TOMBOY BOOK CLUB- HOME FIRE!!!!!

Hello everyone!!!! I have just finished reading Kamila Shamsie’s 2017 Women’s Fiction Prize Winning novel, Home Fire, and fucking hell IT IS SO AMAZING!!! A story of love VS betrayal, of state VS family, and of East Vs West in the ‘melting-pot’ of modern Britain. It is loneliness- what to do with the unbearableness of it: sink into the comfort of hostility and proclaim that there must be revenge, or to reach out through the pain, be honest with it and fight for what you need to survive?

Based off the ancient Greek myth of Antigone reworked for the modern day climate of Islamophobia- how it causes terrorism, and then even more Islamophobia, like a grim merry-go round of hate- this devastating novel has love and betrayal at its core; how we cope with each emotion, and which one should prevail overall if we are to hold on to one another. I had to keep stopping reading so that I could process all the conflicting passions without losing myself, and it is a book that will tear your heart not into two pieces, but a scattering of a million shards.

Shamsie’s novel is told through narrating the experiences of 5 main characters, all British- Pakistani citizens, all woven to put together a larger narrative that will draw them together whilst tearing them apart. This plot of tragedy and love is condensed into a seemingly anonymous Wembley household; the unseeming characters progressively more and more embroiled into a conclusion that reaches far beyond what they ever could imagine.

It starts with Isma, an intelligent but world-worn woman and elder sister/ mother to her two twin siblings, Aneeka and Parvaiz. I think Isma is one of my favourite characters, she is very good at balancing acts, of gently toeing the line between obeying the law to avoid further pain, and standing up for what she really believes in. Love of her family is Isma’s motive for pretty much all she does. Aneeka also is fuelled by love of her family, but without the forgivingness or subtlety of her sister- Aneeka’s love is pretty much all for her brother, not the mothering and hence oppressive Isma. Aneeka and Parvaiz’ twinhood is evoked so beautifully it makes the forces tearing them apart so cruel and callous I could hardly bear it; but whereas Isma’s love aims to bring everyone back together, Aneeka’s love is driven for one purpose only: to bring Parvaiz home from the terrorists he has been groomed into joining.

However, Aneekas love at first solely meant for Parvaiz actually multiplies in another direction. Aneeka falls in love with a man- Eamonn- her sister first met and sent her way- but this is not a tale of sisters fighting over a man ( it does still make me really sad that Isma is so alone in the book, it would have been nice for her to have at least one solace for herself). Eamonn is the son of the Home Secretary, and Aneeka, at first using him as a vessel for escape to bring Parvaiz home, ends up finding another escape for herself, away from the extremes of loyalty demanded by religion and state. Eamonn’s family are rich, integrated and push the piety of Islam to the back of their minds. Aneeka’s family are poor, derided by the general public for their devotion to their home land and religion. The contrasts are striking, which makes their falling in love only more bitter-sweet with the subtext of Parvaiz between them.

Shamsie evokes the character of Parvaiz before and after his defection to ‘the enemy state’ (the book’s main debate is essentially of loyalty to a state: which comes first, the state of law or love?) with a cleverness that doesn’t exempt him from criticism, but goes into detailed explanations of why what has happened has happened. Yes, he switched himself off and is complicit in the horrors of the Caliphate world in which he finds himself- but if that was the only way to survive, wouldn’t you dance for the devil, too? His choice to abandon his sisters, despite one of them literally being his other half, seems selfish and awful to the extremes. But, again, if you constantly felt alienated as the lone boy without a father in a world ran by women, at an age where you want to talk but don’t feel like anyone wants you… what I’m trying to say is that sadness makes people desperate, and desperation makes people do un-explainable things.

I don’t want to say what happens in the last scene, but it is a conclusion at once satisfying in its inevitability of plot tragedy, yet still discordant, gut-wrenchingly sad for all parties involved. It is reconciliation through grief, a reckoning that will make you want to simultaneously punch every bigot in the face (and by bigot, I don’t just mean Tommy Robinson clones, also the unflinchingly wicked men in suits at Westminster, too) and weep, clinging onto whoever love is to you.

I recommend this book very highly. It makes your brain think hard about the climate of xenophobia, islamophobia and prejudice that seems to govern politics today, and gives your heart a work out- that is never a bad thing!

“The language of violence, spoken by the powerful of all nations, erased distinctions beneath the surface. Two girls walked past, laughing, uninhibited. The sound- continuing on, burrowing down from the girls’ throats to their bellies- was more remarkable than bracelets or wrists. Perhaps surface was all there was to fight for. He remembered how it felt to float on a surface of freedom and safety, to feel himself buoyed up by it, and longing tugged at his heart…”

BRAIN ENGAGES, LET THE PARTY BEGIN!

Anxiety is a fickle mistress. One moment she can’t give a toss and is out trying to bed every Tom, Dick and Harry in Christendom; the next moment, there she is slap-bang on my doorstep with a bunch of cheap gas station roses and chocolates I don’t like. I could tell her to get lost… but then again, that would be like smashing a mirror, or deleting my own phone number. Useless. I am still here. She is still here.

If you didn’t guess by now- she is still here because she is me.

I keep forgetting that anxiety doesn’t really ‘get better‘- despite the cliched metaphor, I must say it. Anxiety changes like the weather. It is a slow rumbling of a realization to reach the point where you know there is actually a name for the hot-sticky fear gumming up your brain, and unfortunately, at least for me- I see no quick fix miracle for a fully-anxiety free future.

You may have a clue of what will trigger you to start worrying, but without good coping mechanisms and support- that trigger can turn into a full blown shoot-out. Personally, I’ve noticed three things that make me wanna smoke all my fingers like zoots: the prospect of evening/sleep, large crowds and THE FUTURE!!!!

aha I know the last one is quite dramatic, but it is sincere. Yet, I don’t want to unpick and examine all the affecting psychological complexities that perpetuate my anxiety and resulting bad behaviors; but to try to outline how I know when I’m thinking/worrying too much (verging on a panic attack), and just some lil’ tips of how to soothe that troubled lost-child soul, whoever you are.

STAGE ONE- BRAIN ENGAGES, LET THE PARTY BEGIN!: “OH HOLY SHIT WHAT THE FUCK IS HAPPENING WHAT THE FUCK ARE THOSE STRANGERS THINKING WHAT THE FUCK AM I THINKING THE FUCK AM I DOING I DON’T DESERVE TO BE HERE WHAT ARE THESE PEOPLE THINKING WHAT IS THIS WORLD WHERE IS THE NEXT CRUELTY WHY WHY WHY…”

When I say, BRAIN ENGAGES, I am relating a semi-accurate recording of my neurons when they start to get boiled. But all jokes aside, having a panic attack really isn’t fun, and for all those who don’t take them seriously or whatever- SUCK MY TITTIES! 

Normally I feel my body get hotter, it will be harder to concentrate and (especially in crowded places that I don’t know so well) become more disorientating to try and find your way round- which really doesn’t help the incessant throes of inadequacy tossing around in the noggin’s mental soup. But,when I’m at home and feel anxiety coming, I annoy everyone in the vicinity by pacing round and round, wringing my hands and finding it impossible to not tap my feet.

It gets more serious when my breathing gets shallow, the tears flow uncontrollably and my hands cramp up real bad like pins and needles. It starts in the hands, but can travel. Sometimes it gets so intense I won’t be able to walk or move properly at all, I’ll just be a tightening ball of tears and rasping. It is humiliating (especially on public transport).  It is painful- both physically, but more mentally. I feel ashamed and embarrassed of what everyone else must think: “What a wimp”.

But anxiety and I (and yourselves, oh my beloveds) need to stay in my/our lane: you will never know what another person is thinking. It isn’t their heart or emotions or brain or life, so try to be kinder and as my grandma would say: “do attempt to restore some order”.

If your hands are cramping, do all you can to ease them- try pulling the fingers apart or sit on them to stop them seizing up again. Take deep, slow, measured breaths, close your eyes and think of the person/ animal/place that makes you feel the most at ease and sure of yourself. I would recommend trying to call a loved one if it’s possible; if not, and you’re shy and don’t want to ask strangers for help (I try to be trusting, but sometimes you need your own zone) try to find a secluded area that is safe but quite peopleless, and let those waterworks be free from observation whilst you try to get it together.

Keep reassuring yourself if you’re alone that it will all be alright. The truth shifts and changes, reality isn’t forever. You are trying and you are loved. You are not evil and you can love. Be your own cheerleader- but more gentle, sans the irritating valley girl accent and sickening pompoms all rustling like binbags.

 

I am only talking from personal experience, and I’m sure there must be attacks way worse than what I have had to cope with. So if my tips aren’t useful, I am sorry- But if your’e comfortable, please feel free to share your own tips/experiences feelings. (I want to make friends!)

Critical thinking, sky-musing and bad-ass rhetoric are my jam. But if this mental problem-solving is causing you occasional strife, it perhaps doesn’t make you a wimp or uncaring to not see all the atrocities of the world as soon as you awaken, which could possibly put you on edge from the time you finish your coco-pops to when University Challenge comes on (and the team you wanted to win, lose- obviously.) At the end of the day, worrying is just caring too much. There is nothing wrong with caring (goddammit, the world needs more caring people), but if you want to live a life of love and really make a difference to all the people and problems you want to help, you gotta love yourself first. I feel like such a hypocrite typing that as I still routinely hate myself on a daily basis. But I am trying. And that is what matters.

So, to return to you: you gotta do what makes you happy because when you are happy is when you’re truly alive. Shindig to Presley in your knickers. Kiss a snail (maybe not, are they germy?) Call your grandma and talk about what singer she fancied when she was 15. Write out your feelings in haiku or acrostic form and then perform it for your dogs (to clarify- I’ve never read my own poems to my dogs) Hell- watch fucking Dick and Dom in the Bungalow with a zoot and some ovaltine. YOU DO YOU BABES!!!! and your’e not being selfish or lazy or stupid. You are being happy and not self-destructive. This is good. Repeat and repeat (whilst not neglecting ‘adult’ duties or defining fun as exclusively additive substances – haha)

Sending all my love to those who struggle with anxiety, any difficulty or disability that makes life a bit more of a slog. We will be alright. 

xoxosxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxxoxoxoxoxo

Hasta la vista, baby

Tonight is my last night at home since the summer holidays began before going back to uni in Canterbury for my final year. It is mixed emotions, a subtle blend and balance of excitement filtered through with slight wishes for home routines to stay.

It is always hard making a change, be them little or large- but no change will ever seem so frightening as how my mind was fretting the night before the first ever day of university. The transition down to Kent wasn’t helped by a 2 hour traffic jam; made slightly more entertaining by a troupe of drunken football fans wandering between the cars, slurring around half formed conversation starters. I guess nothing is ever perfect, you’ve just got to just roll with it- accept the swaps: no longer shall your dreams of arriving early and without blustering be true; but still, at least try to laugh on the M11.

Right now, the thought of not cuddling Pogo and Nelson each day, of not goofing around with my sister or reading books snuggled in my room late at night, are sobering losses to contend. But, with every down there is an up: I shall see my friends again tommorow, and Canterbury- a city I have come to really love living in. The term will begin and that means time to write poems and read more books- life never stops giving, it just doesn’t keep giving the same things.

Here is baby Pogo (AKA Satan) asleep on my butt after cuddles ❤️

But that makes me think more- does life GIVE, or do we make actions to GET; for better or worse? I guess the only way to find out is to make changes.

Today’s poem isn’t really a poem, but a song. For my 21st birthday, Dad brought me a collection of CD’s by one of the world’s most tender and beautiful folk singers- Sandy Denny. “Who Knows Where the Time Goes” is a bittersweet ballad of love and loss and how it feels like an evening sky, full of colours like stained glass windows or jewels. I am sorry to leave home, but it is a comfort to know who and where I’m leaving won’t forget me, no matter how many changes I make.

Who Knows Where the Time Goes 

Across the evening sky, all the birds are leaving.

But how can they know it’s time for them to go?

Before the winter fire, I will still be dreaming. I have no thought of time

For who knows where the time goes? Who knows where the time goes?

Sad, deserted shore, your fickle friends are leaving

Ah, but then you know it’s time for them to go

But I will still be here, I have no thought of leaving. I do not count the time

For who knows where the time goes?Who knows where the time goes?

And I am not alone while my love is near me. I know it will be so until it’s time to go

So come the storms of winter and then the birds in spring again

I have no fear of time

 

 

3 Types of loss

Loss is a sprawling hurt. I thought about three types of loss for just this moment – the good kind, the unexpected kind, and the bittersweet kind.

The Good Kind

Today I finally felt anger instead of limp sadness thinking of my ex-first-boyrfriend. I won’t go into details, but I finally said enough: you can leave now. All the emotional twistings of intent and hope into confusion and shittiness. How I felt guilty for not being good enough, too much to handle and plain wrong. NO MORE I AM WORTHY OF LOVE MOST OF ALL FROM MYSELF I WILL NO LONGER CRY ABOUT A PERSON WHO ONLY LIKED ME WHEN I WAS WHAT HE WANTED. This is a good kind of loss, like spring cleaning. I hope my heart stays this buyount floating on its own Island.

The Unexpected Kind

I thought I lost my small dog Pogo today. She ran into some thorny undergrowth and wouldn’t come when I called her name. I screamed and shouted and climbed through mud and cow poos to try to find her. I couldn’t believe it was happening- she could be eaten by a fox, out on the railway or scampering in a new field I couldn’t reach. Luckily I found her, unluckily I had to chase her again at top speed to finally grab her. This loss was brief but powerful, it made me love and loathe her at the same time. Lesson: Keep small naughty dogs on their leashes.

The Bittersweet Kind

Soon I have to go back to university- whilst this prospect of seeing all my friends again and beggining my course is very exciting, I shall miss what I’m leaving here for a while. My blue book case, the thick walls of my bedroom, my family and pets, the walks near my house and a plentifully stocked fridge. These losses are reoccuring, but I know when I leave home shan’t vanish. It will be a speck that is a big size in my brain to be reached by train and rail.

On this note, today’s poem is the one that reminds me of my sister when I first had to leave for uni- my sister said loss is

 

just not having things. Even when we’re apart, I never lose my sister xoxoxoxo

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Leaving and Leaving You

 

When I leave you postcode and your commuting station,
When I left undone all the things we planned to do
You may feel you have been left by association
But there is leaving and leaving you.

When I leave your town and the club that you belong to,
When I leave without much warning or much regret,
Remember, there’s doing wrong and there’s doing wrong to
You, which I’ll never do and I haven’t yet,

And when I have gone, remember that in weighing
Everything up, from love to a cheaper rent,
You were all the reasons I thought of staying,
And none of the reasons why I went

And although I leave your sight and I leave your setting,
And our separation is soon to be a fact,
Though you stand beside what I’m leaving and forgetting,
I’m not leaving you, not if motive makes the act.

Sophie Hannah