Talking about Gaza: what’s possible/what’s not

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It’s possible to be Jewish and oppose the Israeli military operation ‘Protective Edge’ in Gaza.

It’s possible to be Israeli and oppose it.

It’s possible to be an ex-IDF soldier, or to have a family member in the IDF, and oppose it.

It’s possible to be a rabbi and oppose it.

It’s even possible to be a self-identified Zionist and oppose it.

It’s possible to empathise profoundly with people who have to endure living under the sickening threat of missiles, rockets and terrorist attacks in crowded public spaces and with the fear of having to put your kids to bed at night not being certain you will be able to protect them from this violence, and to still oppose the war in Gaza.

It’s possible to be an Israeli academic, writer, or world-renowned expert on the Israeli-Arab conflict and oppose it.

It’s possible to believe that Hamas is a violent extremist organisation that uses civilian structures and civilians themselves as human shields to further their military/political objectives, and exploits the deaths of Palestinian children to change or manipulate international public opinion – and oppose it.

It’s possible to oppose it on the grounds of a moral-political logic that is not simplistic, reductive, myopic, ignorant, hypocritical, non-pragmatic, the byproduct of black-and-white thinking, or racist.

What’s not possible is to have a meaningful/rational/constructive/respectful debate with those who do not strongly oppose Israel’s military actions in this latest outbreak of conflict – usually on the grounds of the military and/or moral right to self-defense – but who are not open-minded enough to consider the possibility that those who do might NOT be brainwashed, misinformed, deluded, stupid, hippy-dippy, politically naive, pro-Hamas, anti-Israel (whatever that means) or anti-Semitic lemmings.

The reflexive defensiveness that seems to have infected the majority of this “side” is extremely frustrating and depressing. It makes me, as one of many others, think that the future for Israel, Palestine and the rest of us on the planet is looking pretty dark at the moment.

On procrastination/blogger’s block

I want to confess into the Internet ether that for months and months I’ve been stuck with this blog. Badly stuck. This post is about the learning arc ­– how I wound up in a procrastination sinkhole, and how I’ve managed to start crawling out.

Diagnosis

Procrastination can take over a person’s life like chronic disease. Left untreated, it can turn one’s mind into a sinkhole of anxiety and avoidance, a fetid gaseous swamp strewn with the skeletons of late essays, superannuation forms, expired kale, unfinished novels and unused gym subscriptions… a place where schedules and dreams go to suffocate and die.

Early diagnosis is therefore important.

In Mae Sot I flailed under the weight of self-imposed expectations (to write every day, blog 3 x a week, etc.) Not posting on events as they happened made me stressed, pressured, behind. I thought it meant the blog would be a flop. But I couldn’t seem to squeeze out more than one a month, and as the weeks went by and the events and ideas and experiences and photos and hyperlinks and draft posts started mounting I felt more and more behind, like Sisyphus with his boulder on a pathetic mound of mediocre grass.

In the New Year I fell into the sinkhole and by then even the thought of blogging invoked anxiety and frustration, which worsened my aversion and, from there, my avoidance. It was like being encased in wet, hardening, mental cement. Like a window was closing but I couldn’t jump through.

Towards the end, I started entertaining the thought that maybe everyone was right – maybe it didn’t matter that I hadn’t blogged that much about the Thai-Burma border while I was there on it. Huh. Then I started reading more about how others have found it hard to maintain their blogs and writing practice. This helped to detangle my negative thoughts and turn the heaving, leaking vessel that is my procrastinating mind around.

Management

There’s a lot of advice out there for writers and would-be writers. A list of some practical tips and insights I’ve been finding helpful:

–       Aim Low. This one is hard. It means replacing perfectionistic delusions with Realistic Expectations (RE). The problem is that sometimes aiming high works and when it does it tends to attract a lot of positive feedback. However, clinging with white knuckles onto an unrealistically high bar is invariably a bad idea. Leaving you dangling in mid-air, petrified, your lofty goals eluding you, it leads to discouragement, dissatisfaction, tiredness and feelings of failure, which can lead to real failure – the failure to do anything at all except whimper on the floor with a sprained mind. Lowering the bar is therefore a critical first step (like Airway, Breathing, Circulation).

–       “Keep your doing and your deciding away from one another this nugget was airdropped into my inbox from Raptitude, which is like a humanitarian blog for internal-conflict-affected writers. It made me realize that most of writing, and living, comes down to micro-decision making – what David Foster Wallace called ‘the work of choosing’. This is something that takes a lot of practice but is easy to avoid. And when you’re a chronic over-thinker, infected with self-doubt, it makes sense that you would go to pains to scurry away from it.

–       “Worry destroys the ability to write” — Hemingway. Yup. Fear disables decision-making. Anti-anxiety strategies are therefore essential.

–       Distraction is a never-ending threat. Fear + Doubt + Distraction = the worst. Being ‘on the grid’ in this situation can mean paralytic indecision, hence this incisive piece of wisdom from Zadie Smith: “Work on a computer that is disconnected from the internet.”

–       ‘The Redirect Technique’ – one of Life Hacker’s ‘Six scientifically-supported ways to crush procrastination’. This is about procrastinating well, with intention e.g. by doing the washing up, or going for a run (the best). Virginia Woolfe advocated ‘gentle exercise in the air’ and getting ‘out of life’ as ways to overcome writer’s block. She is also quoted as saying “My mind works in idleness. To do nothing is often it’s most profitable way”.

–       Self-forgiveness = another effective, evidence-based antidote. No matter what you’re procrastinating about, it can lead to guilt, however nonsensical and indulgent that guilt might be. When this happens, self-flagellation is never a good idea. Unlike with aiming high, it doesn’t work. It makes everything worse, always. Giving oneself a break, both literally and morally, is very important. Learnt that the hard way….

Remission – out of the sinkhole

On that note, I’m going to re-start this blog with a less self-defeating, flea-like, dilatory mindset and some revised aims: to embrace failure; let go of what I was trying to do; remind self that every post is a small, irrelevant experiment, not some legally binding public document.

Also, to be more optimistic. When I told a friend about my blogging woes she told me to stop whining and think of “Proust and the biscuit”. This is in reference to a well-known part of In Search of Lost Time where biting into a Madeline evokes a flood of involuntary memories in the narrator, who relives them all in the one compressed moment.

What I take from this is that life isn’t linear. Blogging definitely isn’t linear. This means it really doesn’t matter if I blog retrospectively about Mae Sot from London, or wherever. Maybe there will be upsides to doing it this way.

Even if not, everything is still clear in my mind. And I’ve been taking a lot of notes.

Back in London: You can’t go home again (phew!!)

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After just over 7 months in Mae Sot I’m back living in London.

It’s a funny feeling – not the affluenza-induced despair I was expecting (Westfield-Bondi Junction popped that cherry) but a dreamy inversion, like I’m traveling through my adopted hometown.

On this reverse travel high, familiar things take on an unfamiliar quality – bricks, pavements, Airwaves gum, Pret-A-Manger, brown leather jackets, shuddering traintracks. The glowing aisles of Sainsbury’s. The pulsing bells of Southwark Cathedral. The tired, ironic voice-overs of beleaguered British tube drivers telling their passengers over and over to “mind the closing doors”.

It’s still the same old London but everything’s all buffed up and dewy, like a freshly washed car. I’m being mindful without even trying. Maybe this is the silver lining to that melancholic phrase, “You can’t go home again”.

Bricks… bricks!!

What does it mean to travel? Why does everyone like it so much? I think it’s to do with this filter-bending effect it induces, a sensory trick akin to popping a pair of glasses back on after wiping off the dirt streaks. It reminds me of the way I felt bike-riding around Mae Sot. It’s what makes travel so drug-like, the flipside being that coming home carries the risk of a comedown. Even after a brief weekend away, the returned traveler can feel deflated, morose, hungover; after a relatively long time they may fall prey to ‘reverse culture shock’, where the dip is more pronounced, and the sudden transition back to R.L. causes them to plummet to a miserable, alienated “re-entry” funk at the bottom of a U-shape curve.

I’ve often been left frustrated and dissatisfied by short trips over international borders, many of which I’d throw in the Tourism (not Travel) basket. I never felt like they had a much of an effect, and if they did it was almost imperceptible or wore off immediately. Living somewhere else rather than just passing through means the effects of travel are more likely to stick, for better or worse. In the end this is what makes the whole expensive, tiring, disaster-prone enterprise worthwhile.

Maybe the way you feel coming home is a sort of litmus test for how meaningful/life-changing a trip really was, if that was the intention?

For the moment the effects of this one seem to be lasting, like they did, mostly, while I was away. This is helped by my current situation. A series of bureaucratic obstacles have meant I haven’t been able to start back at hospital yet so instead of going to work I’ve been spending mornings, afternoons and early evenings wandering around Zone 1 like a badly dressed dandy thinking through abstract philosophical questions while listening to songs on my iPhone. The other day I went for a walk along Southbank beside the stale, lapping olive-grey Thames water. Watching heavy clouds lit up an eerie periwinkle blue trip over the surface, moment by moment, I thought of how neurons are like filter paper and how it’s like the ISO has gone up on mine so that now I can absorb a lot more in conditions of low lighting – literally. A handy ability to have in the UK!

Low-lying London clouds

Low-lying clouds

I want this grainy ISO-400 clean-clothes-out-of-the-dryer feeling to last, and I hope the change in perspective it brings proves more durable than a disposable contact lens from Specsavers. I really hope it doesn’t evaporate as soon as I step through the automated doors into A+E next week (gulp). I don’t want to revert back to my pre-departure baseline. Somehow, I want to stave off hedonic adaptation[1], however inevitable it might be.

Watch this space.


[1] From Wikipedia: the supposed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes.

Quote of the month (and before-bed reminder)

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph. 19th century American essayist, leader of the Transcendentalist movement, a prescient intellect. I wonder what he would be like as a psychotherapist.

‘Inside Burma’ – on the night bus

726pm. I’m inspecting a wilted chocolate doughnut and unidentified bun squished into a small cardboard box with flowy Burmese writing on it. KG is not interested. She’s sitting in the puffed-up recliner next to me, huddled in a fluorescent apricot CottonOn hoodie that looks a lot brighter than she does, staring up at the TV screen, which, incidentally, is playing the same music video of an albino popstar that’s always on in Lucky’s teahouse in Mae Sot – weird.

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This is the second night bus we’ve caught on this trip and I’m the one who made us get it, instead of a significantly more expensive flight, despite KG’s besieged intestinal tract not being 100% recovered. Although it smells like garlic cloves in here and the air-conditioning has that Legionella-feel to it, it’s sort of warm and cozy (not literally – technically it’s v. v. cold).

We waited around for several hour in this strange, chaotic makeshift terminal on the side of the road, straddling our backpacks expectantly. The driver and most of the other staff of the Shwe Mandalar bus company are loud middle-aged men with their bellies stuffed tightly into dark green longyis. They herded us on and chuckled explosively when I attempted (in Burmese then in English) to check this was the 730pm bus to Yangon. HAHAHA??!!

We haven’t started moving yet. An eager younger man in a pressed white shirt just brought round a tray of Sunkist cans. He looked confused when we declined.

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On top of the snack box and the soft pink blanket with bunnies on it, it looks like we get a complementary toothbrush- yay!!

 

 

 

I am feeling overwhelmed with guilty excitement. Guilty because I’m a lot more excited, it would seem, than my travel counterpart. The garlic-clove smell isn’t sitting well. She is looking unimpressed and a bit pale…

127am. We’ve pulled into a vast and bustling highway market with a series of all-night cafeterias. All the spare change and bright, jangling lights make it feel a bit like a casino. And at the same time, it feels vaguely… communist? Maybe part of the dictatorship hangover?

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KG’s perked up after adjusting to the bus smell and we’ve been ranting at each other about relationships, being 30, jobs, biological injustice, men – specifically Australian men – and what’s wrong with them. Neither of us has needed the toilet up till now, which is lucky because there isn’t one on board. My night bus guilt is starting to fade.

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In the stores they’re selling avocados and oranges, packets of banana chips, an infinite range of fried snacks, jellies and plastic jars filled with things that look like dried black fungus.

 

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Some of the labels have Snow White on them.

 

 

 

I just bought a big glutinous grey rice-based blob of something wrapped in plastic but threw it in the bin after a couple of thought-provoking chews. I also bought a bottle of white ‘grape wine’. KG rolled her eyes at this. It seems I’m impulse spending. And I think I just saw a monk instagram something. Brain over-stimulated. Starting to get very tired.

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