On Feminism – thoughts from today

Many people say it should not matter to me if it doesn’t hurt me.  What they don’t understand is that this is actually quite damaging to women´s rights, the women´s movement, feminism or however you like to think about the idea that women are beings of equal value to men and deserve to be treated as such.

At a time when women in Iran are fighting to be allowed to speak their own minds and not be randomly murdered for showing cranial hair in public; when girls in Afghanistan are being sold by their fathers as brides for the Taliban or beaten for smiling in public; when women in Saudi can still be accused of adultery if they report a rape (which still has a possible stoning offence); when girls in Nepal are still ostracised from their homes during their monthly cycle; when in China the son-bias still drives a ratio of 8 girls to every 10 boys; when women in Europe, Africa and Asia continue to be enslaved by the sex trade; when women in Qatar cannot enjoy basic freedoms without the permission of their male guardian; when lesbian women in South Africa are still subjected to  ¨corrective¨ rape, when female genital mutilation is still common in some African countries and honour killing still exists as a concept in some Eastern ones; and while globally women are still getting paid less while performing the same work as a man despite what is still (generally speaking) a greater burden of responsibility at home and with offspring: I feel there is still a very long way to go before anyone can seriously say we have reached a point where women have enough privilege or should move over to stop pulling focus from other causes.  If another cause means taking away from the fight for women’s genuine equality, then it damages women’s rights.  People in the USA make it all about having a choice to have an abortion; but it is about so much more than that choice or women being the decisionmakers of their own health care. 

It is about men worldwide interiorising that women have equal value to men; intrinsically as human beings.  It is about relationships with women being based in respect for a person with vital value rather than a hole, other, mystery, image for gratification, servant, cook or punching bag for venting frustrations.  I recently saw Elisabeth Banks in an interview express eloquently that people still see women as second-class citizens and that is why they continue to diminish women´s achievements as lucky rather than deserved or the result of work and talent.  In my own work life, I once had a boss tell me I had an uncanny knack for <<stumbling on>> the best solutions to issues that needed fixing; rather than acknowledge my capability for doing my job or my MBA or decade plus of experience.  I´m quite sure I am not the only woman to have had their ideas dismissed in meetings only to hear them praised when they were parroted out of a male mouth minutes later as though they were a new take. 

Men don’t generally think about any of the aforementioned unless you bring it up in a discussion.  I once commented to a colleague at work I did not want to have to travel to Saudi Arabia and he was perplexed as to why.  I spelled out women´s rights in Saudi and he said ¨oh yeah, I didn’t even think about that¨.  I´m quite sure no woman on earth that hadn’t been living under a rock or that was otherwise completely ignorant of the existence of Middle Eastern cultures could ever discuss potential travel to Saudi without having the treatment of women in mind. It makes me angry when I see paid advertising on international news networks that showcase business opportunities in Dubai, Qatar, and Saudi with no thought to the fact that they are ostensibly indicating a return on investment is more important than the values of the country you might sink your money into.  I despair that climate conferences have not driven more tangible actions from western civilizations that are happy to criticise the practices of China as violating human rights while simultaneously they kowtow to Saudi Arabia.  But of course, these governments are still mostly driven and run by patriarchal groups that don’t truly believe that women’s rights are human rights.  If they did then they would have invested more in alternative energy sources decades ago whether or not they believed in the imminence of the climate crisis; simply in order to advance human rights.  But of course, women’s rights take a back seat whenever decision makers don’t have them front and centre in their minds or written objectives.  So, when a man comes to Europe and ignores the female leader in a meeting with the EU no one in the room calls it out.  So when Sweden drops equality from foreign policy requirements people say it wasn’t getting anywhere anyway. So the world cup was awarded to a country where women are treated like possesions or children; but it isn’t until years and numerous migrant worker deaths later that anyone thinks really it was not a good idea to award the cup to Qatar, and even then women’s rights seem to be an afterthought behind freedoms for gay men. By the way; I am not in any way intending to diminish the importance of LGBT rights. I mean only to say that women’s right are not less important and should not be considered less (or an afterthought) because of a patriarchal worldview. I mean, did you see the Australian team’s video? No mention of women at all… Which is my point.

Feminism has not achieved its aims; indeed, has had to fight not just against the patriarchy but in recent years also against European women and men claiming feminazis want too much.  In my personal experience that idea generally comes from a place of ignorance regarding the definition of feminism: the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.

But it is true many women don’t want to be equal.  Many women don’t want to be subject to any potential draft in any form whatsoever.  I am sure quite a lot of men would rather never be subject to any draft either. It is not about women vs men it’s more a question of conscientious objection to my mind; and incorporating non-front-line services for those who prefer not to hold a gun.  Although Ukraine and Israel show quite well; if history wasn’t enough, that women are quite capable soldiers if needed.  Many women don’t want to lose preferential consideration in child custody hearings; which personally isn’t thinking about the best for the child but just being selfish.

Many women don’t want to hear that having your period isn’t a valid reason for calling in sick to work in the age of over-the-counter pain relief and other freely available treatments.  But equality is the goal and to achieve it means benefits as well as responsibilities.  Can you imagine any argument justifying equal pay at the same time as government approved menstruation days?  It´s absurd.  No one is saying that there aren’t some women with heavy flows that require extra care.  I myself had to take the pill to reduce my 15-day long periods to a manageable 3 and still had cramps and other symptoms but dragged my ass to work. When I was studying for my MBA, another woman once said in a group exercise that she didn’t feel capable of decision making while having her period because she got hormonal mood swings.  I asked her; do you realise you’ve just said in front of a class of men that women should not hold managerial positions and that made her angry for sure but not as much as the pusillanimous idea that periods make women inadequate for leadership positions.  Did she think men aren’t hormonal and distracted most of most days? Some of the male MBA students actively watched porn while we were in work groups; and judging by how often an average man fails to look a woman in the face until after he´s looked at the rest of her I am fairly convinced their hormonal impairments are month long every month of the year not merely coming to the surface cyclically.

So given that women are divided on how much equality is needed or wanted and a lot of women vote against their own interests; like trees voting for an axe because the axe has a wooden handle, it is easy for other groups to demand women move aside or shut up because they feel more important than women´s liberation or equality.  But truly we are considering 49,5% of the global population. How can any other group be more important than the interests of basically one of every two people on earth? And if we fight for women’s rights isn’t this defacto fighting for all the other equalities of all the demographics that those women belong to?

Obras preocupadas con la maternidad invaden mi entorno.

Primero fue La Hija Oscura en Netflix: una película que para mi fue algo aburrida de ver a pesar de la presencia de Olivia Coleman.  Trataba de una mujer que había elegido para ella misma vivir su propia vida; por encima de dedicarla a cuidar o criar a su hija. Ese tabú le aísla del resto de la sociedad, exige que la reflejen en pantalla de la manera más egoísta y emocionalmente analfabeta viable y al final juegan con la idea de que sea una mujer al borde del suicidio hasta que oiga la voz de esa hija abandonada. La curiosidad para mí al ver la película no tuvo en absoluto que ver con la trama; sino con la presunción que a esta mujer hay que juzgarla de alguna manera como mujer, a pesar de que en la vida real haya millones de hombres pululando por el mundo ajenos a sus hijos y nadie clama al cielo que son hombres malos sino como mucho malos padres. ¿Es tan inconcebible para el mundo que una mujer quiera algo más allá de la maternidad? ¿De veras?  ¿Aún en 2022? En mi propia vida no tuve la oportunidad de elegir, pero no pienso que me toque juzgar a otra persona por no querer ser madre.  Además, pienso que si un personaje tiene tan poco interés en criar un/a nin@ seguramente ese/a nin@ tendrá mejor vida con otra persona de guardián. Alguien que de veras quiera sacrificar su carrera o amor o lo que sea porque formar a una mente joven y hacer de guardián le importa más.

Luego en el club de lectura al que me apunté hace poco, el primer libro que me tocó fue La Escuela de Las Buenas Madres; que trata de una mujer que me cayó mal y lo que le sucede después de abandonar a su hija de apenas un año durante horas. En esta historia de ciencia ficción; que no dejó a nadie indiferente, la protagonista acaba en una cárcel a medio camino entre 1984 y el Cuento de la Criada.  A la mujer le lavan el cerebro hasta que no conciba otro porvenir que ser madre; pero no simplemente una madre sino una madre programada a elegir y comportarse siempre de acuerdo con un canon dictado por asistentas sociales sin hijos. Algunas del grupo de lectura lloraban al hablar de los temas tratados y la auto examinación que provocó.  No porque recriminaran su propia maternidad; sino porque agradecían el cuidado recibido por sus propios guardianes más al considerar en profundidad lo que pudiese conducir sus actitudes y comportamientos. La cultura, la formación, las circunstancias económicas y sociales, la red de soporte que tuvieran o no tuvieron, etc.  Aunque se podría echarle mucha leña de análisis socio cultural y de clases y prejuicios; y de veras la discusión del grupo para mi gusto fue iluminada, el libro en sí no me gustó. En el fondo, a mí modo de ver, el núcleo de la historia sigue basándose en el rechazo de la sociedad hacía una mujer que no tenga instinto maternal. ¿Quién le da a la sociedad el derecho a decidir si el instinto maternal es suficiente o se ejerce de la manera correcta? Fuera de casos de abuso grave; con que vara se mide lo que es bueno o malo para un ser humano pequeño e indefenso.  Lo cierto es que en la sociedad no hay consenso sobre esto.  Sólo hace falta mirar hacia el hemiciclo político para recordar que nuestra sociedad es incapaz de ponerse de acuerdo siquiera para los asuntos más pusilánimes. Además; aún en sociedades que, si obran con bastante más harmonía política, los servicios de asistencia social no dan abasto para proteger a críos vulnerables (ejemplos espeluznantes abundaban en los periódicos del Reino Unido en la última década, y en los Países Bajos recientemente se emitió un informe dictaminando que l@s nin@s bajo protección social en muchos casos hubiesen sido menos perjudicados si hubiesen quedado con sus padres).

No por último menos importante; y hubo más ejemplos recientes en la tele, pero con tres me basta para esta exposición: Cinco Lobitos.  Esta película española entrañable y lograda trata de los altibajos de una nueva madre y lo sola que se siente al criar a su hija con la pareja siempre de viaje. El sub-contexto de la película parece ser que un@ no puede comprender a sus padres hasta que tenga su propi@ hij@.  En eso no estoy de acuerdo para nada.  No hace falta procrear para madurar y no hace falta quemarse para poder apreciar el impacto que tiene ser quemado…  Pero me sorprendió que en la charla post película del festival de cine obviaron una línea de dialogo muy significante.  La hija/madre le pregunta a su madre porque no fue con su amante si no era feliz y la madre le responde que la niña tenía solo cuatro años y era muy pequeña para dejarla.  Allí volvemos a reflejar lo que nadie quiere reconocer: que una mujer puede no tener instinto maternal y puede contemplar abandonar.  Mismamente la hija en la peli al escuchar estas palabras de la boca de su propia madre no las comprende; y responde que podría haberla llevado con ella y solo haber abandonado al padre. Esa representación – ese cacho de dialogo – representa algo que sigue siendo muy difícil de reconocer como sociedad.  Las mujeres son personas completas con deseos, gustos, filosofías de vida y trayectorias y no siempre procrear significa descerebrase por el bebe. 

¿Por qué será que aun en el 2022 cuesta tantísimo aceptar que mujer no es necesariamente sinónimo con madre?  Y ¿Por qué será que la sociedad sigue creyendo que la que no quiera ser madre es mala mujer?

BUF

Después de 16 meses viviendo sola en casa y teletrabajando; el año pasado bajé a Madrid para ver a mi madre enferma de cáncer metastásico y con la espalda rota. Seguí teletrabajando, pero volví a bajar en noviembre y comprobé que de la espalda iba mejorando. Volví a bajar en febrero para verla cumplir 76, y volví a bajar el pasado mes de julio para pasar tres olas de calor en compañía de mi madre bastante mejorada en salud, aunque; eso sí, aun con un cáncer metastásico y dopada hasta las cejas de morfina. En ésta última visita mis padres me pegaron el COVID que tanto había intentado evitar. Eso sí, agradezco que me lo pegaran después de tres vacunas porque con lo mal que lo pasé estoy convencida de si me hubiera tocado antes de vacunarme yo había muerto antes de mi madre. Pasar el COVID en Madrid supongo que ha sido la mejor forma de pasarlo; ya que cada ocho horas mi padre entraba para ver si seguía con vida y comprobar mi saturación de oxígeno. Gracias a los antihistamínicos, dos inhaladores, gotas y esteroides; seguí respirando durante los cuatro días que me duró la fiebre de 39ºC. Me alegré de estar en Madrid y poder reponer fuerzas a base de horchatas y flanes; que en otras partes no existen. Claro, gracias al COVID y las fechas; no pude ver a casi nadie aparte de mis padres sedentarios. A pesar de eso simplemente poder pasear por el río a diario fue un gran alivio; aunque significara sudar y sufrir bajadas de tensión por los grados de temperatura. Los perros vieron necesario bañarse en cada fuente o beber del mismo río en cada oportunidad que se presentara y la gente les admiró y los elogió por ser tán buenísimos (algo diametralmente opuesta a la actitud de los holandeses que a diario me gruñen que mis perros no deben socializarse con los suyos). Y ahora de vuelta en los países bajos me encuentro con un jardín salvaje en el que todo ha crecido de una manera tan exagerada en unas semanas de sequía que asusta pensar en lo que podría llegar a pasar si me ausentara más tiempo. y bueno, no tenía pensado escribir nada especial sino simplemente dejar algo aquí como muestra de mi existencia continuada a pesar de las ausencias largas. un abrazo a cualquier persona que se interese en leer esto.

Back on line!!

After two months of staring at the ceiling in the wee hours wondering if my blog would be lost in the server transfer I can FINALLY relax seeing that the extremely helpful and VERY patient technical support people have done their magic and I am back on line!

I can at last get back to recriminating myself every week that goes by without a new post ?

Coronavirus in the Netherlands as an expat (Spanish with a Danish mother and here after 10 years in the UK).

I grew up with an anaesthesiologist father; and my first job as a teenager was working as a ward secretary for the oncology and respiratory departments in a local hospital in the USA; where I learned the day to day for the patients and nurses around vulnerable patients. As an adult I have worked for multinational hygiene, medical device & drug companies for 9 years. My jobs over the last decade have centred on forecasting product requirements so production plants can have what is needed ready in the warehouse on time for customers to buy; and this is done via a combination of statistical methodology and market intelligence. So perhaps my despair at the way the Netherlands has reacted to the Covid19 emergency is more about my background and experience than the fact that I am an expat. However; my perspective as an expat tells me that the Netherlands has done –compared to its fellow EU member states– poorly in reaction time, communication, and frankly recognition of the true extent of the pandemic within the Netherlands. I feel like this pandemic and the way the Dutch have behaved since Rutte’s first speech; where he stated very clearly the economy comes above all else, has opened my eyes to the true nature of the Dutch in a way I would never otherwise have easily come to understand.

In my current job I work for a provider of medical devices that are aimed at reducing contamination in the medical setting; and much of the portfolio sold in Europe is centered on treatment of critical care patients. In the Netherlands office we run the operations for all the European customers; which are as varied as individual hospitals, regional consortiums, buying groups and distributors. Initially at work we started talking about corona only insofar as how it would affect the supply to us of items that might be impacted by what was happening in China. As late as February we were still thinking that it might cause supply problems but not that it would jump to Europe. However; we saw in late February that orders from Italy were rising; and then Italy went into lockdown. In our daily calls to align the team members located around Europe, the Italian was telling us about how serious things were but you could see on the faces of the people in the Dutch office that they were “being polite” when listening and when the call was over they would jest about the poor Italian all cooped up and going stir crazy.

Then, due to a completely different illness I started working from home the week before Spain declared a State of Emergency. Even during that week; with death tolls rising rapidly and orders from both Spain and Italy coming in at 5 and 6 times the normal volumes, my Dutch boss didn’t seem to think it might happen here. When I told my boss I had seen the graphs of infection rates and that the Netherlands was following exactly the same curve as Italy and Spain he didn’t seem to take it in. When I said they had had an expert on the news to show this graph then he listened but still apparently wanted to make light of it; like if taking something seriously might be poor form or bad luck. Then that Friday Spain declared a state of emergency and on television I watched the Dutch parliament arguing about what to do about the people in Brabant and was dismayed that only Wilders seemed to say people’s lives should come first. Rutte actually rolled his eyes when Wilders said that. When I (via office chat) said to my Dutch colleague that I didn’t understand how Rutte could do that the response I got was “they will never share power again”. I realised the Dutch are psychologically in a completely different place from any Mediterranean person if they don’t even comprehend I could be dismayed to see that the prime minister of the country I am living in doesn’t prioritise lives over the economy. Wilders; the man who doesn’t want me in his country and doesn’t want to be in the EU, seemed to be the only one arguing to safeguard my health.

I made the same comment on a facebook group and the Dutchies there replied Wilders was only trying to be popular and I should calm down. Never mind that telling people to calm down when they ask a simple question is pretty rude, in this situation I have heard it repeatedly from Dutch people every time I ask them to consider any new data that challenges the idea that Rutte’s government is perfectly on top of things.

That weekend Rutte came out with the idea that people should work from home as much as possible; and our HR department sent a message indicating that the USA headquarters wanted us to work from home until further notice. I was relieved to not have to go back to the office in light of how lightly the Dutch seemed to be taking things. Honestly a lot of my relief centred around the poor hygiene I see in daily life here in the Netherlands. A lot of people don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom, they normally cough into the air without even pretending to cover their mouths, and I have seen people put used cutlery and plates back in the kitchen cupboard without washing them. Let alone beer festivals where glasses get a quick rinse rather than a wash before being used for a different customer. Fingers crossed all the messages about hand washing stick with the Dutch after this is over…
I did have to go to a house inspection that could not be rescheduled and one of the people there was stroppy and offended that I did not want to shake hands. The other person there was complaining about having to close her business for no reason she could understand. To be fair the Dutch authorities kept treating it like it was nothing so no wonder she didn’t understand. The experts in the press conferences at that time were still saying that you only need to stay home if you feel ill: completely ignoring the evidence and experience that China, Italy and Spain could offer. I wondered if they might be doing it on purpose to get as many people ill as quickly as possible.

Even in the Saturday morning news it seemed to be a joke because they showed graphs that used bread and breakfast spreads to show how much better Netherlands was doing even before – according to their own government – anything had even started to happen. When I posted on a Facebook expat group that the spread of the virus was EXTREMELY fast and that the information on the RIVM page saying if you don’t feel ill you can go outside was irresponsible and wrong; I was attacked for raising panic. When I tried posting a message that mask sellers on bol.com were giving a second mask free (because even a cloth mask is better than no mask if we are trying to prevent the spread) my post was blocked. All the corona posts were blocked from all the expats groups that weekend and I felt it was a sort of mass censorship of reality to keep the foreigners quiet about what was going on in their countries. Subsequently I asked one of the expats groups to reconsider this ban because a lot of expats don’t speak Dutch well enough to follow the local news and these groups are an essential platform and tool for those of us who don’t have great social networks here. I have made a great effort to learn Dutch well enough to watch the nightly news but I would feel lost if this was happening around me and I could not even follow the local or national news. Again I was torn down; this time with the admins of the group making personal attacks and false accusations, for contributing to panic. I was more than fed up with people reacting to attempts to discuss the accredited news and reported facts as contributing to panic so I stopped looking at those groups.

Then I did a quick check of the comparative number of ICU beds to see how might the Netherlands respond and I realised that not only does the Netherlands not have the concept of universal health coverage (we have to pay a private insurance monthly to be attended at any health service provider – unlike in Spain or Denmark or the UK); but even paying over €250 per month to get a cover that has a financial ceiling; the availability of care is very limited compared to other countries. There are half the number of ICU beds per inhabitant in the Netherlands versus Spain. I was dismayed over and over to see experts trotted out on the nightly news to say that the Netherlands had beaten the curve when it was far too early for the loose suggested measures to have had any effect. I was pissed off that the news didn’t even pick up on the issue of the number of total ICU beds for nearly two more weeks after I did; and even then they reported it from the perspective of “we won’t need them” until actually there weren’t enough and they had to send people to Germany. I can understand that in Holland they aren’t doing more testing because they don’t have the capacity or tests; but I cannot understand that they were reporting a figure they had to know with certainty was too low without any caveats for weeks.

A check of the national death statistics proves that Corona deaths in the Netherlands are about 50% higher than what RIVM is reporting on its website. They only added the caveat that actual deaths are probably higher last week when international papers ran stories about how the counts are different in every country and in the Netherlands only patients admitted to hospital are actually tested for the virus. https://opendata.cbs.nl/#/CBS/en/dataset/70895ENG/table

I think I find the behaviour of the Dutch government especially exasperating because the Spanish government is by comparison so extremely transparent. In Spain there are daily press conferences that detail even how many masks were delivered to each hospital; but here there have been only a couple of top line speeches where the messages were not clear enough to get the populace in line behind respecting the health threat. Now we are not half way through April and I see on the Dutch news it seems almost a foregone conclusion that restrictions will all be lifted after King’s Day; but at the same time they are showing videos from the “frontline” every day and one would hope that the message hits home. I do find it very curious that the “frontline” videos from the Netherlands include mostly well made up and rested people in front of a studiously good looking backdrop. I think of the videos from the Italian hospitals and it makes me think maybe it really isn’t so bad here; but then the numbers are what they are…

Of course I still have to go outside every day to walk my dogs. I have been wearing a face mask since March 13 but NO ONE in the town where I live has worn one any time I have been out in the last month. Initially people laughed at me openly; then after about a week they seemed to snigger nervously, and this last week they just smile at me like I am a dolt. Until last week I saw no reduction in the number of people about on the street and no one was respecting the distance. I have to go into the grass because people coming the other way do not waver from the centre of the path. Joggers actually bump into me (in the first weeks many of them coughing while jogging in groups – but I am not sure if that is stupidity or the Dutch sense of humour). When I had to go grocery shopping the first time a man very ostentatiously on purpose came up to cough in my face; and I do think it was because I was the only one in the store wearing a mask. Even after the local grocery store put the stickers on the floor the other customers do not respect the distances. I find it an extremely unpleasant experience to go buy groceries; but from what I see on the news this must be a small town experience because they show beautiful images of people in Amsterdam waiting in queues and security limiting the number of people inside the stores.

However; at least people in Spain are wearing masks and gloves. I think of the people I know in Spain and I think at least they have their head´s on straight. At least they aren’t acting like pretending a problem doesn’t exist will make it go away. The Dutch also don’t stay home (there is a google analytics report to prove it): https://www.rtlnieuws.nl/nieuws/artikel/5080246/nederland-europa-new-york-lockdown-social-distancing-lombardije-italie?fbclid=IwAR3nd2LMHPJeCQU01HFbO0tnWsGAFyGTRlQmgvT4jZROnJpxrrMTmbiLh_I

Throughout this I have had my spirits lifted by my family in Spain and Denmark sending me messages and videos and whatever nonsense in whatsapp; and I actually have more regular contact with them now than before because they are all bored at home in a genuine lockdown while I am working twice as much as normal due to the crisis. It was disappointing to me to see how much this crisis has been politicised in Spain and how the right wing is trying to blame the government for every failure. However; I know that no supplier can meet a five or six fold demand in the space of two weeks for items that take months to produce and place in market. So I am not surprised when there is a shortage of masks and I think it is sad that one party would try to blame that shortage on the incompetence of another political party when actually it is simply supply and demand. Seeing the way Spain has reacted and pulled together; and how the Dutch have behaved in comparison, has really made me homesick.

Belonging is a Choice

Probably my most defining life memory (insofar as our topic today) happened when I was between four and five. I remember a lot of screaming and shouting. That was nothing unusual. Then the sounds of fists hitting home; again nothing unusual. But then I realised the target wasn’t my brother or sister and that it was a lot louder than normal. My father shouted at the top of his lungs for me and my sister to go to where they were. We got there to see my parents were standing in the entryway to the house arguing. My mother was dressed up more than usual; had her fur coat on and keys in her hand. She was telling my father she wanted a divorce. My father had found out because the lawyer she had met in secret had written a letter that he was holding in his hand while shouting “how much is this nonsense going to cost me”.

She then said “I am leaving you Fernando I have had enough.” She went to turn to the door while he held her back trying to take the keys out of her hands. When he didn’t manage it because she had gotten the keys in the door; he threw her to the ground and started beating her wildly. He screamed that she had no right to leave her children; that she wouldn’t get outside the door because he would not allow it, and that she should be ashamed of herself. What kind of mother leaves her children behind? How would she pay for anything because he wasn’t going to give her a penny? She had no right to leave because she belonged with her children. My sister and I stood there and watched this. My father repeated several times that she belonged with her children, that she belonged in the house. Shortly after that my father (a respected doctor in a small town) got a psychiatrist to certify her mentally ill and my mother spent most of the next 20 years sedated to one degree or another.

What crystallised in my mind while I watched and listened that day – aside from the shame of standing there and doing nothing – which happened more frequently than not because doing something usually made it worse – was that I most certainly did not want to belong in that family. I did not want to belong with my parents and if I wanted to get away from them I needed to be financially independent. That was what I was thinking about at the age of four. I don’t want to belong here. I don’t belong here. How do I get away from here? I wasn’t sure where I might actually belong but I didn’t want it to be there. This distance I felt in my home life spread to pretty much all relationships when I was a child because no one outside of the house could ever know the truth about what happened inside it.

All of us had very clear the difference between private and public and that it was forbidden to let the outside public know the truth of the private. Is it possible to develop a genuine sense of belonging with other people if they don’t know the truth about who you are? And people really didn’t know because after that day by the door my father never hit us in places that would leave visible marks again. So – while it may sound histrionic or overly dramatic – I hid a double life from everyone for decades. My family members never knew my only objective in life was to get away from my father and no one else had any awareness of this either. It did seep into things though; because for me – the Spanish daughter of a Danish woman living in the USA – I rejected anything that meant permanence in that small town.

An example of this was my relationship with my fourth grade teacher. In the fourth grade I was regularly docked points on spelling tests because I would use the English spelling rather than the American one; colour, humour, flavour and realise. When I argued with Mrs Johnson that it was unfair because the language was English and Collins dictionary had the correct spelling she said I was living in America and needed to get used to doing things like Americans. From my perspective that was categorically unfair and I said so, saying I had no intention of staying in the USA any longer than necessary. She looked bemused then but didn’t say much. Then; shortly before parent teacher conferences I was docked points on another test in class because I didn’t know how to correctly answer the question “what your mother serves for dessert at thanksgiving.” I didn’t have a clue because in my house we didn’t celebrate thanksgiving. We were half Spanish half Danish and to be honest didn’t really celebrate either culture’s traditions. My parents were immigrants to a country whose culture they didn’t really understand; and generally spoke about the fact that Americans don’t have any genuine culture because they are all mixed up. Also, as many immigrants do they really mostly only knew other immigrants socially.

The teacher took advantage of the conference to discuss with them her concern that I wasn’t accepting American customs. She apparently convinced them that the lack of celebrating Thanksgiving was one of the reasons I never fit in with the other kids: I was too different. If they wanted to show they belonged in America then we needed to behave like Americans. Never mind the fact that most of the other kids in my class came from other European immigrant backgrounds because they were doing it right by celebrating Thanksgiving. I have always hated that holiday as a hypocritical white wash of history, and didn’t feel thankful in the least for my situation at the time. But the Midwestern matron imposed her understanding of what was required of my parents for us to belong in Midwestern society and they were so genuinely concerned to fit in (my father was applying for citizenship) that we ate the bloody thanksgiving dinner every year we were in the states after that; and my father started watching American football so my brother could understand what the boys in his class were on about.

The funny thing is that woman’s insistence that we conform to her cultural expectations was one of the first things to make me strongly reject Americanism. Up until then I had focused my thoughts primarily on getting away from my father. But the following summer I was sent to stay with my aunt and there I experienced life in Madrid doing things normal kids in Madrid do, and eating normal food etc – and at the end of that summer I remember my aunt telling other people “this one belongs with us” and I was happy for it because I knew I most certainly didn’t belong in the USA.

On the flip side in Madrid for many years I was “punished” in different groups for not being genuinely «Spanish» enough for their standards.

Eventually I came to the conclusion that no one belongs anywhere but where they choose; but because there will always be others that don’t think you belong (because for tastes there are 1000 colours in the rainbow) end of the day you just have to accept people’s rejection or accept yourself and the fact that no one is a perfect fit anywhere.

Robert Michael Flaherty

The Most Honourable Very Right Reverend Robert Michael Flaherty has left the building.  A man who for most of the years I knew him wore shorts with a trench coat; liberated from any impact of mere weather.  I went to two formal dances with him seven years apart and he didn’t dance at either but he did grade the skill of the DJ and have a great time. 

Rob was the person who so often was there to listen no conditions asked.  Many many times he saw me being self-destructive and he would chide and guide but not judge.  We spent countless hours sitting around talking about nothing -or singing along to songs- or playing darts or pool during our years at UofI.

When my father reneged on his promise to let me travel if I finished University early and put me to work full time under his eye; Rob got me a second job so I could at least be less hassled two days a week.  I still have my “Future Now” mug. 

When I felt isolated in Law School Rob set me up with a link to his UofI internet connection so I could chat online with him, Stan in Japan and Tony (this was in 1992/3). 

When my heart was broken for the NNth time by the same oblivious fool and I started to become reclusive Rob drove up to DeKalb and physically pulled me out of the flat so I would go out to a restaurant and shoot the breeze with him. 

Rob attended my law school graduation and my brother still remembers him as the one who said “cut me some of that butter action” during the lunch after.  He was always saying things like that.

Since moving to Europe we haven’t really spoken but texted.  For me this is the norm with most people in my life as I live far away.  I have spent quite a lot of hours entertained by Rob’s Facebook activity.  Rob is one of a very small handful of people that read my books and even gave one protagonism in a post about clearing his bookshelves.  Thanks to his Facebook I know his daughter cannot doubt how much he loved her.  I think that is invaluable. 

Rob was not just a good influence but was himself undeniably optimistic.  In December Rob texted to say he was getting divorced but it was going to be his Robaissance: a time for him to reinvent himself and throw himself into new hobbies.  Everyone’s time is too short but I feel sure that Rob got the very most possible out of his years and his attitude in the last months was still wholly positive.  Rob was an expert at getting value for time in a way that no one else I have EVER met even comes close to.

La Soledad

La soledad es querer comentar algo con alguien que pueda entender lo que expresas, y de manera simultánea recordar que no hay semejante persona en tu vida con quién hablar.

Por por haber vivido una vida algo fuera de lo común; por mucho que busque no encuentro con quién compartir experiencias más allá de las cosas pequeñas.  Por ejemplo: charlar sobre una serie o película que guste, un lugar donde comprar algo específico, las reacciones a una cultura igualmente ajena para ambos interlocutores.  Es algo así como vivir perpetuamente en una sala de espera obligada a hacer ruido sin sentido con gente que no volverás a ver nunca para evitar que te designen antipática.

Y hasta eso puede costar tanto esfuerzo que no merezca la pena si no compartes idioma.  He vivido décadas trabajando con gente que no habla con fluidez ninguna de las lenguas que yo domino como nativa.  Puedo asegurar que hasta una necedad aparentemente insignificante puede volverse una experiencia frustrante y triste.  Imagínate intentar describir el mejor filete miñón con tinto que comiste jamás a un vegano abstemio de alcohol y quizás vislumbrarás algo de la sensación diaria de ser el último sobreviviente de tu especie.  Tarde o (normalmente MUY) temprano una se da cuenta de que; aunque la otra persona escucha, no comprende. 

My Brexit Dilemma

After a decade in the UK I have reasoned through the pros and cons of staying in a Britain that doesn’t want to be part of the European Union or Europe for that matter.  This is not about how I feel about Brexit or the British although; possibly, that may become the subject of my next novel…  This is about; having already decided that my future cannot lie in the brave new Brexit Britain, where shall I go from here?

I am Spanish.  I love my country.  My heart belongs to Spain.  I have never felt any other national loyalty.  People may look at my Viking DNA influenced face and think “foreigner” or speak to me in English on the assumption I am a tourist, but Madrid is the only place I feel genuinely at home.  Many people don’t realise I had to fight against the obstacles from parents, cousins and employers to ensure my Spanish passport.  Perhaps because I had to fight to get it I value it more than others who have never thought about where they belong.  Spain is the only place I can imagine being an old person, retired if I can ever afford it.  Madrid is where I want to die, if not the coast while on a non-tacky beach holiday.

Despite my severe allergies to the Cyprus and Plane trees that have been planted willy nilly over the last decades by an irresponsible urban development team; Madrid is the only place where I breathe completely easy no matter what else may be happening.  These streets are mine and I can recite the history of stores that have rotated through shop fronts over decades.  The food a person gets here is the most reliably decent / healthy / tasty food at affordable price of any country I have been to (and that is a few…).  The health care is leaps and bounds above what is available in the UK and probably some not small number of other countries.  I grew up in Madrid.  I tried damn hard to live independently in Spain.

But the impossibility of making a living drove me to leave Madrid 10 years ago, and I have been consistently rejected from employment selection processes for ???  never really been clear why unless it is that there is still a very strong bias against women of my age who are still single and without children.  There is a clear bias against employing people who need to relocate – counter to the preference prevalent in most of the rest of Europe to take the best person not the one that is close by.  The job market frankly was never ideal but certainly has not recovered despite what some political parties try to sell a self-loathing voting public.  Self-Loathing because they consistently vote against their own interests … but I digress again.  And actually I already wrote a full tome about how difficult it is to get a job in Madrid (Spanish ANGST), and there are many professional dissertations on the throw away contracts that exist and the poor quality of employment conditions in Spain; and it is the subject of ongoing unceasing political arguments.

And now I am faced with a very difficult choice.  I know I am leaving the UK but where do I go to?

My entire being has been driving hard to get a job back home in Madrid for the majority of the time I have been living in England.   The opportunities are generally limited to jobs that pay significantly less than what I make; for longer hours in environments that are usually much more openly sexist than in non-Mediterranean countries (and remember that women still make on average 20% less than men for the same jobs).  The worst part is the fact that jobs are still very precarious.  They are short term ephemeral things in the majority.  Where they are not actually temporary positions on rotations the continuity is still highly uncertain due to consolidations, rationalizations, downsizings, all those things that make the profits and economy look good but mean no clear future for the work force.  What do I do?

A)

Do I take a job that offers me the same standard of living and similar job responsibilities in a new country where I will at some point have to learn the local language but where there is less than 5% unemployment so I should not have to worry about future continuity of employment?  Where the weather is similar to what I’ve been living the last decade and there would be a short commute to work as well as a small yard for the dogs?  A place where I would have a genuine friend nearby who already knows the ins and outs, and where I would always be near water and be able to keep up my horseback riding…

or

B)

Do I hold out for a job in Madrid where I might be ok a year or two but it will never be clear longer term?  Where I would make 25% less money despite the cost of living being about the same; meaning I would have to give up quite a lot.  Where I have many friends around the city but none genuinely close by.  Where I already understand how things work and what to expect and that includes being within reach of a person who cannot help but harass and degrade everyone around him.

It is certainly smarter to go where I might have a chance to save money so that eventually I might be able to feel I can retire, ideally in my own country.

Opinions?