Monday, July 02, 2007

A series of non-sequiturs leading to a conclusion

A few days ago, Mike Peterson posted this photo on his blog.

I have a good friend who is from Iraq. Her name is Assia.

She and her husband have four daughters. ("What will you do when they are old enough to date?" I joked to her husband. "I... shall buy gun," he replied. Only half in-jest, I think.)

The youngest girl is named Saafia.

For years, I grew my hair very, very long. When I first moved to New Brunswick, my hair was to my waist. It was whip-straight (as indeed it still is).

Some years ago, I decided it was time to get my long hair cut and try to cultivate a more professional look. I asked Assia, a hairdresser who'd been trained in Paris, to cut all that hair off.

Saafia, who was about the age of the girl in the photo at the time, and who loved to watch her mom cut hair, cheerfully pulled a little chair up next to me in her mom's basement. She was fine until she realized that her mother was going to cut off all my hair.

She started crying, and pleading with her mother in Arabic.

"What's wrong??" I asked Assia.

"Oh," Assia said. "She has the curly hair, you know? Like me, and her Dad. Iraqi. Her and her sisters, they always want the straight hair. They buy the irons, the chemicals. All they want is the straight hair. They all want your hair. She can't believe you cut your hair."

This is half of my problem. None of this stuff is abstract to me anymore. I see a terrified Iraqi child, I see Saafia. A real person I know and have conversed with and care about. I see a starving Sudanese mother hopelessly trying to suckle a dying child, I see Dumo, and her baby boy, Jacob -- if she hadn't gotten to Canada. I read about Islamic fanatics going into a movie theatre in Somalia and macheteing a movie audience because movies are sinful, and I see Mohamed and his wife and beautiful twin 8-year-old daughters.

Maybe I'm getting burned out. I'm sure angrier about what's going on in Iraq than is healthy. And being painfully conflicted about Afghanistan isn't helping.

It feels like it's time to take some kind of a break from all this. I just don't know exactly how.

Or for how long.



Blogger Mike said...

Maybe you could try a change of the type of people you help ... but I can't imagine you in a position where you aren't helping people, and I mean more than helping them decide if they want the extended warranty for their new dryer or fries with their Big Mac.

Take a deep breath. Puzzle it out. But remember that you probably can't find a way to avoid giving a damn.

On the other hand, I did find a considerable amount of peace once by quitting a Family Law listserv in which most of my energy was spent arguing with trolls and abusers, none of whom lived anywhere near me or could have any possible effect on my real life or the lives of anyone I met in that three-dimensional life -- and none of whom where in the least interested in the actual exchange of ideas.

I guess that's what they mean by "picking your fights."

6:26 a.m.  
Blogger Brian Fies said...

Stop reading "For Better or For Worse." Maybe that'd be all the stress relief you need.

2:39 p.m.  
Blogger ronnie said...

Mike - sage advice. But you, like Sherwood (who emailed me) and Dann (ditto), all came to the conclusion that it has been the online debates that are exhausting me. On the contrary, the debates are - well, I don't think I could put it any better than I did in this email to Sherwood, which I don't think he'll mind me replicating here:

"given that writing gives me more satisfaction than anything else, [the debating is] actually helpful and theraputic. It helps me organize and articulate my rage, which believe it or not, is much preferable to the vague, unfocused anger and anxiety that I feel a lot these days.

No, it is, quite literally, what I wrote in the blog post - an increasing inability to separate what I see on my tv screen from my work and the people there. I don't need a break from [online argument], I need a break from reality. No, I need a break from the news. Like that's going to happen."

So Mike, maybe you're right and it's time to think about a career change.

As for Brian's suggestion, all suggestions that I stop poking myself in the eye with a hot pin will be politely but pointedly ignored. It feels so good when I stop.

I just cain't quit them!


8:51 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Ronnie, checking in and I was moved by this. I was a media student back in the 1980s and I promised myself I'd never get used to violent images - that I'd avoid the Hollywood type violence where possible so that the real violence would always raise my heart and mind. Trouble is there is now so much in the media, in our news feeds, in commercials even. Avoidance is getting more difficult. For example there was a gum commercial recently where its ice-cold flavour causes a man's head to fall off in the back of a cab, with everyone screaming in horror - presented as a GUM ad. Man.

We can't escape it. So I recommend you seek peace in a blade of grass. Get out in nature, without any media, roll around with your cat. Walk. Play with some kids.

Writing is good - I agree it's a way through the stress. Once you put your pen (or keyboard) down, change your scenery.

And maybe you can take some solace in the fact that every day, in your work, and in your writing, you ARE making a real difference.

~Yvonne in Ottawa - bunkered down with the squirrels - who don't get cable.

9:22 p.m.  
Blogger ronnie said...

Yvonne - if I could hug you and "kiss your whole face" - which is a funny little phrase we use around here, that comes from an old commercial, but which means "I love what you said so much" - I would.

I also know the ad you're referring to - and I remember when we got training from the CCVT - Canadian Council for Victims of Torture - one of the things they taught us was not to use images of dislocated body parts - like, just a hand, or just a foot - when teaching people English - Picture of Hand with word "Hand" - very common in ESL materials, but for someone who'd seen people who'd been BLOWN UP, the image of a dislocated hand could trigger all sorts of traumatic memory. And every time I see that ad, I wonder how it affects people who have seen decapitated bodies...


What you've said is so smart and so helpful :)


9:38 p.m.  
Blogger ronnie said...

p.s. Don't get the squirrels cable. They're better mammals without it.

9:41 p.m.  
Blogger Yvonne said...

Nope. No cable for squirrels. I learned THAT lesson with Betamax.


5:15 a.m.  

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