Two Watermelons: Inner Reflections & a Letter from Ukraine

Two Watermelons: Inner Reflections & a Letter from Ukraine

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Rebelling against the old Arab adage, the Palestinian novelist Emile Habiby ‘believed that it was possible, and even useful, to “carry two watermelons under one arm” – that is, to take up both literature and politics’. The risk, of course, being that you will drop and smash both. Everyone who knows me knows I care about Palestine. And Ukraine. And Syria. And feminism, and diversity in media and publishing, and climate change and the godawful iSore tourist tower planned for Brighton seafront . . . But this year I realised that I could not do two full-time jobs – write an SF novel a year and be a 100% committed activist – and two part-time jobs – teach and read Tarot cards – and stay sane, let alone keep even one of my passions tucked snug in my armpit. I decided to prioritise my writing and, while always allowing time to respond to crises like the current assault on Gaza, to focus my activism on two specific BDS campaigns: my cultural boycott work for BWISP, and my University of Chichester BIN Veolia campaign. In particular I have reduced my participation in Facebook ‘debates’ in which I was only repeating myself to people who weren’t listening. In this way I hope to, like Habiby, keep defying the physics of watermelon portage.

I have also given much thought to the role of the writer, and the possibility of being more ‘sharing’ in this blog and on social media. I’ve concluded that, while I have strong opinions and a keen sense of adventure, I’m essentially an introvert, and for that and other reasons I have no desire to discuss online, I have no desire to discuss my personal life online. While some artists experience the inner and outer worlds as entirely one, for me they are a compass I need to be able to travel around, conveying my juicy offerings from above to below, edge to edge, light to shadow and back again. This year I have been especially sheltering my private life, doing work to release old emotional conflicts – dramas and traumas which will probably always inform my writing, but I do not want to carry like watermelon skin suitcases until the day *I* drop. I have also been spending time with people who nourish me. On Thursday I went with a friend to a matinee screening of Boyhood – which strongly evoked for me my Canadian prairies girlhood – and spent the evening with my very oldest friend, a Quaker, painter, counsellor and lover of literature, now in her seventies, who has known me since I was a baby. She and her husband gave me white wine and tiramasu in their garden, and later I admired her new painting – the first since her near-fatal combined stroke and torn aorta last year, and vivid evidence of her remarkable recovery. After her NHS carers put her to bed, we held hands and talked about my mother, who died 20 years last Saturday. I spent the anniversary with another close friend, a fellow Tarot reader who, we discovered, shares a powerful astrological aspect with both my mother and me; and another, more sensitive, conjunction with my Pisces Sun. Her visit did not feel like a coincidence. It was also very healing. After she left, I did something completely unexpected, a forgiving action that shifted a great burden I had been hauling around for the last three years.

People are so fragile, yet so rich. Cycling home through a balmy Brighton evening on Thursday, I felt the compass of life float like a moony disc within me. When I got into my flat and checked Twitter it was as if I’d stepped into the beginning of the end of the world.

Having killed four children playing football on a beach the day before, Israel had now bombed a hospital and launched a ground invasion of Gaza. Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 had been downed, killing 100 AIDS researchers and igniting fears of a Russian escalation of the war in Ukraine. I Tweeted, signed petitions, forwarded an email from a British-Syrian writer agreeing to sign a letter calling for an military embargo on Israel, though I understood how painful it is to him that the great and the good demand no such embargo on Russia and Iran. I thought how all these conflicts competing for the front page are, in fact, completely interdependent: Putin arms Assad and the pro-Russian separatists; the West leaves Syria to suffer in part to assuage Israel’s paranoid fear that, armed and funded, the ‘rebels’ will attack them. I also thought about my efforts to negotiate between the political, the emotional and the unknown – how I’ve tried over recent years to be a public voice of reason and principle, but can never relinquish my need for intimacy or my fascination with mysterious accuracy of astrology, the Tarot and poetry. Can these worlds ever meet? Is my triple watermelon act just an illusion? Is my private quest to forgive and release damaging old relationships at all relevant to geopolitical atrocities? Can I really hold the intimate richness of life in balance with the brutal realities of the abuse of power, all the while knowing that my privacy is a huge privilege, plugged in to a cultural silence that permits such atrocities to continue?

As I discussed with my Tarot reader friend, the only answer that makes sense of these dilemmas for me is not ‘either/or’, but ‘both/and’.  I have to read Tarot on Saturdays in order to pay my rent, so much as I would like to, I can’t go to the London demo today. But I am especially pleased to see that people will also be marching for Syria today, and tomorrow I will protest in Brighton. Then I will head to the South Bank to hear international writers speak on Poetry and Activism – including Kurdish writer Bejan Matur, who gave me permission to use a section of her verse as the epigraph for Astra.  Maybe, while still protecting the details, I will blog more about the relationship between inner and outer worlds in the future. For now, to complement my musings on this last week, is a fruit of knowledge from Ukraine: another letter from political analyst and dreamer Lyuddmyla Pavlyuk, written Tuesday July 15, and crossing, as I cannot help but do myself, the bridge between rational and ‘irrational’ visions of the world:

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By Lyuddmyla Pavlyuk

One Ukrainian military official, former Defense Minister Koval’, said yesterday that we are as close to a direct invasion of Russia as never before. To us it looks that it has already started.

Russia moves its tanks through unprotected sections of the border with all its might. Today the media has reported the first air strike of a Russian fighter jet on the city of Snezhnyi in Donetsk region. Some days ago, a whole Ukrainian brigade was destroyed on the Ukrainian-Russian border, allegedly by Russian missiles across the border, because the rebels have “only” 20 kilometers-range missile installations “Grad” (“hail”), whereas the brigade was shelled by 90-kilometer range missile complex (assumed to be “Tornados”). The missiles used by the separatists gradually extend their reach; Russia provides (or even starts using itself) more advanced, far-reaching weapons.

People in Donbas are currently using shelters and cellars to hide, and it seems that it is time for citizens to learn the location of the Cold War era bomb shelters in our L’viv area as well. Even though we are at the western border of the country, we do not feel safe.

The anti-terrorist operation, which is abbreviated as ATO, has demonstrated their first successes over the past several weeks: the Ukrainian National Guard has freed large parts of territory and some strategic cities. In turn, Russia has begun to act without any disguise.

The brigade that I mention above is from our Lviv region. Russia used a very heavy weapon against people – the one that is used against military aircrafts. The Ukrainian leaders and commanders should also be blamed for the tragedy, because the boys went to the area of military actions with poor equipment, part of them were without bulletproof vests. Many died, about one hundred were wounded. Some nuns in the hospitals lost consciousness when they saw the terrible wounds inflicted upon these soldiers.

After this, Russia hypocritically called for peace talks. Even those regional leaders in Donbas who earlier spoke about the need to negotiate with terrorists (they called them rebels) were confronted with an ultimatum some days ago – to support the rebels or to be killed – and many chose to leave the region. One of them, Donets’k Mayor O. Lukyanchenko, now recognizes that the separatists do not really want any peace and normalization. The reason for this is clear – because the instructions they receive from Russia tell them to create disaster in Ukraine.

The focus of many publications over several last months has been on discerning Putin’s intentions: 1) he wants the entire Ukraine; 2) he wants to create “a belt” through all the south-east regions of Ukraine to Transnistria; 3) he wants to distract attention from Crimea by creating chaos in Donbas; 4) he enjoys creating places of anti-Western unrest in the world; 5) all of this and much more.  Whatever are his strategic and short-term plans, we need to realize that we deal with a ruthless Russia – more precisely, with its KGB rulers who have years of experience with provocative actions.

Two weeks ago, my husband woke up at night and said, “They can bombard us.” Earlier he often teased me that I take my dreams too seriously. Now he too has started to feel that a lot of messages are channelled and are available from information sources from “behind the veil.” All the irrational information shows the same as the rational – that the situation is very serious. Concerning this brigade from our region, before the killing of these soldiers I had a dream about this episode: people falling under fire and nobody could help them. The scene was very sad, and I woke up at night with the words “poor boys.”

With high costs for advanced medical services in Ukraine, the prospects of the wounded who are placed in regional hospitals are not always good. Some of them are already told that they need to raise money for surgery in Kyiv or abroad or they will lose limbs. The state unfortunately cannot provide care for those who protected the state. The only hope is that those who are not rewarded during their earthly lives, will receive their rewards in heaven.

5 comments

Thank you Maria, one of my poet provocateur heroines! And I’m sure I both fight the polarisation and don’t fight it . . .

Inspirational, thought-provoking, questioning – this post seems to sum you up Naomi. I deliberately didn’t read it until today because – whatever you were writing about – I knew it would deserve time and attention. So glad that amid the tragic conflict of the outer world, you have found a measure of healing in your own inner world.

Thank you, Bridget, for these warm words. The post was spontaneous, but a long time building, so yes, I suppose it does crystallise where I am at right now. The Literary Activism panel discussion was very interesting, in part because the poets – from Ukraine, Turkey, India and Egypt – all felt that poetry was inherently political. All one watermelon, all the way down . . . Though in my experience writing and campaigning are different activities, making different demands on my time and attention, I hope to keep building bridges between these spheres, here and elsewhere.

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