are quite the reverse from what you’d imagine, if you subscribe to stereotypes. Maybe the problem is we should really get rid of stereotypes and try knowing who people really are before we judge en mass. Houston has one of the highest Indian communities in the world. All cities within Texas have absorbed huge numbers of immigrants from around the world. Let’s think less of ‘them and us’ and more about truly doing what will be best for those seeking to come into a country and begin a new life. Immigration is a conundrum, but if we work together, instead of apart, we can find answers.

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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.

Click here to access the Borderless anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles

Categories
Editorial

Its Only Hope…

Painting by Sybil Pretious

New year, like a newborn, starts with hope.

The next year will do the same – we will all celebrate with Auld Lang Syne and look forward to a resolution of conflicts that reared a frightening face in 2022 and 2021. Perhaps, this time, if we have learnt from history, there will not be any annihilation but only a movement towards resolution. We have more or less tackled the pandemic and are regaining health despite the setbacks and disputes. There could be more outbreaks but unlike in the past, this time we are geared for it. That a third World War did not break out despite provocation and varied opinions, makes me feel we have really learnt from history.

That sounds almost like the voice of hope. This year was a landmark for Borderless Journal. As an online journal, we found a footing in the hardcopy world with our own anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles: Writings from Across the World, which had a wonderful e-launch hosted by our very well-established and supportive publisher, Om Books International. And now, it is in Om Book Shops across all of India. It will soon be on Amazon International. We also look forward to more anthologies that will create a dialogue on our values through different themes and maybe, just maybe, some more will agree with the need for a world that unites in clouds of ideas to take us forward to a future filled with love, hope and tolerance.

One of the themes of our journal has been reaching out for voices that speak for people. The eminent film critic and editor, Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri , has shared a conversation with such a person, the famed Gajra Kottary, a well-known writer of Indian TV series, novels and stories. The other conversation is with Nirmal Kanti Bhattajarchee, the translator of Samaresh Bose’s In Search of a Pitcher of Nectar, a book describing the Kumbh-mela, that in 2017 was declared to be an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. Bhattacharjee tells us how the festival has grown and improved in organisation from the time the author described a stampede that concluded the festivities. Life only gets better moving forward in time, despite events that terrorise with darkness. Facing fear and overcoming it does give a great sense of achievement.

Perhaps, that is what Freny Manecksha felt when she came up with a non-fiction called Flaming Forest, Wounded Valley: Stories from Bastar and Kashmir, which has been reviewed by Rakhi Dalal. Basudhara Roy has also tuned in with a voice that struggled to be heard as she discusses Manoranjan Byapari’s How I Became a Writer: An Autobiography of a Dalit. Somdatta Mandal has reviewed The Shaping of Modern Calcutta: The Lottery Committee Years, 1817 – 1830 by Ranabir Ray Chaudhury, a book that explores how a lottery was used by the colonials to develop the city. Bhaskar Parichha has poured a healing balm on dissensions with his exploration of Rana Safvi’s In Search of the Divine: Living Histories of Sufism in India as he concludes: “Weaving together facts and popular legends, ancient histories and living traditions, this unique treatise running into more than four hundred pages examines core Sufi beliefs and uncovers why they might offer hope for the future.”

In keeping with the festive season is our book excerpt from Rhys Hughes’ funny stories in his Christmas collection, Yule Do Nicely. Radha Chakravarty who brings many greats from Bengal to Anglophone readers shared an excerpt – a discussion on love — from her translation of Tagore’s novel, Farewell Song.

Love for words becomes the subject of Paul Mirabile’s essay on James Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus, where he touches on both A Portrait of the Artist as a young Man and  Ulysees, a novel that completed a century this year. Love for animals, especially orangutans, colours Christina Yin’s essay on conservation efforts in Borneo while Keith Lyons finds peace and an overwhelming sense of well-being during a hike in New Zealand. Ravi Shankar takes us to the historical town of Taiping in Malaysia as Meredith Stephens shares more sailing adventures in the Southern hemisphere, where it is summer. Saeed Ibrahim instils the seasonal goodwill with native Indian lores from Canada and Suzanne Kamata tells us how the Japanese usher in the New Year with a semi-humorous undertone.

Humour in non-fiction is brought in by Devraj Singh Kalsi’s ‘Of Mice and Men’ and in poetry by Santosh Bakaya. Laughter is stretched further by the inimitable Rhys Hughes in his poetry and column, where he reflects on his experiences in India and Wales. We have exquisite poetry by Jared Carter, Sukrita Paul Kumar, Asad Latif, Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal, Michael R Burch, Sutputra Radheye, George Freek, Jonathan Chan and many more. Short stories by Lakshmi Kannan, Devraj Singh Kalsi, Tulip Chowdhury and Sushma R Doshi lace narratives with love, humour and a wry look at life as it is. The most amazing story comes from Kajal who pours out the story of her own battle in ‘Vikalangta or Disability‘ in Pandies’ Corner, translated from Hindustani by Janees.

Also touching and yet almost embracing the school of Absurd is PF Mathew’s story, ‘Mercy‘, translated from Malayalam by Ram Anantharaman. Fazal Baloch has brought us a Balochi folktale and Ihlwha Choi has translated his own poem from Korean to English. One of Tagore’s last poems, Prothom Diner Shurjo, translated as ‘The Sun on the First Day’ is short but philosophical and gives us a glimpse into his inner world. Professor Fakrul Alam shares with us the lyrics of a Nazrul song which is deeply spiritual by translating it into English from Bengali.

A huge thanks to all our contributors and readers, to the fabulous Borderless team without who the journal would be lost. Sohana Manzoor’s wonderful artwork continues to capture the mood of the season. Thanks to Sybil Pretious for her lovely painting. Please pause by our contents’ page to find what has not been covered in this note.

We wish you all a wonderful festive season.

Season’s Greetings from all of us at Borderless Journal.

Cheers!

Mitali Chakravarty

borderlessjournal.com

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Click here to access the Borderless anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles

Categories
Poetry

Mannequin

By Ryan Quinn Flanagann

Courtesy: Creative Commons
MANNEQUIN

All those weekends with my mother.
Driving out to that K-Mart in the mall
along Bayfield Road.

Leaving me in the toy section 
back when such things were okay.

So she could shop on her own.

And how I quickly bored of the toys.
Heading over to the clothing section 
to pretend to be a mannequin.

Standing perched up on that display still as I could.
Posed like the family of mannequins 
around me.

A few women smiling at my pretend
as they wheeled by.

Even a wink or two.
A moment of shared knowing.

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 Lothlorien Poetry Journal

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Categories
Slices from Life

My Contagious Birthday Party

By Meredith Stephens

“How about you throw yourself a sixty-first birthday party?” Alex asked me.

It was hard enough having thrown myself a milestone sixtieth the year before. That had been fun, so on second thoughts I decided to throw myself another party. This time I would just ask extended family and a few close friends. I had finalised the RSVP when the day before the party my old friend Madeleine sent me a text: “Do you mind if I come without Gary? He has a clash….” I responded saying that that was fine and was looking forward to her company. Madeleine and Gary were anti-vaxxers.

I rescued the fairy lights Alex had bought for my party the year before and fixed them above the blinds. We had to leave the blinds open because our border collie had destroyed many of them when she had been left alone inside one day. We prepared the food and drinks, and my sister Rochelle brought the birthday cake. All the guests arrived except Madeleine. The evening wore on and I was getting a little tired, but as our guests were mainly around sixty like me, or young children, they excused themselves just at the right time. We don’t have stamina these days for long nights out.

Only when the last of the guests had gone home did I check my phone. Madeleine had sent me a text message excusing herself saying that she wasn’t feeling well. I knew there would have been a good reason for her not to have turned up.

The next day my adult daughter Eloise texted me to say her younger sister Annika was feverish. I went to visit her and discovered that she was motionless in her bed. I gave her a RAT[1] test and the result was negative. She was too sick to move and so I booked a locum. The receptionist told me the locum would be there in four hours. I spent the next hours bringing her water, serving her medicine to reduce her fever and passing a cool flannel over her forehead. Four hours later the locum had not arrived. So, I phoned the receptionist.

“He only has seven more calls before you,” she explained.

It was nearly midnight, so I decided to go to bed and wake up when the doorbell rang. Within thirty minutes the locum had arrived. I took him upstairs to Annika’s room.

“The RAT test was negative,” I explained, thinking he would administer a second one.

“Negative is negative,” he demurred. “Open your mouth,” he ordered my daughter.

He probed his torch inside her mouth and made her say ‘ah’. Then without any further comments or questions he announced, ‘It’s tonsillitis.’

He wrote out a prescription and was on his way, after having spent just a few minutes examining her.

I spent the rest of the night administering regular medicine to relieve her temperature. Even though the doctor had pronounced tonsillitis I had my doubts and kept my mask on. Until I didn’t. Annika was finally able to walk to the bathroom and back and seemed to have recovered slightly.

I wasn’t sure whether I should return to Alex, just in case I had caught something, but he rang me and told me it was ok to come back.

“We won’t get Covid. We’re invincible,” I asserted to Alex.

He looked at me quizzically. “Anyone can get it. Even people like us, who are triple vaxxed,” he countered.

As the day wore on, I had an unusual sensation of the onset of a fever. Unlike his usual robust self, Alex started to sense a dryness in his throat.

“We’d better go and get a PCR test,” he suggested.

We drove off to the testing center. Within twenty-four hours the results came to our phones: ‘Negative’.

Over the next day I continued to sense the onset of fever and kept taking my temperature. The thermometer confirmed what I had been suspecting. It was rising. Alex and I decided to go and get another test.

We drove to the testing center later in the evening when it was likely to be less crowded.

“Have you had a Covid test before,” the nurse questioned.

“Yes, we have.”

“When?”

“Yesterday.”

The nurse looked surprised but administered the test anyway.

The next morning a different message came to our phones: ‘Positive’ followed by an admonition to remain in our place of residence for seven days. This was followed by a message saying that if we required online counseling for the stress this would be provided.

I had to tell the party invitees about the positive case. I texted Grace and Jeremy. Negative. Next my sixty-three-year-old friend, Sally: Positive. Next my sixty-year-old friend Katie. Katie was dreading a positive diagnosis because she was looking forward to a trip to Bali with her best friend. Positive. Katie canceled her trip to Bali. I was relieved that my anti-vaxxer friends Madeleine and Gary had not attended because it would have been much worse for them had they contracted Covid.

Over the next few days the temperature persisted and we felt too tired to do anything. This was followed by a sore throat so severe that we could not even sip a cup of coffee. I suddenly craved a smoothie and remembered a recipe a friend in Japan had given me when my children were toddlers. This was made by combining a banana, some milk, and slices of canned pineapple in a blender. I told Alex the recipe, and he substituted yogurt for milk. I suggested adding feijoas from the garden.

 The result was something that even those with taste buds damaged from Covid could appreciate.

By Day Five our appetites had returned, and our taste buds restored. It was boring having to be confined indoors until the end of the week when we are not required by law to stay at home. It felt like the aftermath of a storm. I was grateful that the fever had gone and I could swallow again, but my body took days to recover from the shock it had had to endure.

(Photographs provided by Meredith Stephens)

[1] Rapid Antigen Test

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Meredith Stephens is an applied linguist from South Australia. Her work has appeared in Transnational Literature, The Muse, The Font – A Literary Journal for Language Teachers, The Journal of Literature in Language Teaching, The Writers’ and Readers’ Magazine, Reading in a Foreign Language, and in chapters in anthologies published by Demeter Press, Canada.

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Categories
Poets, Poetry & Rhys Hughes

Crossing the Date Line

Courtesy: Creative Commons

I have long been fascinated by the International Date Line, which I have never yet crossed but still intend to. I have unreasonable qualms that crossing it will change a person in some way, will project them into the past or future by a day and that some part of them will always remain displaced from the present. Even if they cross the line again in the opposite direction, they won’t entirely be back in alignment with themselves. It is difficult to explain without resorting to vague words such as ‘soul’ and the idea is without any basis in fact anyway. Yet it is a feeling that persists beyond logical thought.

I suppose that the origins of my excessive interest in the Date Line can be found in one of Jules Verne’s best novels, Around the World in Eighty Days, a book with one of the best twist endings ever devised. Phileas Fogg the explorer makes a bet that he can circumnavigate the Earth in only eighty days and thanks to an unfortunate set of circumstances he fails by one day. Or does he? He has crossed the Date Line from the east in order to enter the western hemisphere and thus has gone back in time one day. When he realises this fact, he uses the extra day to win the bet. Geometry saves him.

For a long time, I wondered why Verne wasn’t praised more highly for this brilliant plot device, but now I ask myself if it wasn’t a conceit he borrowed from Edgar Allan Poe, of whom he was a great admirer. Verne’s novel was first published in 1872 but thirty years earlier Poe’s short story ‘Three Sundays in a Week’ utilised the same ingenious idea for quite a different purpose. When the name of Poe is mentioned, we imagine tales of horror and bitter despair, morbid scenes, grotesque irony, but he also wrote strange comedies and ‘Three Sundays in a week’ is one of his lightest and happiest.

The narrator, Bobby, wishes to marry Kate, but her obstreperous father, Mr Rumgudgeon, is against the match while pretending to approve of it. He offers a generous dowry with his blessings but when Bobby asks that a date be fixed for the wedding, Mr Rumgudgeon replies that it will happen “when three Sundays come together in a week!”. This impossible condition is a cruelly humorous attempt to forestall the wedding. But Bobby is a clever young man. He knows a way in which the unfair condition can be met.

He arranges a dinner for himself, Kate and her father, and two guests, both of them sea captains who had lately returned from voyages around the world. The crucial point is that Captain Smitherton and Captain Pratt sailed in different directions while circumnavigating the globe. The dinner is held on a Sunday, but it is only Sunday for Bobby, Kate and Mr Rumgudgeon: for Captain Smitherton yesterday was Sunday and for Captain Pratt the next day would be Sunday. Thus, the impossible condition is met. It is a week with three Sundays in it and no further objection to the marriage can be made.

Poe was very clear in his mind about the technicalities of time difference in such voyages, as was Verne, but confusion about east/west crossings of the Line forms one of the recurrent absurdist jokes in W.E. Bowman’s The Cruise of the Talking Fish, in which the crew of a pioneering raft accidentally disrupt, at great cost, the launching of an experimental rocket from a remote Pacific island. This book was published in 1957 (one century after the midpoint date between Poe’s short story and Verne’s novel). It is a magnificent comedy that manages to make the reader doubt their own knowledge of how the Date Line works. And in truth the mechanics of the crossing still confuse me.

Yet another novel that utilises the Date Line and the oddities surrounding it is Umberto Eco’s The Island of the Day Before in which a becalmed sailor on a ship near an island that lies on the other side of the Line indulges in speculation as to the physical and metaphysical significance of our conventions of time. The island is unreachable but remains as an anchor that tethers his mind to the topic and he is unable to stop wondering (and extrapolating this wonder) until flights of fancy turn into mathematically-based obsessions. There is always the lurking suspicion that the Line is not just a human convention but something true that is now embedded in nature as a thriving paradox.

Deep down, I still believe that crossing the Line is an act of time travel, not only in terms of human timekeeping but also in relation to the natural world, so that a man who sails into tomorrow can find out the news of the day and learn such things from the newspapers or radio as to who has won a cricket match, then recross the Line in the opposite direction and lay bets on that team, raking in huge winnings. Or a man who has suffered an accident and is badly wounded can be carried back one day into the past, where he is well again and when the following day dawns, he can take evasive action.

I know that none of this is true, but I feel it is right nonetheless, and I have written my own stories in which the Date Line features, one of them being ‘The International Geophysical Ear’, which is about a gigantic ear positioned on the Line itself that can hear both backwards and forwards in time, and another being ‘The Chopsy Moggy’, concerning a talking cat who unfortunately turns up late for an inter-species conference that will determine the future of humanity. There are others and undoubtedly more will be written.

The Date Line has been host to rather strange happenings in reality as well as in fiction. On the map, it is no longer a straight line that follows the longitude of 180 degrees east and west. It veers abruptly to avoid landmasses, taking wide detours around islands. But once it deviated not one inch. It speared through the atolls and islands it encountered, dividing them in half, so that a person had the opportunity of standing with one leg in today and the other in yesterday or even tomorrow. Wrangel Island in the Arctic Ocean, the last dwelling place of woolly mammoths (still around when the pyramids were being constructed in Egypt), was one of these special places. Three Fijian islands too: Vanua Levu, Taveuni and Rambi, where unscrupulous plantation owners forced workers to cross the Line on Sundays to prevent them having a day off.

There is also the interesting fact that the equator crosses the Date Line and that a point therefore exists where it is summer and winter simultaneously while also being today and tomorrow (or yesterday). The SS Warrimoo was a ship that routinely travelled between Canada and Australia. On the last day of December 1899, the ship was very close to the point where the equator meets the Date Line and Captain Phillips realised that if he positioned the SS Warrimoo exactly on that point, something very curious could be achieved. He gave instructions for this to happen and on the stroke of midnight his vessel lay at 0 degrees latitude and 180 degrees longitude. Magical coordinates…

The forward part of the ship was now in the southern hemisphere and thus in summer while the rear remained in the northern hemisphere and in winter. Half of the SS Warrimoo was in the year 1899 (December) while the other half was now in the year 1900 (January). Captain Philipps was skipper of a vessel that was in two different days, two different months, two different seasons, two different hemispheres and two different centuries. Of course, the objection can be raised that December 30 is not the last day of a year. But the Captain waited until midnight before reaching the miracle point. December 31 did come but it flashed past in less than the blink of a mermaid’s eye. The ship leapfrogged an entire day, or at least the vast majority of it.

My hope is that there was a copy of Around the World in Eighty Days on board the ship when it made that spectacular crossing, or maybe a collection of the short stories of Poe. It is highly unlikely this was the case, of course. And I have just now had another thought. Suppose you are reading Verne’s novel on a ship that crosses the Line in an easterly direction. You have been reading it all day and have reached the last few chapters. Suddenly the ship crosses the Line and you are back in yesterday and find yourself only on the first page again. You might be frustrated not to know the ending to the book. Let me assist you. The hero and the heroine do get married.

Rhys Hughes has lived in many countries. He graduated as an engineer but currently works as a tutor of mathematics. Since his first book was published in 1995 he has had fifty other books published and his work has been translated into ten languages.

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Categories
The Observant Immigrant

We had Joy, We had Fun…

By Candice Louisa Daquin

Courtesy: Creative Commons

Heortology (the study of festivals) has expanded beyond its initial Christian focus to embrace all festivals and their enduring appeal and necessity in our human culture. Festivals remind us to celebrate, and celebration is a positive experience. The very idea of festivals is ancient. No existing history book is old enough to document when the first festival took place or what its origins were, but it’s a safe bet they had some kind of worship element attached. Modern festivals often also land on old pagan holidays, whilst others are more obvious in their origins. Many who attend festivals have no idea of their origins but go for entirely celebratory reasons. We have learned a lot about the history of varied festivals but another question to consider is: Why are humans drawn to festivals and what do they provide us?

Imagine the ancient world. As much as we think we know now, they knew a tremendous amount also, considering their lack of modern resources. This may well be down to the ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ paradigm. Or that we severely underestimate our ancient ancestors, in our egocentric belief the modern world knows best. Just as we underestimate the knowledge of animals and their abilities to survive. Perhaps we could even say, we have lost the art of survival and wouldn’t know how to, if our computers were offline and our cars did not work and the supermarkets were empty.

What we do know, is the ancients were able to amass a great deal of knowledge, despite seemingly not having easy access like we do today, with our modern telescopes and technology. They had to understand mathematics and science at the very core, to establish theorems on the universe and our place in it. Whilst many were later corrected, it is surprising how many ancient scientists, mathematicians and philosophers, got it right. Almost against all odds. It is fair then to say, we dismiss the richness of the ancient world, and imagine everyone lived ignorant lives, which was not the case. When ignorance did reign, it did so deliberately, with the quashing of knowledge by various religious groups, and resulting periods of ‘dark ages’.

The ancient world was in touch with what it means to be human. Being human isn’t knowing how to work your iPhone or microwave. It’s not having a huge house, with a swimming pool and driving a Lexus. Nor is it eternal youth, fame and glory. Being human is about surviving — just as it is with any animal. When we then add an awareness of our own being, which it is argued, not all animals understand, then we become the modern human we recognise today. A being who has the choice, the ability to reflect and learn, and a tendency to seek beyond themselves. In seeking beyond oneself, we find an innate or shaped desire for ‘more’ and that ‘more’ has often come in the guise of a God-head or spirituality of some kind.

Whether we believe humans are prone to worshipping gods or being spiritual, because Gods actually exists or we just have a propensity to create them, is immaterial. The outcome is the same. The God gene hypothesis proposes that human spirituality is influenced by heredity and that a specific gene, called vesicular monoamine transporter 2 (VMAT2), predisposes humans towards spiritual or mystic experiences, perhaps that is what is at work? In essence a transmitter in our brain that makes it more likely we will believe in God (and could explain why some people do so fervently, whilst others do not). Or perhaps we may find meaning in believing in a spirituality beyond the temporal world. But what we do know is, as long as humans evolved from their primate ancestors, they have formed meaning around some kind of spiritual observance and festivals were tied to this worship.

Why do we do this? We are born part of something (a family) but are also separate (an individual). Perhaps festivals and what they represent, is the coming together of all things: Nature. The seasons. Marking time (birth and death). Marking passages (fertility, menstruation, maturity, marriage, children, dying). These are the cornerstones of meaning, with or without God. I say without God, because for many, their notions of God are tied to nature, so it’s more the world around them than specific deities. For others, it’s the manifold destinies of humanity, or history of deities. But whatever the reason there is a sense of coming together in celebration of being alive, and acknowledging that life. A festival in that sense, irrespective of its actual purpose (the harvest, pagan holidays, etc.) is a ‘fest’ of life. Maybe this is why we can have such a happy time being part of it.

Growing up, neither of my parents liked festivals. They thought they were silly. I remember a street festival I went to as a child, for Fête du Travail (Labour Day) in France. I dressed up as princess and the frog (taking my toy Kermit with me) and felt an excitement like I had never felt before. The throngs of people and other children, the food, the smells, the magicians, the shows and the things to see. It was like walking through a market of treasures. I couldn’t understand why neither of my parents liked this; to me, it felt like a jewel had opened. But for some, festivities are synonymous with rituals and a degree of adherence to religion, even when it’s not. And rather than entering into the spirit of it and enjoying it, they feel what it represents is part of social control.

In France, like many countries, festivals abound. The national Fête du Citron (Menton Lemon Festival) draws crowds from around the world, as does the film screening: Festival de Cannes –near where I grew up — and Fête des Lumières (festival of lights, in Lyon). More traditional festivals include Défilé du 14 Juillet (Bastille Day). In the Middle Ages in France, on Midsummer’s Day, at the end of June, people would celebrate one last party (fête de la Saint-Jean or St. John’s Day). Bonfires would mark this longest day and young men would jump over the flames. This also happened on the first Sunday of Lent (le Dimanche de la Quadragésime), where fires are lit to dance around before carrying lit torches. Religion dominated many of the Autumn/Winter festivals historically.

In France, Christmas, is marked over twelve days with the Feast of the Innocents, the Feast of the Fools, New Year’s Eve and culminates in the Feast of the Kings with its traditional galette des Rois. Events include Candlemas (Chandeleur) with its candlelight process. Likewise, many Christian societies have some celebration connected to Easter (Pâques, in French)) or its Pagan roots. In France (and New Orleans in America) these include Shrove Tuesday (typically Mardi-Gras in America), marking the last feast day before Lent, and many others until Pentecost Sunday. My favorite ‘fest’ was Shrove Tuesday (also known as Fat Tuesday or Pancake Day, in other countries) because my grandma would make pancakes, despite our being Jewish. The notion was to eat before Christian Lent and a period of fasting, which has much in common with Muslim beliefs too (unsurprisingly since God is one in the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths). In America, they serve fish options every Friday for much the same reason.

Far more impressive and immersive festivals occur in India, with Hinduism celebrating among the highest number of festival days in the world. Over 50 festivals are celebrated throughout India by people of different cultures and religions. These Indian festivals form an integral part of the rich heritage of the country. The ancient Hindu festival of Spring, colors and love known as Holi is one. “Holi is considered as one of the most revered and celebrated festivals of India and it is celebrated in almost every part of the country. It is also sometimes called as the ‘festival of love’ as on this day people get to unite together forgetting all resentments and all types of bad feeling towards each other.” Holi is celebrated on the last full moon in the lunar month of Phalgun, the 12th month in the Hindu calendar (which corresponds to February or March in the Gregorian calendar).

With social media, more of the world have been granted access to the visual beauty of Holi – “This ancient tradition marks the end of winter and honors the triumph of good over evil. Celebrants’ light bonfires, throw colourful powder called gulal, eat sweets, and dance to traditional folk music.” One of the most popular legends in Hindu mythology says the Holi festival marks Lord Vishnu’s triumph over King Hiranyakashyapu, who killed anyone who disobeyed him or worshipped other gods. With coloured powder thrown on people as part of the celebration, many countries now celebrate Holi just as Indians may celebrate Halloween or Día de Muertos. The crossover effect may seem to dismiss the individualistic cultural value and smack of appropriation but, in reality, it’s more a sign of respecting other cultures, learning about them, and celebrating with them.

Mexico, which I live near to now, celebrates over 500 festivals yearly and consequently is one of the most festive cultures in the world. In San Antonio, TX, where I currently live, we celebrate many of these fiestas, alongside American ones. The most popular being Día de Muertos, Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe, Cinco de Mayo and Día de la Candelaria, (like the French Candlemas, celebrated after Three Kings Day, which is a bigger holiday than Christmas in Mexico). The variables in cultures are fascinating. In San Antonio, we get a huge influx of Mexican tourists over Christmas because they aren’t home celebrating as they do so a few days later. We have a fiesta in San Antonio that is much like those in Mexico, due to our large Mexican population and it’s heartening to see the merging of the two.

As a child I celebrated the Jewish Pilgrim Festivals—Pesaḥ (Passover), Shavuot (Feast of Weeks, or Pentecost), and Sukkoth (Tabernacles)—and the High Holidays—Rosh Hashana (New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). But I attended a school that celebrated all faiths so we also celebrated Ramadan, the Muslim sacred month of fasting, akin to Christian Lent. Growing up, my friends of all faiths, celebrated Eid-ul-Fitr or simply Eid which is among the religious festivals for the Muslim community, marking the end of Ramadan. This festival is celebrated on the day after seeing the night crescent moon with devotees offering prayers at mosques and then feasting with their near and dear ones.

We would also celebrate Kwanzaa, which is a worldwide celebration of African culture, running from December 26 to January 1, culminating in a communal feast called Karamu. Its creator was a major figure in the black power movement in America, “Maulana Karenga created Kwanzaa in 1966 during the aftermath of the Watts riots as a specifically African-American holiday. Karenga said his goal was to ‘give black people an alternative to the existing holiday of Christmas, and give black people an opportunity to celebrate themselves and their history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society.’”

Are we socially controlled when we attend festivals? Given we have a choice, I would say no. Someone who chooses to be part of something, isn’t signing up for life, they’re passing through. Since my childhood I have been lucky enough to have attended many festivals in many countries. For me it is a reaffirming experience, seeing people from all walks of life come together in happiness. I like nothing better than dressing up and meeting with others and walking through streets thronged with people. Be they carnivals, even political events, there is an energy that you rarely feel anywhere else.

The May Pole festival, believed to have started in Roman Britain around 2,000 years ago, when soldiers celebrated the arrival of spring by dancing around decorated trees thanking their goddess Flora, is an especially interesting festival because it is still practiced almost as in ancient times. The ribbons and floral garlands that adorned it represent feminine energy and the beauty of the ritual is enduringly something to behold.

Likewise, another event ‘Guy Fawkes Night’ is steeped in ritual and British history, with much symbolism in the burning of straw dummies that are meant to represent Guy Fawkes thrown onto bonfires. However, the act of throwing a dummy on the fire to represent a person, has also been done since the 13th century to drive away evil spirits. What most people seem to take away from Guy Fawkes Night are the abundant fireworks in a beautiful night sky, alongside children and families holding sparklers and eating horse chestnuts in the cold, wrapped up in mittens. It’s a ritual that is beloved and a chance to ‘be festive’ even if it’s not a specific festival. As much as anything, it marks time, another year, another November, and gives wonderful memories. If we didn’t mark time or have those memories, we’d still have others, but there is an ease with festivals because they do it for us, unconsciously.

Young collegiates often attend festivals that involve dancing and sometimes drugs. Again, this is not a modern occurrence but has been going on for years, as rites of entering adulthood. The desire of the young to get out and meet others and dance and enjoy life, is primeval, and possibly a part of who we are as humans, marking a potent stage in our lives. Recently I went to a birthday party at a night club. I observed the diverse throngs of party goers and reveled in that abundant diversity. In just one night I saw: Pakistani women in saris, Japanese girls in anime costumes with ears, a pagan woman with huge, curled bull horns and floor length leather dress, Jamaican families in neon shorts and t-shirts, transgender wearing spandex dresses and big wigs, Hispanic Westsider’s filled with tattoos, and gold necklaces, Lesbian and gay couples holding hands. Old couples in sensible church clothes including one old black man with a pork pie hat and a waist coat.

I thought of all the diversity that had attended this club to dance the night away. All ages, all genders and backgrounds and ethnicities, and I thought how wonderful it was that one place could hold them all. In many ways this is the essence of a festival, especially nowadays where anyone can attend most festivals. Years previous, they were segregated by subject. Only those followers of that subject usually attended and you could be harmed if you tried to attend and were an outsider. The advantage we have today is we are more accepting of outsiders and when you attend festivals today, you see a wide range of people. Maybe this is the best opportunity we have to put down our differences and celebrate our similarities.

When I lived in Canada, I loved the homage paid to different seasons in varied outdoor festivals, where shaking off the lethargy of Winter, Canadians would celebrate with fairgrounds, amusements, shows and food among other things. It was like a period of renewal. Likewise, during my time in England, the Notting Hill Carnival, celebrated the Afro Caribbean culture, so essential and entrenched in English culture, with gorgeous street displays and floats, as well as some of the best music around. The idea of welcoming everyone into the fold, helps to remove any tensions between cultures and promote a feeling of unity, whilst not denying the unique properties of those cultures and ensuring they are promoted in their adopted countries. It may be idealistic and not entirely accurate, but it’s a better step than ignoring those myriad cultures exist.

As Halloween and Día de Muertos is fast approaching, I am thinking of how many of my neighbours attend these parties, despite some of them being from very conservative churches. Just last year, we all sat outside in the green spaces and had a mini fireworks display. I sat next to my little 4-year-old neighbour and watched her face as the older kids, dressed in all sorts of costumes, shrieked at the fireworks, and ran around with neon bangles, throwing glow powder at each other. I saw how inculcated we are, since childhood, but despite this I truly believe festivities are in our hearts, even if we weren’t introduced to them at an early age. Children mark their growing up by the events of their lives and it’s not just their birthday they celebrate but the touchstones of their respective culture and nowadays, many other cultures.

My Egyptian grandfather used to tell me about the Nile festival which celebrated the flooding of the river and the replenishing of life in Egypt. Without the Nile, Egypt couldn’t exist, and the ancients knew this. They employed methods to enhance the flooding and gave thanks for it. Gratitude like this can be found in many celebrations, including the American Thanksgiving (although this is a double-edged sword, given the history of genocide of the Native Americans by European pilgrims and invaders) and Harvest throughout the world. A celebration of life through food with music, is at the core of the human ability to endure and overcome hardship. More recently many of us celebrated healthcare workers by singing out of our windows and putting messages of thanks in our windows. We do this because it symbolizes essential parts of our lives, without which we would suffer.

Owing to its melting pot past, Egypt celebrates the Coptic Orthodox Christmas, the more ancient Abu Simbel Sun Festival that is akin to the Egyptian Sun God Ra (who in turn was one inspiration for the Christian God many years later), Sham Ennessim, the national festival marking the beginning of spring, as it originates from the ancient Egyptian Shemu festival, Ramadan and the Muslim Eid al-Adha (honoring the willingness of Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his son Ismail (Ishmael) as an act of obedience to Allah’s command). As a Jew, my grandfather’s family celebrated Passover, the festival celebrating the Jews Exodus from Egypt, despite our family still living there! Nowadays it is no longer safe to live in Egypt as a Jew but the memory of all people’s experiences is preserved through ancient festivals and events, marking our shared history.

Before the advent of mass-produced entertainment, festivals were also a highlight in any village or town, because they were entertainment. Traveling theatres and shows for children, even book sellers and traders of items not commonly found locally, could be bartered or purchased at such events and it was almost a spilling out from the market square economy that kept such villages alive. Perhaps evolving from our natural tendency to barter for things we want, we evolved to invite others from outside to come for specific events to gain greater reach. With this trading and bartering, came the accoutrements such as eating, drinking, dancing. Not only did this increase diversity and knowledge of foods and drinks from other locales, but brought people who may otherwise not meet, together into a camaraderie.

Sharing stories is also part of festivals, by way of theatre, or more improvised scenarios. It is at our heart to pass on oral knowledge and we haven’t lost that desire. We may do this now via YouTube more than face to face (which is a shame), but the desire to get out and talk directly, is innate, as evidenced by how many people have done just that since Covid 19 restrictions are eased. Religion, folklore, ritual and a desire for escapism, alongside our desire to celebrate things or others (saints, gods, seasons, harvest) are all reasons why festivals endure. Just like children will instinctively dance when music is played, maybe it is our innate nature to enjoy festivals because they foster inter-relationships we all crave to some degree. We may be diverse and believe different things, but we can also come together and respect the perspectives of others. Never more so than through our shared love of celebration.

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